I'm a banking lawyer. I’ve got a very Australian accent. Sometimes people say things to me like that refugees are not really refugees, that they are just business opportunists. I then say, ‘Well, I’m a refugee from Laos, does that change your opinion?’ With that, they are taken aback.

When we arrived in Australia, we lived first in a hostel in Melbourne, and then with my aunt and uncle and their kids in Sydney. There were 14 people in the house, and our family of 5 were in one room. My parents worked in factories, and my father worked a second shift in a restaurant at night so they could save up for a house.

I went to a public high school in a rough area of Sydney, in Bonnyrigg, right in the middle of a housing commission area. Only 4 kids from my year went on to Sydney University, and I was one of them. I still remember the first day of my law course, sitting in the lecture hall next to people from private and selective schools, and feeling nervous, out of place and undeserving.

My parents didn’t want to leave their country. They did it because they had to, because they were discriminated against by the Communists because of their Chinese background and political beliefs. Then they had to live with us in a refugee camp in Thailand for 10 months. And when they came to Australia, they worked hard, they always did the right thing, they tried to fit in, and they created a good family life for us. All my siblings went to uni, and we have all become professionals.

Back when we arrived, there was a bit more compassion for refugees. I think that's what's missing in Australia these days. Even in some of the ethnic communities, I feel that there's sometimes a lack of compassion, because they forget where they've come from.

So when people say something negative about refugees, I always speak up with my story, to try to bring kindness back into the conversation.

Arrived 1978

Photographer: Simone Cheung Photography

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