Tag Archives: children

A government of barbaric inconsistency

5 Mar

Only weeks after announcing cuts to frontline services that assist women and children escaping domestic violence, Prime Minister Tony Abbott today announced the government will spend $30 million on a domestic violence “awareness campaign.”

While public education on the matter of domestic violence can never go astray, funding such education while simultaneously removing frontline safety nets for women and children experiencing violence in real-time is an act of unconscionable duplicity, and barbaric inconsistency.

One woman each week is slaughtered by an intimate partner during episodes of domestic violence. One woman is hospitalised every three hours with injuries due to domestic violence. KPMG reports domestic violence cost Australia 14.7 billion last year, some 1.5 billion more than in 2012.

Minister for Women Abbott has slashed funding to front line services such as legal aid, and refuges to which women and children in fear of their lives can flee. Offering a sop of $30 million for education while leaving women and children unprotected and with nowhere to turn, is political expediency of staggering proportions.

I do not recall money being offered for “awareness campaigns” on the matter of young men subjected to king hits. I recall an absolute outcry from all levels of politics, and proposals for immediate legislative changes.

I do not recall any politician, state or federal, ever holding a prayer vigil for women and children slaughtered in their homes by an intimate partner, though there was no shortage of them at the vigil held this morning for Chan and Sukumaran, the Australians sentenced to death for drug smuggling in Indonesia.

Let’s not forget Abbott’s reputation for punching the wall beside a woman’s head, and his reference to a woman as a “chair thing.”

In fact, if you want to refresh your memory about the many disparaging things the Minister for Women has said about women here you go

This man doesn’t care about women. No man who cared about women would remove services that helped them escape violence, injury and death. Any man who cared about women would move heaven and earth to ensure essential services are in place.

No man who cared about women and children would financially prioritise an “awareness campaign” before actually saving lives.

The Minister for Women is a dangerous and opportunistic fraud. He has blood on his hands, the blood of women and children who now have nowhere to go to escape violent homes. How many more will he allow to die before he reinstates front-line funding?

Or does he think he can get away with a band-aid?

domestic_violence

 

 

 

 

Advice to women. Not.

14 Feb

createordie-neon

 

Were I ever to give advice to women which I wouldn’t because I continue to learn that the ways in which I can be stupid are infinitely more numerous than the ways in which I can be smart and to give advice to anyone it ought to be the other way around, but if, stupidly, I disregarded that little spark of self-knowledge and went ahead anyway, I would say, a woman in a family must resist the domination of the managerial if she wants her creativity to survive.

By the “managerial” I mean that aspect of ourselves so competent, so deft, so practical, so capable it could run a global corporation with one hand tied behind its back, and blindfolded. In my life as a partner and mother, and in the lives of many women I know, this aspect became so dominant it stole the oxygen from every other. This occurred as much because it suited everyone else that I manage the family’s daily affairs as it did because I thought I was supposed to.

Virginia Woolf grappled with  the problem the managerial can present to women, describing its pernicious influence as “The Angel in the House”  with irony and humour, but with deadly seriousness as well:

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her — you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others…

I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself… I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must — to put it bluntly — tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her…

For me, it wasn’t entirely about reviewing male writers and depending on charm to get me by, although the spectre of disapproval, the fear of offending and as a consequence being despatched to the margins also has to be regularly fought off if I’m going to write what I truly want to write. My recent foray into erotica, for example, was a frightening experience of voluntary vulnerability, as is any self-revelation, but if we are to write about what it is to be human, that writing will always provoke anxiety in its author, and likely at times in its readers.

As unlike Woolf we had no household staff, for me the managerial was about knowing where everybody’s socks were, remembering the washing and the shopping and the cooking and the lunches and the driving and the.. look, I can’t even bear to go back there, you all know what I mean. I lost myself. I became The Manager, and worst of all, I found it almost impossible to turn her off in my head. I came to hate her. She was like the strangler fig parasitically stealing the life of the rainforest tree.

This suited everybody in the family, but it didn’t suit me.

One of the wisest pieces of advice any woman ever gave me was to cultivate absent-mindedness. For example, when people asked me where their socks were I would gaze thoughtfully at them for much longer than necessary. I would assume a puzzled expression and tug at my lip. Oh, darling, I would say finally, I know I saw them somewhere but I can’t think where…

I had to strictly discipline myself  in order to be able to do this. My every conditioned impulse urged me to take responsibility for everything in our household’s daily life, and this conditioning had to be constantly and consistently resisted. Family members do not easily relinquish their dependencies, and tend to passively and aggressively fight changes in a wife and mother with every bone in their bodies. I think it was harder than giving up smoking, and there were no quit lines to help me.

It took quite some time, but eventually I noticed they weren’t asking me to manage their entire lives for them quite as often as they used to. Then one morning I overheard one child saying to another, I’ll ask Mum. She won’t know, replied the other, she’ll just look at you as if she doesn’t know what you’re talking about, she never knows where anything is, we’ll have to find it ourselves.

And I knew I’d done it.

This proved to me that you can’t change anybody but yourself and if you do change yourself there is a good chance that  people who really love you will eventually learn put up with it, and change as well.

There are many advantages in being thought a muppet by your family. Muppets are not renowned for their managerial abilities, and nobody expects it of them.

Sometimes, it’s the only way the creative woman survives.

Many thanks for the inspiration for this post to the lovely M, who sends me a poem to wake up to every morning. The two words “managerial mess” in this poem by Jennifer Strauss, What Women Want  summed up an entire period of my life. 

 

Samantha the Maiden, Abbott, and the supernatural powers of marriage

27 Dec

Sitting in a cafe in Cooma the other day with nothing to read I flicked through the Sunday Telegraph of December 21. Always a mistake looking at the Tele, but my judgement about everything has been off for months, so what’s one more error.

There I came upon a piece by Samantha Maiden on Senator Jacqui Lambie titled “I’m addicted to my Botox.”

I didn’t have a great deal of interest in that revelation but what did catch my eye was Ms Maiden’s description of the Senator “admitting she’s been single for more than a decade” and later in the paragraph “Ms Lambie admits she’s been single since her thirties.”

Admit is a tricky little word. It’s usually understood to mean confess, as in the offender admits. I’m at a loss to understand why a woman has to admit she’s single, or why Ms Maiden poses the suggestion that Ms Lambie has committed an offence against society by using that word to describe the woman’s relationship status.

