The young man attended a Primary School in Springvale, Melbourne. The school was a vibrant place to work as the school housed and welcomed one hundred and forty eight nationalities. It was beside the Springvale Migrant Hostel which was overflowing with Asian and other nationalities in the time after the Vietnam War and other trouble spots which made effective living for families impossible.
The family requested a Parent Teacher interview to take place in their home. I agreed as it is good to see the home environment for a deaf child. I was welcomed and we began to discuss the son and his progress. Then the phone rang. The father went to answer it with an “Excuse Me”, went white and had to hold the edge of the table. He spoke in Chinese. When he turned he said “They have turned the guns onto the students in Beijing Square”. His wife dropped her head to her hands and I asked if I should leave. His reply was: “No! Please proceed. Australia is the future for my children”. We have been ejected from Indo China and now Vietnam. Australia is home!
So we talked: the phone rang frequently. He was President of the Indo Chinese association in Australia. He answered and when he returned to us he told his wife and myself what was happening. Someone's son had been killed; someone's family had disappeared and couldn't be contacted; a man in Springvale who had family in Beijing died of a heart attack.
And so we talked of the future for their sons here in Australia. But at the same time the attacks in Beijing reached out and were part of the conversation. The father continued to talk on the phone; mentoring and comforting those callers. I realise now; this family was used to living with fear and dread of expulsions and worse. But it was important for them to continue with their living and their future.
I was not in Beijing but ten thousand miles away. I sat listening, feeling the despair of a family far away and safe from guns and expulsion. The agony as they hoped their loved ones and family were safe. A family who had been on the run for years and years and were sure Australia was their hope and future. I can confirm this was so.
When Malcolm Fraser died a group from the Chinese community carried a banner. “Thank You Mr Fraser”, attending his funeral to pay thanks to this person who saw them as worthwhile and opened our borders to so many people in need.
I wasn't there but that night changed me forever. And seeing those Chinese Vietnamese Cambodian people saying thank you.
I remembered my own personal legacy. I never knew. I had studied Wars and Nations but I never knew until that night when the tanks rolled into Beijing and people died for their beliefs.
HELEN TRELOAR DUGGIN
22 May 2017