Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/08/10/nauru-files-leaks-tell-the-st.html
Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/08/10/nauru-files-leaks-tell-the-st.html
To each and every asylum seeker: I am very sorry. The government does not speak for all of us.
Soon in a European country near you!
I think the last note-worthy European politician advocating the inhuman Australian model was Sebastian Kurz, foreign minister of Austria.
That was a lengthy detailed description of hell on Earth.
Insert “voice of Donald Trump” comment here about how yuge and great our child concentration camps will be…
The article never mentions where these refugees are coming from.
I’m on a “withdrawal of goodwill” from the government because of this. Any non-required request for information gets refused with a polite note explaining why I’m not helping. Anything forced gets returned with a polite note explaining that I’m giving them this information under protest.
It might not help. But it’s something. I dunno what else I can do.
[Minister for Immigration and Border Protection] Peter Dutton has responded to the leaking of thousands of files alleging abuse of children and adults in Nauru’s offshore immigration detention centre by saying some refugees are self-harming and filing false claims in an effort to get to Australia.
“Some people have even gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia, and certainly some have made false allegations in an attempt to get to Australia.”
BTW: this is a link to the account I wrote of spending a week at a protest outside the Woomera camp in 2002.
We spent a week in the dust surrounded by riot cops with parabolic mikes, delivered books and toys for the kids, and eventually broke some people out (a handful of whom were not immediately recaptured).
So the government moved the camps to an island in the middle of the fucking ocean, and paid the thoroughly bent local authorities to ensure that protesters, lawyers and journalists can never get anywhere near the fucking thing.
These policies have strong bipartisan support in Australia, and have done so for decades. Whether that would be the case without the media blackout is an open question.
PS: this was the story of the motorcycle ride out there.
ETA: links dodgy, see Nauru files: leaks tell the story of the abused children in Australia's offshore concentration camp instead.
Posted in the Shaking My Head a few months back. It’s a fucking national shame.
Both links are broken for me. They redirect to https://groups.google.com/forum/m/#!overview
What stings the most is the bi-partisan support. Gutless fuckers on both sides.
Just worked that out; Google Groups is doing some evil web-app bullshit and doesn’t appear to offer any way to functionally link. So, bugger it: full text below, in two posts for length. Most of the links will be dead, but I’ve left 'em in for nostalgia value.
[quote]'Kay…I promised assorted folks that I’d eventually do a write-up of what actually went on out at Woomera, so here it is. Before I get into it though, a few points:
This is a completely subjective account, written as accurately as I can remember it. It was a hectic, emotionally intense and stressful week, so don’t be surprised if I get a minor detail wrong here and there, and some of what I write here is going to be of interest only to me and my friends; I’m writing this for my own records as much as anything else. Opinions expressed about particular groups are just that: my opinions. Bring your own grain of salt.
This is an account of what happened from my point of view, not a piece of advocacy for the causes behind it all. If you’re interested in the issues behind it, see http://www.boat-people.org and other such sites. See http://www.melbourne.indymedia.org/woomera-archive.php3 for more accurate news of what happened out there than you’ll get in the mainstream media, including pictures, sound files and interviews with escaped refugees. http://www.melbourne.indymedia.org/woomera-features.php3#woom1 is a good starting point for a day-by-day look at what happened there.
(Note, however, that Indymedia is an open publishing website. Literally anyone can post a story there, and there’s very little editorial control, so there’s usually a fair bit of blatant bullshit on any indymedia site. However, as far as I can see, their Woomera info is accurate)
- The Woomera action was a convergence, not a single-group action. What this means is that there wasn’t any “organising committee” or overall leadership; it was a collection of highly diverse groups and individuals, all out their with their own goals and philosophies. There were spokescouncils within the camp to try and achieve some sort of organisation and consensus, but the decisions reached at those councils were in no way binding on anyone.
I’d arrived at Woomera a day early, and spent that time (Wednesday) checking out the town itself and going out to the opal mining town of Andamooka. I detailed that bit in the main trip report, but it eventually ended up with myself and four people I’d met during the day camping above the saltpan south of Pimba. Come morning (Thursday), we split up again; Pixie & Lenny (the guys who’d hitched from Port Augusta) set out first to hitch a lift into Woomera; I got moving about half an hour after them, while the couple who’d ridden from Adelaide on pushbikes stayed above the saltpan to sleep in.