Then a few days later came this opinion piece in the Age, questioning Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s references for new Social Services Minister Scott Morrison.  He is a decent human being and is married with two little children, the PM declared, ergo the man has learned a depth of compassion the unmarried without children cannot possibly have achieved that more than qualifies him for his new portfolio.

There are echoes here of claims made by Morrison’s previous area of responsibility, the Department for Immigration and Border Protection that simply by being an elected member and Minister of the Crown, Morrison has a unique and profound insight into community standards and values that qualify him to exert unprecedented powers while remaining absolutely unaccountable to anyone.

I have to say here that I disagree with the author of the Age piece when he claims that not having children If anything … strengthens your sense of understanding and empathy for others. That’s just as silly as the claims he’s disputing.  Understanding and empathy aren’t dependent on one’s relationship status or parenthood, and it’s just as possible to argue that both situations can lead to all kinds of negative behaviours that aren’t in the least understanding and empathic.

Having spent Christmas time with seriously feral toddlers I can attest to that. The youngest, who has just learned to say “No” and “Mine” spent much of his time snatching his brother’s presents off him then trailing round the house, overwhelmed by the noisy stupidity of it all, alternately chanting and whining  “No No No” and “Mine mine mine” at nothing and no one while his brother yowled hideously at the injustice of it all. Tested beyond endurance by our little ones, the adults took to drink. That we all got through it and still love each other is no testament to our compassionate natures but rather to the quality of the champagne.

Anyways, what both Maiden and Abbott’s comments emphasise is the ideology subscribed to by public representatives of the orthodox political and social class whose beliefs continue to dominate Australian society. All one has to do is demonstrate one has a relationship and children to be accepted. How one actually behaves within the family unit is beside the point as long as one is seen to inhabit one.

And this brings me to Richard Flanagan’s Booker prize-winning novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Unfortunately I am far from home in the Snowy Mountains and don’t have my copy with me so can’t directly quote. At one point Flanagan lists the horrors of a long marriage in which neither partner has ever really known the other while one has been chronically unfaithful, and the stunting effects on the offspring of such a union. He ends this lengthy account of unexamined misery with two words: A family.

It’s chilling.

Here are some mountain wild flowers  to cheer you up.

Wildflowers

How to say I lub you

21 Nov

If you want to read these posts in order start at the last one in the category Adultery titled: Certain Dark Things. Or “Infidelity” at the top of the home page.

Lub you

Speech Acts: verbal assurances and promises which seem not only to refer to a speaking relationship but constitute a moral bond between speakers.  Judith Butler

 

 The three-year-old sat on her lap and said he was going to teach her how to say “I lub you” without using her words. He pointed to his eyes. He folded his small hands across his heart. He took one hand from his heart and held it palm up towards her. See, he said. Now do it to me. She pointed to her eyes. She folded her hands across her heart. And then she handed him her heart in the palms of her hands. Do it again, he said. Lub me again. Pease.

Her lover has said I love you more times than she could ever count. Oh, Lordy yes I love you, he says if she needs reassurance. Sometimes he writes ditto when she tells him she loves him, but he stopped that when she told him it wasn’t very appealing. Instead he wrote, and I you. I adore you, she wrote and he always replied, and I you. Every bit of me loves every bit of you, she told him. Aaaah, he sighed. And I you. You know I love you, he says. I told you. She has to explain to him that although she knows, she likes to hear it because they aren’t physically together and can’t show their love. They have to say it. Ah, he says. I see what you mean. Sometimes she thinks he is a little slow in these matters. Though willing.

Her husband told her he loved her about ten times a day. And every single time it had meaning. How did he manage that, she wonders.

I love you is a speech act. It constitutes a moral bond between speakers.

 

 It is September. She’s in the pool. It takes perhaps fifteen minutes of swimming laps before she feels completely at one with the water. This is why she does it, for the sensation of pushing effortlessly through aquamarine liquid velvet. Lifting her head to see the thick bush surrounding the pool, the blue sky streaked with high white cloud. The weightlessness and grace of the human body in the foreign, watery element. The aquamarine is her birthstone. She has a ring she can no longer find, a pale blue gem with a small diamond either side of it, set in white gold.

As she swims she thinks of her lover, he has written to her that morning telling her he has begun the process of encouraging his wife to go away on trips without him. They usually do everything together, he’s told her, like everyone else they know. His wife is reluctant, he says, and he has faced much opposition, but he needs this to happen so that it will not seem strange to the family when he wants to go away alone to be with his lover. What a pity the timing doesn’t work for his lover, they could have spent the days his wife is absent together without fear of arousing suspicion, but it was such short notice, and she has already arranged to be with her family and their babies.

“This was a sudden thing,” he writes. “It only happened at all because I strongly encouraged it over opposition and great reluctance, thinking that it was a first step to establishing the idea of doing things alone. At least,” he writes, “we can have phone calls at nice and unusual times like early morning and bedtime, while my wife is gone.”

He has recently persuaded her to be sexual with him on the phone. She’s not at all sure about it. It’s exciting at the time but when the call ends she feels an aching loneliness and a sense of having done something she didn’t really want to do. Not long after they’ve begun this experiment she stops it. It would be different, she tells him, if they were living together and separated for a while and the phone was an interim measure. But they are separate most of the time. Being separated from the man she loves more than she is with him is an entirely new experience. She is used to being a wife.

He can feel her, he tells her. It is her hand holding his cock, not his. Her hand stroking his nipples, her finger tracing the ridge between his balls. She is his first thought when he wakes, he tells her, his last before he falls asleep, and when he wakes in the night she is there.

You say you’ve gone away from me but I can feel you, feel you when you breathe…

As she swims she thinks two things. She thinks how glad she is that he wants to be with her so badly he will instigate long-term plans to change the whole pattern of his married life. The other thing she thinks is how manipulative he must be to be able to convince his wife it will be good for her to go away without him, when his real motive is to re-educate her so he can take time away to be with his mistress. She allows the first thought to push the second off the edge of an escarpment, into a bottomless abyss.

 

 Once she knew a man who taught her to use all her senses from her heart. She learned to see with her heart, feel, taste, smell, and hear with her heart. It’s not always safe, he warned her. There are circumstances in which the heart ought to be left out of things. While she can tell if a situation is obviously not one she wants to experience so fully, she’s not very good at judging the more subtle scenes.

When she first met her lover her heart was feeding all her senses, and she thought nothing of it. The sight of him leaning against the wall waiting for her, the shape of his body, the height of him, the pull of him, were all noted by senses rich with her heart’s energy. Long before she knew anything with her mind, her heart and all her senses whispered, I lub you. She handed him her heart in the palm of her hands, and she didn’t even know she’d done it. A moral bond. I lub you.

