From war-torn Vietnam to a Hong Kong refugee camp, the Le family finally found their home in the Inner West, and in 30 years have never once looked back.
Marrickville is famous for its thriving Vietnamese population, but it wasn’t always so. Michael Le remembers a time, only a few years ago, when his family’s two Vietnamese restaurants were among the only ones in the suburb. “Marrickville has changed a lot,” he tells me. “For the good.” Now, the pavement hums with the bustle of life as pedestrians wander from an Asian grocer to one of the innumerable Vietnamese restaurants lining the streets, before finally making their way home.
When Michael and his family arrived in Australia in 1987 after spending six years in a Hong Kong refugee camp, life was hard. His mother Lanh Nguyen worked as a cook in restaurants all over the Inner West, from Annandale to Dulwich Hill. Lanh is the backbone of the family, and her perseverance typifies the experience of so many migrants.
“Our mum worked hard,” Michael says. “She made sacrifices. Seven days a week in the kitchen for her kids.”
Lanh, Michael and his two sisters Diana and Thuy now own two of the most famous Vietnamese restaurants in the Inner West: PHD and Pho PHD. After 30 years, they have created a name and carved a place for themselves in the local community. Their restaurants are frequented by pop stars and politicians alike, from Guy Sebastian to Anthony Albanese.
It is this easy familiarity with and affection for the community that Michael explains why his family has never left Marrickville. “We know the locals, we know the people… [we see] a lot of new faces all the time and, of course, the regular customers come week by week with their families.” For them, and for so many people from all walks of life who come to our shores, community bonds are almost familial. The Inner West is more than a home away from home: it is a new family.
Words by Hannah Craft