Thursday, 27 September 2007

Boat People – in Retrospect

Fellow Blogger, do you remember the influx of Vietnamese boat people between 1975 and 1990? I have clear and vivid memories because in the period 1976 – 1980, I was in charge of a unit for disabled high school kids in a Western Brisbane High School. At the time in the same school, a unit had been set up to provide schooling for Vietnamese adolescents who had arrived, mostly on boats.

I had a bus license, and also had access to a bus through a neighbouring Special School, and on a few occasions was shanghaied to drive busloads of these kids and their teachers around to attend movies and community activity. It was a good deal, as I was able to trade my time for help and resources from the well-equipped migrant unit. The Vietnamese kids were also very good to the students in my unit. I also used to try my ex-army Vietnamese out on them – not very successfully. “Show me your ID card” and “Stop or I’ll shoot”, didn’t always go down well with youngsters who had recently escaped military oppression.

On one occasion, I was driving a group of about twenty to a movie showing at Enoggera (can’t remember the theatre's name) to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The theatre was just down the road from the Enoggera Army Base where I was discharged early in 1971 after returning from Vietnam. As I parked the bus in front of the theatre, and the Vietnamese students started filing out, I heard shouting. A car had pulled up in the left lane of the two-lane road beside which the bus was parked, and the bloke behind the wheel was loudly abusing the Vietnamese students as they got out of the bus.

"F**king Noggie bastards”, “Slant-eyed C**ts” were some of the things I heard.

Fortunately, the teachers hustled the students into the theatre very quickly, and I don’t think their command of English was sufficient to completely understand, but they must have known that his intent was hostile.

I started to get out of the bus, but by the time I did, he’d driven off. I got a good look at him, and despite the fact that he wasn’t in uniform, I was certain he was army by the look of his hairstyle.

Despite this incident, I’m firmly of the opinion that most Australians have a tolerant attitude towards Refugees. This was a very isolated incident.

Having said that, there are politicians who will exploit this underlying fear and hostility, and those in power at the moment are fine examples. In this respect, Australia has gone backwards since.

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