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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 - Asia, changing communities, documentary genre, immigration, media, representations, 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 module
Students will:

  • learn how identity is presented in a documentary text
  • learn the signs, codes and conventions of the documentary genre
  • understand the role of symbols in media texts
  • create a short documentary text focusing on objects as symbols important to them

Curriculum links
National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 5

Year 5 Reading
Students read and view texts that entertain, move, report, present opinions and persuade. Students have the opportunity to draw on their knowledge of texts and language to clarify meaning. When students read and view texts, they recognise main ideas by identifying who, what, where, when and why, and locate supporting details and background events.

Year 5 Writing
Students write texts for known readers to entertain, inform and persuade in print and electronic mediums. Students understand that writers consider their purpose for writing (eg to entertain, to inform, to persuade) and the interests of their intended readers when selecting subject matter within a chosen topic.

Year 5 Speaking and listening
Students understand that speaking and listening provides opportunities to clarify ideas and understandings on a topic, to give simple arguments and to seek the opinions of others. They understand that people, places, events and things can be portrayed in particular ways.

This is an extract only. Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English
Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.

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. Why was Chuc Lam’s suitcase chosen to be a National Treasure?
  2. What does her suitcase tell us about Chuc Lam and her culture?
  3. Describe how the clip presents Chuc Lam and her suitcase.
    1. What shots are used to draw our attention to the important aspects of the story- for example, are many close ups used?
    2. What is the effect of having Warren Brown as narrator? Why are narrators and presenters used in documentary texts?
    3. How effective is the archival footage of refugees in the clip?
    4. How does the suitcase symbolise Chuc Lam’s identity as a new Australian?
  4. 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). Have show and tell in class to share insights about the objects and what they represent to the students.
  5. Create a documentary text
    1. Take a photograph of it and write a short description of what it means to you and your family.
    2. Video an interview with the family member whose article it is.
    3. Record a sound interview.

Further Resources


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

Go to Screen Education for excellent articles and study guides focusing on all aspects of Australian documentary form and for detailed instructions for producing media texts.

Read Reading the Visuals in the Middle Years by Rod Quinn, Curriculum Corporation 2005.