Vincent councillor candidate Mai Nguyen hoping to make local government debut

Vincent council hopeful and local business owner Mai Nguyen.
Vincent council hopeful and local business owner Mai Nguyen.

FORMER Vietnamese refugee and long-time Northbridge resident and business owner Mai Nguyen hopes to make her local government debut this year.

The departure of former councillor Laine McDonald last year has left an opening for a South Ward councillor on the City of Vincent council, prompting an extraordinary election on February 24.

Ms Nguyen, who has lived in Northbridge since arriving in Australia, was six years old in 1981 when her family fled Vietnam after the war, with her parents, uncles and aunties piling into a family-owned boat and floating out into the South China Sea.

She recalled the perilous journey.

“We got lost at sea and our food and water ran out,” she said.

“I think we were even chased by pirates, we were really in a panic but we came across an oil rig and they gave us supplies and directed us to a refugee island.”

The family found BiDong Island in Malaysia, which between 1975 and 1991 saw about 250,000 refugees pass through, where they waited to be processed.

“After a month, representatives form different countries came to interview refugees and we were a bit panicky and upset because the rumour was if you did not get picked, it could take years to be processed,” she said.

“We were there during monsoon season and the seas rose to up to 10m and boulders were crashing down on huts.”

Ms Nguyen said she would never forget the screams of thousands of refugees during the night.

“People were swept out to sea and crushed,” she said.

“The next day helicopters brought the officials back and we were interviewed by an Australian official who picked us.”

She said the family touched down in Australia on Valentine’s Day in 1982.

“It was the best experience; Australian people greeting us with flowers and embracing us,” she said.

Her family since opened a restaurant, which has operated for 20 years and later her own for seven years.

She said with deep roots in the local community, she hoped to help build it further.

Ms Nguyen said she sought to collaborate with other ethnic community groups, having been project leader for the Vietnamese refugee boat people monument in Wade Street.

She said she supported more open and public spaces to provide venues for community activities and environmentally sustainable developments such as fruit trees on verges and vegetables and herb patches in parks within the City of Vincent.