Illustrated by Donna Rawlins
National Museum of Australia Press, Making Tracks, 2006
age group: 9 to 12 years
length: 64 pages
rrp: $9.95 (AUD)
Like a cricket to freedom
It started on the first day of Tet, in the middle of the fun and firecrackers, when they put old pants and shirts on top of their New Year clothes and took a bus from Saigon to Uncle Huan’s near the sea. Or before that, when Ma sold everything they owned so nothing was left but the furniture and Trung’s bamboo cage for his fighting crickets. Or maybe it started two years before, on that rainy day in 1976 when the soldiers took Ba away because he was a doctor for the army that lost the war.
Whenever it started, it happened the night they crept out of Uncle’s house in the middle of the night, Mai on Ma’s back and Trung carrying his parcel of new clothes.
They didn't look like pirates: they looked like ordinary fishermen, but with eyes as quick and glittering as their waving knives...
Trung's adventure begins in the dead of night. He and his father escape the soldiers with guns. But what awaits them across the dark sea?
BACKGROUND TO THE WRITING
The Making Tracks series was created by asking different authors to write a story using an item in the National Museum of Australia's collection. My item was the Hong Hai - a 20 metre Vietnamese fishing boat which arrived in Darwin in 1978 with 38 people on board. Their journey, and that of thousands of others like them, was almost too horrendous to believe, as they fled from their homeland without really knowing where they would end up, usually without enough fuel, food or water to last the distance, often sent back to sea even before they could land and find refuge, and sometimes attacked by pirates. If and when they did arrive, they had to face settling in to a very different new country, and wondering whether they would ever see their family again - because often the whole family couldn't come together, and the children might be sent with one parent, or another relative, to give them a chance at freedom and a better life.
I haven't tried to write the story specifically of the Hong Hai, but by talking to people who had made a similar journey, and reading the piles of newspaper clippings and books that the Vietnamese community has saved over the last thirty years, a story finally appeared to me. It started with an old newspaper article about the parcels that the new arrivals sent home to the family left behind in Vietnam. Fabric was a good thing to send because it survived the trip well and could be sold there to raise money. Suddenly I saw a boy looking in a window at a bolt of cloth that he wanted to send home to his mother. Can you imagine all the emotions he'd be sending with it! And so, Trung was born.
One of the best things about writing this book has been meeting some of Melbourne's Vietnamese community, and attending events that I probably wouldn't have heard about otherwise, such as the celebration of the community's 30 years in Australia, and a wonderful play, The Children of the Dragon. Events like this enrich our lives, and I'm very lucky to have been able to do this exploration into another side of the Australian community.
The other thing that's been very exciting has been seeing Donna Rawlins' illustrations. They are moody, evocative and stunning. I can't tell you how moved I was to see Trung's face; she has captured all that I feel about him - that even when he's scared and lonely, his bravery and hopefulness shows through, and we feel that somehow, he'll be all right in the future.
Go to: http://nma.gov.au/play/making_tracks/across_the_dark_sea