Cambodian horrors confronted

Khmer Rouge survivor Leakena Dixon is flanked by friends Alwyn and Laurie Lewis. Picture: GEOFF ROBSON
Khmer Rouge survivor Leakena Dixon is flanked by friends Alwyn and Laurie Lewis. Picture: GEOFF ROBSON

TWO men restrain her, tie her to a tree and then tell her to watch as they bury her baby daughter alive.

Khmer Rouge survivor Leakena Dixon would then wake up kicking and screaming until someone came to soothe and hold her.

The mother of two teenagers who moved to Devonport 15 years ago  said the nightmares were recurring.

``The other dream was always two men, and my father is in a canoe and they are screaming at me `watch it, watch it'.

``My father is kind of looking at me saying `Don't worry, I'm fine' and then I look back again and the men, they chop his head off.''

It is believed Ms Dixon was six when her pregnant mother, grandmother and three siblings were taken with thousands of Cambodians to Pol Pot's working farms, which later became known as the Killing Fields.

Between 1975 and  1979, people were subjected to daily hard labour with little food and water, and the constant threat of punishment and death.

The populations were consumed by fear,  told to forget their families and worked until death. 

More than 1 million people died.

Ms Dixon said she had never talked about her horrific experiences in detail until two years ago when she met Devonport couple Alwyn and Laurie Lewis.

An author, Mrs Lewis said she and her husband offered to help Ms Dixon talk about her time during Pol Pot's genocidal regime.

They sat with Ms Dixon over an 18-month period, with a tape recorder between them, and listened, talked, laughed  and cried.

At the end a novel,  Surviving the Killing Fields: Pol Pot stole my childhood,  was produced.

Her memories resurfaced, and the horrors of what happened were shared.

Punishments were extreme:

``Gagged and tied to the poles were the two teenagers we'd seen the night before,'' it reads.

``Two other guards with a spade and a machete walked to the pair and, as the terrified assembly of children froze in a pall of bone-chilling fear, began in front of us all to hack at the teenagers.'' 

Ms Dixon said recalling her experiences was emotionally demanding.

``Every time I came here to record it, I felt sick in my stomach and then when we finished and I was done, I'd push it back down like I've always done,'' Ms Dixon said.

``You need to talk about it, and all of a sudden you open up, and everything tries to come out at once.

``They (the Lewises) were always really kind.  They would ring me up afterwards and check on me to see if I was OK.

``But I don't want (this to be like) I am the only person to go through this.  A lot of Cambodians never talk about it, what they went through, and experienced a lot worse that me.''

Mr and Mrs Dixon said there were times when they felt distraught by what they were hearing.

``It was traumatic, knowing that Leakena was going home really upset . . . and thinking, `can we keep on doing this?' but feeling that it was essential to get her story out there,'' Mrs Lewis said.

``It was just the shock - that humankind is so unkind, that we (Australians) lived through that time and knew nothing about what was happening.  That was pretty confronting.'' 

Ms Dixon is a disability worker at Devonfield Enterprises, and said her dream was to save the money from the proceeds of the novel to assist an orphanage in Cambodia.

She said she also wants people to never take their freedom for granted.

``For people to realise that this happened and to look at what Cambodia went through, and to not whinge about the little things . . . be happy with what you've got.''

 Surviving the Killing Fields: Pol Pot stole my childhood  is available at Fullers Launceston, Petrarchs Bookshop and the Devonport Bookshop.


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