Monday, 1 September 2014

Speech delivered by His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO at the State Ceremony at which he was sworn in as Governor of South Australia, 1 September 2014.

Speech delivered by His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO at the State Ceremony at which he was sworn in as Governor of South Australia, 1 September 2014. 


  • The Honourable Jay Weatherill MP, Premier of South Australia,
  • Professor Brenda Wilson, Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia
  • The Honourable Chief Justice, Chris Kourakis
  • Members of the Executive Council
  • Ms Vicki Chapman MP, representing the Leader of the Opposition
  • Elected representatives
  • Members of the judiciary
  • Many dignitaries, too many to name, who are here at this Ceremony
  • Distinguished guests and friends
We are gathering here today on this place, the banks of the River Torrens, known to the Aboriginal people for thousands of years as Karrawirra Pari.
This is an important social, economic and symbolic place to the Kaurna People where, over endless generations, the ancient traditions and culture of the Red Kangaroo Dreaming have been passed on.
For that, we acknowledge and pay respect to the Kaurna people and their elders, past and present.
I particularly thank Stephen Goldsmith and his team for welcoming us here today.
Here is also the place where early settlers established themselves after their long voyage from Europe.
The arrival of these new settlers marked the beginning of a new phase in South Australia’s continuing story.
It heralded the establishment of new social, cultural, political and economic institutions, and over time created traditions and values - the very foundation of our State.
For many millennia, this place has been home to diverse groups of Aborigines.
And for almost 180 years South Australia has been the recipient and the beneficiary of wave after wave of migrants and refugees.
In addition to the early settlers who have come from the British Isles, South Australian society has also been shaped by people from more than 200 other countries in all parts of the world.
This was a settlement of cultural diversity from the very beginning.
We only have to think of those who came from Germany seeking refuge from religious persecution and established new settlements and industries in the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa.
Cameleers came from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and forged new transport routes and lines of communication through central Australia.
Seafarers from Molfetta in Italy came to develop fishing and boat building industries in Port Adelaide and Port Pirie.
After World War 2, displaced persons came from the Baltic States, Poland, Germany, Russia, Ukraine and many others.
Despite their professional qualifications and skills, many men did hard manual labour work in the railway lines in many isolated areas.
Migrants from southern and central Europe made it possible for South Australian manufacturing industry to flourish – thousands of migrants worked on assembly lines at places like Holden’s and Simpson’s, while others developed market gardens, opened restaurants, café’s and in so doing brought such richness to us.
During the late 1970s and 80s, the doors opened for refugees and migrants from Asia.
In more recent years, South Australia has benefited from the continued flow of migrants and refugees from other countries including many African nations, China, India and the Middle East.
They, like those who came before them, have brought skills, experience and enterprise which equip them to continue the established pattern of new migrants helping to build and shape the future of our State.
They also come with their stories and cultural threads which weave such a rich fabric to our society.
Each wave of migrants has added a new layer to the strength, the prosperity and the richness of our State.
No matter where we come from, we all stand on the shoulders of the giants of our history.
And it is incumbent upon us all to live up to the legacy we have been privileged to inherit from all those who have come before us and who have made this place we are proud to call home.
Some of us came with almost nothing, but determination and willing to work hard to realise our dreams.
South Australia was built on ideals, a great experiment to create what was called a “paradise of dissent”, to build a society of opportunity, inclusiveness, democracy and freedom, with a deep belief in the voice of reason and the idea of a fair-go.
This has been a place that has produced great minds:
….Nobel Prize winners like the Braggs and Florey,
….scholars like Oliphant, inventors like Unaipon,
….courageous explorers like Mawson and Wilkins,
….great artists like Heysen, Hannaford, Smart and Valamanesh,
….writers like Harris, Thiele and Fatchen,
….and in the performing arts, Helpmann, Hicks, and de Heer, and from Master Apprentices to Jimmy Barnes and beyond, the seeds and soul of Australian rock music - not to mention two Prime Ministers and a plethora of great sportsmen and women.
We have a remarkable history of the remarkable.
Our story is made of the remarkable threads of ideas and ideals brought here and –
  • were kept in articles of good faith,
  • were grounded in something called the Magna Carta and Common Law;
  • grew from an abstraction called “The Enlightenment”
  • were made manifest in words on a South Australian page that said “Here will be a paradise of dissent”; and
  • allowed to be enshrined here in this place – before anywhere else in the world – the right of all, men and women, to vote by secret ballot, to represent and to govern.
Let us not seek shelter in some false notion of the second-rate.
Our history and achievements don’t allow for that, our future calls us not to be that.
Our history demands that we reject and abandon mediocrity whether that be mediocrity of purpose, mediocrity of ideas, or moral mediocrity.
It could be said that in the past we have punched above our weight.
It is now time for us to accept that we have weight and all the responsibilities that it implies.
Ladies and gentlemen.
I am standing before you today with deep humility to have bestowed upon me the role of custodian of our institutions in order that the South Australian story may continue with the benefit of the institutions which underpin and give strength to our system of government.
I was born and grew up in a war-torn country far away from here.
