Quynh Dao: The first “boat people”

Quynh Dao has lived a very grateful life. Grateful for the opportunities she was given by Footscray Institute of Technology (FIT) and, most importantly, by the Australian people who showed nothing but kindness to her when she arrived among the first ‘boat people’ in 1979.


After the end of the Vietnam War, which saw the Communist regime take over the Republic, life took a dramatic turn for Quynh and her family, who had lived a relatively ‘regular’ life in a small town in the south of Vietnam. Quynh saw her teachers, neighbours and people suspected of being former members or supporters of the South Vietnam Military Forces taken away and never come back.

Quynh and her family managed to escape in 1979 by boat and found themselves at a refugee camp in Malaysia. Unlike current detention centres, Quynh recalls the process was “relatively quick and we received our approval in three months”.

At the age of 19, Quynh landed in Australia. She remembers the English classes started almost immediately after she arrived, in a small classroom behind the FIT campus. She studied hard under the “amazing lady, teacher and mentor, Jackie Woodroffe”, who ran the English classes and then helped all the students enrol at FIT.


“Because we were very new to the country, Jackie in her wisdom guided us and picked accounting for the girls and engineering for the guys and we have all had decent jobs afterwards”. While her interest may not have initially been in accounting, Quynh believes the course at FIT was “a saviour” – Quynh worked at the Australian Tax Office for over 29 years before retiring. She also worked with many of her classmates from her English and FIT courses.

The accounting course was “like climbing mountains” and she was only hoping for a pass. She was able to channel her fears, put all her efforts into “just passing” and came out on top. When Quynh received a letter from FIT out of the blue informing her that she had been granted a scholarship, it was a very proud and heart-warming moment. She remembers the feeling very vividly and thinks of the letter as constant reminder that her effort and hard work was recognised.

Quynh was the recipient of the Jeffrey Cheah Scholarship in 1982 and, in appreciation of this support, she has sponsored a student award in memory of her sister, My-Linh (pictured on the left). My-Linh passed away during her second year at the University of Melbourne whilst studying for a degree in Medicine.

Thân hữu Úc châu Quỳnh Dao
Mrs. Quynh Dao and her beautiful youth.

Quynh now translates documents and writes reports for Amnesty International on human rights abuse cases in Vietnam. She has not returned to Vietnam since arriving in Australia and has heard many sad stories from friends who have travelled back to their hometown of Dalat.

To read more about Quynh’s story and her journey to Australia, you can read her book Tales from a Mountain City – A Vietnam War Memoir. Her donated copies are available at the VU Library and the Immigration Museum, and contain a foreword from the late former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

Victoria University Alumni

The Vietnamese students for human rights association introduces a close-friend living in Australia, mrs. Quỳnh Dao.


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