There were a couple of folks at the Pimba roadhouse giving directions to the camp; I stayed with them for a bit to wait and see if Pixie & Lenny would catch up with me anytime soon (I’d passed them on the road, still trying to hitch a lift). Eventually I gave up and headed out to the camp on my own. See http://www.melbourne.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=24909&group=webcast for a few maps showing the layout of where we were.
The internment camp is a couple of kilometres outside of Woomera town, along the road to Roxby Downs. There were about 40 people or so there when I arrived, busy setting up the medical, legal & indymedia tents in the area we’d chosen to camp in, by the side of the road a few hundred metres away from the camp gate. This was shortly followed by a visit from half a dozen APS (Australian Protective Services; Federal Police) officers, who handed out bits of paper notifying us that we were trespassing on Commonwealth land and that we could be arrested and removed at their whim. One of them tried to read it out to us, but gave up once he realised that no-one was paying any attention to him.
After that, we had a small meeting where we found out that the Woomera Area Administrator had set aside an area for us to camp in, claiming that he didn’t want us camping where we were for environmental reasons. However, the area he’d set aside was an abandoned football field two kilometres further away from the internment camp, and just happened to be surrounded by a high fence with only one narrow way in or out, so it would have been ridiculously easy for a handful of police to bottle us up in there. Having to walk a couple of kilometres each way through the screaming hot desert also would’ve put the damper on the protests a touch.
The “environmental reasons” were complete bullshit; the piece of land we were camped on by the roadside was already heavily degraded and was connected to the internment camp by the road, whereas if we’d gone to the site they wanted us to then there would have been a couple of thousand people stomping several times a day across the less-degraded land further down the hill which was what they were claiming they were trying to protect.
The other reason why we wanted to stay where we were was because the semitrailer sized water tanker that some of the Melbourne groups had organised had already been delivered, couldn’t be moved except by the driver who delivered it, and the driver wouldn’t be back for a week. We didn’t want to leave it alone because it would’ve been ridiculously easy to sabotage (just turn the tap on without doing the valves properly) and that would’ve left the guys who’d organised it facing a huge bill (up to tens of thousands of dollars) to fix it, plus costing us the water we needed to maintain the camp.
Later on I pottered back into Woomera town and ran into Pixie & Lenny again, along with Pixie’s friend Rufie. We sat around having lunch and talking in a park in town for an hour or so, then went to return to the camp. Just as I was about to get on my bike, however, I was stopped by a couple of SA police, who made me tell them my name and address, checked out my bike rego and questioned me for a few minutes about what I was there for, whether or not I knew if a couple of specific people were coming, and whether I was carrying any “whacky tobaccy”. I kept it mellow & friendly the whole time, and eventually they let me go.
Once back out at the camp, I found that things had progressed somewhat. The authorities were still insisting that we couldn’t camp there, and had given us a half an hour deadline to move. There was some discussion about whether we should try and stay or just give it up and go back to either the football field or the Pimba roadhouse, since we didn’t have the numbers to hold onto the site if they tried to physically chuck us off. It was eventually decided to move if it came down to a fight, but to try and hold onto the campsite for as long as possible first. So, we stalled.
We managed to turn that half an hour deadline into about five hours of negotiation. At one stage during this, a bus full of kids returning into the internment camp from school in town (some of the kids in the camp are schooled in town; I don’t think it’s all of them, and I don’t think they’re in the same classes as the town kids) passed us by, and the kids inside waved and cheered and yelled out “Freedom”.
The authorities were still insisting that we couldn’t stay there, but seemed reluctant to boot us off physically (the fact that there were already several TV crews there probably had a bit to do with this). However, they finally gave us another half-hour deadline to take down the tents (we still only had the first aid etc. tents up, cos we thought they’d move in more forcefully if we made it obvious we planned on staying all night) or have them taken down for us and possibly confiscated. Two of the three tents were rented and the guy who rented them didn’t want to risk it, so we took those down, but the first-aid tent was deemed expendable by the guy who’d brought it, so we left it up and told the authorities that we’d need it there no matter which campsite we used, because people might need medical attention during the protests, and the protest actions were going to be here, near the internment camp.
Eventually half a dozen APS folks came in and pulled the tent down, accompanied by a lot of jeering, catcalls and photographs. They didn’t confiscate it, however. The afternoon progressed into continuous negotiations, stalling, and attempts by the police to intimidate us away. Every now and then they’d form up a line of riot police with shields etc., then they’d send the riot guys away without using them when it became obvious that we weren’t going to be scared off unless they actually started thumping people.
