Airdate: Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta

SBS will launch an ambitious documentary series about the Sydney Vietnamese community in January.

Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta will follow on from the success of Immigration Nation and Go Back to Where You Came From.

In the lead-up to the Vietnamese Lunar New Year on January 23rd, it will be broadcast over three consecutive Sunday nights.

The series will look at how the community has fought back from adversity and found their place in modern Australia will be told for the first time in a new landmark documentary series on SBS.

Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta explores the extraordinary transformation of this south-western Sydney suburb, and how it has contributed to the Australian multicultural success story.

Told for the first time by the community itself, the three-part series features interviews with the youth who got caught up in gang culture, politicians and police who were involved in Cabramatta’s critical moments, and the ordinary people who lived through it all – from the crime and violence, the fear and racism, a heroin epidemic and the first political assassination in Australia’s history, to the fight back as this immigrant community found its voice.

“From a community that was once paralysed by fear, Cabramatta has become a proud example of immigrant success and this new SBS series is set to tell this important Australian story in a compelling and contemporary way,” says SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid.

“Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta will help all Australians understand the challenges and adversities these Vietnamese refugees overcame and the lessons we hope the nation never forgets. It builds on SBS’s commitment to bringing original and thought-provoking documentaries to Australians that contribute to a greater appreciation of our multicultural society,” Mr Ebeid continued.

Beginning with Prime Minister Fraser’s landmark decision to open Australia’s doors to refugees at the end of the Vietnam War, Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta offers a unique insight into the early years. Thousands of Vietnamese were sent to a community not equipped to deal with them and this series follows them into the dark years of the 80s and 90s where murder, kidnappings, drug overdoses and drive-by shootings were a regular occurrence. The Vietnamese people were vilified and demonised as an utterly foreign culture clashing head-on with a white world.

But as the century drew to a close there was a remarkable turnaround as the people of Cabramatta said enough is enough and transformed their community into the multicultural success story it is today.

Begins 8.30pm January 8th 2012 on SBS ONE.


  1. I have been living in the area for the past 5 years in which I have found the Vietnam and chinese community to be very hospitable .no doubt in the mid to late 90s it was looked upon as the the drug capital of Sydney ,but from what I had observed,it was the outside elements that used this area as a means of doing there business,it was horrible to see that side of life but as u can see it has becoming a thriving community and let’s be honest I love going to cabramatta to shop,eat and even socialize and even the neighboring areas are starting to flourish as a result,,,,anyways can’t wait for the doco to start

  2. Over the years, tens of thousands of migrants from south-east Asia have made Cabramatta their new home. Our local residents and businesses have proudly brought over our distinct culture, variety of food and unique way of life from Vietnam, China and from across Asia. We invite you to come to Cabramatta and see for yourself!

  3. Barton Williams

    Dear SBS,

    As an orphan that came across in one of the operation babylift flights I have some string views on Vietnamese Australians.

    While I cannot speak on behalf of the Vietnamese community of Cabramatta, having being raised in Adelaide I can certainly relate to the inadvertent prejudice that I faced growing up with an Anglo Saxon family in a middle class white Anglo Saxon area of Adelaide.

    I would also like to point out that operation babylift was Australia’s largest once of humanitarian project a government has ever done (I have no evidence to state otherwise) and there is not a day go by where I dont forget that.

    My life past, present & future would be somewhat different had Mr. Fraser’s government not flown me to Australia in 1975!

  4. Looking forward to this series very much. A deeper public insight to the struggles of refugees/immigrants into the Australian community is important. Although I’m not Vietnamese, I’ve seen many of my family come to Australia as refugees and can see how much courage it takes and how difficult it is. This series will be a powerful one.

  5. Wow, just reading that synopsis was really interesting to me (especially the bit abut the political assassination!). I had no idea there was so much history in my own backyard.

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