Friday, June 27, 2014

First former Vietnamese refugee Hieu Van Le to be next governor of South Australia

FAMILY: Lan Le and Hieu Van Le with sons Kim Le, 23, and Don Le, 27
HIEU Van Le’s Australian story began with a month-long journey on a dilapidated wooden boat.

It took him to the modest Pennington migrant hostel and now Adelaide’s most prestigious address — Government House.

Premier Jay Weatherill yesterday announced Mr Le would be South Australia’s next Governor, replacing Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce, whose term expires in August.

Mr Le’s inspirational story is a powerful symbol of triumph over adversity as SA faces an uphill battle to turn the economy around.

Mr Le was among the first wave of “boat people” arriving in Darwin Harbour in 1977 with his wife Lan and about 40 others fleeing a war-ravaged Vietnam. “Very early in the morning, we clumsily hit the Darwin Harbour. We were very nervous because we did not know what kind of treatment we would have,” Mr Le recalled.

“We had experienced violence and aggression from South-East Asian coast guards who had held guns to heads. That was very close to mind.
A young Hieu Van Le with his wife his Lan at the Pennington Hostel in 1977.

“But it turned out there weren't any coast guards. Just a little tinny with two men wearing wide-brim hats, zinc cream over their noses and already their first beer for the day.
A Vietnamese refugee boat similar to the one Hieu Van Le arrived in at Darwin

“They spotted us, came over and raised a stubby as if proposing a toast and said ‘G’day mate, welcome to Australia’.

“That continues to be a typical embodiment of the generosity of Australians.”

Mr Le said that he was honoured and humbled to be appointed Governor. He called Government House a “very intimidating structure” and said it was hard to believe he would call it home.

“As a young boat people refugee, I arrived here 36 years ago with nothing but an invisible suitcase filled with dreams,” he said.

“A dream to live in a peaceful, safe and free country and to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

A Vietnamese refugee boat similar to the one Hieu Van Le arrived in at Darwin.

“But to be bestowed with the greatest honour and the privilege of holding the vice-regal office is absolutely beyond my wildest dream.

“This appointment, however, says much more about our society than about me. It sends a powerful message affirming our inclusive and egalitarian society.”

Mr Le said that when he arrived in Adelaide, in November, 1977, there were some cultural tensions and negativity surrounding the influx of Vietnamese migrants, but there had been “dramatic” change since.

He said he hoped to use his position to further improve the state’s cultural and business connection with South-East Asia.
Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce, whose term expires in August, with Hieu Van Le

“We all know about the economic (challenge facing SA), we need to put a lot of effort into that and there is a number of areas we can look into,” he said.

“I think there is huge potential for us to continue improving the trade and business connections and cultural exchanges with these countries.”
Premier Jay Weatherill announces
the appointment of Hieu Van Le (L) as next governor
Mr Weatherill said it was a great honour to announce that Mr Le would be the state’s 35th Governor and the first Asian migrant to rise to that position in SA’s history.

“Mr Le has a story of great significance to SA — from arriving as a boat person in 1977, advancing his education, establishing a family, rising through the ranks of business and community leadership, to becoming the Lieutenant Governor of SA,” Mr Weatherill said. “Now, the next chapter in Mr Le’s incredible journey will be written when he is sworn in as Governor of SA in September.’’

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