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Authors: Brian Caswell and David Chiem

Only the Heart

BOOK: Only the Heart
9.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Since 1989, Brian Caswell has written 31 books including the bestselling
A Cage of Butterflies
. His work has received numerous awards and shortlistings, including the Children's Peace Literature Award, the Vision Australia, Young Adult Audio Book of the Year Award, the Aurealis Award, the Australian Multicultural Children's Literature Award, the Human Rights Award, the NSW Premier's Literary Awards (four times), and he has been included in the prestigious International Youth Library's ‘White Ravens' list four times. All his published novels have been listed as Notable Books by the Children's Book Council of Australia.

He also researches and designs ‘cutting-edge' educational and personal-development programs, listens to all kinds of music (usually far too loud), watches ‘an excessive number' of movies and DVDs, and reads ‘anything with words on it'. Brian lives on the NSW Central Coast with his wife, Marlene, and his dog, Indy. He has four children and 13 grandchildren.


David Phu An Chiem moved to Australia at the age of nine with his family. When he was fourteen, he became the first Asian to be given a lead-role in the Australian television drama series “Butterfly Island”. David then went on to study acting at the Theatre Nepean. He has since played leading roles on mainstream television, film, radio and theatre. He graduated with a BA (Communication) at the University of Technology, Sydney and a Master of Film-making from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.

He co-wrote, with Brian Caswell,
The Full Story
, which was nominated for the prestigious NSW Premier's Literary Award in two categories.

David has also co-written best-selling parenting and educational books including
Deeper than the Ocean
, hailed as the ‘parenting bible of the 21
The 3-Mind Revolution – a New World-View for Educators, Parents and Leaders; and Pre-school Parenting Secrets – Talking with the Sky.

As the founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of MindChamps, David Chiem has created an education institute that has won him numerous accolades and awards including Entrepreneur of the Year by the Rotary Club/ Association of Small and Medium Enterprises and the Most Outstanding Achievement for Education at the SME 500 awards in 2012 in recognition of exceptional contribution to the education industry for the past 10 years in Singapore.

Also by Brian Caswell

Deucalion Series

The View from Ararat

Young Adult

Merryll of the Stones
A Cage of Butterflies
A Dream of Stars
(short stories)
Double Exposure
The Dreams of the Chosen

By Brian Caswell and David Phu Au Chiem

The Full Story

Younger Readers

Relax Max!

Alien Zones Series

Teedee and the Collectors or How It All Began
Messengers of the Great Orff
Gladiators in the Holo-Colosseum
What were the Gremnholz Dimensions Again?
Whispers from the Shibboleth

For all those who lived the Nightmare, in search of the Dream.

With thanks to David — for the story, for his friendship, and for introducing me to Phỏ; and to Cathy and Marlene — for putting up with two incurable workaholics, and supplying endless “snacks” even if we didn't always eat them.

This novel was written while I was in receipt of a Writer's Fellowship from the Literature Board of the Australia Council — the Federal Government's arts funding and advisory body, and I would like to sincerely thank them for their support of this and many other projects.


With thanks to Brian and Marlene — for the laughter and the understanding, and for sharing a journey that became so important to us all. A journey that I am sure we will embark on again and again; to my parents — for their wisdom and courage, without which I would not be here today; to my sister Kim and my brother Tony — for sharing the important years of our childhood; and especially to my wife, Catherine, for reminding me that every important journey has a goal.




The future is a country
on the far side of despair.

— Chinese proverb

27 February 1986
Kingsford-Smith Airport,
Sydney, Australia


Every time the door slid open, the crowd would shift forward slightly, the adults craning their necks, and the younger children risking a harsh word from airport security, as they sneaked under the flimsy railings and looked inside. Into the forbidden area.

You couldn't really blame them. The kids, I mean.

It was forbidden, so it drew them like … like anything forbidden draws kids. Besides, they were infected by the adults' agitation.

The sliding doors were the last barrier that separated the crowd from Customs and the passengers still to be processed. Every new arrival who pushed a trolley of suitcases and duty-free goods through the doorway was greeted with a tiny scream of excitement from one small section of the waiting crowd, and with impatient disappointment from the rest.

Except for the teenagers. Like Linh and me.

We stood in a small group, away from our parents. Away from the embarrassment of the nervous relatives, who insisted on speaking to each other loudly in Vietnamese.

