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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 - Australian History, 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


Ways in which communities in Australia are responding to change.

A student
5.8 accounts for differences within and between Australian communities
5.9 explains Australia’s links with other countries and its role in the global community
5.10 applies geographical knowledge, understanding and skills with knowledge of civics to demonstrate informed and active citizenship.

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. Who was Cuc Lam?
    2. Why was she a refugee?
    3. Where did she go to after fleeing Vietnam?
    4. Why did she end up in Australia?
    5. When did she arrive here?
    6. Why did she only have one small suitcase on her arrival?
    7. What has happened to her in Australia?
  2. Exploring issues raised in the video clip
    Where do Vietnamese live in Australia? Go to the Australian Bureau of Statistics home page at; click Census in the top menu bar; click Previous Censuses — Census Data in the side menu bar; click 2001 Census Data by Profile; click Basic Community Profile; choose the area you wish to explore (possibilities are: Main Areas, Local Government Areas, State Suburbs, Postal Areas, Statistical Districts, Commonwealth Electoral Divisions, State Electoral Divisions, Statistical Regions, Sections of State, Urban Centres and Localities, Remoteness Areas). Information available includes: Numbers, where born, where parents were born, language spoken at home.
    This can be investigated at a range of levels: local, regional, state and national.
    Use this information as a starting point for investigating these aspects of Vietnamese migration:
    1. The demographic characteristics of the Vietnamese compared to the general community (age structure, gender and ethnic origins)
    2. Nature of economic activities
    3. Cultural integration
    4. Sense of identity
    5. Sense of community
    6. Community activities
    7. Responses to change
      This can be done for the present, or for the past as well as the present.
      You will need to research further to explore some of these headings. Research can include a fieldwork study of an area, where students can map and record evidence of the impact of the immigrant group on the community, as well as evidence of change over time to the economy, society and physical appearance of the area.

Further Resources


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