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  • Ninety-nine got on that boat near the mouth of the Saigon River. Most people were below

  • decks, literally crammed together like sardines. They wouldn't have known what was coming.

  • Total Despair. The storms come on the second day, this was

  • unbelievable. The boat was like a small leaf under boiling water. The waters get into the

  • diesel compartment. And then blow up the engine. No engine in the stormy seas is the most dangerous

  • That's when the worries start to creep in. You're at the mercy of nature, really. You

  • had no control of the boat. And I just remember the swell, it was really

  • huge, and it was just up and down, up and down.

  • People were scared. I thought I was going to die.

  • I think I never can see my mum again and my brother and sister again.

  • Five days we was at sea. And then every single day, everyone don't know what to do, they

  • just pray. It's the first time I've seen these photos

  • after 40 years. Most of them gave me goosebumps when I saw them. Ninety-nine people has been

  • hauled up to the deck is a big effort when they so sick, so weak. Me here, very skinny

  • after days at sea. It's very emotional photo for me. I can say that my life has been blessed

  • from the moment I've been rescued. Thank you, Australia.

  • I was born and grew up in Saigon. My parents have nine children. I am number four in the

  • family. On the 30th of April 1975 the north Vietnamese

  • army entered Saigon ending 30 years of war. There were incredible scenes as thousands

  • of Vietnamese crowded, pushed and squeezed to get on American helicopters leaving the

  • citythe last escape route out of Saigon. As the Vietnam War ended their whole lives

  • changed. A lot of people hoped that it would be a time of peace after 40 years of war.

  • But just the opposite happened right away. Anyone associated with a former regime, military

  • or civilian or even just normal people who seemed like a threat were sent away to re-education

  • in camps. Myself, as the son of a republic soldier,

  • so they still treat us as their enemy. And my dad and six sons have to escape. And to

  • stay in the jungle for two years. In Saigon, there were extreme food shortages.

  • There was no work to do. And it was just total deprivation. There was like, no future.

  • No freedom of speech, no freedom of gathering, no freedom of practising religion, all gone

  • under the new rule of the communist mechanism. People took to boats to flee. The ocean was

  • really the only way to go through the South China Sea.

  • But for most Vietnamese refugees their voyages were nightmares. Many boats sank. Many were

  • attacked by pirates. I heard figures up to a million people fled

  • and 300,000 or so perished in the escape. I was 21 in 1981, my father just approached

  • me and said, ‘Tonight, you have to go. Take along your younger brother and look after

  • him’. You know, when you got that news from your father is very, very sad very nervous.

  • You believe that you haven't a chance to see the country again. The parents, brother and

  • sister and friends. I was 14-and-a-half when I left Vietnam. Because

  • we lost everything my parents could only afford to do sent me on my own.

  • I was 15 my dad said he will go after me, so he stay back there. So I got so frightened

  • and sad. I was 13 when my mum call me and say, ‘You

  • go first with your brother and I will come later’. And then she starts crying and I

  • just cry with her but I don’t know where were going.

  • In the previous trip my brothers, four of them, ended up in jail. I was the first one

  • to escape successfully. The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Sydney

  • heading for Vung Tao, Vietnam. On board are Australian troops and equipment bound for

  • the war zone. My involvement in the Vietnam War began in

  • 1965 to 1967. My conscience was very much troubled, in fact, by our participation in

  • that war. It really achieved very little, but caused massive misery, especially to the

  • Vietnamese. And I felt very sorry for them. Wherever I managed to go, in the ships that

  • I was serving at the time I would make a point of visiting refugee camps. Distributing clothing,

  • distributing books, make that a little bit of a difference and someone cares.

  • To me it didn’t make sense taking people out of a camp in South East Asia, putting

  • them into another camp in Sydney or Melbourne. Just after I’d come back from my second

  • tour of Vietnam I got myself involved with what was known then as the Indo-China Refugee

  • Association in Canberra. You remember the Ho family. We had to actually

  • allocate two houses to them because there were 13 of them.

  • In 1981 I was posted to HMAS Melbourne. The HMAS Melbourne was Australia's only aircraft

  • carrier. It was the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy.

  • I was a commander and we were on passage to Singapore. We were 200 miles plus off the

  • Vietnamese coast. At that stage, you could not sail around South East Asian waters without

  • stumbling over refugee boats. They were basically running out of boats in

  • Vietnam. There were so many boats just going one way and leaving.

  • The dimensions of this boat is a little bit bigger than our boat. This one about 4 metres

  • width. And we only have 2.7. Captain Tam was from a fishing village and

  • he built the boat himself - to go fishing, ostensibly. But he built it in his mind for

  • the express purpose of escaping with his wife and seven children

  • I didn't want my children to grow up living under the communist regime, that’s why I

  • built the boat and planned the escape.42:24 Another big reason to leave is that my own

  • father and mother were killed by the communists. 42:32

  • It was only designed for like 30 people and 99 showed up. They were like doomed from the

  • start. Look at this! The first time after we slipped

  • through the check point, I. I was sitting right in the corner underneath.

