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From Saigon to Perth - a Vietnam War orphan

Video clip synopsis – Surfie Shane is at Yallingup beach in Western Australia where he lives. Shane was one of the babies adopted through the ‘Operation Babylift’ airlift from Saigon, Vietnam, in 1975.
Year of production - 2003
Duration - 1min 25sec
Tags - adoption, Asia, belonging, civics and citizenship, culture, ethics, family, heritage, Operation Babylift, refugees, Screen Asia, values, Vietnam War, war, youth, see all tags


From Saigon to Perth - a Vietnam War orphan

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About the Video Clip


This film clip shows Shane in his home, preparing squid for a barbecue. He talks about how he grew up in a family of seven and how his older brother protected him at school from bullying. He reflects on being brought up with a ‘help each other out’ family philosophy. We see archival family photos of Shane growing up. Shane’s Australian mother, Frea, talks about how the family tackled anti-Asian graffiti and posters in Perth in the 1970s and 1980s. Shane recalls this well and laughs affectionately about Frea’s proactive methods to “stand up” for her children.

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.

From Saigon to Perth – a Vietnam War orphan 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


Background preparation

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. The narrator tells us that “Not all adoptees from the Babylift want to explore their past. Shane is content.” How does Shane explain his position to the viewer and how does he describe this in Australian vernacular?
  2. Shane thinks it would be pointless to search for biological family in Vietnam, but he is interested in visiting Vietnam. What are his reasons?
  3. The footage of Shane surfing at his local beach at Yallingup, Western Australia, suggests part of the reason for his contentment. Identify what brings Shane contentment?

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

  1. Is there a surfing or beach culture in Vietnam? Should Shane investigate this when he visits Vietnam? Why? (Research Lonely Planet Vietnam, The Rough Guide to Vietnam)
  2. What are the commonalities and differences with the babylift operation from Vietnam and Australia’s Stolen Generation?

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

  1. Shane says that to find his biological family would be “Awesome” but then reflects “But what do you do when you find them?” What issues might Shane be anticipating?
  2. The last image of the wave rolling in may be intended as a metaphor by Dai Le, the filmmaker and director. What might the wave symbolise about Shane?

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.