Thirty-four years ago the first Vietnamese refugees arrived on our shores. Like my ancestor, they had no choice. Many took the dangerous journey by boat. They came to Australia with nothing but innovation, determination and a willingness to work hard. They raised families, started businesses, built homes and formed organisations to look after new members of their community-organisations like the VCA, the Vietnamese Community in Australia.
On the weekend I opened the VCA’s new office in Cabramatta. If Cabramatta is the heart of the Vietnamese community in Australia then the VCA is its soul. It could be said that Cabramatta without the VCA would be like Egypt without the pyramids or Paris without the Eiffel Tower; it is what makes the place tick. They do a lot of valuable work for the community in Cabramatta. They help new migrants to settle and they connect people with the services they need in order to make a difference-antigambling programs and a number of welfare programs.
Next year we will celebrate 35 years of Vietnamese migration, and I am working with the VCA with their President, Tri Vo, with Mr Luu Dan from the Dan Viet newspaper and with their executive team to draw together the people to make this celebration happen. We are working on some exciting ideas: a public exhibition that gets the story of Vietnamese migration right; an oral history tour into primary schools and high schools to pass the stories of their grandparents onto this generation; a dinner here in Parliament House to recognise the contribution that Vietnamese Australians have made right across the country; and a permanent memorial in Cabramatta-the heart of Vietnamese Australia. The purpose is twofold: first, to remember what has happened-the dangers of the journey and those who never made it; and second, to celebrate everything that has happened since and everything that the Vietnamese community has achieved.
We are a nation of migrants, some old and some new. It is important that the kids at Cabramatta Public School and places like it, second and third generation Vietnamese Australians, kids who were born here, know these stories. It is important that we all know these stories. They are part of the unfolding Australian story. As Manning Clark said, we are a country always in the making. This is our story, a story that we should remember and celebrate.