Orang-utans and boat people.

2 Aug

Guest post today kindly written by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger.


Does anyone see the irony of the complaints by Malaysians about Australia’s treatment of Orang-utans at Melbourne zoo and the habit of caning people in Malaysia, or even more relevant, the treatment of our boat people in detention?

The latest news tells that a representative of a Malaysian Palm oil counsel had made complaints about the Orang-utans’ treatment at a Melbourne zoo. They were horrified about the Orang-utans being somewhat cold. They had heard sounds of sad crying and signals of distress from the animals. The Orang-utans were shivering and a picture was even shown of one of them carrying a coat. Melbourne Zoo retaliated and stated that the outside and inside temperature in their environments was kept at a cosy constant 20 celsius. “They are the happiest Orang-utans in the world,” they replied. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-08-01/orang-utans/2819534

At the same time, we are all being reassured that the latest boat arrivals to Australia that will be sent back to Malaysia will not be caned. We also are now being told on the news that those unwilling to board the plane back to Malaysia might be forced to do so with  full authority given to the Federal Police to use whatever they can muster for the boat people to comply.   There are lawyers busy on a formal protest about the possible use of force on people already traumatized.

Are we getting care for Orang-utans and people somewhat mixed up or confused? If the Orang-utans are the ‘happiest’ in the world, I wonder about the level of ‘happiness’ of boat people being returned to Malaysia.

The federal police have been given ‘carte blanche’ by our PM Julia Gillard to ensure the boat people would board the plane back to Malaysia. This, we were assured might involve whatever the federal police have at their disposal. This, it was suggested, could well include the use of ‘potential lethal force’ with no ‘blanket exemptions’ even for unaccompanied children. This lethal force has been used on Christmas Island already. We are not shy from using lethal force when it comes to boat people. Bean bag bullets fired from shotguns, batons, tear gas, capsicum spray, handcuffs, the whole arsenal at the Feds disposal has been used to force compliance on more than just one occasions. So far our treatment of boat people and refugees is not showing the world much about our compassion towards the less fortunate.


While we don’t cane people in Australia, we are not far from it, edging inexorably closer. Not the cane, instead the possible use of electric Tasers or cattle prods instead. It could be debated whether being stunned by a Taser or bean bag bullet is better or worse than a caning. The concern by the Malaysians about treatment of Orang-utans in Melbourne could perhaps be best answered by giving a Malaysian delegation a grand tour of our own Australian refugee camps in isolated Australia’s outback and on Christmas Island. Let’s show them how we do it so much better, so much more humane!

I am not sure about the percentage of self harm by our zoo inhabitants including the alleged shivering Orang-utans but I bet it is a lot less that amongst our own boat people locked up for long periods, living in uncertainty, in isolation, behind gates, fences and barbed wire. The ombudsman had all the figures, mind numbing it was.

Was it fifty a day, twenty or was it a hundred a month or just a couple of real or attempted hangings daily? Did it include lip sewing, roof jumping, wrists slashings and hunger strikes? Razors for shaving are taken away after the shower. Just in case. All points of possible hanging are removed. Suicide has been made harder as well. It has not only become mind bogglingly numbing, it is now heart numbing as well. We just let it go on and we shut our hearts and prefer to focus on royal weddings or the passing of a bill in the US.

It’s getting harder and harder to push away images of the Holocaust whereby people were also traumatised and pushed onto transport by the use of force. Most countries are coping with refugees in the tens of thousands, some in the millions. Even overcrowded Malaysia is coping with over eighty thousand refugees registered with the UNHCR. We seem unable to just treat people like we do with the Orang-utans at Melbourne zoo. We are using the same jack boot methods that were so popular in dealing with another traumatised and defenceless people some seventy years ago.

One can just imagine within the next day or so, footage of boat people being herded by force into the plane. Journalists will have their cameras focussed and the world will again learn about us.

When did we lose our hearts?

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

4 Responses to “Orang-utans and boat people.”

  1. Marilyn August 2, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    I don’t think we ever had any. The country was built on the backs of half starved orphans and so-called criminals brutalised by the corrupt and stinking rum corps.

    It was built on the genocide of aborigines, the theft of thousands of their kids, the brutal child migration schemes depicted in Oranges and Sunshine that I blubbed my way through on the weekend.

    It was built on the back of kids like my grandfather, an indentured farm slave at age 15 after his parents sold him as a Barwell boy.


    • Jennifer Wilson August 2, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

      I think you are right. We’re built on misery and exploitation.


  2. Fabia Claridge August 10, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Can anyone organise a boatload of orang utans to be orang utan smuggled to Christms Island ? Australians would be horrified! But would they join the dots? That is the problem. we are a country just SO in denial about ourselves.


    • Jennifer Wilson August 10, 2011 at 11:43 am #

      Hi Fabia, I think denial is exactly the right word to describe the dominant psychological position – and the rage and fury when anyone challenges that denial – scary.


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