 

 For months, a year, and for more months, she protects him. She does without most of what she would really like to have, in order to protect him. She has no idea why she has entered into this agreement to protect him. Sometimes, she loses patience and threatens to tell his wife. She knows she never will. He knows she never will. He trusts her absolutely to protect him. She gives him the great gift of absolute trust in her. Because I love you is a moral bond.

 

 She tucks the three-year-old into his bed. Giddy, he says, that’s what he calls her, Giddy, will you sleep in my bed for a little while? He scoots over to make room. She lies down, and curves her body around his. In moments he’s asleep. She lies with him for a long time, listening to the night birds, watching the full moon rise over the mountains, hoping his small, strong body can help her heal herself. In her worst moments, when she wakes into terror, she thinks of her lover and then she thinks of this little boy. He has her smile. He has her scowl. He has their hearts in the palm of his hand. Lub me again, Giddy, he says. Pease.

Remember that words, the right and true words, have the power of deeds. Raymond Carver.

If you see a child as “sexualised” there’s something wrong with your vision

4 Mar

On morals campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist’s website you’ll find this breakdown of a survey conducted by Girlfriend magazine on the sexual habits of their young readers. The magazine’s demographic is girls aged between twelve and seventeen.

The survey found that 75% of Girlfriend readers are not sexually active. The reasons given:

  • Waiting to be in love (56%)
  • Not wanting to have sex (37%)
  • Feeling too young (31%)
  • No particular reason (26%)
  • Waiting to be married (17%)
  • Waiting to be the legal age of consent (14%)
  • Waiting for their boyfriend/girlfriend to be ready (8%)
  • Not being interest in ever having sex (1%)

These reasons don’t appear to differ from reasons given by young women over the last few decades. It’s also possible, though unverifiable I imagine, that over the last few decades 25% of young women have engaged in some kind of sexual activity for a variety of reasons, just as they do today.

The Girlfriend survey appears to contest anecdotes such as those in the article “Stealing the innocence of children” published yesterday in the Fairfax Press. Using language such as onslaught, obsession, bombardment, and phrases such as “placing the child in a sexualised space,” “increasingly sexual and sexualised culture,” “hyenas circling” our young, and “people conditioned to see themselves as ‘product,'” the article paints an alarming picture of an apocalyptically sexualised society, controlled by a terrifyingly nebulous “them.”  The closest I can come to identifying “them” are as the manufacturers, producers, distributors  and marketers of a perceived “sexualised” and “pornified” popular culture.

They are further identified in the article as  “the seamier side of humanity” which has persuaded K-Mart, Target and other retailers to provide children’s clothing modelled on the imagined uniform of sex workers.

Children’s primary carers are obliged to buy  this inappropriate clothing and give it to kids to wear, causing them to look “hot” and “sexy.”

It takes a particular kind of perverted vision to see a child as “sexy” or “hot,” no matter what the child is wearing. I do not see children dressed in “sexy” clothing as “hot.”A child dressed like an adult looks to me like a child dressed like an adult. If the child is perceived as “sexualised” or “pornified” it must be the gaze of the adult viewer defining her as such, not the clothing and certainly not the child. It is impossible to “sexualise” and “pornify” a child by dressing her or him in any kind of clothing. Only a sexualising and pornifying gaze can impose that interpretation.

Further, I’d suggest that those currently most responsible for “sexualising” and “pornifying” children’s appearance are the very campaigners who complain most loudly about it. These people are demanding that we all adopt the pedophile gaze, and interpret a child’s appearance as “hot” and “sexy” rather than seeing it for what it is: children imitating adults. There is no innocence lost in the imitation. The innocence is destroyed by the adult’s sexualising gaze.

To others less inclined to make moral judgements based on bits of cloth, children are neither sexualised nor pornified. They are children in bits of cloth, funny, silly, imitating their elders, remarkable or unremarkable, but they are children. If you think they are sexually objectified, the problem is with you.

Is there any space more sexualised than that of an institution such as church or family, in which the child is raped? Is there anymore devastatingly sexualised, objectified and “pornified” child than the child raped in the home, church or other institution outwardly dedicated to her or his welfare? When a child’s body is used to gratify adult desire, that child’s innocence has indeed been destroyed. That child has indeed been sexualised and pornified. And the number of children whose innocence has been thus stolen is incalculable.

Yet is any of this mentioned, even in passing, in an article titled “Stealing the innocence of children?” No. It is not. It is far easier to blame a nebulous “them” for the  crime of clothing and music videos.

This is bandaid stuff. What actually demands our attention is the numbers of adults only too willing to see, to describe, and to use children as sexual objects, even those who perceive themselves as being on the side of the good. Campaigners such as Tankard Reist, Steve Biddulph, Emma Rush and Steve Hambleton unwittingly reproduce the pedophile gaze with their own determinedly sexualised readings of popular culture.  The pedophile claims in his defence that  “she looked like she wanted it,” even if she was only three. The campaigners are in great danger of saying something very similar, albeit for very different reasons.

If you want to protect the innocence of children, don’t impose your sexualising vision on them. If you want to let kids be kids just do it, by recognising that they cannot be sexualised by the clothing they wear, but only by your interpretation of what that clothing signifies.

The campaigners are railing against a particular sexual aesthetic, one that given their reference to sex workers and aspects of popular culture may well be class-based. It’s not so long ago that girls who dressed in a certain way were described as “cheap.” That meant sexually easy, and the girls thus described were not middle class. Today “cheap” garments and attitudes are increasingly infiltrating the middle class, blurring class distinctions and causing what can only be described as a moral panic as those who are well used to controlling an orthodox conservative sexual discourse find themselves challenged as never before.

In another article titled “Save your daughter from the wild-child syndrome,” Steve Biddulph states ” If a girl is going to go wrong, it will be at 14.”  If a girl is going to go wrong? This binary of good and bad girls, right and wrong girls, is at the heart of the sexualisation and pornification panic. “Good and right” girls are increasingly indistinguishable from “bad and wrong girls” in their clothing choices. Hell, these days everyone’s looking like hookers and pole dancers! Clothes, once a primary signifier of middle class status and morality, now make  “good” girls look like they’re “bad.”

The conservative middle class, whether secular or religious, prescribes a morality that condemns the perceived sexually “easy” girl or woman. There remains, even among the non religious, a code of sexual manners that frowns upon any perceived flaunting of female sexuality.

The morals campaigners are of course never going to question their dogma about how girls and women should express our sexuality. In feminism’s second wave, we learned the folly of unquestioningly accepting the authority of the orthodoxy, and the unnecessary suffering involved in attempting to adjust ourselves to its man-made rules. We need a similar revolution in which we vigorously contest the domination of conservative sexual morality on our culture. Indeed, perhaps such a revolution is already underway, and the current moral panic is the outraged and fearful reaction.

Confusion: just because a girl wears a short skirt doesn’t mean she’s asking for it. On the other hand, the short skirt sexualises, pornifies and objectifies you so if you wear it, you look like a girl going wrong, and asking for it.

The bizarre marriage of radical feminism and right wing religious activism, occasioned to contest that other bogeyman, pornography, is an example of how the desire to censor and control is not confined to the religious. Russell Blackford considers this in his piece on Iceland’s recent initiative to ban certain types of pornography. “You can’t assume that secularism in a country’s population will solve all problems of moralism, anti-sex attitudes, and a general wish by governments and electorates to interfere with people’s lives” Blackford observes. While we know Melinda Tankard Reist comes from a Christian fundamentalist background, and Steve Hambleton is a devout Catholic, their conservative sexual politics are shared and promoted by the non religious as well.

When religious beliefs can’t be invoked to substantiate moralities, psychology, psychiatry and regurgitation of received knowledge is often as, if not more, effective. All of these traditionally accept an initial cultural premise: that there are particular ways of behaving and expressing sexuality that are unquestionably right, and veering from them is wrong. The stranglehold this perspective has on society is currently under great pressure, nowhere as evidenced in the rebellion of the young,who’s collective determination to clothe themselves like porn stars, as the horrified adults would have it, is breaking all the rules of sexual propriety and class.

The extreme manifestation of this propriety is manifested in remarks such as those made by Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who famously declared that the virginity of his three daughters was the greatest gift they could offer anyone and he hopes they’ll wait till they marry to bestow it.

I recall a sex talk given to us fourteen year olds by the Mother Superior, in which she advised us that we should not be like cream buns in the bakery window. Who, she asked rhetorically, wants to buy a cream bun from which someone else has already taken a lick? It’s only in retrospect I can see the bawdiness of that analogy, and I’m sure Mother Dorothea had no inkling. However, her advice does indicate there were enough girls being cream buns, even several decades ago, for us good girls to be warned of the perils that entailed.

There are, of course, real causes for concern. Five year old girls ought not to be so obsessed about their weight and appearance that their mental and physical health is threatened. I suggest that’s a separate issue from the “sexualisation and pornification”   claims, but it is a habit of these campaigners to conflate all the issues (as is exemplified in the Fairfax article)  into an “ain’t it awful” catastrophic expectation, won’t somebody think of our children who will save our girls meme.

I can’t watch shows like “Biggest Loser” because of their cruelty,and their commitment to fat-shaming, treacherously disguised as concern. No wonder little girls are scared to death of gaining any weight. They’ve got the message: everyone will hate and shame them if they aren’t reed thin. Many of them have close adult females who angst over their weight, teaching little girls that their lives will be good or bad depending on how much they weigh. I suggest this is far more insidious than any piece of sparkly skimpy cloth K-Mart has on its shelves.

Likewise, the idea of someone dressing a baby in a shirt bearing the slogan “All Daddy wanted was a blow job” is my idea of over-sharing. I’ve never seen such a shirt, though I don’t doubt they exist.

Children have always been born into a “sexualised space.” Planet Earth is a sexualised space, sex is a powerful human drive that everyone encounters, one way or another. Children are sexual beings, and understand from an early age that there is something profoundly mysterious in the adult world that is forbidden to them. Naturally, they want entry into that world, and one of the ways they achieve a semblance of belonging is by imitating adult appearance and behaviour. What kind of a mind construes this imitation as reality, and demands that the rest of us do the same?

What we need to do is really see the children, and not take flight into a moral panic that they cannot understand. There is a child at play inside the “hot” “sexy” clothes. That child shouldn’t have to choose between being a good girl or a bad girl, between going wrong or going right. Adults are responsible for the paucity of role models on offer for children to emulate. If we really care about the children, this is what we’ll address. But that’s going to be a lot harder than blaming K-mart.

innocence

For all the babies

7 Jul

Especially this one: 

Because when the chips are down, what you need is a little bit of love. 

Forever Young

 Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.

And for these big kids too:  

Jane and Jennifer go to Woomera with the dog – part two

15 Mar

The Dog

 

(Part One can be found in Pages)

We went to the Woomera Detention Centre ten years ago.

ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing, Sunday March 13th, reveals that little has changed over a decade, despite another government. Societal attitudes have hardened, as exemplified by the horrific 2GB competition Guess how many asylum seekers are being buried today?

The next day, Jane and Jennifer present themselves at the detention centre gates, as instructed at nine o’clock, and are admitted after the anticipated hassle about the right papers and the proper permissions. Two nice if misguided middle class ladies, in the eyes of the guards.

On the strength of their niceness, and their endearing oddness in carting a large dog to Woomera with them, some errors in their paperwork are overlooked. Fletcher is allowed to lie on a mat in the air-conditioned outer office while Jane and Jennifer go through the formal searches, leave their backpacks in lockers, and are escorted through the final portals into the depths of the prison.

Jennifer thinks that somehow this journey wouldn’t have been possible without the dog. This is rationally inexplicable. She looks back at Fletcher. He’s watching them go, on full alert, ears up, head raised, sniffing the air. Then they pass through security and are gone, out of his sight to the other side.

From where they sit in the Visitor’s Centre, silenced by their miserable surroundings, she can see through the open door another compound fenced in with barbed wire. Inside this compound are several dongas in which the detainees live.

The windows of the Visitor’s Centre are barred with steel; plastic chairs and tables are spread haphazardly round; there is no air-conditioning. Ceiling fans barely stir the air. There’s little if any insulation in the tin roof; they sit in an oven.

The women haven’t spoken to each other since the guards left them. Jennifer’s busy trying to assimilate everything: her notebook has been taken off her and she can’t write anything down. She’s also unnerved, not because she fears anything untoward happening to them, but because the ambience here is tense and edgy; the physical outlook is unrelentingly grim.

Jennifer’s known much in her life, but not institutional violence, state approved violence, publicly sanctioned violence against other human beings. She knows enough about the nature of fear to recognise its presence outside the familial setting. Now she’s now struggling to grasp that the darkness she’d imagined was confined to the family, abroad in the wider world is different, yet the same.

