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Vietnamese migrants overcome years of struggle to succeed in Australian farming

Frank Nguyen is harvesting lemongrass in his farm in Casino.
Frank Nguyen is harvesting lemongrass in his farm in Casino.

ABC Rural: Kieu Trinh Nguyen

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Families of Vietnamese heritage have shown remarkable resilience to build farming and the fruit and vegetable businesses in the 40 years since they fled war-torn Vietnam.

In the 1970s, many Vietnamese people fled their homeland to Australia to escape the conflict and oppression associated with the Vietnam War.

Now, their happiness is being displayed in the businesses they have built and the role they play in the industry.

For Frank Nguyen, happiness is more than just having good seasons.

For him, it is a reward enough to see his fellow growers succeed in their business.

"Now all of our growers are prosperous.

"They have their own farm, they have house in the city and their lives look quite happy and they are alright.

"That is our reward … we see that and we feel happy."

Frank started farming on a 2.8 hectare farm in Kenthurst, New South Wales and the business has now grown to include nine farms across Australia, including Darwin, with more than 25,000 mango trees.

Vui Nguyen- Frank's wife is wearing a shade hat, collecting mango from their farm in Darwin.
Vui Nguyen — Frank's wife is harvesting mango from their farm in Darwin.

ABC Rural: Kieu Trinh Nguyen

He came to Australia in 1970s, amongst the first Vietnamese immigrants of the time to flee the war, but not, he said, before some of his family were killed by the communists.

The departure is still vivid in his memory.

"We hesitated a lot before we leave the country but one night my father, my brother and my sister were killed and one of my sisters had her left hand cut off."

Farming businesses grow

Theresa Nguyen is working at her stall in Sydney Markets.
Theresa Nguyen arrived in Australia when she was eight and now runs her wholesale business in Sydney Markets.

ABC Rural: Kieu Trinh Nguyen

Frank Nguyen's sister Theresa Nguyen was on the same boat to Australia.

She was only eight when she arrived.

Theresa followed Frank's footsteps and started her own business, Oriental Produce, 10 years ago.

"They say Australia is the land of opportunity and if you're willing to work hard, work long hours and work for yourself, then you can succeed."

Theresa has recently started on her own farm in Far North Queensland. Farming is not easy, she said, but she believes her hard work will be paid off.

As the first generation continues to work hard and prosper after so many years of struggle, the second generation takes on the tradition and contribute to the family's business.

Markets are a natural fit

Vinh Nguyen is standing at the desk in his father's business at the Sydney Markets with fruits and vegetables in the background
Vinh Nguyen is working as a salesman in his father's business at the Sydney Markets.

Kieu Trinh Nguyen

Vinh Nguyen is Frank's son and he is working as a salesman for his father's wholesale business, TV Farms at the Sydney Markets.

From lotus roots to banana blossom, he is the person to go to if you are looking for the most exotic or uncommon ingredients for your cooking.

"I was born in the market and I have always been there so, the market has become a part me. It is natural."

Frank Ngyen and his family stand together in the Sydney Markets in Flemington.
Frank Ngyen arrived in Australia as a refugee and has now built up a business with nine properties around Australia involving many family members.

ABC Rural: Kieu Trinh Nguyen

He is the eighth child in a family of 10 and he works in his parent's business along with an older step-sister and two younger brothers.

They grew up in Australia but for many children of Vietnamese refugees traditional family values are very important and part of the reason for their success.

Family farming background in Vietnam helped

Toan at his stall in the Sydney Markets.
Toan took over his father's business at the Sydney Markets and has been running it for 20 years.

ABC Rural: Kieu Trinh Nguyen

Toan Van Tran is the owner of Asian Produce, one of the earliest businesses that wholesales Asian fruits and vegetables at Sydney Markets.

Just like Frank Nguyen, Toan's father, Cho Van Tran, was amongst the first Vietnamese arrivals in 1970s. Not until the early 1980s, was the gamily united via a Family Reunion visa.

Toan Tran took over his father's business, 20 years ago after coming to Australia as a 15-year-old — six years after his father's arrival.

Mr Toan Tran said farming was the only work possible for many Vietnamese refugees.

"My father's English was not good.

"Farming was the only way that he could do … and we had a background of farming in Vietnam."

There are large populations of Vietnamese in Sydney, Adelaide and Darwin and many of them work on farms and in wholesale fruit and vegetable markets.