More people were arriving throughout the afternoon and evening, although there still probably wasn’t more than a hundred of us all up, and eventually it looked like the police had given up and were going to let us stay. We arranged the cars into a sort of “wagon-circle” formation to make it harder for them to scatter us with a quick riot troop or mounted police charge, everyone chucked in a bit of food and a huge pot of curry was made, then people tossed their bedrolls out on the ground and got comfy. A mild, laid-back party began; folks had been travelling a long way, and were mostly fairly knackered, so it was just sitting around talking and drinking with quiet music in the background. It had been going for a few hours and a significant portion of the crowd were well lubricated (and the media had left for the night), when the APS (Federal police) made a serious push at us.
I was fairly pissed myself by then; I’d been on the road nearly a week already (so I was knackered and feeling in need of a drink) and was surrounded by folks that I mostly didn’t know (so I was a touch nervous and drinking a bit faster than I normally would). I was okay when it was just lying around and talking, but once the police came in we had to jump up and get together so that they couldn’t pick us off one by one. I was alright during the first raid, but by the time the second one came through the alcohol had taken its toll; by the third raid, I was nice an’ comfy lying on the ground watching people run around me, and after that Rufie tossed me and my stuff in the back of his van to sleep it off.
The raids seemed to be an attempt to boot us off altogether, as well as being aimed at arresting a few specific individuals. They didn’t get anyone, however; a couple of people got grabbed and had those zip-tie plastic handcuffs put on them, but they were rapidly grabbed back by us and cut out of them. There was a bit of pushing and shoving, but no actual blows thrown as far as I saw; the people recovered were recovered by literally grabbing them back, not by thumping the police who’d taken them.
Come the morning, we were still there. More people were rolling in during the day, including about five coachloads of people from Brisbane, Sydney & Melbourne, and our numbers were growing fast. After assorted lengthy spokescouncil meetings, we started setting up camp properly, and dealing with the joy of trying to get tentpegs into the ground around there, which is either sand or rock; nothing in between. It usually took at least half a dozen attempts to get the tentpegs past the buried rocks, and I eventually gave up on a few of them, tying bits of my tent down to heavy pieces of gear instead.
The crowd was mostly much more “radical” than I am; this is a completely unreliable estimate, but to me it looked as if it was about 25% socialist/communist groups (ISO, Resistance, Spartacists etc.), 25% anarchists (punk/techno types; the sorta folks you find at Reclaim the Streets or Organarchy events), 25% feral/hippy sorts (Forest blockaders & Rainbow Tribe), and 25% just-plain-folks (ie: me). The just-plain-folks were harder to spot than the rest, however, 'cos they tended to be less organised and much less vocal at the spokescouncil meetings, and after a few days in the desert everyone was looking equally scruffy. The radical-bias of the crowd wasn’t surprising; it’s part of the reason why the camp is out there. Generally speaking, only the radicals have the commitment to travel all the way across the desert to get out there; most of the moderates are too apathetic to do it. There were a few unionist groups & a few Greens (there individually rather than representing the party) but no visible Democrat or major party representation at all. The crowd was mostly young & white, but there were people there aged up to 60 or so, and there were a few Arabic speakers in the camp (which came in handy later on).
More and more police were rolling in all day, and they were constantly videotaping us. At one stage during the day, I saw a van come in marked “Police Technical Support Unit”; I think these were the folks in charge of the nightvision scopes and things that they were using later on.
Later that day someone who had contacts inside the camp told us that the refugees were planning a protest action of their own that day; they were going to be standing on the roofs of their buildings waving banners and making as much noise as possible, in the hope that we’d be able to see and hear them. We all trooped off to the front gate, but the wind was blowing strongly (the wind was very strong for the first few days; there were continuous duststorms that sent tons of dust into everything; eyes, lungs, tents) towards the camp, so we couldn’t hear anything. We could see some banners in the distance, though, and we all yelled our heads off in the hope that they’d hear us.
The middle of the day turned into more lengthy spokescouncil meetings, and more and more people arriving during the day. By the end of the day we would’ve had a bit over 1,000 people. However, eventually I got sick of sitting around listening to spokescouncil arguments continuously going around in circles, and I wandered into Woomera town with Pixie and a friend of his to poke around and see if the supermarket was still open.
