Photograph of Hien Thi Tran, her husband Hai Van Tran and their son Hoang Thien Tran taken during the 1970s. The family tried to escape Vietnam by boat but tragically their son Hoang (and their daughter, not pictured) drowned during the attempt. They were returned to Vietnam and Hien was put in jail for a time. She attempted to come to Australia at various other times but never made it.

This photo was given to Hien Thi Tran's sister Cuc Lam (nee Tran) who did manage to escape six months earlier (after several attempts) with her husband Minh Lam in May 1978. Cuc kept this precious photographic negative of the sister and brother-in-law she had to leave behind, and the nephew she would lose, in a small silk pouch along with passport photos of her mother, a watch given to her by her sister and her wedding ring. These were the only belongings she had, along with the clothes she was wearing (in disguise as a fisher), and she managed to keep them safe close to her skin during the arduous boat journey from Vietnam to be rescued and taken to a Malaysian refugee camp. Cuc and Minh finally obtained refugee visas for Australia where they stayed at Midway Hostel in Maribyrnong and settled in Footscray.

Cuc never recovered from the grief of losing her nephew and niece, and still carries great guilt and regret for being permanently separated from her family and having had to leave her sister behind. This anguish makes this small photograph a poignant and irreplaceable memento.

Description of Content

Black and white family photo of Cuc Lam's Sister's family, taken in Vietnam. The photograph shows Hal Van Tran (Cuc's brother in law), Hoang Thien Tran (Cuc's nephew) and Hien (Cuc's sister).

Physical Description

Black and white family photo of Cuc Lam's Sister's family.


Statement of Historical Significance:
This collection demonstrates the risk and desperation involved in the refugee experience. It is extremely rare to acquire objects from refugees, as by the very nature of the experience, people carry little if anything with them, and what they do is usually lost or thrown away. It helps tell the story of Vietnamese immigration, which has played a significant part in the history of immigration to Australia, and assists in representing the period post 1975, when Australia's new political and social policies of multiculturalism were being implemented. This collection also provides further insights into life in one of Melbourne's principal migrant hostels - Midway in Maribyrnong. Finally the collection traces a life beyond the immediate refugee and settlement experience to demonstrate how migrants find their way in a new country, establish lives and assume leadership roles in their local communities.

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