Never a day in my childhood went by when I did not hear gunshots or feel the terrible loss of friends and family.
War was part of my life and it has left me with a painful and ever-present soundtrack of my childhood – rockets firing, roaring helicopters hovering overhead as we ran for cover, endless firing of weapons … and the haunting sounds of people suffering.
As I grew up, each day seemed measured by the loss of friends, relatives and classmates.
I was lucky!  I survived!
Dreadful circumstances at the time caused Lan and me to make the riskiest and most heart wrenching decision of our lives.
We made the decision to leave behind our loved ones and our motherland to go to an unknown destination.
Our escape from Vietnam was terrifying, fraught with risks and danger, and our voyage perilous – threatened by pirates, dreadful storms, even an erupting volcano and at all times, hunger and thirst.
There were times when it seemed beyond reason that we would survive.
My personal navigation to Australia has been a combination of dark circumstance, fear, loss, despair, but most of all, of hope!
I can recall the emotion afresh how we made our way in that small leaky boat.
After several weeks overcoming horrific storms and monsoonal downpours off the coast of Java and an erupting volcano in Lombok, we arrived on the southern tip of Timor.
We waited there for two days for good weather before we set sail again to Australia.
To paraphrase the wonderful poem by John Masefield,
“- down to the sea again the lonely seas and the sky,
and all we had was a leaky boat and a star to steer her by…”
It is a journey burned in my memory.
I remember on the third day of the crossing, I was in the wheelhouse when I saw one of the men jump up and down on the deck and call out that he saw birds – someone said they were seagulls.
I rushed out of the wheelhouse and looked up to the beautiful blue sky and saw a flock of white seagulls.
These seagulls were like angels leading our way to a paradise awaiting us somewhere!
I grabbed the binoculars and stared over the horizon, and there they focused on a most brilliant, curious, fragile thin line of silver.
I can’t describe the moment, or the feeling!
I turned to Lan and said quietly. “We are alive!  Look at that silver line over there, that is where our life and our future are.
That silver sliver of hope took form as we crept closer through the dawn light. It became an early morning mist across Darwin Harbour.
As our tattered boat chugged, chugged clumsily into the harbour, we suddenly heard the buzzing noise of a boat coming towards us.
It turned out to be a tinny with two blokes standing on it.
They waved at us and one of them holding a beer, raised his hand and called out “G’day mate … Welcome to Australia.
It was a remarkable moment!
What greeted us was profound and moving humanity and generosity!
A week later, another dawn arrival at Adelaide Airport.
We arrived as a group of exhausted and ragged-looking people after a long, torturous journey but amazed and excited at the prospect of a beginning of a new life.
We were swiftly taken to Pennington Migrant Hostel.
There we were lined up, waiting – our names were called.
Lan and I were allocated a small room in one of the Nissen huts.
This was the first time Lan and I had a place firmly on the ground after a simple and rushed wedding before we’d left our home in Saigon - followed by a remarkable and definitely unforgettable honeymoon on the open seas.
From here what had been desperation become hope, and hope became the grounding of a dream.
It was the generosity of spirit and the spirit of a fair go of this society that helped us to unpack our invisible suitcase to realise our dreams.
Ladies and gentlemen
To be appointed to Vice Regal office in our State fills me with an overwhelming sense of humility and honour.
I am fully aware of the awesome responsibility to the people of South Australia that has been placed upon my shoulders.
Be assured that I undertake this responsibility with great commitment and pride.
My appointment to this role says something about our society.
It sends a powerful message about our inclusive and egalitarian society.
It is an acknowledgement of all the migrants and refugees and their families and descendants who have built South Australia to become the best place in the world.
The enormous media and public interest in my appointment has had little to do with me. Rather it has had to do with what my appointment symbolises …
I feel I have been given so much, and most of all, I have been given the opportunity to give something back.
Because I have been a victim of war and conflict, I would be an advocate for peace, friendship and cooperation.
Because I have been a victim of destruction and chaos, I wish I can be a proponent of understanding and construction.
Because I have known poverty, I hope that I might be able to help build bridges to economic prosperity.
Because I have felt the power and the spirit of the fair go, I hope that I might work for the fair go.
Because I have felt the sting of dispossession, I hope that I can be a custodian and champion of the egalitarian spirit that runs through this state’s history.
Ladies and gentlemen
I keep wondering what it is that I have done to be included with the likes of:
  • Sir John Hindmarsh
  • Sir George Grey
  • Sir Willoughby Norrie
  • Sir Mark Oliphant
  • Dame Roma Mitchell
  • Sir Eric Neal
  • Marjorie Jackson-Nelson, and
  • Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce
to name but a few.
Although I cannot explain why, I have given myself the task of proving myself by what I will do.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In preparation for moving to the new office, I have taken one item from my old office.  It is a poster with a large photograph of Albert Einstein, who we all know was a refugee from fascist Europe.
Underneath the photo are these words:
A bundle of personal belongings is not the only thing a refugee brings to his new country”.
This is not the only reason that I brought the poster with me, but also to remind me of what Einstein once said:
Strange is our situation here on earth.
Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose.
From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men ……”
He went on to say:
“.….. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labours of my fellowmen, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give,.. in return…, as much as I have received. ….
And I am still receiving
Thank you

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