The story of Tri Nguyen’s childhood escape from war-torn Vietnam, and his eventual resettlement in Australia, is so beautifully shared in this award-winning short documentary film: Then I Came By Boat.
The film is an interesting examination of how Australia’s immigration policy has shifted over the past 30 years.
The film is made by Australian filmmaker Marleena Forward, who is currently studying a Masters of Documentary in filmmaking at the Victorian College of the Arts, and the animation is by Ning Xue. It was the winner of the Audience Award in the Australian Shorts section of the 2015 Human Rights and Arts Film Festival.
Tri shares beautiful moments of his life in Vietnam growing up with his grandmother, who had a ritual of waking him every morning to watch the sun rise and placing her hands on his shoulders, saying: “Tri, keep your eyes on the sun, and let the light of the sun fill your life with light.”
Sadly, he had to say goodbye to his grandmother when he made the journey to come to Australia by boat to escape war-torn Vietnam with his sister and father.
After a dangerous journey by sea and some terrifying moments, he made it safely into Melbourne, Australia, in March of 1982.
What Tri remembers as being really special about their arrival is the large amount of people there to help to give them clothes, enroll him and his sister into school, and find his dad work. All done by the local community. This gave them a safe place for healing to begin to happen in their lives.
If Tri was to make the same journey now, he would be locked up in a detention center for it.
He goes on to talk about how in the 1980s, there was much more leadership that was compassionate. He shares about how he met Malcolm Fraser (Australia’s prime minister from 1975-1983) and that Malcolm told him when the boats would arrive to Australia that he would ring up people in that area and say: “Make sure that they are clothed and that they are fed, and that they have a safe place to stay.”
Tri, along with two other asylum seekers, made a journey on foot from Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra to deliver a gift to the Australian Parliament. The gift was a large model of the boat in which he and his father and sister fled Vietnam in 1982, the year they also arrived in Australia as refugees.
I hope this touching film will shift some minds.