Cool, we were. Removed. Looking pointedly towards the automatic exit doors and the parking lot beyond, and talking about school and clothes and the weekend and what we would be doing if we didn't have to waste our time waiting for aeroplanes.

But secretly, I don't think any of us would have missed it. It's one thing to act “cool” and to want to speak Australian in public. It's another thing to see your grandmother again for the first time in almost ten years. One of your links to the past. To the old life that you can hardly remember, except as vivid flashes, like images on a ten-year-old video-clip.

Not that any of us would admit it out loud, of course.

But then it was our turn.

“It's them!” My mother. She wasn't normally the type to state the obvious at the top of her voice in a public place, so I guess the excitement had even infected her.

Aunt Loan, my father's youngest sister, came through first. She's maybe twenty-four or twenty-five, and it seems strange to think of her as the daughter of someone as old as my grandmother.

Grandma turns seventy next year. In fact, Aunt Loan looks more like my big sister than my aunt. She's seventeen years younger than my father — what you might call a ‘1ate-life baby”. And that makes her both unfortunate and pretty lucky.

Unfortunate, because as the youngest girl she copped the job of caring for Grandma when my grandfather died and all the surviving children got married and left the house — or the country. It's a duty which traditionally means putting your own life on hold.

Lucky, because she was the only one apart from Grandma herself that the law allowed us to sponsor to come and live with us. If she
been married, it would have made her ineligible.

She pushed a loaded trolley through the doorway and paused for a moment to get her bearings, but before we had a chance to react, my grandmother came through, and the family did the compulsory scream.

All except my father. He stood silent and unmoving, with his eyes fixed on the man who was supporting her arm.

When he did speak, I don't think anyone else even heard him. I'd moved across from the doorway, and I was standing right next to him. Even so, I only just caught the whisper.


As if he had heard, the man looked up, caught my father's gaze and smiled. Then he left the old woman to the mercy of her surging family, and walked over to stand a few centimetres away. The two of them stood face to face, and for a moment neither one moved. Then this man I had never seen before reached out and hugged my father.

“Hello, Minh.” He spoke in Vietnamese, his voice soft and gentle. “It's been a long time.”

I'm trying to remember the last time I saw my father cry. He doesn't do it often.

Yesterday, at the airport, he did …

Long Xuyen, 1976
by Tran Van Thanh

Only the river knows
How it feels to flow,
How it feels
To roll and boil and tumble over falls.
And go
Where no man tells you
Where to walk,
Where to stand,
How to feel.

Only the river knows these things …

And only the prisoner knows
The dream of freedom on his tongue.
Sweet foretaste of the summer wind,
That blows
Across the waving green of the young rice,
Across the unchained current of the distant stream,
Between the singing strands
Of taut-stretched barrier-wire,
To speak the future freely
In guarded whispers.

Only the prisoner knows these things …

But only the heart knows
The song that has no words
To limit harmony.
The song that scorns despair, and blends for melodies
The crash of rolling breakers dying,
And the silence of sap,
Rising in the trunks of ancient trees,
And the laughter of the children,
And the crying,
And the savour/fear of unexploded dreams.

Only the heart knows these things.

Only the heart sings …

Thanh Tran is my father's friend. He's also the only poet I've ever actually met. I'd heard about him, of course, but yesterday at the airport was the first time I was actually close enough to shake his hand.

He didn't shake hands like a poet.

So, anyway, this morning, before anyone else got up, I dug a book of his poems out of my father's bookshelf. Some were written in the seventies, while he was in the re-education camp where the two of them first met. The rest came later, after they released him.

I'm not sure when they were translated into English. This book isn't that old, so I guess it was probably in the last couple of years.

I don't suppose that many people around here would have read them anyway. No interest. Who reads poetry? Besides, most people I know don't understand what it means to go through what Thanh Tran and my father went through.

What we all went through.

And I suppose that's a good thing. No, I
it is.

You see, if they don't understand, it's because they live in a country that's never been torn apart by a war that no one could possibly win.

And because such a lucky country existed, it also meant that there was a place to come to, when one side finally did win … what little was left to win.

When leaving everything you knew and running away suddenly hurt a whole lot less than staying.

Of course, at the time, I was too young to understand very much of what was going on. All I understood was that it was easy to get in big trouble, without knowing why …

BOOK: Only the Heart
9.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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