VN Adoptee – Melbourne, Australia
M.s Jennifer Szetho – one of the Melbourne representatives of AVI and an Operation Babylift child, 1975, supplied the below testimonials in October 2009 by some key people in her life following her arrival to Australia.
Judy and Bob Write:
Bob first met Jenny 34 years ago. Bob was a Chief Steward with Qantas and in 1975 he flew into Bangkok where 77 babies and children boarded the aircraft and they were taken to Melbourne as part of Operation Baby Lift. Jenny was a 10 day old baby on board that aircraft.
Jenny’s mother had kept a newspaper article regarding the arrival of her flight into Melbourne and in that article was the name of the Captain on that flight and through him she was able to find out who the Chief Steward was on the flight.
Jenny contacted us 26 years after arriving in Melbourne as she thought Bob may have had further information in regard to her birth mother. We flew down to Melbourne to meet Jenny and there was an instant connection.
We are so glad Jenny contacted us 8 years ago, we feel as though we have always known her and she will always be a part of our lives.
Elizabeth Thuan Writes:
Jennifer came into our lives when she met our son Andrew at University. This led to yet another experience in our own Vietnamese Australian saga. We found that Jennifer had not received any introduction to the customs and rituals of the culture from which her ancestors came.
We included her in family events and when the new grandchildren reached one year of age, we shared with her the ceremony which purports to show the child’s direction in life.
For me, it was just another aspect of a life which has only a few parallels in this country. I became a sort of Vietnamese-by-extension in 1968 when I married a fellow student. There were 72 Vietnamese nationals in Australia at that time.
After this, we went through the fall of Saigon, attempting first to sponsor younger brothers out of the tumultuous city and then enduring the long silence, when we did not know what had happened to loved ones. The first letters were very cautiously worded, but they confirmed that the family still existed. Then we had word that one sister, pregnant and with a three year old in tow, had “gone for a holiday”.
We tracked them down in Thailand. Shipwrecked, the baby born prematurely, and utterly destitute they endured a year in a camp deep in Thailand. I remember having a flaming row about what to put into the parcels we sent, never knowing if any of them would arrive. I still don’t know what you SHOULD send to those who have nothing, literally nothing.
After harrowing negotiations with Immigration, telegrams to the Prime Minister and a year of anguish, we welcomed them to Australia and my household suddenly got a taste of authentic Vietnamese home cooking. It was great fun, sharing the house and kids, but not a language. Good will, a sense of humour and prolific hand gestures go a long way!
So this is how I came to find myself able to assist in Jennifer’s Vietnamese culture learning. I had a certain knowledge and point of view about the history, the politics, the war, the boat people, the food, the ceremonies, the deep appreciation of family and reverence for the ancestors. My version is an Aussie version, sometimes larrikin, sometimes critical, but basically with a deep respect for a way of life, a habit of thought and a resourcefulness of a people shattered and dispersed and gradually reunited and flourishing in a new homeland.
Jen did me great honour by ‘adopting’ me as another mother, rather publicly, and without prior consultation. The culture learning continues, but these days Jen knows a lot about Vietnam and we are currently into rhyming slang and other profound mysteries of the Australian popular culture. Bewdy, cobber.