Kim’s Vietnamese Australian Life

Kim Tuan Catford is an intercountry adoptee from Vietnam.

Kim was born during the Vietnam War and abandoned by his birth mother as a baby and placed in an orphanage. He was cared for, along with many other orphans, until he was adopted and flown to Australia in 1973 (prior to the well publicised ‘Operation Babylift’).

Kim was approximately 9 months old when he was adopted to his Australian family. His adopted parents already had three daughters of their own but felt very strongly about adopting him. He was raised and cared for by the Catford family in the small coastal town of Victor Harbour in South Australia until they moved to the north eastern suburbs of Adelaide.

Kim remembers the profound influence of his adoption from one culture into another, particularly during his childhood years. He was the ‘different’ looking kid at school, the ‘Asian one’. Back in those days, Kim felt that Australia was a racist country to live in because kids can be cruel at times. His initial memories were often of looking and feeling different to the rest of his family, which meant he experienced teasing, staring, whispering behind his back, jokes at his expense and all the other typical racial abuse that comes from being singled out in the schoolyard because of physically looking different to everyone else.

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Kim as a young boy

For Kim, the result was he often found himself in the centre of trouble, acting rebellious, getting into fights with other kids, questioning his identity, and resenting being Vietnamese (different) and being adopted. The confusion was compounded because Kim felt as Australian as everyone around him, yet he was seen and treated as being different. Kim eventually learned to cope with the incongruence between how he looked and how he felt, and as a result, he developed a very strong and resilient character.

Of course, there were happy memories from his childhood too, like being spoiled and having great times with his adopted family. He has great memories from the times he and his father spent together. Being the only two males in the family, they shared a bond that was very special and unique. Fortunately, his sisters loved spoiling him too, so he did grow up with many happy times in his adopted family.

Kim successfully completed primary and secondary schooling and went on to apply to join the South Australian Police Department. He actually wanted to go to America and be employed as a stunt man on movie sets but thought that being a policeman might be more achievable and therefore, the next best thing!

In October 1992, Kim was accepted into the Police Department and commenced as a cadet. On 29 September 1993, he graduated from the Police Academy and was posted to traffic duties for his first 6 months. Following this, Kim was then posted to Holden Hill Patrols. In August 2000, he was promoted to the rank of Senior Constable and on the 9 August 2002, Kim successfully completed the Detective Training course. Kim attained the rank of Detective Brevet Sergeant and work as an investigator in many branches of SAPOL. After serving for 18 years, Kim decided to resign and no longer works as a Police Officer with SAPOL. He is currently working in the Barossa Valley to enjoy more time with his family and have a better work life balance.

Kim has been lucky enough to have returned to Vietnam multiple times. His first trip was in 2002, another in 2005 and 2015, and then again in May 2017.

Kim found his first trip in 2002 to be amazing. He discovered his birth country to be very beautiful. He found it difficult to understand how friendly and generous the Vietnamese people were especially considering their history of hardship, poverty and war that had ravaged the country so many years earlier. For Kim, the highlight of the first visit back was locating the Sancta Maria Orphanage where he had spent 3 months as a baby.

His return trip in 2005 was more of a quick holiday to remind him of the culture and to see if he could locate his birth mother, or find further information about her. During this visit, he returned to the Sancta Maria orphanage to see if they held any records regarding his beginnings. He also spoke to some other local contacts in Vietnam but unfortunately, he did not discover any new information. Kim continues to know nothing regarding the whereabouts or what happened to his biological family. Kim feels the need to return to his birth country whenever he can afford the time and money. He also does this to re-energize his soul, so he can ‘feel the love’ of his motherland and embrace its culture.

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Kim and his adoptive sister touring Hoi An in 2015

In recent times, Kim has become more determined to find information on his biological family and to ideally, locate them one day. He is wary that he does not want this search to consume him and take over his entire life.

Kim feels the best word to describe his search efforts so far is ‘frustrating’. He has found that searching has caused him to experience some of his most extreme feelings – which has been emotionally exhausting at times.

Kim is very mindful that should he ever locate his biological mother and family, there are many associated issues that would arise. These include language barriers, the cultural expectation to care and support the biological family members, their desire to come to Australia, etc.

Kim is determined to continue his search efforts. He wants to keep a level head throughout and has committed to enjoying the experience along the way. So far, he feels he has managed to enjoy it, largely due to the lifelong friendships he has made along the way and the return trips back to his beautiful country of origin.

Kim loves his life and adopted family. There is not a day that goes past where he does not think about how lucky he is to have received the opportunities he has here in Australia. He often ponders what life would have been like if he had not been adopted. Of course, he still has his emotional ups and downs like many adoptees.

Kim has been married for 19 years to a wonderful woman named Katy. They have one child, India, who is 10 years old. They also have a sponsor child who lives in Vietnam.

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Kim with his sponsor child & her grandmother

Kim is proud of his Vietnamese heritage and has a positive outlook toward his intercounty adoption. He considers himself Australian with a hint of Vietnamese and he likes to think he has taken the best qualities from each of these countries and cultures.