Institutions, in her case the school, were places of safety, places of protection from the private practices of adults who were not to be trusted for a minute. Those adults were the ones you knew best, in your own home, not strangers behind a razor wire fence. She was prepared for the conditions here in the abstract: the reality is something else altogether. There are ways in which Jennifer has lived a charmed and sheltered life.

Woomera child's drawing. by Karen Elliot via flickr

There is no grass for the children to play on, or for the babies to practice their walking. She watches three small children scuffing aimlessly about in the red dust at the steps of their donga; a Muslim girl of about twelve in her headscarf, lifted from her shoulders by the hot wind; a boy of about eight in shorts and bare feet. The sand is hot. Doesn’t it burn him?

Between them they help the smallest child, who is still tottering on his uncertain baby legs. A woman in a black burqa sits on the top step of the donga with her head in her hands. Outside the administration block, they noticed when they arrived, there’s a garden of emerald green grass, young trees, and beds of brilliant flowers. The garden isn’t visible from these dongas. Later they’re told it’s tended by some of the inmates.

As she watches, a man emerges from another donga in the compound. He runs down the steps and across the red dust, screaming in a language that is unintelligible to her, but his despair needs no translation. He flings himself repeatedly at the wire that keeps him contained, like an animal in a zoo maddened by its confinement. He shakes the wire back and forth while the children watch in frightened silence. The eldest girl puts her arms round the younger ones. The man’s screams rouse the woman in the burqa: she raises her head and briefly stares at him, then returns to her own private despair.

‘Oh, Christ,’ says one of the guards standing outside the door of the Visitor’s Centre,

Razor Wire 101. by Amy Leonard via flickr

‘what’s wrong with bloody Mustafa now?’

Jennifer is sitting very still. She’s been holding her breath, and now she’s feeling dizzy and sick. Her body is warning her that this is not a sight she should witness, but she’s here now, there’s nothing she can do.

Mustafa isn’t trying to attack anyone other than himself: it’s the sight of an adult man completely out of control of himself, a woman watching from a distance and returning to her self-absorbed despair; three children silently witnessing this scene. Are these scenes here in the detention centre, these scenes and many more like them and worse, are they making intolerable memories for these children? Will these children, in their middle age, sweat when they recall these events?

It’s getting hotter as the day moves on towards noon. The dongas shimmer like mirages. She’s been afraid ever since they crossed the threshold into the prison, ever since they drove down the bitumen road from the caravan park in the Woomera township towards prison surrounded by gibber desert and saltbush. She’s been afraid of the detention officers, and the blue water cannon positioned at the gate and the high, intimidating security lights that promise to illuminate everything without mercy, no crevice left untouched, no places left to hide.

She’s way out of her comfort zone, and anyway, fear is her Achilles heel.

Everybody’s got their personal weakness: greed, grief, free-floating anxiety, lust, anger, despair. Hers is fear. It can bring her undone in a nanosecond. This is a new kind of fear, she’s only dreamed this kind of fear, in nightmares when she’s been pursued by soldiers, unable to find a hiding place in a napalmed landscape. All their journey so far, through the drought and the death stench and the tormented landscapes, past the sun-bleached bones of animals dead from starvation, picked clean by buzzards and eagles, all this has finally brought them to this place.

The journey has been a fitting preparation.

The women saw the interrogatory lights cutting through the dark sky when they made a furtive reconnoitre the night before. Having arrived too late in the day to visit the centre, they set up camp, tied up the dog in the back of the truck and crawled without headlights as close to the prison parameters as they dared.

‘Shit,’ Jane whispered.

‘What?’

‘It’s just like bloody South Africa. I can’t believe it. What country am I in?’

‘God’s own,’ Jennifer told her.

They saw headlights approaching.

‘Get going!’

‘Shut up!’

Jane threw the truck into reverse.

In retrospect they’re hard-pressed to explain their panic. Jane was worried that if they were caught hanging round, their visits the next day would be jeopardised and this was a realistic apprehension. Oppression works swiftly. The guards were completely in control. If the women offended them, they’d find some way of refusing them entry. Driving round the perimeters of the detention centre at night could be construed by the guards as suspicious.

This is how the people inside have to think every day. If I do this I won’t be allowed to do that. About the smallest, most insignificant things.

‘We aren’t doing anything wrong,’ Jennifer whispered. ‘We’re on a public road.’

‘We’re hanging round. We’re looking. That’s wrong enough for these people.’

‘Christ,’ Jennifer said disgustedly, ‘we’re still in Australia.’

‘And this is what Australia is these days,’ Jane said and they fell silent, contemplating the state of their country. God’s own be buggered.

‘Why are we whispering?’ Jennifer asked finally.

‘Dunno. We’re out of our depth aren’t we? Two white ladies from out of state. We’re out of our depth, the landscape, the Detention Centre, Woomera, which I think is a very strange town, by the way. Did you notice those parks full of planes and bombs and rockets? And how green the grass is, where do they get the bloody water from? And those empty, smashed-up apartment blocks with the doors hanging off their hinges and banging in the wind and all their windows broken? Like a post nuclear movie.’

Jane drove them back to the park. A high wind had sprung up, rocking their caravan. It was cold. Large spots of rain fell on them as they moved from the truck to the van. The park was almost empty. No one came here anymore the manager told them, owing to that fucking Detention Centre. Everyone’s afraid there’ll be a break out and they’ll get caught up in it.

‘Used to be a busy, thriving park,’ he said. ‘Now fucking look at it.’

They didn’t tell him the reason for their visit. Just passing through, they said, on their way to somewhere else. They had no wish to get into a fight with him about the detainees. They were closing down, husbanding their resources.

There was only one other van parked for the night. The park was asphalt with squares cut out of it in which frail saplings tried to grub a life for themselves out of the red dirt. They could see the lights of the Detention Centre. They made tea and climbed into their beds. Fletcher settled down on the floor in between them.

Human Rights. by Hugo via flickr

 

Though the guards complain to each other about Mustafa’s on-going expressions of despair, nobody goes to help him, or even to tell him to shut up, or whatever they do with people in there in extremis. Which seems to be very little. Mustafa’s frantic screaming subsides into sobs. He wraps his arms round himself and rocks back and forth in that movement typical of human beings, adults and children, who have given up on any hope of comfort other than what they can provide for themselves. Then he leaps up again and grabs at the wire.

Earlier the guards had spoken to the women about their feelings towards the detainees.

‘They’ve got everything,’ two guards, a man and a woman, told them as they deposited their bags in the lockers and waited to be searched.

‘They’ve got TVs, clothes, videos, everything.’

‘We have not got our freedom!’ shouted an inmate, overhearing the guards’ account of things as he swept and mopped the office floors.

‘That’s relative, mate!’ the male guard shouted back. ‘Freedom’s relative. I’m not free either, you know. I’ve got to show up for work here every day, can’t sit around on my arse watching TV like you. Can’t even afford a bloody TV like they’ve got,’ he told the women. ‘Working my butt off and I can’t afford what they’ve got for nothing. Then they trash it! Bloody trash TVs, DVDs, computers! You wouldn’t believe it.’

He shook his head and swore softly under his breath.

Jennifer reflects on this exchange as they sit in the Visitors’ Centre waiting for the asylum seekers they’ve arranged to meet with. The irony of the situation doesn’t escape her. The guards, poorly paid and in one of the worst work places in the country, measure their success in life by the things they can buy with their wages. This is a widespread marker of success in Western culture, the guards are no different from most other people in their material ambitions.

All the things they see the detainees getting ‘for nothing’ and then ‘trashing’ when there’s a riot, are things they’re busting their guts in this god-awful place to earn the means to obtain. The guard doesn’t feel free, because of this, and he’s in no frame of mind to start measuring his degree of freedom against that of the detainees. He’s not about to argue degrees of freedom and personal choice. He feels powerless, except in his right to exercise power over the detainees.

It’s easy enough to say the guards don’t have to be there. And they don’t, nobody’s forcing them. But as violent as they reputedly are, as racist and resentful as they clearly are, to tell them that they don’t have to do this doesn’t seem to be the answer. They think they do.

The noon temperature is forty-two degrees Celsius. There’s a hot wind roaring

Iraqi refugee child. by Catholic Relief Services via flickr

across the plain. Mustafa has stopped crying and sits quietly in the dust, his head resting against the wire. The children walk towards him. The girl’s scarf whips round her head in the wind. She holds the baby’s hand.

They all stare at the visitors. Jane and Jennifer smile. Nobody smiles back. They aren’t allowed to approach the children or talk to them. Jennifer knows she will remember this scene for the rest of her life, the three solemn children, the damaged, broken man, the woman silent on the step, her head buried in her hands.

It’s as if they’ve reproduced, in the middle of their democratic country, conditions that bear an eerie similarity to those that caused the people to flee their homelands in the first place.

‘If they’ll bother to get up,’ the guard is saying to Jane.

‘What?’ Jennifer asks.

‘It’s Ramadan. Your detainees might be late. They pray all night and sleep all day. Weird, eh?’

The guard is wired for every kind of sound. He’s got technical aids every which way. He looks at Jennifer as if he wants her to form an alliance with him against this ‘weirdness’ he has to endure on a daily basis. She thinks she might have pretended to something of the kind before she actually got into the place. Getting in was tricky, touch and go, they knew they had to play things very straight. But once in, the guards could go to buggery. Like the bloody country.

‘So why are they lazy, lying in bed all day if they’ve been praying all night?’ she asks, hostile. ‘It’s an important thing, Ramadan, like Christians have important things. Isn’t it? Anyway, it’s not as if they’ve anything to get up for, you don’t let them do anything.’

The guard looks truculent.

‘I guess this is a pretty awful job,’ Jane intervenes, deciding on diplomacy.

He softens.

‘Mate, it’s the bloody pits. Nobody knows. Nobody hears our side of the story. We’re just the bastards. You know,’ he went on, settling in for a rare opportunity to whinge to a member of the public, ‘I daren’t tell anyone I work here. You imagine that? Having to lie about where you work?’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Because the place’s got such a bad name nobody else’ll employ me after I’ve been working here.’

He leans back in his chair. They can see the tension bristling through his body. His face is congested, his beer gut large, his uniform too tight.  He’s on the edge, as are many other guards they meet on their way through the system.

‘I don’t even tell me mates what I do. I tell ‘em I work in Woomera for the Government and it’s secret, what I do. Never mention the Detention Centre. No way.’

Jane reflects on the difficulties and stresses such daily deceits must bring to a life.

‘That’s bad,’ she tells him. ‘That’s a hard thing to do.’

‘My oath. Then you get these bastards in here smashing everything up they get given. Bloody mad. Don’t make sense.’

His radio squawks. He listens and then speaks into it rapidly.

‘Well there’s three of the ones you asked to visit on their way.’

‘Three? We arranged to meet with twelve.’

‘Th’other nine aren’t allowed visitors. They’ve being playin’ up, lost their privileges.’

‘What? All nine of them?’ Jane protests.

‘Well, except Parvin, she’s too sick.’

‘She was fine a couple of days ago.’

‘Yeah, well now she’s too sick. So do you want to see these blokes or not?’

‘Yes, yes of course we do.’

He speaks into his radio.

The three young men follow the guards into the Visitors’ Centre. They introduce themselves, awkwardly. The women have corresponded with the young men, so they know something of each other’s lives, but in the face-to-face encounter they are all shy, hesitant.

Nasrim, Ali and Mohammed sit across the table from Jane and Jennifer and they look at one another in silence. The young men all have olive-skin, with bloodshot mahogany eyes under full brows, and black hair cut short as if there is only one style permitted inside the prison. Ali, who looks to be the youngest, has a round face with soft features. His expression is open though baffled, permanently so, Jane thinks. His eyes are huge, like dark, full moons and they glisten. He is plump, the soft plumpness of a young man who hasn’t yet grown into his adult body.

Nasrim has an athletic build, lean and supple. His cheekbones are well-defined, his eyes shift rapidly, checking out the women, his surroundings, his friends, noting where the guards have settled. He drums his fingertips on the table, waiting for someone to speak.

The third man, Mohammed, wears an untidy beard, beginning to show premature flecks of grey and when he smiles his lips are rosy and his teeth white, framed by the dark hair. He is heavy and muscular. He drops heavily into an orange plastic chair and drops his hands on his thighs.

‘Welcome,’ he says to the women. ‘Welcome to our palace in the desert!’

Nasrim has a packet of biscuits in his hand and Ali and Mohammed carry water, orange cordial and paper cups.

‘There is a good guard, a kind man,’ Nasrim says, ‘he gives us these things for us to give to our visitors. He understands that at home, in our country, it is very wrong to greet the visitor with an empty hand and so he lets us have these things for you.’

