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Video clip synopsis – It may be just a small red vinyl suitcase but for Vietnamese refugee Cuc Lam it’s a symbol of a new beginning in a new country.
Year of production - 2004
Duration - 4min 45sec
Tags - changing communities, civics and citizenship, heritage, identity, immigration, multiculturalism, refugees, Vietnam War, war, see all tags


Cuc Lam's Suitcase

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About the Video Clip


Cuc Lam’s Suitcase is an episode of the series National Treasures produced in 2004.

Cuc Lam’s Suitcase
If you were forced to leave your home forever, what would you take with you? Vietnamese refugee Cuc Lam took family photos and jewellery but sacrificed one precious possession to buy a suitcase, now in Melbourne’s Immigration Museum. Cuc Lam talks to Warren Brown about her journey to Australia and how this small red vinyl bag was a symbol of a new beginning in a new country.

National Treasures
Take a road-trip of discovery with the irrepressible Warren Brown – political cartoonist, columnist and history “tragic” – as he reveals a fascinating mix of national treasures drawn from public and private collections across Australia. On its own, each treasure is a priceless snapshot of an historic moment. Together, they illustrate the vitality and uniqueness of the Australian experience.

National Treasures is a Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


Inquiry question:
How does the study contribute to our understanding of the nature of history and the ways in which historical meanings can be constructed?

A student
E5.1 applies an understanding of history, heritage, archaeology and the methods of historical inquiry
E5.2 examines the ways in which historical meanings can be constructed through a range of media
E5.7 explains different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past
E5.8 locates, selects and organises relevant historical information from a number of sources, including ICT, to undertake historical inquiry.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


By 1954, after the defeat of the Japanese and the expulsion of the French in the north, Vietnam was divided into communist North Vietnam and pro-western South Vietnam. The failure of a proposed vote on reunification led to war, which the north won in 1975.

The new national government sent many people who had supported the old government in the south to ‘re-education camps’, and others to ‘new economic zones’, where they were treated badly. These factors, coupled with poverty caused by disastrous economic reforms, caused millions of Vietnamese to flee the country, usually by barely sea-worthy boats.

These fleeing Vietnamese sold what they could for gold, and took only what they could carry with them. Pirates who raped, murdered and stole almost at will against the defenceless refugees preyed on them. Many ships sank, with the loss of all aboard.

Refugees who did survive had to stay in primitive camps in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.

The plight of the boat people now became an international humanitarian crisis. Several countries agreed to resettle as many as possible of the refugees, and agreed to quotas — the United States of America (823 000), Australia and Canada (137 000 each), France (96 000), and Germany and the United Kingdom (19 000 each).

Before 1975 there were approximately 700 Vietnam-born people in Australia. A few refugee boats had reached northern Australia, but most of the Vietnamese refugee resettlement between 1975 and 1985 was by air from the refugee camps in Asia, and was then followed by family reunion under the Family Stream of Australia’s immigration program. By 1981, 43 400 Vietnamese had been resettled in Australia. By 1991 there were 124 800 Vietnam-born in Australia and in the 2001 census, 154 000 people declared themselves as Vietnam-born.

Classroom Activities

  1. Understanding the video clip
    1. What is the object shown?
    2. When does it date from?
    3. Who is it associated with?
    4. Where is it found today?
    5. Why is it located there?
    6. Why is it a significant item?
  2. Exploring issues raised in the video clip
    1. Imagine that you have been asked to create a display based on Cuc Lam’s suitcase. You can display the object, and some other associated objects. You are allowed 200 words of text as captions and explanations of the display. Here are some questions that you would need to consider. Read and answer these to create your display.
  • Why is the suitcase important?
  • What story does it tell?
  • How can we find out about this story?
  • How do we know if the story is true and representative or typical?
  • What aspect of Australian history does it illustrate?
  • How do you present the material in the most interesting and informative way?
  • What parts of the story do you stress?
    Create your display and be able to justify what you have chosen.

Further Resources


For more National Treasures information and video clips go to Investigating National Tresures