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Intercountry adoption and cultural identity

Video clip synopsis – Shane Bolt was one of 281 children airlifted out of Saigon in April 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War and brought to Australia. He was adopted by a Western Australian family. Shane’s Australian mother, Frea, remembers how the family fought anti-Asian sentiment in Perth.
Year of production - 2003
Duration - 1min 4sec
Tags - adoption, Asia, belonging, civics and citizenship, culture, ethics, family, heritage, Operation Babylift, refugees, Screen Asia, values, Vietnam War, war, youth, see all tags


Intercountry adoption and cultural identity

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About the Video Clip


This film clip shows Shane contemplating a stunning ocean sunset at Yallingup beach, Western Australia. As he drinks a beer he reflects that ‘destiny is destiny’. He says he ‘was dealt a good hand’, that he is happy and has a great family whom he ‘loves heaps’. Thea discusses the difference between the ideal world where adoption is second best, and argues that the next best thing is for such children displaced by war to have a family who loves them. Family photos are included in this clip.

This digital resource is from the project Screen Asia, a joint production of the Asia Education Foundation, Australian Children’s Television Foundation and Screen Australia Digital Learning. Click here for more digital resources for Asia.

Intercountry adoption and cultural identity is an excerpt from the documentary Operation Babylift produced in 2003. A Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced in association with SBS Independent.

Curriculum Focus


In the middle years of schooling, students can synthesise, analyse, reflect on and apply their learning to personal experiences of Asia in an increasingly independent way. They engage in cultural exchange, reflecting their enhanced understanding of their own culture, and their richer and broader framework of knowledge and understanding of Asian cultures. The aim is that students will increasingly empathise with people from different cultural backgrounds, and develop intercultural values and skills to participate in, learn from, contribute to and engage confidently in diverse cultural environments at home and abroad.

Asia Scope and Sequence: English, SOSE, The Arts

Australian Curriculum: English, History, Arts

All state and territory syllabuses for English, SOSE and Arts

Background Information


In April, 1975, in the closing days of the Vietnam War, more than 3000 babies were airlifted from Saigon orphanages and delivered into the arms of waiting couples in the US, Canada, Britain and Australia. It was the largest act of adoption in history. Thirty years on, filmmaker Dai Le, herself a Vietnam War refugee, made a documentary to tell the stories of three of the 281 children brought to Australia. Dai says she wanted to make this film because she understands what it is to have two identities. Through candid interviews with the children (now grown), their adoptive parents, those involved in the airlift and Vietnamese families and politicians, this compelling film explores complex issues of interracial adoption and cultural identity, as well as providing background to this controversial operation.

One of the strengths of Dai Le’s documentary is that she explores three diverse stories. Two have returned to Vietnam to find biological family. One of these young women is very emotional and distressed during much of the documentary, whilst the other is more resolved. The third, Shane, has chosen not to pursue biological family.

The Operation Babylift film clips selected for the online activities focus on Shane, one of the filmmaker’s three interviewees. It is recommended that students look at his story in comparison to the film clips of the story of Lindy, the lead character in the fictional film On Loan. Lindy’s story resembles that of the two girls/young women in the documentary, Operation Babylift. Click here to access all these film clips.

Viewing this clip will assist students to understand Asia, to develop informed attitudes and values, to know about contemporary Asia, and to connect Australia and Vietnam (refer to National Statement for Engaging Students with the Studies of Asia).

Classroom Activities


For further background preparation, students should create a ‘Fact File’ rubric of three columns. (You will find a model on page 50 in In our Own Backyard: Connecting to Global Issues in Our Region, edited by Bronwyn Collie, published by Curriculum Corporation, 2006.) Label your three columns ‘Feature of Comparison’, ‘Vietnam’ and ‘Australia’. To complete the boxes, research information for the following ‘features of comparison’ for both countries: Geographic area, Population, Government, Capital population, Dominant language, Other main languages, Main ethnic groups, Religions, Average income per day/year, Average life expectancy, National literacy rate, Major exports including any to Vietnam/Australia, Major imports including any from Vietnam/Australia, Cultural exchanges with Australia/Vietnam

Activity 1: Ask students to discuss and respond to the following questions:

  1. As Shane prepares squid for the family barbecue, he recounts the factors that account for his happy childhood in Australia. What are four of these factors?

Activity 2: Individually or in a group, students are asked to write their responses to the following:

  1. Shane mentions the family ‘philosophy’. What does he mean by this word? Does your family operate by a philosophy or belief system? If so, what is it? Is it effective or helpful?
  2. Shane’s adoptive mother explains that there was a distressing wave of anti-Asian graffiti and posters around Perth in the 1970s when Shane and his siblings were small. What did the family do about this? Research evidence of this period of racism in Australia.

Activity 3: Individually, in pairs or in a group, students are asked to research and write their responses to the following:

  1. The family could have ignored the anti-Asian campaign. Would it have been ethical to ignore such a campaign? Do you think Shane and his siblings would have learnt anything from their parents’ problem-solving strategy? How does Shane look back on it now?
  2. Should adoptive parents encourage their intercountry children to have social and cultural connections with local communities whose origins are from the same country? Draw up a list of positive outcomes that this may provide.
  3. What programs exist today for the support, transition or repatriation of children who find themselves displaced in Australia due to conflict in their own country? Think about children from East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, given that Australian troops have had a presence in these countries during the troubles of recent decades. What other programs would you advise? How much responsibility should Australia acknowledge and take on, even many years after involvement in conflict overseas?
  4. Research where communities of Vietnamese people have settled in Australia. Draw up map of your city or town and pin point the locations of significant communities of Vietnamese business. What contribution do these communities provide for Australia?
  5. Refer to the Kahootz Xpression, Migrating to Australia. If you have access to the software program Kahootz, develop your own Xpression about migrating to Australia. OR
  6. Complete the existing narrative in Kahootz by adding two more scenes to illustrate the family’s life in Australia now. The novel, Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzmann, may provide inspiration to developing your storyline.

Further Resources


Operation Babylift Teachers Notes, Film Australia.

Adopt Vietnam, Operation Babylift – Vietnam Adoption Airlift 1975

Brooksbank, A 1985, On Loan, Winners, McPhee Gribble / Penguin Books, Australia.

Costain, M, 2005, Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism, P20–23, in The Really Big Beliefs Project, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.

Hoepper, B, 2008, Vietnam Topic Book, SOSE Alive, Jacaranda.

Hyde and Parr, 1995, Same Difference, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.

Kwok, J and McKnight L, 2002, Film Asia, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.

Ledger, S and Ledger, R, 1998, Snapshots of Asia: Vietnam, Curriculum Corporation Australia, Melbourne.

Lewis, R, 1997, Vietnam – Young People, Old Country – Secondary, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.

Uschan, M, 2002, The Fall of Saigon: The End of the Vietnam War, Heinemann Library, Oxford.

Wheeler, 2007, Lonely Planet, Vietnam Guide, Lonely Planet. 5th edition.