Assoc Prof Nathalie Nguyen wins archivist Mander Jones Award

Associate Professor Nathalie Nguyen, Deputy Director of the National Centre for Australian Studies, won recognition in the Mander Jones Awards.

Her work, “Memory in the Aftermath of War: Australian Responses to the Vietnamese Refugee Crisis of 1975,” focuses on the experiences of Vietnamese refugees seeking asylum in Australia after the Vietnam War, and explores the intersection of official Australian records with her own family history. Her research uncovered archival evidence of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s actions in directly rejecting applications for asylum by Vietnamese refugees.

The key piece of evidence was a three-page confidential document which listed fourteen Vietnamese refugee applications that had been approved by the Foreign Minister, Don Willesee. Whitlam rejected eleven applications outright, wrote “Possible” for two, and “Not at present” for a third. Associate Professor Nguyen’s family was one of these two “Possibles” and was only accepted for entry through the personal intervention of two prominent Australian diplomats who knew her parents. One was Sir James Plimsoll, then Australian Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and the other K.C.O. “Mick” Shann, then Australian Ambassador to Japan. This is the material explored in her article.

The work was judged the winner of category 2B: Best publication that uses, features or interprets Australian archives, written or edited by a person in their own right.

The judges’ citation: “A deeply moving and highly personal account of finding one’s family and history in the archives which demonstrates the value of the archival record. The paper is of continuing relevance to current debates about refugees and asylum seekers and official actions in regards to both.”

Sir James Plimsoll with Associate Professor Nguyen’s parents, Nguyen Trieu Dan and Huynh Bich Cam, in New Delhi at the end of 1964. NLA MS 8048/14/8.
Sir James Plimsoll with Associate Professor Nguyen’s parents, Nguyen Trieu Dan and Huynh Bich Cam, in New Delhi at the end of 1964. Image source: National Library of Australia NLA MS 8048/14/8.

Associate Professor Nguyen’s article was based on archival research that she conducted at the National Library of Australia and the National Archives of Australia during her tenure as a Harold White Fellow at the National Library in 2007-2008. She first presented her findings at a highly acclaimed Harold White Fellow Public Lecture at the National Library in September 2008, and subsequently at the Australian Institute of International Affairs in 2010, and the University of Oxford in 2011. Her article was published in a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Law and Society (Cambridge University Press) in 2015.

The Mander Jones Awards were introduced by the Australian Society of Archivists and recognise publications in the field of archives and recordkeeping.

The awards were presented at Old Government House in Sydney on 18 October 2016. Associate Professor Nguyen’s acceptance speech was read out as she was in the United States for the launch of her book South Vietnamese Soldiers: Memories of the Vietnam War and After at the University of California, Berkeley, on that date.

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