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This is Ye Vang’s story in he own words

I am Ye Vang, born on 5 September 1952 in a village in the area of Xamneu in Laos.  Laos is a long narrow country that runs along the Vietnamese border and as long as I can remember, there was war in the area.  As a child my family were forced to move from village to village as communist soldiers fought to take control of Laos and Vietnam.

In the 1970’s the war became very severe and food was being taken by soldiers and many people were fleeing across the border to Thailand. When I was 20, my future husband, a soldier fighting the communists, asked to take me with him to Thailand.  I had known him for most of my life. My father had died by this time and my mother agreed on the condition that he help all the family escape into Thailand.  This included my brothers and nephew and nieces and my parents.

The trip to Thailand was very hard. My husband had arranged for guides, but they took us into a communist area who started firing on us.  We all ran for our lives but my mother, one brother and some of the children were killed. We went for 4 days and nights without food or water.   Eventually we got to the Thailand border which is the Mekong River.  It was night and the river is very wide and swift.  None of us knew how to swim.  One brother decided he would not try to cross and he and his family returned, prepared to surrender to the communist soldiers.  My older brother decided to try to cross.  We had bamboo and banana tree plants which floated to try to help us cross.  My brother did not make it to the other side.  He drowned. 

My husband was the only one who knew how to swim.  He had one floatie.  He tied me to it and helped pull me across.  When you are in a river at night, you cannot see where you are and many people got turned around and landed back in Laos.  It was very frightening. My husband and I were the only ones of all my family to make it into Thailand.  We got there about 6 in the morning. Once in Thailand the people there told us they would take us to a makeshift refugee camp.  We were dirty, hungry and thirsty.  They told us to go to a back water of the river where we could wash.  When we got there, we saw bodies and lots of bamboo and the other things the people had tried to use to cross the river. It was devastating.

We had to stay in the unofficial camp for 3 months while checks were carried out.  The conditions were terrible.  There was no food, no sanitation and there were so many people there that the area was bare and hunted and fished out.  Eventually our names were called and we were transferred to an official refugee camp.

This camp was called the Ban Vinnai Refugee Camp.  Although things were basic, here we could get help to contact family overseas and process applications to immigrate.  My husband had a sister in Tasmania so he applied for immigration there.  It took seven years before our application was accepted.  In that time, I had three children, 2 boys and a girl.  I was overdue with my fourth child when we were told we had been accepted for immigration to Australia.  We were to be transferred to another refugee camp where we would have medical checks before we could enter to Australia.  I was overdue in my delivery, but my husband and I decided we would take the trip rather than risk missing the opportunity to emigrate.  My fourth child, a girl was born on the bus as we were travelling to the camp.  Thankfully there were some people who helped me and both my daughter and I survived.  Our checks were clear and we were approved for emigration.

In 1987 we boarded a plane for Hobart.  Our flights were paid for by a church charity. In Hobart my husband struggled to find work because he had no English.  We helped out with my sister-in-law and her husband as much as possible.  In Hobart my fifth child, a boy, was born.  But during this time my husband became ill.  The doctor advised that we should move to a warmer climate.  My husband had a brother in Innisfail so in 2000 we moved to Innisfail where my husband worked on his brothers’ farm.  Innisfail was so hot and my husband did not do well there so we moved to the Atherton Tablelands.  In 2007 we found land in Mareeba that we were able to buy and moved here.  Now, we love the climate here.  My sons have found work and I grow the vegetables we like and keep chickens and pigeons on our property.  I am able to sell a lot of my produce at the week-end markets across the Tablelands now as people are willing to accept the food of Asian cultures and we take part in the Multi-Cultural festival held here every year.

Unfortunately, my husband’s illness did not improve and two years ago he passed away.  In accordance with our culture his ashes are kept with us in a special shrine on our land. My ethnic Culture is Amu, an ancient form of Hmong.  In the Amu culture, the women wear white covers over their hair. This makes us stand out in the community and many people ask if we are Hmong.  But we tell them we are Amu, which is an older culture than Hmong.  We are accepted here now and we are happy in Mareeba.

Janet Greenwood Operations Manager

Janet commenced work with the Mareeba Heritage Centre in July 2016. She had the vision to create this project and was instrumental in acquiring funds and putting the right people in place to bring this project together. Janet is passionate about community engagement and development.


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Angela Musumeci Volunteer Project Officer

Angela was born in Mareeba but like most young people left to pursue a career in Corrections and then Community Services. On retirement, she returned to her home town and is happy to be contributing to progression and preservation.

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