Family Secrets: I was a war orphan

"I know it sounds strange, but I recall being about four and looking at my family going, I don't know who you are." 


Lan Hopwood was a small child when she came to Australia. 

Her parents, a Vietnamese woman and an Australian man, had married in Saigon before fleeing the city’s imminent fall and settling the family in Australia.

As she grew up, Lan’s parents revealed very little about the family’s past.

We were never allowed to ask about how mum and dad met, about how they came to Australia. You never spoke about anything to do with Vietnam.

Even from a young age, she was uneasy about her origins.

“I know it sounds strange, but I recall being about four and looking at my family going, I don't know who you are.”

Her investigations began when she was just fourteen, and have continued for most of her life.

A few years ago, some – but not all – answers came through.  

 "I think it was 2008," she tells Insight's Jenny Brockie. "I received the last copies of some Freedom of Information [requests] and through those documents I finally got the validation that I wasn't crazy."

"One of those documents actually stated that I'm an abandoned war orphan."

The man and woman who brought her to Australia were not her biological parents.

She also wasn't part of Operation Babylift, the army initiative that brought over 500 orphaned babies to Australia in the last few years of the war to be adopted by families here.

While her father has admitted he is relieved she now knows this truth, she says her parents won’t reveal anything more about her past.

“Looking for my identity has a ripple effect,” says Lan. “It doesn't just affect me, I now have children so I'm comforted that they can look at me and go oh, that's my mum because I look like her, I have similarities with her, I have common traits.

“I'm very envious of it because I don't have that and it's very difficult for my children to understand this need that I have.” 

Most recently she has turned to DNA testing in her search for more answers - with interesting results.


How did her parents come to be with her, and why won't they tell about her biological family? Will the DNA tests come back with a match? 

Lan tells her story on Insight's Family Secrets | Catch up online now: 

Further Reading
From Saigon in a shoebox: Australian 'Operation Babylift' orphans reflect 40 years on
Abandoned during the Vietnam War and airlifted out for a better life, 'Operation Babylift' orphans reflect on adoption, growing up in white Australia and the search for their birth families 40 years on.
Family Secrets
What happens when your identity is challenged by family secrets?
Vietnam Timeline
From 1941 to 1975, follow our timeline of the Vietnam War and watch stories from the Dateline archives on how it changed the country and its people.
Chasing the Dragon: Return to Vietnam
40 years after the Vietnam War, can refugee Joe Le finally find the father he’s never known? And what answers will it reveal about his family’s war-torn past?