Paul Savang Khieu A.O.

Interview

Global Food Markets
Croydon Road, Logan Central 

With a distinctive cream akubra hat and high visibility vest, Paul Khieu moves through the Global Food Markets on Sunday morning, giving a friendly nod to each of the stallholders as he passes. His watchful eye checks that everything is running smoothly. He has been doing this for fifteen years and though age has begun to weary him, he is present as often as his health permits.

“He just won’t stay home,” his son Dean Khieu shrugs his shoulders helplessly, “This and the store is important to him so he still wants to be here every day.”

Dean, who now supports Paul in running the markets, is referring to the Asian Grocery Store on Croydon Road, that his father first opened more than thirty-five years ago.

Paul (Savang) Khieu A.O. arrived in Australia in 1982. He was born and raised in Cambodia and after high school, he studied Civil Engineering in the Faculty of Sciences at University. One of his early projects was overseeing the construction of the luxurious Hotel Cambodiana in Phnom Penh in the early 1970’s.

But his life would quickly change when war broke out. Paul moved across the border first to Vietnam. While there he helped to develop new schools and hospitals. As the situation in the region escalated, he fled back across Cambodia to reach the refugee camps on the border of Thailand to join others seeking to escape from the violence consuming their country.

Arriving at the Chhonbori refugee camp in 1979, he began working with the United Nations, putting his engineering skills to use and assisted with setting up new facilities, as the flow of refugees to the border continued. On the sparsely wooded plains in eastern Thailand, a few miles from the Cambodian border, a compound of bamboo and thatch houses was opened in 1979 at the foot of the Khao-I-Dang Mountain. Paul became a section leader, carrying responsibility for the administration and welfare of 10,000 people over several years, before finally the opportunity came to move his young family to Australia in 1982.

English is Paul’s fifth language. As they settled into life in Logan, Paul was able to find work as a civil engineer. However, the company he was working for relocated after a couple of years, and he found himself without work. Needing to generate an income he decided to open the Asian Grocery Store on Croydon Road in 1984, that still operates today.

Paul Khieu and Dean Khieu at Global Food Markets

Paul always recognised how culturally rich Logan was, and the potential that that diversity could afford the region. However he understood from his own experience, the challenges in finding, maintaining or creating work in a new country. Always active in his community, Paul established the Ethnic Communities Council of Logan (ECCL) and in 2005 as President of the ECCL, set out to stimulate the local economy through the creation of opportunities for small business operators, to sell their produce through a new local market.

Originally called the Croydon Street Markets the Global Food Market commenced with just three stallholders. Paul’s goal was two-fold, create job opportunities for fellow Cambodians within the community, and increase the buzz in the local area. Many other shops lay empty around his store at the time, and he wanted to see the area come back to life again. He set out to negotiate with the council and other local shopkeepers to allow for the operation of the street side stalls and eventual road closures that would be required to enable the markets to grow.

The number of stallholders steadily increased, and in the same year, a new annual festival was launched in association with the markets. Held each May for 15 years, the Kaleidoscope Multicultural Street Festival was run by the Ethnic Communities Council of Logan. It provided an opportunity for everyone to gather to engage in the beauty, colour and cuisine of the diverse cultures that make up the Logan community.

Though the Kaleidoscope Festival no longer runs, the Global Food Markets have continued to grow, and are now home to more than 100 stallholders each week. With backgrounds including Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai, Laos, Chinese, Hmong, Fujian, Burmese, Indian, Sudanese and Burundian, Samoan and Tongan and more, these vibrant markets have become a small business incubator with some stallholders going on to grow well-established businesses.

‘‘We have people from the South-East Asian countries, from Africa, South Africa, the European people, every country in the world, we have here,’’ Paul describes the Logan community. “There are so many ways of using different fruit and vegetables, spices and flavours and many new options can be found right here in the markets and surrounding stores.”

In 2021 people from 217 ethnic backgrounds call the City of Logan home. Over sixteen years, the Global Food Markets have become a popular weekly hub in the community, offering an extensive variety of fruit and vegetables available from local growers as well as those sourced from further afield to compliment the variety. The scents of south-east Asia and Africa also sweep over the crowd from the plethora of street food vendors which now form part of the markets along Station Road.

Shoppers in Paul's Asian Grocery Store

Paul’s Asian Grocery Store is surrounded by a diverse selection of new stores that have opened up over the years, thanks to the appeal of the busy markets which attract so many customers to the area each Sunday. From Afghan bakeries, to Middle Eastern butchers, Indian and Lebanese Supermarkets and an African food market, visitors to the Global Food Markets can pick up both their fresh vegetables and their groceries all within a small radius around the convenient transport hub of Woodridge train station.

Station Road, Logan Central

With everything running smoothly outside, Paul removes his hat as he walks slowly back into a tiny, cluttered office at the back of his store, ready to retreat from the crowds for a while. Relaxing into a comfortable chair to put his feet up in front of a small television, while the markets whirl around outside, he is surrounded by mementos of his life’s journey.

His student ID card from university; a postcard decorated with a picture of the Hotel Cambodiana; letters of thanks from the UNHCR for his work as section leader in the refugee camp; his Order of Australia medal framed with a photo of him receiving the award from then Governor General of Australia, Dame Quentin Bryce in 2007, for his service to the community. There are photos of his son Dean – and right-hand man at the markets – who was born in the refugee camp just before they left for Australia. Proud moments with his daughter Parina – who was born in Australia – receiving her qualifications in Psychology and Law. And interspersed with the family photos are those of Paul alongside several generations of Prime Ministers and Premiers who he has met along the way in his life of service to others.

This private gallery capturing the kaleidoscope of Paul’s life experiences, demonstrates clearly that life is a journey not a destination.

Author: Jacqueline Bawtree 2021 for Logan City Council.

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