Woomera was even freakier than usual; it was a total ghost town. The only people moving around in town at all were police driving back and forth from the internment camp, but there were plenty of them. The shops turned out to be closed (it was about 5pm), so we wandered back out to the camp. As we approached, we saw that most of the protestors had headed off overland, around the police roadblock towards the back of the centre; most of the people were up the front, but there were still plenty of stragglers when we caught up with them.
We walked a kilometre or so before we got to the fence, and by the time I got there it was already down. This was my first chance to see the razorwire up close; the fence at the roadblock doesn’t have it, probably for PR reasons. It’s incredibly nasty stuff; try and get through barbed wire and it’ll mess you up, try and get through razorwire and it’ll probably kill you. See http://melbourne.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=24313&group=webcast for a close-up view.
Most of the crowd (probably about 800 people) had gone over the downed fence, but a hundred or so had hung back outside it. I stayed outside; I was there for political change, not a jailbreak (I want them as free Australians, not fugitives…and I had an appointment I didn’t want to miss shortly after the protest finished, so I wasn’t keen on getting arrested or having my head cracked, either), and I think that the only way we’ll really change things is by convincing the 15,000,000 voters out in suburbia who support this thing to change their minds. I was heavily tempted to cross the fence; partly peer pressure, partly a strong desire to see for myself the people inside. But pulling down fences is going to be reported on the news as a riot, whether it was or not, and that’s only going to polarise opinions away from the protestor’s cause, not towards it. It wasn’t what I’d gone there for; I was genuinely there for a peaceful protest.
Note, however, that I don’t think that knocking the fence over was morally wrong; I just think it was poor strategy from a PR point of view.
Now, I wasn’t at the fence when it came down, so I can’t give an eyewitness report of that, but from talking later on to people who were there: pulling down the fence was not premeditated. There was a group there who’d planned on knocking over a fence and then peacefully walking up to the inner fence so that they could talk to the refugees, but they’d planned to do that on the Saturday, not the Friday. According to what I heard (and what I believe; this is a compilation of what I heard from diverse sources) what happened at the fence was that the crowd got to it, a few people jumped up and grabbed hold of it, they noticed that it was fairly wobbly, they started pulling on it, a few more people jumped on it, and it came down. The support poles bent.[/quote]
[quote]People started to surge over it, and most of the crowd followed them. The primary motivation was to get a chance to actually see and speak to the refugees face-to-face, although there were certainly members of the crowd who would’ve liked to organise a jailbreak if they could. However, they never got a chance to; when they got to the inner fence, the refugees were in the process of breaking themselves out.
It turns out that the fence that got knocked over actually didn’t need to come down at all; it didn’t go all the way around the camp, and they could’ve just walked around it. However, that wasn’t apparent to the people there at the time; nobody knew the exact layout of the camp (photographing or mapping the area is actually a federal offence; it’s all Commonwealth/Military land, and subject to all sorts of weird military secrecy regulations). However, the hand-drawn map at http://www.melbourne.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=24909&group=webcast shows the layout; the crowd went around the first two fences (which were cyclone wire topped with barbed wire), knocked over the third fence (cyclone wire topped with razorwire), and marched to the inner fences (two layers of iron bars topped with razorwire).
However, although knocking down the fence was (in hindsight) unnecessary, it my very well be what got the protestors to the inner fence after all; I can’t say for sure, but it seems that the seemingly illogical act of going through the fence confused the police and allowed the protestors to get in behind the police lines.
From outside the fence where I was I could see the crowd of protestors outside the inner fence, refugees inside the fence (some trying to climb over the razorwire), and riot police and mounted police approaching from left and right. According to the folks I talked to later, the guys climbing the fence were a decoy; the people who got out came through a small gap in the bottom of the fence, where the refugees had managed to lever some of the bars out of the way.
I wasn’t aware of this happening at the time; I was still standing outside the downed fence, talking to a couple of the other wimpy moderate types, and scared shitless that the guy climbing on the razorwire was going to fall and kill himself. It went on for quite a while; probably half an hour or so. By the end of it, I was flying a kite with a “refugees welcome here” banner on the back of it that someone else had brought along. Eventually the crowd came pouring out again (after assorted tense moments when it looked like the police were going to start using the water cannon and go in hard with the cavalry and riot troops). The news of the breakout passed through the crowd quickly.
