Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology

A Vietnamese Cannabis Voice: An Insight of the Real Stories

Di Hai Luong is a criminologist and Research Fellow at The University of Queensland. Their recent work involves translating the book ‘Herding Cats’ from Vietnamese into English.

Based on previous empirical studies, Luong (2014, 2017, 2019, 2020) tested and clarified family ties and fellow countrymen as the most prioritised forms of those Vietnamese drug trafficking networks. While some studies have analysed and examined the Vietnamese syndicates in Europe, Canada, the UK, and the US, there is still an overall lack of independent research to focus on Vietnamese organised crime organisational structure and related modus operandi in cannabis cultivation in Australia.

Herding Cats (dân chăn mèo in Vietnamese) is the first true-life story of a Vietnamese crop-sitter who became an apprentice cannabis grower for a Vietnamese boss shortly after arriving in Australia and lived a precarious existence on its green (marijuana) roads. This 250-page memoir, Đường Xanh Viễn Xứ (The Green Faraway Road in Vietnamese version), was released by the Nha Nam Publishers in August 2021. The Vietnamese Writers’ Association introduced it to the public, overcoming the strict censorship of Vietnam’s Communist-State media. It was written after the writer (To Giang) served a thirty-month sentence in a Victorian jail and was deported to Vietnam. It has since become one of the best-selling books in Vietnam. Readers were curious to learn, through the memoir of an insider who had just been released from a Victorian prison, why and how Vietnamese cannabis growers can survive and operate in Australia. I have contacted the author several times to discuss and exchange ideas while translating this exciting book into English.

The reader will feel his sincerity in the thrilling dialogue and complex character psychology in each marijuana cultivation mission of the herding cats, who, like mice, use cunning and tricks to blind their neighbours and the police. The author describes what he did as part of these satellites of the green gangland, which gained hundreds of millions annually for the black economy. Dân chăn mèo appear to live in ordinary houses, but these houses hide a secret. The role of the cat herders is to deceive the ‘cats’, i.e., the neighbours, the police monitors, and public officials. Cats are curious creatures, so cat herders must avoid arousing their curiosity. Another way of putting it is that these crop-sitters are mice that control cats!

This is an entirely new story for both audiences and publishers. Most of the best true crime non-fiction focuses on murders, serial killings, and rapes. While many true-crime non-fiction books by various authors, including criminals who have spent time in jail, have been published worldwide over a long period, this type of criminal memoir is still lacking in Asia and the Pacific. The real stories of cannabis growers and related criminal networks in Australia, the US and the EU are still not much exposed by insiders, even in academic criminology networks. It was my wish to fill this gap by sharing this dân chăn mèo. As Professor Andrew Goldsmith, Matthew Flinders Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Criminology, Flinders University reviewed:

“The author provides a rare and compelling firsthand account of his time as a crop sitter for marijuana cultivations in domestic homes across Melbourne and its environs…Along the journey, he offers some sobering observations on the limitations of law enforcement and border control authorities in their efforts to reckon with this issue. For readers looking for a ‘grass roots’ insight into the organised illicit drug trade today, this book has much to offer.”

This book was released at the book launch event in Melbourne in October 2022 and is now available onshore and offshore ( I will also analyse details at the ANZSOC’s Annual Conference in Darwin.

Dr Hai Luong, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland