Go back to where you came from

22 Jun



Go back to where you came from, aired on SBS last night,  is a three part series with a unique approach to educating it’s audience on the complex issues of boat arrivals and refugees in Australia.

In part one we’re introduced to the six participants, three men and three women, who have a diverse range of views on asylum seekers, from understanding and compassion, to angry rejection. There’s a young woman Raquel for example,who hates Africans, a position that presents something of a challenge for her when she’s sent to stay for three nights with a refugee family from Burandi and Congo.

Interestingly, while Raquel discovers herself capable of genuine empathy after listening to the sufferings endured by her hostess, she later declares that they were just one nice family, doesn’t mean she’s going to get friendly with Africans per se, whom she still doesn’t like.

The use of reality TV techniques, such as dramatic music and the friendly but authoritative manner of the program’s host, refugee researcher Dr David Corlett, are reminiscent of Big Brother and Survivor. I read this as ironic comment on reality TV shows that similarly challenge participants to take time out of their comfort zone to see what they can become, but unlike the SBS series, take no interest in anything other than the personal emotional journey.

In widening the focus the series becomes part reality TV, part documentary. This is a fascinating combination.

Already the participants have begun a psychological process of decompensation, as they’re thrust into situations entirely foreign to them, including embarking on a leaky boat for an unknown destination, bereft of passports, wallets, phones, money and ID. Just like real boat people. Tempers fray, harsh words are exchanged, and the experience may well have given Rae, a 63 year old retired social worker, pause for thought. At the beginning of the show Rae told us that when the boat was wrecked at Christmas Island last December she thought: “Serves you bastards right.”

While not agreeing with all of their views, nonetheless I very much admire this motley crew. They can never experience the life threatening dangers and torments boat people and refugees actually endure, but they are willing to go way outside of their physical, emotional and psychological comfort zones. This is brave, even if there is a camera crew and later, UN and US troops guarding them as they enter into dangerous territory. It’s a long way from Cronulla beaches, idyllic farmlets and safe lives with people who love you. All credit to them for volunteering to take themselves into something completely different.

The series promises intriguing insights into human behaviour under extraordinary stress, combined with profound insights into what asylum seekers and refugees are actually fleeing. As a social experiment it’s got to be unique. With the wide range of views represented by the participants, there’s someone for everyone to identify with, and this is smart. It wouldn’t have been nearly as useful if the group were like minded either way.

There seems to be little concern about the presence of cameras. I don’t think anyone is performing, though they may certainly be restraining themselves at times. It’s an unnatural situation in every way, and nobody’s going to behave as they do in their own homes without surveillance. Be that as it may, the participants seem to be honest in their expression of emotion and opinion, and this is one of the most powerful aspects of the program as they react, for example, to their initial visit to the Villawood Detention Centre where they talk to Iraqi detainees.

The program is a powerful argument for how people’s attitudes can shift when they are face to face with human suffering. All the propagandists from John Howard on have recognized the need to hide boat people away in desert camps and behind razor wire, to prevent their faces and their stories being known. Dehumanizing them by rendering them faceless continues to be a primary tool in the manipulation of Australian public opinion.

The first rule of propaganda is to stereotype your target.  Go back to where you came from challenges the propaganda head on, and for this alone, I’m glad to see it out there.



8 Responses to “Go back to where you came from”

  1. gerard oosterman June 22, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    I thought it was a good start to the three part series. I found it hard to believe the participants were ‘average’ in their attitudes to boat people and refugees. Especially the remark of the older lady ‘serves them right in drowning’ was terrible. But, there you are, perhaps the anti foreign anything is much more wide-spread than I thought.
    Perhaps it still boils down to the lack of education, especially geography when so many don’t even have a clue about the different countries and cultures. My piece on the Drum about the same subject brought out a desperation in many to find differences between Turkey and Australia in order to justify their xenophobia and many did not seem to want to address the differences in attitude between the locals in Turkey and the locals here in Australia. That piece sunk into the archive too quickly though!


    • Jennifer Wilson June 22, 2011 at 8:49 am #

      Yes, I agree your piece disappeared into the nether regions too fast, Gerard, I also noted how frantic some commenters were to find differences between us and Turkey.
      I’ve got one on the Drum today about female perpetrated family violence – let’s see how long that one lasts!


      • gerard oosterman June 22, 2011 at 9:12 am #

        I thought the guitar playing woman was the kindest and most aware. The young girl with the anti-African stance I felt like smacking or at least ‘time-out’. 🙂 The look on her face when eating that lovely prepared food with their hands !


    • Elroy Jetson June 22, 2011 at 9:20 pm #


      I liked your piece on the Drum. It’s not only Turkey of course. In Tunisia locals were driving hundreds of kilometres with home-made food to feed those who’d fled Libya, off their own bat. Among those who fled were Bangladeshi workers. I am Australian but live in Bangladesh and it was reported in the newspapers here.

      And if you step across the border from here into West Bengal you will find millions of previously Bangladeshis (mostly Hindus) who moved there when things were not as tolerant for Hindus here as they are now. Not all of them are refugees, there are also economic considerations; and from my understanding they are not processed at all. Just absorbed into the local communities (and I believe at one point India was giving ‘resettlement’ money though I am not 100% on that). But around Kolkata are massive communities of non-citizens and having spoken to my friend who is one, he says the Indian authorities don’t harass them. His kids go to school there. Whole towns could be deported back to Bangladesh if they were strict about it.

      Thankfully all the world is not Australia.


      • gerard oosterman June 22, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

        What a heart warming message. I really wish that we would be welcoming all those that have so little.
        Thank you for lifting my spirit.


      • Jennifer Wilson June 23, 2011 at 7:04 am #

        Welcome, Elroy and thanks for your post – if only we had stories like this one in our msm, though the resistance in Australia is so entrenched.
        Would you consider writing a piece I can put up on the blog about the situation for Hindus in West Bengal?
        Or about your life in Bangladesh?


  2. Jennifer Wilson June 22, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    Mikey Bear, thank you for liking the post.

    Do you have any good break up stories? I’ve got mostly hetero.


  3. paul walter June 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    Ah yes, the doco. Almost forgot it was on, after advocating others watch it vociferously.
    Welcome to the “Malaysia Hilton”, a couple of rooms crammed with fifty odd refugees, that beckons our intrepid aussie aventurers. A young woman looks about the room full of exhuberent kids locked in the small space for what must seem perpetuity and looks shell-shocked, they should be in bed, she is in bed by this time back home, why not here?
    Oddly, the one who seems to have adapted is a middle aged woman, a bit down to earth, who’s Hansonist ideas rapidly are forgotten as she mucks in with the refugees. Meanwhile another volunteer does the growing subsistence food bit, the refugees can’t legally work and have to scrape by on what they can grow or collar from some where else.
    Eye opening, how the other half live.
    As I write, the Aussies prepare to leave, somewhat affected by the what they’ve seen on the Road to Damascas, with a warning that the participants are about to embark on a new stage of their experience.
    The fact that they regard the conveners announcement as suspicious indicates that the adventure is taking its toll. (SBS switches to ads, writer curses, hits mute, moves to make cuppa and watch rest of story..).


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