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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8795

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (19:35): On 26 June 2012, Father Augustin Nguyen Duc Thu died in Melbourne's St Vincent Hospital, aged 74 years. For most Australians his passing went unnoticed but for Adelaide's Vietnamese Christian com­munity, and for the many people, including myself, who had come to know him, his death was a sad occasion that also marked the end of an era.

Father Thu was very much part of the post-Vietnam war migration to Australia. He was born and raised in a Catholic family in Thach Bich Village, Ha Dong, Hanoi. The eldest of nine children, he studied theology and became a Catholic Jesuit priest on 21 December 1967 in Saigon. In 1975, when the Communist government took control of Vietnam, Father Thu was studying in France and was subsequently granted asylum there.

In 1979 he was asked to come to Australia as pastor to the Vietnamese Christians living in Adelaide. He remained in Adelaide until 2004. Between 1994 and 1996, he went to the USA to study and on his return to Australia he spent a short time working with Vietnamese in the Brisbane archdiocese. It was in his pastoral capacity that I came to know Father Thu as a Catholic priest, a community leader and a friend. I first met him around 30 years ago, when he and Sister Elizabeth Nghial met with me and others to discuss their vision of building a community centre for the sizeable Vietnamese community in Adelaide, most of whom were living in the north-western and northern suburbs. A site for the new centre was found in my home suburb of Pooraka, where I was then the local area councillor.

I well recall the controversy and the hostility with which the proposal for a Vietnamese centre was met by some sectors of the community, who were determined to block it. At the time not everyone welcomed the new Vietnamese settlers with open arms.

These were not easy times for Father Thu and Sister Elizabeth, who not only had to contend with the public backlash but had an equally difficult job in raising the necessary funds. Their patience, persistence, good nature and faith finally won through. Salisbury council gave the project the go-ahead and the complex was subsequently built and officially opened in 1995. It was known as Our Lady of the Boat People centre and was led by Father Thu, as parish priest. Father Thu was determined to ensure that the centre not only served the multiple needs of newly arrived Vietnamese people but caused no disruption or friction with the surrounding community. He was successful in doing both. The large complex became a hub of activity, serving as a church, a centre for the aged, a school and a sports and performance centre. Father Thu's leadership role was crucial to the centre's success. In 1997 when I was elected Mayor of the City of Salisbury, I was privileged to have Father Thu attend the first council meeting, read the traditional opening prayer and add his blessing to the newly elected council.

When Father Thu's term in Adelaide ended he relocated to Melbourne where he continued his pastoral work at St Ignatius Church in Richmond. Not surprisingly, and very deservedly, in 2009 Father Thu was honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen's birthday honours for his community service work. A special memorial service to honour his life was held at the Vietnamese Christian Community Centre in Pooraka on 6 July. It was of deep personal regret that I was interstate on parliamentary business and unable to attend the service.

The Vietnamese people's resettlement in Adelaide has been a wonderful example of adjustment, embracement and commitment to Australia and Australian life. They have been grateful for the generosity of their new homeland and have in turn added value and prosperity to our nation. South Australia's Lieutenant Governor Hieu Van Le, who served as a youth leader at the Vietnamese Christian Community Centre, is a living proof of that.

The leadership role of Father Thu in helping with transition to Australian life for Adelaide's Vietnamese community can never be quantified, but in my view it was invaluable. I take this opportunity to acknowledge Father Thu's life and the wonderful legacy he has left his people and the broader community. To his successor at the VCC, Monsignor Minh-Tam Nguyen, to Sister Elizabeth, to his family, friends and colleagues and to the broader Vietnamese community I extend my condolences at the passing of Father Augustin Nguyen Duc Thu.