Mohammed breaks open the biscuits. Jane and Jennifer take one. It crumbles in Jennifer’s dry mouth and she thinks she’s going to choke. Conversation is difficult.

‘You all speak good English,’ she offers, ‘ did you learn that here?’

‘We have been in detention for ten months in Port Hedland, nineteen months in the Woomera,’ Mohammed tells us. ‘We are Hazara from Afghanistan but the Immigration, they say we are from Pakistan and are not refugees. This is not the truth.’

‘How old are you?’ Jane asks.

‘I am twenty-four, he is twenty-two and he is nineteen,’ Nasrim points to Mohammed and Ali as he speaks. ‘We learn the English here but we learned some in our country. We have left our country because the Taliban they kill Hazara, they have fatwah on Hazara. My father, my mother they are killed in our village, the Taliban destroy our village, I see my family, my sisters they are killed.’

Nasrim’s eyes fill with tears and he looks away, out of the door and into the compound where the three children still stand at the fence, staring. He yells at them in their shared language. The children stay where they are and stare at him.

‘I told them: “Go to your mother!”’ he translates. ‘These little children, they see a crazy man, made crazy here, they watch him cut himself with razor all over, blood splash out on children.’

‘The little ones saw this? They were splashed with his blood?’

‘Yes, yes, they see everything. Children here see everything, very bad thing I think.’

‘Is that their mother, sitting on the steps?’ Jane asks him.

‘Yes, that is their mother. She is sick, very sick, they give her no medicine, she does not look after them because she is sick.’

‘Where is their father?’

‘He is gone. He is given temporary visa, he is gone.’

‘His wife and children left behind here?’ Jane asks, incredulous.

‘Missus,’ says Mohammed, ‘this is happening very often here. Many families. Maybe thirty, fifty, in this place. The father, brothers, on temporary visas, the women children kept in the Woomera.’

‘The women gets sick,’ Nasrim tells them,’ without the husbands, the men the womens get sick and nobody cares for the children. This is bad place,’ he continues and looks at the ground. ‘Very bad place, much bad things happen.’

‘You mean the Immigration gives the men the visas and keeps the rest of the family in detention?’ Jane now remembers now that someone has told her this happens.

‘Yes, that is so.’

‘Why do they think you’re from Pakistan?’

‘One day, we have interviews with officer from DIMIA, she say our language is from Pakistan, she say she is expert at knowing this,’ Nasrim says. He throws his hands up in disgust. ‘She knows nothing of our language!’

The young men wear an assortment of trainers, T-shirts, shorts and track pants. Nasrim is edgy, he fidgets, picks at his fingers, runs his hands through his short hair. Ali in contrast is still: he sits calmly, gazing out the door. Mohammed rests his elbows on the table and puts his head in his hands. These young men are close in age to Jennifer’s sons. She imagines Harry and Samuel living this life. It is an intolerable imagining. She looks out of the door into the compound. A wedge-tailed eagle rises from the roof of a donga and moves upwards in slow circles out of her line of sight.

‘Ali makes the garden,’ says Mohammed.

‘The garden at the administration building?’ Jane asks.

‘Yes, I like it, I like it to do the garden, ‘I keep garden clean, plant things, empty rubbish, I have life here, job, it is not so bad.’ He has a slow, wide smile. He eats another biscuit.

‘Idiot!’ scoffs Nasrim. ‘You should dream of leaving here.’

Ali smiles again. He seems institutionalised, Jane thinks, he doesn’t have the fierce dreams of leaving detention that clearly fuel Nasrim. And what of the events they suffered before fetching up in detention centres, she wonders. What is the aftermath of those traumas?

They all met, it turns out, on the boat from Indonesia sailed by people smugglers, a journey that landed them at Ashmore Reef. None of them has any other family in Australia. All of them have come to the end of their appeals for visas to stay. What will happen to them now? Jane asks. Ali shrugs and doesn’t answer.

‘The Australian Government they give us money to go back to Afghanistan, everybody says so,’ Nasrim tells us. ‘I will go, I think.’

‘But what will happen to you? Will you be safe? Have you any family left there?’

‘I have uncle. Our village is destroyed. The Taliban is not so big anymore. Maybe I work for the Americans. It cannot be worse than this.’

He waves his hand at their surroundings.

‘I would rather die man than animal. If I die let it be for being Hazara in Taliban fatwah, not here in black hole of hell in Australia like pig.’

He stands abruptly, then paces the small room with his hands in his pockets. Ali shakes his head at us.

‘Would you go back, Ali?’ Jane asks.

‘I don’t know, Missus. I am afraid of soldiers. They try to make me killed. I don’t know if I will go back. Maybe I stay here, grow garden.’

Mohammed has his head in his hands and doesn’t speak. Outside Mustafa has begun screaming again. Nasrim flings himself back into his plastic chair and bites at his fingers.

Jennifer thinks to herself that there was a long and venerable democratic tradition that once existed in the world, a tradition that recognised the right of the stranger to seek sanctuary and to ask for help. There was a corresponding duty to oblige and offer assistance. What has happened to this tradition? Or was it just a dream?

‘Why is Mustafa crying like that?’ Jane asks.

Ali and Nasrim shrug.

‘He’s crazy, his wife, his children they died in his country and he is made crazy.’

Nasrim makes the motions of putting a needle through his lips.

‘Very bad,’ he says, ‘the children, some of them too do this.’

The guards are not in the room but they are by the door in the next room, keeping an eye on things, talking among themselves, laughing, their radios squawking intermittently. Jennifer gets up and goes over to them, leaving Jane talking to the three men.

‘We were invited to visit some of the women here,’ she says. ‘Are we going to able to do that?’

‘There’s nobody else on your list,’ the guard tells her, checking his clipboard.

‘I have the letters here that the women sent, asking us to visit them.’

She takes them out of her shirt pocket and shows him. He gives them a cursory glance and looks away. He’s in his thirties, clean-shaven, medium build with a crew cut. He works out: she can see the muscles under his tight blue shirt. He’s a rock. Nothing she says will persuade him to let them see anybody else.

‘Well, I don’t know, they’re not on your list, except Parvin and she’s too sick.’

‘Parvin had Federal Court a couple of weeks ago. Did she get a visa?’

‘Can’t tell you that I’m afraid. Confidential.’

‘So we won’t be able to visit with the women?’

‘Nope, they’re not on your list. Anyway a whole bunch of them have lost privileges for playing up.’

‘The women?’

‘Not just the women but some of them are women.’