We pulled the kite back down and started the walk back to camp. Shortly before reaching the camp, the word came through to run; the cops were coming in hard. We got back to camp with the police hot on our tail to be greeted by complete chaos; the police were trying to arrest assorted people, but they were just as disorganised as we were. Me an’ the guy who owned the kite grabbed the banner off the back of it and got ourselves behind the main scuffle, in line with the TV cameras.
Things were pretty chaotic for a while, until it settled into two crowds of people; one lot surrounding a police van that was trying to drive out of camp with a few people locked up in the back (I think it was a mix of escapees and protestors) and another group of people standing tightly packed together but trying not to draw attention. The second group was where most of the escapees were; I started with them, but eventually went over to check out the action at the van. It took a while, but they got the van out of camp eventually, by scattering the crowd in front of it with a couple of mounted police charges. The police were still being fairly restrained, however; they weren’t cracking heads, and they pulled the cavalry charge up as soon as they’d moved the crowd.
We found out later on that the police situation was a bit more complicated than usual. The police forces were divided between the Federal APS guys, and the SA police, and it was the SA police who had all the heavy firepower (riot gear, mounted police, etc.). Because we were on Federal land, the APS commanders were in charge, but the APS didn’t have the numbers or equipment to deal with us on their own, so the SA police were there to give them backup; the SA police are only allowed to act on Commonwealth land at the request of the Federal authorities.
However, due to political tensions between the SA Labour government and L’il Johnnie’s mob in Canberra, the SA police commanders had been told (by the SA police minister) that yes, they were there to assist the Feds and keep things from getting out of hand, but that they were to do it at their own discretion. So, if the Feds called for major head-cracking and the SA guys didn’t think it was justified, then the SA guys were under no obligation to cooperate. When the Feds came at us on the first night, the reason they failed was because they didn’t have any backup from the SA police.
After the van got out of camp, the focus then turned to an open sided marquee which was surrounded by police and densely packed (as in, shoulder-to-shoulder as tight as possible) with people who were refusing to let the police in. The situation as it appeared to be was that the crowd was protecting a couple of refugees hiding in the middle of them; this turned into a standoff that lasted a couple of hours. However, I later found out that there actually weren’t any refugees in that crowd; the whole thing was a decoy, and the “refugee” in the middle was actually just a protestor in disguise. The real refugees were up the other end of the camp, where they were being looked after and telling their stories.
While it was going on, one of the guys from the medical tent came and asked to borrow my razor; he needed it so some of the male refugees could shave their beards off, to make them harder to spot. I gave it to him once he assured me that it wasn’t going to be used to hurt anyone, and although they wouldn’t bother prosecuting, that action (lending my razor) carries a four-year jail sentence: “aiding and abetting a fugitive”, which is what the guys who were later arrested when trying to smuggle the escapees out were charged with. I’ve got my name and address down on a petition which was handed to the SA police admitting to the offence, along with a couple of hundred other people.
Eventually the standoff dissolved when the people in the marquee scattered in all the directions at once. The camp then went into another lengthy series of spokescouncil meetings about what to do; however, people were having to be very careful in what they said. We were (literally) surrounded by police, probably the focus of a few parabolic microphones, and there were undercover cops (some blatant, some less so) all through the camp.
About 50 people had escaped, men, women & kids. About half of them were immediately recaptured or decided to give themselves up. However, about 20 said that they would rather die than go back into the camp. At the spokescouncils there was some discussion of smuggling tactics and whether it stood any chance of success at all, but the scope of the discussion was obviously limited by the fact that the police could hear whatever was said there, so if you had a good idea you were better off mentioning it quietly to someone you knew was trustworthy. Ideas included getting them out by car via assorted routes (which is what eventually happened, although most of them got picked up at the roadblocks set up on the roads to Pimba and Roxby Downs, and at least one car made it past the Pimba roadblock before getting surprised by the second block just north of Port Augusta), getting the entire camp to march out with them along the road (largely a symbolic idea, no real chance of working), going over the desert by foot (suicidal).
What was decided at the councils, however, was that it’d be a good idea to organise some media contacts so that the escapees could speak to the media while they were still able to if they wanted, and that whatever we did, it’d only be if the escapees wanted us to do it; all the spokescouncil was for was to work out some options to present to them.
The camp was tense and rumours were flying all over the place; I honestly don’t remember all that much of the night. There was the constant risk that we were going to be forcibly booted out en masse; the breakout had humiliated the authorities, and their was a fair chance that the restraint they’d shown up until then wasn’t going to last. I was also concerned that it normally takes me about an hour to pack up all my gear and strap it onto the bike, so if I had to move in a hurry I’d be losing a fair amount of stuff. I packed up absolutely everything except my tent, and arranged with Rufie to chuck that in the back of his van if we had to move quickly.
I was still exhausted from the previous night, and the standoff didn’t show any sign of ending, so eventually I piked out and went to sleep (as many other folks already had). I was woken up an hour or two later, however, when a call went through the camp that they needed absolutely everybody to assemble on the road for an action. So, we all got up and stood around on the road in the freezing cold. We were told that we were going to do the symbolic march up the road into Woomera town, but we had to wait a bit, that the delay was because we were waiting on the refugees to decide what they wanted to do. However, we waited around for an hour or two with nothing happening, and then the crowd gradually dispersed and went to sleep. We discovered afterwards (although most of us had already figured it out) that the whole thing was another decoy to attract police attention while a couple of cars tried to slip out the other way.
I don’t know exactly what the situation is now, but when I left Woomera there were still about ten escapees unaccounted for, and of those ten I know that at least five of them were safely away. There are safe-houses and support networks established across the country. The question arises as to whether they’re any better off as fugitives than they were as prisoners, but they believe that they are, and it’s their choice to make, not mine. I don’t know the full stories of the escapees; because of the danger of undercover police, contact with the escapees while they were in the protest camp was limited to people who were well known and trusted, and seeing as how the only people in camp that I knew were folks that I’d met on the road a couple of days ago, I didn’t qualify. However, some of the people that I got to know (and trust) while I was out there did qualify, and the stories they passed on made the decision to escape a bit more understandable.
The particular example I’m thinking of was an Iranian man who said that pretty much his entire family had been killed back in Iran; however, he had been refused refugee status (what, you don’t have documentary proof that your family was murdered? Sorry, you should’ve got a receipt when the government assassins came by…) and was due to be returned to Iran shortly, where he was facing almost certain death. Now, it’s possible that his story was false; people sometimes lie when it’s to their advantage to do so. But the people I knew who spoke to him were convinced (and they aren’t gullible or stupid people). And, as far as I’m concerned, anyone fleeing from Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan (which is where almost all of the Woomera detainees are from) is a genuine refugee; conditions in their home countries are bad enough that specific personal persecution is not necessary, and even if they weren’t personally persecuted before coming here, they certainly will be if they’re returned. Totalitarian states don’t forgive “traitors” easily.
Things were still fairly tense the next morning, and thousands of unverifiable rumours were flying back and forwards across the camp. One verified bit of news, however, was that at midnight last night within the internment camp the ACM guards (Australasian Correctional Management, the private company that runs the place; they’re a subsidiary of the US private-prison company Wackenhut) rousted everyone out of bed and tried to make them form up for a roll-call in the centre of the camp, so they could ID exactly how many & who had escaped. The internees refused to go along with it; they weren’t going to do anything to make it easier for the escapees to be recaptured. It turned into a physical confrontation, with the ACM guards using batons and tear gas and the internees throwing rocks. Several people were injured on both sides.
There were more spokescouncil meetings and things that morning; I was there for the start of them, but once the arguments started circling over the same ground they had in the previous few days, I went off to make a banner to hang from the back of my kite (“give them a fair go”; something to appeal to suburbia). Shortly before lunch, there was another march planned to go to the front gate. I had finished my banner just in time, and got the kite out…and discovered that it was too heavy to fly. It would’ve worked the day before, but the wind had dropped off significantly overnight. So, I ran back into camp for a hasty redesign to make it lighter, but eventually gave up; there just wasn’t enough wind, and it was continuing to drop off. I disconnected the banner from the kite and walked up to the front gate, to find that this fence had also been knocked over (this one was only a bit of temporary fencing that wasn’t embedded in the ground; a single person could’ve easily knocked it over). About half the crowd had gone inside while the other half stayed outside; I stayed on the outside again, and draped my banner over the downed fence. Eventually the crowd came back out; apparently there’d been minimum aggro this time, they’d pushed over the fence and walked up to the main gate, delivered some toys and came back out.
