Tet: Year of the Dog

February 07, 2018

Last week on 30 January we marked 50 years since the beginning of the Tet Offensive, an event that has gone down in history as a turning point in the Vietnam War. Through 1967 the message being delivered to Australian households was that the South Vietnamese forces were winning the war. The truth was that the war was deadlocked—neither side had the upper hand. The North Vietnamese forces developed a plan to break the deadlock, changing their tactic of a largely guerrilla battle in the jungles to a full-scale military offensive that, although ultimately defeated, shook the South Vietnamese, Americans and Australians to the core.

The offensive stunned the Vietnamese people with its defiance of the traditional ceasefire to allow people to celebrate the lunar new year, known as Tet. While the people of Saigon prepared for the Year of the Monkey to begin, the armed forces of the south were stunned as Viet Cong spread through cities and towns all over Vietnam, even taking the US embassy in Saigon for a while. In the former imperial capital of Hue, communist forces took the city and massacred thousands of civilians. The vicious fight to liberate Hue left the beautiful and historic city in ruins.

My father was serving in the Australian Army in Saigon at the time of the Tet Offensive—the scene of very heavy fighting. Seventeen Australians were killed during the various Tet battles. For the Vietnamese people, it was unbelievably catastrophic as 14,000 civilians were killed and a further 24,000 were wounded. Tet was a major military defeat for the northern forces, but, on the global political scale, it turned the war in many ways. American and Australian perceptions of the war were irrevocably changed by the images of Vietnamese cities destroyed under heavy fighting and the brutal suffering of civilians.

For the Vietnamese community in Australia, many of whom were South Vietnamese who fled in the wake of the North Vietnam communist victory, Tet is an important event of remembrance of those events, as well as a new year celebration. At the beginning of Tet and on Vietnam Veterans Day, the community remembers what they fought for, what they lost and how they have grown since by flying the Co Vang flag. The Co Vang flag, also known as the yellow flag, is the former flag of South Vietnam, and is a powerful symbol of unity and remembrance for the South Vietnamese and for the Australian soldiers who fought in that war—remembering those who were lost and wounded and celebrating the strong community they have built here in Australia.

Vietnamese refugees, as we all know, have played a powerful role in making Australia the truly multicultural nation that it is today, which should be celebrated by all Australians. The cities of Charles Sturt and Port Adelaide Enfield in my electorate agreed to fly the yellow flag at the request of the Vietnamese community, acknowledging the 80,000 Vietnamese refugees who settled in Australia between 1975 and 1997, the 521 Australian soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam War, the 3,129 Australian soldiers wounded, and the more than 50,000 returning veterans. I proudly supported the community's petition to those councils.

I honour the Vietnamese community across Australia, particularly the passionate women and men in my electorate, in their contributions to our great nation. I honour the Vietnam War veterans and their families, the strength and resilience they have shown and the bonds of camaraderie they've built with the Vietnamese community in our country. My own electorate of Port Adelaide is the stronghold of the Vietnamese community in our state of South Australia. I look forward to joining President Phung Van Nguyen and all the South Australian Vietnamese community this Saturday night at Regency Park in my electorate to celebrate the coming of the Year of the Dog. I'm glad that both the City of Charles Sturt and the City of Port Adelaide Enfield have listened to Mr Nguyen and his predecessor as president, Mr Tin Le, and will be proudly flying the Co Vang flag this Tet to celebrate the contributions of the South Australian Vietnamese community to the vibrancy of our great nation. I encourage councils across Australia to join with the Vietnamese community and our Vietnam veterans in flying the Co Vang flag, or the Yellow flag, for lunar new year on Friday, 16 February this year, and for Vietnam Veterans Day on 18 August. I wish the Vietnamese community, the Chinese community, the Korean community and all communities who celebrate, a happy and prosperous Year of the Dog.