Nine months ago, I met a man in immigration detention in a camp in the middle of prosperous, comfortable Melbourne who’d been held there for over five years. He had committed no crime, been given no comprehensible reason for his detention, had no access to defending himself by law against the unspecified charge. What had brought him to that place was the action of seeking asylum in Australia.
He was one of many I met that night in a similar position and it he who touched me most. He handed me a sheaf of photocopied poems, held together in a plastic sleeve, and told me to keep them. I could read only three or four because their despair and grief and hope was too much to bear.
I just heard that that man has been freed from detention. After six long years, he is finally living in Melbourne as a free man. My friend, C, who gave me the news, had visited he and his colleagues in the detention centre once or twice a month for more than a year; to keep them company, to take food, to assist them, to show them there are Australians who cared about their plight. She is elated at the news. This is what she said of him, and several others in the same situation who’ve been freed in the last few months:
“You brave, courageous men. You are my heroes.”
He was given no reason for his release, just as he was given no reason for his detention.
The white, Western nation of Australia was established as a convict colony, a place where Britain could send the effluvia of its overflowing jails and the prison hulks that floated on its waterways. More than two hundred years later, Australia continues to be a convict colony.
* “… we encounter a pitiless machismo, that does not seek to understand, let alone express sympathy over the plight of weaker peoples. These must now submit, often at pain of death, expulsion, and ostracism, to the core ideals of the tribe dictated by the history of its religion and territory. The revival of such sectarian fanaticisms hints not so much at the vitality of medieval religion as the sad mutations in the heart of secular modernity.” Pankaj Mishra, writing in last week’s Guardian about the effective failure of the Western model as we experience it now.
Image: Prison Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour by Ambroise-Louis Garneray