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Tan Le and Mai Ho


Tan Le, portrait

Mai Ho, portrait

More information about the Vietnam-born community in Australia can be found at the DIMIA website.

Mai's characteristic strength and determination must have been equally necessary for her daughters. The same twelve-year-old Tan who was answering the telephone would become President of the Australian Vietnamese Services Resource Centre (as it is now known) by the age of eighteen.

Mai Ho arrived in Australia in December 1982 with two small daughters and sixteen dollars.

Raised in Saigon's District 5 at the outbreak of the Vietnam War, Mai's childhood was characterised by constant threats to safety in the midst of tremendous political unrest. Bomb warnings frequently disrupted school classes. Mai was strongly influenced by her anti-communist father, who published a controversial bilingual political magazine for American and Vietnamese soldiers. He encouraged her to understand and help others, and urged her to consider the possibility of escape from Vietnam.

Aged sixteen, she married a wealthy pharmacist eighteen years her senior and was soon pregnant with her first child. Persistent persuasion from Mai led to the purchase of a boat, registered as a trade vessel, for the purposes of escape. In early morning darkness, she left in 1981 with her daughters Tan and Min, her mother, sister and brother, and 161 fellow passengers. Her husband was to join her a fortnight later. Conditions on the boat were deplorable - with no room to move, passengers were forced to urinate where they lay and all were gripped by seasickness in the stormy conditions. Five nights later an English vessel rescued the passengers, providing food and transport to a Malaysian camp. Here Mai worked as a translator before gaining passage with her family to Australia.

Housed in the Midway Hostel, Maribyrnong, she began work picking fruit to support her family. Her husband, she learned, did not intend to join her after all. The family moved to Footscray, where sheer persistence obtained for Mai a position in Quality Control for the Holden factory. She was the first female inspector at Fishermen's Bend, Port Melbourne, where she earned more than the Vietnamese men working on the factory line. While raising two children and working full time, Mai took on and completed a Bachelor of Arts (human resource management) and tertiary qualifications in computer operations and health science (beauty therapy). In 1987 she opened her own computer business and prospered. By 1990 she felt secure enough to open her own beauty salon.

Meanwhile, conscious of the struggles of those in her position, Mai set up a Vietnamese community support service. With her own savings she co-financed a venue, electricity and a telephone. At the age of twelve, her eldest daughter Tan was manning the telephone and helping people to fill out government forms. By 1992, Mai decided to stand for the local election. With strong support, she was defeated due to hundreds of uncounted informal votes. The following year she joined the Labor Party, and this time was victorious. She returned to her country of birth in 1995 with the Australian Consultative Delegation to Vietnam, the first delegation to investigate human rights there. By 1997 Mai Ho was Mayor of Maribyrnong.

Mai's characteristic strength and determination must have been equally necessary for her daughters. The same twelve-year-old Tan who was answering the telephone would become president of the Australian Vietnamese Services Resource Centre (as it is now known) by the age of eighteen. In this role she implemented counselling, training and employment programs, and refuge services for Vietnamese women. Despite some racist ridicule at school, Tan had maintained outstanding academic results and graduated to university at the age of sixteen. Awarded a KPMG Accounting Scholarship in 1997, she went on to complete a combined Bachelor of Commerce/Laws at Monash University in 1998 and was admitted as a barrister and solicitor two years later.

In 1998, Tan's contribution to community service was recognised nationally and internationally when she was awarded Young Australian of the Year.

In 2000 she co-founded a wireless technology company, SASme. The company has grown to become a leading wireless technology provider in Australia, with branches in Asia and Europe. Still young, Tan's has already been a distinguished career with appointments on the Australian Citizenship Council and the National Committee for Human Rights Education in Australia; as Ambassador for the Status of Women and Ambassador for Aboriginal Reconciliation; and as Patron of the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program. Her strong public profile and breadth of experience mean she is frequently called upon for public speaking engagements.

Source of Images: and

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Select Resources

National Conference of Vietnamese women in Australia, Vietnamese women : twenty-one years of integration and contribution in Australia: Proceedings Second National Conference, 3-4 May 1996, Mount Ommaney Lodge, Brisbane, Sydney, The Federation of Vietnamese Women's Associations in Australia Inc., 1996.

'Between two cultures': Vietnamese women in Australia (Phu Nuu Viet Nam Giuua Hai Giong Van Hoa), Sydney, Vietnamese Womens Association in NSW, 1994.

The National Library of Australia holds a number of Vietnamese language periodicals. Look up 'Vietnamese Australia Periodicals' in the subject heading line. Of particular interest is:
'Dac san xuan (Special magazine)' brought out by Vietnamese Women's Association Inc./ Hoi Phu Nu Viet Nam N.S.W. and Phu nu ngay nay (Vietnamese-language women weekly).

The National Library of Australia also holds a number of interviews with women from Vietnam in the Oral History Collection.

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection: Papers of Helen Esther. Refers to a trip undertaken by her that was sponsored by the Union of Vietnamese Women.

The list of published works on the experience of Vietnamese women in Australia is growing. For a recent example, see Nathalie Nguyen's Voyage of Hope: Vietnamese Australian Women's Stories, Melbourne, Common Ground Publishing, 2005.

Select List of Community Support Groups

There are many organisations serving the Vietnamese community in Australia. Here is a list of some of them:

New South Wales

Vietnamese-Australian Welfare Association
6-8 Old Town Plaza, Bankstown 2200, ph: (02) 9793 7129

Vietnamese Women's Association, The
Mcburney Rd (cnr Railway Pde), Cabramatta 2166, ph: (02) 9724 5871

Vietnamese Women's Association in NSW
Liverpool, NSW

Vietnamese Community in Australia / NSW Chapter
PO Box 34
Bankstown NSW 2200
Phone 02 9790 3934 - 9796 8035
Fax 02 9796 3794

South Australia

Vietnamese Women's Association, The
9 Mary St, Salisbury 5108, ph: (08) 8209 5490

Vietnamese Community in Australia / South Australia Chapter
649 Port Road
Woodville Park SA 5011
Phone 08 8268 8925


Vietnamese Community in Australia / Queensland Chapter
PO Box 3056
Darra QLD 4076
Phone 07 3375 5700, 3375 6036
Fax 07 3375 5700

Vietnamese Womens Association of Queensland Inc
103 Darra Ave, Darra 4076, ph: (07) 3713 7488


Australian Vietnamese Women's Welfare Association Inc
30-32 Lennox St, North Richmond 3121, Ph: 9428 9078
Level 1, 144-148 Nicholson St, Footscray 3011, Ph: 9396 1922

Cultural Vietnamese Women's Group
Bich Ha, Ph: 9411 4333, email Collingwood
Through North Yarra Community Health

Vietnamese Community in Australia / Victoria Chapter
PO Box 2115
Footscray VIC. 3011
Phone 03 9689 8515
Fax 03 9687 9198

Indochinese Elderly Refugees Association of Victoria (ICERA-Vic)
Phone 03 9429 1307
Fax 03 9427 1114

Western Australia

Vietnamese Community in WA, Inc
Apt 5/ 151 Brisbane St, Perth 6000, ph: (08) 9328 8914

See also:

Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia
PO Box 344 Curtin, ACT 2605
Phone:02 6282 5755
Fax: 02 6282 5734

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