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Cuc Lam's Suitcase

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


Outcomes from this digital resource

Students will:

  • learn the signs, codes and conventions of the documentary genre
  • research the ways in which immigration has been represented in media texts
  • understand the role of symbols in media texts
  • create short documentaries and non fiction text types focusing on objects as symbols important to them

Viewing and creating texts about Cuc Lam’s suitcase, students will have the opportunity to explicitly develop and demonstrate their knowledge and abilities in terms of the Queensland curriculum

Affective objectives

  • enjoying: experiencing and expressing thoughts and emotional reactions
  • engaging: participating effectively in activities that involve connecting with people, feelings, places, ideas, issues and events
  • relating: respecting and valuing cultural similarities and differences
  • appreciating: valuing the world(s) in which they live in order to understand better the world of others
  • playing: experimenting with the flexible nature of language, exploring its possibilities, and creating desired effects

Knowledge and control of texts in their contexts

  • making meaning in texts, taking account of how language and meaning are shaped by cultural purposes, genres and register variables
  • selecting, synthesising, analysing, infering from, and evaluating subject matter and substantiating with evidence as required
  • establishing and making use of the ways that writers, speakers/signers and shapers’ roles and their relationships with their readers, listeners and viewers are influenced by power, distance and affect
  • using modes and mediums, combining where necessary, to interpret and produce texts.

Knowledge and control of textual features

  • making decisions about the appropriateness and effectiveness of the staging of texts and the sequencing and organization of subject matter, and of the use of cohesive ties to link ideas in a range of texts, including those that are multigeneric and multimodal
  • considering and selecting vocabulary, including figurative language
  • experimenting with visual, auditory and digital features, using them in combination as appropriate in written, spoken/signed and multimodal texts to make meaning
  • making use of a range of spoken/signed and non-verbal features

Knowledge and application of the constructedness of texts

  • making use of their knowledge that discourses shape and are shaped by language choices
  • exploring ways that cultural assumptions, values, beliefs and attitudes underpin texts
  • choosing ways to represent concepts, and the relationships and identities of individuals, groups, times and places
  • considering ways that readers, viewers or listeners are invited to take up positions in relation to texts or parts of texts, and making decisions about which reading position to adopt
  • making choices about how to invite readers or viewers of, or listeners to, their own texts to take up positions in relation to the text of parts of the text.

This is an extract only. Teachers and students should consult Queensland Curriculum: Learning, Teaching and Assessment for updated curriculum 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. Exploring the production signs, codes and conventions
    1. How many different modes of representation are used to present the story of Cuc Lam’s suitcase? Discuss the use of narrator to camera in the opening shots and the time compression sequence that follows taking us into the museum, the 1978 footage and the interview with Cuc Lam.
    2. How does the video clip represent Cuc Lam’s journey? Discuss how the images of the suitcase and its contents are framed.
    3. Discuss the role of the music soundtrack in the video clip. What mood does it evoke?
    4. What point of view are we as the audience invited to take about immigration? Write a brief list of words used by Warren Brown that position us in relation to immigration policies in 1978.
    5. How is the suitcase represented as a symbol in the video clip? Discuss the actual suitcase, Warren Brown’s drawing and the language used to describe it.
  2. Exploring the documentary form in multi modal texts
    1. Choose an object that has meaning for you in a cultural context, for example something you or your family may have brought with them to Australia in any era: a photograph, clothing, trunk, personal memorabilia, a treasured souvenir etc. In small groups, share insights about the objects and what they represent to each student.
    2. Write an article about it for a newspaper or magazine or for publishing online; it could be a blog. Include interviews, photographs and other relevant material.
    3. Produce a short DVD documentary about the object. Think about how you will present the object and what images, sound and narration and/or interviews need to be included.
    4. Tape a radio program about the object. What needs to be considered when images cannot be included?
    5. The use of the word ‘multiculturalism’ by some prominent Australians has recently been reported in the media. Using the internet and other sources, investigate the debate and discuss the people who are engaged in the debate, the arguments being used for and against the use of the word ‘multiculturalism’ and why these people might be making their arguments.

Further Resources


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