Years 9/10 Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia The Happiest Refugee, by Anh DoOrigin: AustraliaUnit written by: Jane SherlockText synopsisOOPublication details: Allen and Unwin, 2010FSType of text: Non-fiction, memoirPAGEPRThe Happiest Refugee is a memoir, written by Anh Do about his life and about his family. Thestory follows Do’s life. It begins when he was a little boy who escaped Vietnam with his family andcontinues to talk about his current success as a law graduate, comedian and media celebrity.The family’s journey to Australia is full of dramatic and life-threatening events, including twohorrifying attacks by pirates, as forty terrified Vietnamese adults and children struggle to surviveon a nine-metre boat on the South China Sea. They were rescued by a German ship and takento the safety of a refugee camp in Malaysia. After some time in the refugee camp, in 1980, theextended Do family arrived in Australia.In Australia, their place of refuge, they still faced poverty, tragedy, family breakup, racism andcruelty, yet Do’s story is not one of sorrow or pity. Their lives are now safe and they have hope. Hetells his family’s story with genuine humour and shows delightful scenes of fun and family life.The memoir shows the extraordinary courage and resilience of Do’s family (and others like them)and is a success story about people who are thankful for the life they now have.The Happiest Refugee helps you understand the challenges many migrants and refugees face.They have to leave the country of their birth, master a new language, earn a living, understand thenew society and its culture, and overcome racism.Sometimes Australians are not as warm and welcoming as you would hope. Reading texts likethis one helps people to understand the different people living in Australia and see the migrants’point of view. Such texts help foster social inclusion by reducing ignorance.The Happiest Refugee has been extraordinarily successful since its publication in 2010. It haswon many awards, including the 2011 Australian Book of the Year, Biography of the Year andNewcomer of the Year, as well as the Non-Fiction Indie Book of the Year Award 2011. It wasalso shortlisted for the 2011 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, Community RelationsCommission Award.1

Links to Australian Curriculum:English at Years 9/10This unit covers the following strands and sub-strands of the Australian Curriculum: English.The unit aims to enrich students’ understanding of Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia,and incorporates some of the general capabilities.LiteratureLiteracyLanguage variation and changeLanguage for interactionText structure and organisationLiterature and contextResponding to literatureExamining literatureCreating literatureTexts in contextInterpreting, analysing andevaluatingFSLanguageGeneral capability linksAsia and Australia’s engagement with AsiaLiteracyCritical and creative thinkingPersonal and social capabilityEthical behaviourIntercultural understandingPAGEPROOCross-curriculum priority links2

Features to considerWhen you read or view a text, it is important to consider when and where the text was created (itsbackground and context), and how the text is structured. These features help your understandingand analysis, and lead to a more informed evaluation and response.Background and contextWhen studying a memoir, it is valuable to know as much as you can about the person who wrote it.It is also valuable to gather more information about significant events that influenced the memoir—in this case, the Vietnam War, the subsequent exodus of people fleeing Vietnam, and Australia’smigration policies.FSAnh DoVietnam WarEPROO[Anh Do] te.php was born in 1977 in SouthVietnam. He came to Australia as a refugee when he was two years old.He won a part scholarship to attend St Aloysius at North Sydney and graduated with a combinedbusiness/law degree from the University of Technology in Sydney. He left his career as a lawyerto become a stand-up comedian. He is now a father of three young boys, a successful stand-upcomedian, a film writer and producer, and a popular television personality who has appeared onshows like The Footy Show, Thank God You’re Here, Dancing with the Stars and Anh Does Vietnam.His brother, Khoa Do, is a film director, and Anh has acted in several of Khoa’s films, includingFooty Legends, which Anh co-wrote and produced. Do has also appeared in a number of otherfilms, including the television series Double the Fist (2008) and the movie Little Fish (2005).PAGThe Vietnam War was the longest major conflict in which Australia was involved. Australian forcesserved in Vietnam from 1962 until 1973. It was also probably the most controversial as, towardsthe end of Australia’s involvement in the conflict, opposition increased, resulting in large protestmarches in major Australian cities.The Vietnam War was the first war to be televised. Real footage from the battlefront wasregularly shown on the evening television news, giving many Australians first-hand and oftengraphic insights into the war and warfare.It was also a war where new weapons, especially chemical weapons, were used. The effect ofthese weapons on Vietnamese villages and people was devastating. More than 72 million litresof toxic chemicals were sprayed in Vietnam and over 50 per cent of the mangrove forests weredestroyed. In just two years, 1968 and 1969, over 2 million tonnes of bombs were dropped bythe American and Australian air and naval forces. Over the entire conflict, this total was over14 million tonnes of bombs. Over 80 per cent of Vietnamese people were farmers, so the shellingand deforestation of farmland left many Vietnamese not only without a home but also without alivelihood.Approximately 3.5 million people were killed in the Vietnam War. Approximately 60 000Australians served in Vietnam, more than 3000 were wounded and 521 died as a result of theconflict.3

