Prior to 1975, the numbers of Vietnamese coming to Victoria were low. They included orphans from the Vietnam War, Vietnamese wives of Australian servicemen and tertiary students. When Vietnam-born Victorians were first counted separately in a census
– in 1976 – only 382 were recorded.
The majority of Vietnamese came to Victoria after the Communist government took over their homeland at the end of the Vietnam War. Those already in Australia were offered permanent residence, and refugees
began to be admitted through resettlement camps based in South East Asia. The camps filled as Vietnam expelled ethnic Chinese, and others fled terrible suffering and privation.
In 1976 the first boat arrived in Australia carrying refugees
who had by-passed formal immigration procedures. Desperate to find a new home, they were accepted as immigrants
on humanitarian grounds. Within three years a further 53 refugee
boats had arrived.
By 1981 the Vietnam-born population in Victoria was over 12,000. Most were employed in trade and production.
In 1982, the Australian and Vietnamese governments agreed on an orderly migration program, emphasising family reunion, and two-thirds of arrivals over the next few years were women. Within a few years the Vietnam-born population of Victoria would again double.
Many Vietnamese set up their own businesses, often working hard to put their children through school and university. Vietnamese small businesses gradually transformed streetscapes in suburbs like Richmond and Springvale into vibrant, restaurant and retail centres.
Today over 58,000 Victorians are Vietnam-born, a mix of Viet and Chinese ethnicities. Of those employed 28% are white collar professionals, whilst 37% work in transport, production and labouring. They enjoy strong community networks, and make a distinctive cultural contribution to Victorian life and commerce.