  • They purposefully chose the night of the full moon because there were less patrols on full

  • moon. And the first night was just about, you know,

  • staying quiet and trying to sneak out as fast as you could. The boat was going at full rev.

  • About six hours later the engine conked out. Luckily we made it out of Vietnam water. But

  • the boat was just drifting in the sea. That night, as the boat got sucked into this this

  • gigantic vortex. The boat was caught in this big spin, just going round and round.

  • Dad was holding the steering and then suddenly lost control and the boat spin and then he

  • just let go. The force of the water, it was just so strong,

  • you could hear it, the sound was deafening. And I seriously thought that was that was

  • going to be the end of us. That's when dad was really worry - he can

  • see like death is coming. I sit next to my older cousin. So if I die,

  • I got my cousin sitting next to me. I saw two merchant ships pass by. We shot

  • up the flare to let them know we need help. We scream. We call. But no respond.

  • Everyone was just so scared. People were crying, people were praying. The next day was calmer

  • and then we saw a plane flying towards us. Again we set off flares, made some fire, some

  • smoke to get some attention. We saw the plane. It didn't fly away. It make

  • a circle. So we know it spotted us. I just saw the word Navy I said, oh, it's America!

  • Everyone was just, uh, so ecstatic. I just looked to the sky and thank God that, uh,

  • someone looked after me. The captain reported that a tracker had, detected

  • a fishing boat, on fire, about nine miles distant.

  • I was summoned to the bridge. And the commanding officer, said to me, I want you to take charge

  • of the onboard reception. The Navy creed is 'For those in peril on the sea. Do whatever

  • you can' irrespective of nationality, race, colour, creed, whatever.

  • Just half an hour later, is a whole fleet of big ships coming to us. Everyone screaming.

  • And happy. And believe that we will be rescued. By America people.

  • I can't remember whether I actually just grabbed my camera and did the job. I may have been

  • duty photographer that night. I'm just glad I did it. I'm so glad I did it. By the time

  • the recovery started, was darkness and I just remember it was big seas.

  • When we went alongside, we were the first boat there, the boat was just full of women

  • and kids. They'd obviously had a pretty harrowing time. And they just wanted to give us the

  • kids. They just want their kids to be saved. How on earth are you going to get 99 emaciated,

  • weakened, seasick, malnourished people three to five metres onto the lowest point of the

  • decking on the Melbourne. At first they try to let us climb up the ladder

  • by ourselves it was hard for most of us to do it because everyone's so sick

  • I heard the broadcast come over saying about they want to volunteers to go up the starboard

  • ladder bay and assist with embarking refugees There was guys starting to carry kids, there

  • was sailors climbing down the net, there was one sailor, all you see, all you see was his

  • back of his legs leaning over the side of the ship, trying to get down as far as net

  • to grab these people because we're very, very concerned that someone was going to fall.

  • it was pretty full-on, it was pretty intense. We knew there were sharks there. We just couldn't

  • see them. There was a lot of wash between the boats and we were extremely concerned

  • that people would be crushed against the ship’s side.

  • That's me on the bottom there with my arms out because there's a guy from Melbourne in

  • a harness holding a baby. And you think if he drops, you know, someone's gotta to catch

  • the baby. It's just that's how it was just scary. 00:15:18 An just the look on their

  • faces it's just stuck with me forever. I’d only been in the Navy two years. I was

  • only 18 years old. It was a it was a bit of an eye opener. I remember thinking back then

  • who would take a child in this? And then, you know, when you get older, mature and you

  • realise that they are trying to get him a better life, yep.

  • I was at the top of the ladder and making a very quick assessment as they were being

  • lifted on board. That is a top photograph of John Ingram, he

  • was everywhere that night. He was like a copper, directing traffic.

  • Some of the first were first kids who came up were, you know, quite sprightly and very

  • happy to see us. And then as the night progressed, as we went on bringing these people on, a

  • lot of the adults especially were just exhausted, absolutely exhausted, to the point where they

  • could barely get up to the ship. That photograph, when I took that, the thing

  • I remember is diesel fuel. She stunk of diesel fuel and it just suddenly hit me that these

  • people had been sitting in diesel fuel in their boat for all those days.

  • I remember when I was carrying that lady, because when I held her, she was she was very

  • limp. And I would sort of best describe it as like a semi-conscious state. They had been

  • through a lot. They've been through a lot. I was able to climb up the ladder onto the

  • deck and as I got to the deck my legs just buckled under me, so I swayed from side to

  • side just like a drunk man! I was really, really sick and so I couldn’t

  • climb the ladder. Someone have to pick me up.

  • I think that someone helped me to climb up behind me. 00:35:46 I remember I feeling happy,

  • someone help us be alive. This was a formidable experience. And I'm

  • absolutely full of admiration to this day, there's not a day in the last 40 years that

  • I haven't thought about how everyone got out safely and got on board safely without any

  • injuries or deaths whatsoever. The first shower was so great. We sing, we

  • happy, we clean off everything after four days of trauma.

  • The very first day, they gave us some singlet and a pair of shorts. The pair of shorts was

  • this big! Nothing kid’s size! But you make do.

  • We made up as many bunks as we could, the camp stretchers for them all.