FSOOPRGVietnamese refugee crisisEA South Vietnamese mother struggles to escape across a flooded river with her four children.PAThe aftermath of the Vietnam War motivated many people in Vietnam to leave their country seekingsafety and a better life.Surprisingly, few people fled Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The enormous wave of refugeesfrom Indochina started after the war, beginning in 1975 when totalitarian communist governmentshad control of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and forced millions to flee. The Happiest Refugee beginsin 1976 in Saigon (current-day Ho Chi Minh City). The Vietnam War has ended and the country is inturmoil as the brutal communist government tries to impose its new regime.Two million Vietnamese people became refugees. Many, like Do’s family, fled their country insmall, overcrowded, substandard boats. Some boats made it to the safety of neighbouring countrieslike Malaysia. Other boats made it as far as northern Australia. However, in trying to cross the SouthChina Sea, many people died, the victims of unseaworthy boats and pirates. Some refugees spentyears in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, before finally being allowed toresettle in other countries like Australia.In the ten years from 1976, approximately 94 000 refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnamsettled in Australia. Only a very small number of these, about 2000 people, came to Australia by boat.4

Australia’s migration policyAustralia has a long history of welcoming people who have lost their homes and livelihoods,especially through the devastation of war and harsh political regimes. People have had to fleetheir homes because they fear for their lives, often because they belong to a political, religious orcultural group that is being persecuted in their country of origin.Australia’s permanent migration program is divided into two main categories: ‘migration’, which is for skilled migrants, migrants joining family members already in Australia,and a small group of special eligibility migrants ‘humanitarian’, which is for refugees and others in humanitarian need.PROOFSOne of the largest waves of migrants to Australia was immediately after World War II.Many people in Europe were displaced by the conflict and found themselves in temporaryaccommodation in displaced persons camps. The displaced included people freed from Naziconcentration camps and people who had fled the communist regimes in Eastern Europe.Australia needed workers and actively encouraged migrants to come here, often by offering topay the migrants’ passage. Between 1947 and 1954, 170 000 displaced persons were resettled inAustralia. Since World War II, Australia has welcomed more than 700 000 refugees and people inhumanitarian need.The huge number of refugees in the period immediately after World War II caused theinternational community to define refugees. The United Nations’ 1951 Convention Relating to theStatus of Refugees defines a refugee as a person who has a:Ewell-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of aparticular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or,owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.PAGIn Australia today, there are ongoing debates about our migration policies, includingAustralia’s capacity and desire to accept refugees.The history of Vietnam, refugees and migrationLook online to learn more about the history of the Vietnam War, Vietnamese migrants andrefugees in Australia: The [Department of Veterans’ Affairs] r/ and the[Australian War Memorial] have informative websites thatdocument Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Melbourne’s [Immigration Museum], coverycentre/your-questions/refugees/ part of [Museum Victoria], pid 97 has an excellent site dedicated to immigration in Australia. A report by ABC News, [‘The Luckiest Refugees’], fugees/ tells the story of another group of Vietnamese refugees. The Refugee Council of Australia’s [website] providesinsights into the myths that surround the refugee debate in Australia today and detailed information aboutthe numbers of refugees who have come to Australia.5

Text structureA memoirPAGEPROOFSThe Happiest Refugee is a memoir. A memoir is a written account of a person’s memories. It canshare similarities with an autobiography and be primarily about the person’s life and experiences,or it can be about a subject that is very familiar to the writer, where the writer can rely on theirown memories of events. The main feature of a memoir is that it is told from memory andpersonal knowledge.A memoir can be similar to an autobiography, but it is usually less formal and more anecdotal,and does not rely so much on formally documented records as it does on memory. One thingcommon to most memoirs and autobiographies is the use of the first-person narrative, which Douses in The Happiest Refugee.Like a novel, a memoir can be structured and organised in many different ways. The writer canchoose to reveal memories chronologically, to move backwards in time by including flashbacks,or to randomly scatter memories and anecdotes. A memoir differs from fiction in that a memoiris based on the actual events of a person’s life and the real social and historical events he or sheexperiences.The Happiest Refugee is a memoir of the best kind. Do’s recount is both interesting andentertaining, and sometimes heart-wrenching. He shares insights about himself and the factorsthat shaped him, such as the challenges his mother faced when her husband left. Do’s motherworked as a seamstress in harsh conditions, and her experiences inspired a young Do to seekways of making extra money to help his family.Do’s memoir also gives you valuable insights into the effects of the Vietnam War, the plight ofrefugees and the resilience of families like Do’s as they try to make a new life for themselves in anunfamiliar country.Memoirs are growing in popularity as their informality and personal stories suit many readers.You might have read other memoirs and enjoyed getting to know more about the writer and thetimes they lived in.Structure of the memoirThe Happiest Refugee is made up of a prologue and twelve chapters, which tell the story of Doand his family until 2010, when the book was published. At the end of the book, Do is enjoying afamily outing on a small boat. Do has come a long way from the day his mother tried desperatelyto stop a two-year-old Do crying as the family secretly escaped Vietnam. His words act as anepilogue for his family’s journey:I look across the water and am mesmerised by the beauty of this magnificent setting. My parents setoff on a boat trip many years ago to provide their children and grandchildren a better life. And herewe are, thanks to them, enjoying this perfect day. (p. 229).The prologue, which opens the book, starts well into the story when Do is twenty-one. He isracing to Melbourne to visit his estranged father, who he had not seen in nine years. As the storyunravels in later chapters, you learn the reasons for