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An 'Operation Babylift' baby grows up
Year of production - 2003
Duration - 0min 42sec
Tags - Asia, Operation Babylift, Screen Asia, Vietnam War, adoption, belonging, civics and citizenship, culture, ethics, family, heritage, refugees, values, war, youth, see all tags
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Surfie Shane is introduced against the backdrop of beautiful Yallingup beach in Western Australia where he lives. He was one of the babies adopted through the ‘Operation Babylift’ from Saigon, Vietnam, in 1975. He asserts that he is “just happy with the way things are” and that searching for his biological Vietnamese family is “not a priority”. He explains that he is interested, however, “to look at the culture and the people and know where I came from”.
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.
An Operation Babylift baby grows up is an excerpt from the documentary Operation Babylift produced in 2003. A Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced in association with SBS Independent.
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.
All state and territory syllabuses for English, SOSE and Arts
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).
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:
- Shane tells Dai Le, the filmmaker, that ‘Destiny is Destiny’. This philosophy shows an acceptance of what life has brought him. Is this a Buddhist approach to life? What is Buddhism? What is the most characteristic religion in Vietnam today – even though religion is not approved by the ruling government of Vietnam?
- Describe Shane’s personality and interests as Dai Le reveals them in her documentary interviews.
- Is there some irony that Shane goes about his life in Australia in a Buddhist way, even though he does not use that term? Which aspects of his life?
Activity 2: Individually, in pairs, or in a group, students are asked to write their responses to the following:
- What is the filmmaker’s perspective? Does she accept Shane’s position not to search for any biological family, or is she suggesting that he should?
- We see Shane virtually meditating, watching the sunset at the beach. He then says ‘Destiny is Destiny’. What is meditation? What might the director be symbolising with this montage?
- This clip comes from Dai Le’s documentary. Look at the clips from the fictional, On Loan, which explores a similar topic. Which genre is more powerful for you? Why?
Activity 3: Individually, in pairs or in a group, students are asked to research and write their responses to the following:
- Write an essay from the point of view of someone else in his life story, like Shane’s brother. Reading the short story Tuan in Michael Hyde’s collection Same Difference may generate ideas.
- Shane’s adoptive mother, Thea Bolt, agrees that “in an ideal world, adoption is the second best option” for war orphans and children displaced by war. What are her arguments?
- Visit ICARN (Intercountry Adoption Resource Network) Australia
- Find out about the ICARN organisation’s activities which assist intercountry adoptees and their families. What approach does ICARN advocate for adoptive parents regarding an adoptee’s country of origin and culture? What cultural studies must a prospective adoptive parent now undertake? How does this compare to the 1970s time of Operation Babylift? You may be able to ask questions about current intercountry adoption through blogs or invite a speaker from ICARN to speak to your class. Present a report back to class.
Operation Babylift Teachers Notes, Film Australia.
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.