‘What did they do?’

‘Can’t tell you. Confidential.’

‘What if we come back tomorrow?’

‘You’ve only got this one list, that won’t change tomorrow.’

‘Who made up our list?’

‘We have officers who do that.’

‘Can I see one of them?’

‘They’re not here at the moment.’

‘Thanks.’

Jennifer returns to her plastic chair. Nasrim pushes the biscuit packet across. Vanilla creams.

‘Thanks, Nasrim. What happened here, why have so many of you lost your privileges?’

‘There was fighting, somebody broke computers, people screaming, women throw chair, very bad.’

‘One month ago a big fire light in our detention centre,’ Mohammed suddenly speaks without lifting his head from his hands. ‘I working in kitchen with Ali. Everybody lose privilege. No visitors.’

‘How long do they lose privileges for?’

‘I do not know. Maybe days, maybe longer.’

Nasrim casts furtive looks at the guards in the next room. Jane looks over at Jennifer. Jennifer feels as if great weights are tied to her ankles and wrists, preventing her from movement, a sense of overwhelming oppression and helplessness. Jane’s eyes are glazed behind her glasses, her features dulled with heat, shock, Jennifer doesn’t know.

‘We do not have mothers,’ Mohammed lifts his head from his hands and says this quietly but with feeling.

‘We do not have mothers, his is killed, mine is lost, Ali, nobody knows of Ali’s mother. You have sons, missus?’ he directs his question to Jennifer.

‘Yes, two sons,’ she tells him.

He takes a drink of orange cordial. Cottee’s Cordial?

My dad picks the fruit
that makes the cordial that I like best.

‘They are free, they work, have girls, go out, they are in city?’

‘Yes, they do all those things. Harry works for the United Nations in a refugee camp in Tanzania. He teaches the children how to play football. Samuel is a chef, in Stockholm.’

‘Ah!’ Ali cries. ‘I too am cook! I cook here sometimes, in kitchens.’

‘Do you like cooking?’ Jane asks him.

‘Oh yes, very much. Good job. Plenty to eat!’ he chuckles.

‘In our country,’ Nasrim, glowering, says,’ when visitor come we make feast, much food, goat, chicken, rice, here we have only these biscuits and this drink!’ He sweeps the pile of plastic cups off the table.

‘Even when little food always we share with visitor! This,’ he gestures at the biscuits and the cordial, ‘this is…’

His English leaves him and he flings his hands in the air. He says something in his own tongue. The others look at him. A guard enters, curious about the noise.

‘Not playing up, are we, Nasrim?’ he asks.

Nasrim replies again in his own language.

‘Time’s over, anyway,’ says the guard.

‘Can we have a bit longer,’ Jane asks,’ we promised to take a list of things the men need with us so we can send them.’

‘They’ve got everything they need. But okay.’

They have to ask the guards for pencils and paper as all their things are in their backpacks in the lockers. Jennifer can’t believe those children are still out there in the broiling sun. The little baby is sitting down now in the red dust with the older children. Mustafa has vanished, as has the children’s mother. She can’t see any other adults. How long the days must seem in here.

‘Jennifer,’ Jane says as they drive back along the bitumen road to the caravan park, ‘how is it that they’re denied visas because the immigration people don’t believe they come from Afghanistan, yet they’re offered money to go back there?’

‘I don’t know, I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why they release the men and keep women and kids in there either.’

Jennifer saw some film footage on the news before they left, of an Afghan man who’d returned to his bombed-out village. He was scraping blindly at the earth where his home used to be with a teaspoon. It was one of the saddest images she’d ever seen. Is that what’s awaiting Nasrim, she wonders.

As they leave the three men, Mohammed thrusts a piece of paper into Jane’s hand.

‘Read this,’ he tells her. ‘My friend he is at Baxter now, he write this, is good, good writing. Maybe you put in paper in book for him but you not use his name, he is afraid of people knowing.’

They look at the poem as they sit in the truck in the Detention Centre car park. They’ve retrieved the dog and their personal belongings, thanked the guards, walked out to the truck on trembling legs, exhausted. Jennifer’s now trying to take photos of the centre through the windscreen without drawing the attention of the guards. She wants a picture of the water cannon at the gates. The guards are in their towers with binoculars, and patrol cars pass by every few minutes. Nevertheless, she manages a few badly-focussed images.

What kind of stupid incompetent terrorists would try to infiltrate the country via people smugglers and end up imprisoned here for years, Jennifer wonders, recalling a politician’s claims about the asylum seekers true purposes.

Down the road a bit, they stop and look back at the steel compound topped with razor wire. It has a beauty that comes from its simple proportions, the satisfying alignments of all its angles, the sun glinting off its shadowless surfaces. It is simultaneously incongruous and perfectly placed in the wilderness that surrounds it; a savage stronghold, impossible to ignore. Its designers have succeeded in eclipsing the drama of the arid landscape: the eye is drawn in awful fascination: one cannot look away.

‘Christ,’ says Jane.

It isn’t until a week later, camped by a flowing Victorian river in a field knee-deep with poplar seeds like balls of ripe cotton and a herd of roaming Jersey cows rubbing up against their caravan, that they both break down. It was awful, they agree, to have to leave the men behind in that place (Surrounded by peoples with no love,as the poet wrote) to have to say goodbye and walk away. And those children.

They know bad things happen in that desert place; they’re in its atmosphere. Later they will discover just how bad when the conditions are gradually revealed to the public by people who’ve worked there and decided to spill the beans.There are raped children behind the razor wire, beaten women and crazed men.

A common suffering. A common humanity. The women are full of admiration for the visitors who live close by, who go there every couple of weeks, month after month, offering support and companionship.

Their journey home is long and much of it passes in silence. What has confounded them both is that these things are happening in their own country. They are ashamed, and very angry.

‘Not in my name,’ growls Jane. ‘Not in my bloody name.’

One Silent Night
The wind is blowing to one side
Here it touches my body
I feel like just in heaven
Suddenly I open my eyes and look around
Oh God I am behind the fences
Still filled with unhappiness
I would like to fly just like a bird
But I know I can not
God created this world for everyone
But some people try to destroy it
And some people try to keep it for their own way
Why do they keep on behaving like that
I need a new world to live
I want different skies every day
Can I live with out fear of war and terror
Could my dreams come true one day
In my childhood I thought
I was the luckiest person in the world
Because my life was secure
Now I think I am the unluckiest person in the world
Surrounded by peoples with no love.
By………
Baxter IDF.
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