Photography: Robert Blackburn
Viet Long Nguyen served in the Navy of The Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) from 1968 to 1975. He can recount the precise date that he knew he had to leave his birth country.
“It was the 30th of April 1975, the Fall of Saigon,” Long said.
The North Vietnamese had gained control of the country’s capital and the South Vietnamese Armed Forces, who had fought alongside the Australian Army and allies, were in danger.
Some escaped. Others, like Long, were locked up.
“I was detained by the Communists in a concentration camp for four years,” he said.
"In 1979, I was released, and in 1982, I fled Vietnam from Vung Tau to the Natuna archipelago of Indonesia as a boat leader."
He was then taken to Galang Refugee Camp. One year later, he was granted approval to settle in Australia as a political refugee.
Long stayed at a hostel in Maribyrnong. He would later gain employment at the GM-Holden factory in Port Melbourne, where he worked until his retirement.
Soon after, Long assumed a leadership role in the Vietnamese veteran community, becoming President of the Vietnamese Veterans Association of Victoria from 1989- 1993 and 2007-2011. He is proud of the association’s efforts to sponsor Vietnamese Veterans from refugee camps in Southeast Asia.
“With the invaluable assistance of the Immigration Department of Australia, the refugees were allowed to settle in Victoria, as my family had done in previous years.”
Long said he had to leave his wife and two children behind when he left Vietnam in the 1980s, but once he settled in Melbourne, he sponsored them to join him. He now has four adult children and is a proud grandfather of five.
He has worked hard to help other veterans and their families in his role as the President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia Victorian Chapter from 1993-1997.
“I submitted requests for funding from the government to hire social workers to assist our new Vietnamese veterans,” he said.
He also helped them find employment and organised social events and activities.
“I joined Footscray Sub-Branch of the Returned and Services League (RSL) in 2008 under the late President Mr Clem Davis, a Navy Veteran of World War Two,” Long said.
“He encouraged Vietnamese veterans to join, and after that, I was appointed to be Vice-President.”
When Clem died in February 2011, Long became President. By tapping into his long-established links with the Vietnamese veteran community, he helped reinvigorate the Footscray RSL membership base.
The Sub-Branch organises commemorative activities, fundraises for the annual ANZAC and Poppy Appeals, and directly supports veterans.
Long's exceptional care and camaraderie to the Vietnamese veteran community in Victoria was recognised this year when he received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
Long, now aged 76, expressed his thanks for receiving the award and said he was happy to call Australia his “second homeland.”
“I am humbled, but extremely proud to receive the honour of the OAM award,” he said.