  • I remember the big apple and the oranges. First time I've seen an apple. First time

  • was on the ship. The ship had some toys in storage and John

  • Ingram bought them up to keep the kids happy. Other sailors who had already bought stuff

  • for their own kids they gave these Vietnamese children their own children's toys, you know.

  • Stephen was part of a small group of men who came to me on the second morning and said,

  • look, you know, we'd like to help around the ship. What can we do?

  • Here they are painting a chipping paint, you know, doing the jobs I used to hate doing,

  • you know, and cleaning tables. I felt that was very good for the morale.

  • It was also important from the ship's company point of view because they didn't want to

  • be seen as passengers. The next few days we just pretty much went

  • about business as usual on the ship. We knew we were taking them to Singapore.

  • Under international law, Australia was obligated to accept these Vietnamese as refugees.

  • On the first night, only 22 wanted to claim Australia as the new homeland. By the time

  • we got to Singapore that had increased to 77.

  • I, uh, didn't need much convincing to you to say yes I'll be the first one to come to

  • Australia. I want to make a good life for myself and in in that I would repay to Australia,

  • to the community. Um, yeah, I felt a very strong sense of that.

  • The refugees picked up by HMAS Melbourne 200 miles off the coast of Vietnam had said they

  • fled in search of freedom. Melbourne’s commanding officerMike

  • Hudsonsaid it’s an old tradition of the sea, that ships render assistance to people

  • in distress, whoever they might be... I doubt that they would have lasted very much

  • longertwo or three days at the most if they hadn’t been given food or water.

  • There were actually tears in sailors eyes, um, because in that very short time, that

  • tense period, as those few days on both friendships had evolved.

  • They were designated by the HMAS Melbourne officially as MG99,Melbourne Group 99. And

  • that's how they know themselves. So once in Singapore, they were offloaded

  • onto buses and taken to a refugee camp. We got the promise from them that they will

  • come to visit the camp. And they did. This tiny camp on the northern end of Singapore

  • Island was designed to take only 1,000 peopleat present there are more than 3,000 refugee

  • here. On my first visit there, I noticed that refugees

  • were making soup out of grass that they were cutting.

  • So, the arrangement that I came to was that the provisions from the Melbourne in fact

  • uh, would be distributed equally amongst all refugees there. 01:47:36 We delivered four

  • Landrover loads of dry provisions to the Hawkin's Road UNHCR Camp.

  • And they give us tin food, tin food, like, like spam or something.

  • And taste amazing because that is never used anything like that before and it tastes good.

  • There wasn't enough accommodation, so we were given a blanket each. And basically at night,

  • you just find yourself a patch of grass to lie on.

  • By 1981, the Australian Government's policy was to interview and process refugees out

  • of refugee camps in Southeast Asia. 00:48:19 per capita, Australia was a leader in the

  • number of Vietnamese refugees being accepted in the world. 01:39:20 and they were on a

  • Qantas flight into Sydney before the Melbourne got back to Garden Island. John Ingram visited

  • them at the East Hills hostel. I'd call him like a like a grand uncle in a Vietnamese

  • sort of way. He even had his own family adopt a couple of the girls.

  • After staying in the hostel for six months and then I moved out. To find job and work

  • in a factory. I worked in the factory for a year and a half 00:04:32 And then 02:33:56

  • I have a news from my parent that your three siblings theyre on the way. And then another

  • sister 00:06:38 And she also escaped. But we don't know where she is now. She's amongst

  • four hundred thousand people perished at sea on the journey for freedom.

  • The Federal government has dramatically tightened the rules on boat people.

  • We will decide who comes here and the circumstances under which they come.

  • In 2006, I was somewhat annoyed that Australia's attitude towards refugees had changed a lot.

  • And in a new uncompromising policy all unauthorised boat arrivals will be processed offshore even

  • if they reach the mainland. And I thought, well, we had something to be

  • very proud of. So I wrote an article for a Navy publication not knowing where it would

  • go and what would happen to it. Someone gave me the article written by John

  • Ingram. Who is John Ingram? I didn’t remember him. And why 25 years after the event there

  • is some guy, some Aussie guy write a story about us?

  • So that’s why I have to find him Luckily I got his number and I called him. The first

  • conversation was amazing. I was very surprised, very pleasantly surprised

  • to hear from him. John! Welcome to Oatley. How are you?

  • When he contacted me all those years later he was so proud to tell me about all the things

  • that he was doing. So this was the first house I stay after I'm

  • moving from to East Hills Hostel and I stay here with some members of MG99, we share rooms,

  • six people. Six people

  • I still have good memory of this time. I look up to him as a father because the way

  • he treat me like the way the father treated son, he took care of me. He looked after me

  • and we shared so many stories of our life. John I am going to take you to my bakery where

  • I run for 30 years. This new owner is very famous in meat pies and sausage rolls.

  • Alright. Ok. All the healthy things! Last December I contacted Stephen and I said,

  • look, do you realise that will be 40 years next June?

  • Few days later, John rang me. ‘Stephen, I think we should have a reunion. What do

  • you think?’. A few years ago John told me he isn't well

  • and I'm very worried because it's the kind of sickness that you worry.