Quyen Nguyen was a political refugee from Vietnam in the 1970s: she escaped the country by boat with her parents and siblings and lived in a UN refugee camp in Malaysia before being settled in Australia in the 1970s.
When the family eventually settled in Sydney almost 40 years ago, they had lived in Dulwich Hill.
“When I was a child, we used to shop on Illawarra Road in Marrickville. There was such a large community of Vietnamese people here and there were some things that were familiar. We eventually moved to South Western Sydney when I was about 16 years old,” says Quyen, who has nearly completed her Juris Doctor at UNSW Law.
“When I volunteer at Marrickville Legal Centre, I hear a lot of stories about vulnerable people. Not so long ago, my parents and I were vulnerable. It was difficult to seek justice because we were migrants,” says the paralegal at Marrickville Legal Centre.
What was your first impression of Australia?
I was only 7 years old when we arrived in Australia, but I remember the place felt massive: the land and houses were sparse and widely separated compared to the little villages and houses in Asia.
Having said that, when we lived in Vietnam, we did not live in a small house. My great-grandfather was a billionaire, so we lived in a big compound.
My father studied Commerce in France and became a successful businessman upon his return to Vietnam. He eventually went into politics and became the Treasurer of the Democratic Party. After the war had ended in 1975, my family was persecuted by the Communist Party due to my father’s political activity.
Things were not equal for us when we arrived here. Migrants tended to settle in certain areas, and were only permitted to do certain jobs, so my Dad became a secretary and my Mum was a dressmaker.
What did you do before studying law?
I worked as a pharmacist for 24 years and I’m still doing it as a locum. I have worked in hospital and community pharmacies all over Sydney.
I always wanted to do law as a child, but my parents had advised against a career in Law because they had perceived that with English as a second language, I would struggle and may not become successful as a lawyer.
What made you decide to study law, finally?
I am getting old and if I cannot fulfil my wishes now, then there’s no point! I cannot delay my dream of becoming a lawyer any longer. It would look weird if I attend Law School in my 60s.
I want to use my intellect to help vulnerable people with social justice problems.
How have you found the study?
I started my JD a while back, but I had to drop to part-time study to nurse my elderly father at home.
It’s just me and Mum now. Thankfully, she’s doing well.
What’s something people might not know about you?
Before I studied to be a pharmacist, I thought I wanted to be a vet. I did that for a week, but realised I had a phobia of insects!
When I was at High School, I used to listen to Boy George and had tied my hair with ribbons like Boy George. When I went to Bethlehem College in Ashfield, the nuns made me remove the ribbons at the School Gates, and to comb my hair neatly before entering school grounds!
I also tell people that I’m taller than I actually am. I usually say that I’m 5 foot 5, but people don’t believe me since I am only 5 foot 2.