Boat journey Down Under

TOGETHER: Thanh, left, and Quyen Nguyen live the dream in Australia. Thanh fled Vietnam in a boat bound for Down Under in 1982. Together they run a bakery in Port Pirie, employing members of the Vietnamese community.
TOGETHER: Thanh, left, and Quyen Nguyen live the dream in Australia. Thanh fled Vietnam in a boat bound for Down Under in 1982. Together they run a bakery in Port Pirie, employing members of the Vietnamese community.

Thanh Nguyen fled Communist-controlled Vietnam in the 1980s to embrace the capitalist dream.

He is living the life of a Western businessman while running the French Hot Bread Shop in Port Pirie.

It is a far cry from the world of summary detention and beatings that he faced in his homeland under the Communists who rose to power after the Vietnam War.

He owes a debt to Australia’s close-knit expatriate Vietnamese family who supported him on his first venture into business, a bakery at Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, near Sydney.

He was born in Donignai, a town of about 15,000 people. The civil war was raging at the time. This was followed by the Vietnam War involving US and Australian forces against the North Vietnamese.

Mr Nguyen, now 52, does an impersonation of machinegun fire and bombs while sitting in the Port Pirie shop to illustrate what he heard, but did not see, during the war.

His family ran a bakery back then and he learned some skills, but worked as a farmhand, growing sweet potato until he was 27 and fled the regime with his brother and others aboard a 14-metre boat in 1982.

“The Communists had taken over and made it so hard for everyone,” he said.

“There was no freedom, no opportunity to do anything. When the Communists came to the south they were a stupid and strict government.

“They could put you in gaol and smack you, too. I am a Catholic and the priests were not allowed to do the Mass.”

He said he was “definitely” afraid for his life and “that is why in North Vietnam they are poor”.

After surviving the sea journey to Australia, his arrival was processed at Villawood in Sydney.

He lived in Glanville with a relative then, after a few years, raised money with support of the Vietnamese community to set up a bakery in Katoomba.

“Whoever wants to run a business, the family will support them. The family worked in the bakery,” he said.

He returned to Vietnam on holiday and met his wife-to-be Quyen.

“She said, ‘the reason I marry you is because you are very handsome’. I am loving her,” he said.

They are now the parents of Phillip, 18, Simon, 17, and Kim, 15.

Mr Nguyen ran a coffee shop in Perth before moving to Port Pirie to open his bakery in 1998, later winning a business excellence award.

Emily Nguyen, a cousin, and another Vietnamese worker Hanh work in the shop with Mr and Mrs Nguyen.

Mr Nguyen says this is the extent of the Vietnamese population in Port Pirie. The town has embraced the family – as can be seen by the lighthearted exchanges between customers and the staff in the bakery.

This story Boat journey Down Under first appeared on The Flinders News.

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