Later that afternoon, Deborah Bear Wingfield arrived. She’s one of the local Aboriginal elders who had been contacted before the protest began, and had given their consent for it to go ahead on Kokatha land. She came into the camp with no particular fanfare, and said that she wanted to speak to people; when I noticed her, she was speaking to a group of about thirty; by the time she finished speaking, it was several hundred. She was quiet and calm (despite being obviously knackered; she’d driven overnight from the tent embassy at Canberra), yet conveyed an absolutely huge sense of innate authority.
She’d come from Canberra because the other elders were very concerned over what they were hearing on the news, and were close to withdrawing their consent for us to be there. By their law, they’re responsible for whatever happens on their land, and they didn’t want to see anyone get hurt, whether they were protestors, detainees or police. They were particularly concerned at the thought that the escapees were trying to run overland on foot ('cos, as previously mentioned, travelling by foot out there is basically a death sentence unless you’re very good at it). There actually wasn’t anybody trying such a thing, but she had no way of knowing that, and because of the diffuse organisation of the camp (and the need for secrecy) it was very difficult to get any definitive account of what was actually happening.
She spoke at length about her concerns and how the issues of the camp related to the issues that directly affect Kokatha people, and, with a few brief exceptions, was respectfully listened to. She then went across the road with a few relatives that she’d come up with and set up a “Kokatha embassy”, and invited everyone to come over and talk to her later that night.
The things she said had a major effect in calming the whole situation down; things were distinctly more relaxed from then on. I even managed to get to sleep comfortably that night for the first time there; unfortunately, however, one of the anarchist twits insisted on walking through the camp screaming “cops in camp!” every time any of the police showed up. The first time (a couple of hours after I’d fallen asleep) I threw myself out of bed prepared to defend the camp…only to find three SA police walking peacefully through the camp, doing nothing but looking around. After that I just put my earplugs in.
The next day (Sunday), a bunch of the more quiet and moderate folks got together and organised an action of their own. Some of them had previously been in contact with a few refugees in Melbourne, who had previously been interned at Woomera. According to them, they’d asked the refugees whether or not they should go to Woomera, seeing as how it wasn’t likely to have much positive effect in swaying public opinion and the chance of things turning violent both inside and outside the camp; the refugees told them “yes, you should go, because it will give hope to the people who are still inside”. And when they asked them if they should take anything in particular, they were told to take toys, “because the children have nothing”. So, they organised fundraisers, and managed to bring along about $2,000 worth of toys and books.
They announced that they were going to deliver the toys, and that it was going to be a completely peaceful protest, with no fences knocked over and no aggro at all. Folks who wanted to act in a more forceful manner were politely requested to piss off and give the peaceful people a chance to do their thing. Everyone who was in on it (about 500 people at a guess) formed up on the road, the toys and books were distributed so that everyone was carrying something, and we started walking towards the gates singing the Playschool theme song with the last line changed to “open wide, come inside, Australia…” alternating with the first few lines of the second verse of the anthem (“for those who’ve come across the sea, we’ve boundless plains to share…”). A few anarchists who’d come along started muttering about not wanting to sing the anthem, and were told to shut up or piss off.
Just before we reached the gate, a bunch of young socialist types started chanting “Lock up Ruddock! Free the refugees!” over the top of the Playschool song and were also muttered and glared into silence. We walked up to the gate, and put down a bunch of cardboard boxes. Deborah Bear Wingfield and a couple of others talked to the guards until they agreed to take the toys & books to the camp, then everyone placed their toys/books into the boxes, one by one.
I started to get rather mushy before we even started walking; so had a bunch of other people. It’s hard to say exactly why; the stress of the previous few days, the built-up tension of the last year or two of desperately wanting to do something about this awful thing but not knowing what to do, the knowledge that this tiny act was the only thing I could think of that would have any good effect at all. By the time I got to the gate, I was thoroughly messy; my throat was closed up almost entirely, and tears were running freely. I put my book in the box, and stood around watching other people doing the same, alternating between an ear-to-ear grin and being on the edge of losing it completely and bawling like a baby.
After we were all done, the APS guards at the gate took the boxes and put them in the back of a 4WD, which drove off towards the centre. http://melbourne.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=24607&group=webcast has the account of one of the other moderate people I spoke to a few times over the weekend, detailing her conversation with one of the APS guards. The crowd gradually dispersed, and I started walking back towards camp with half a dozen people, including Rebecca Wingfield. I was still struggling to get my emotions under control, and once I had them as controlled as I thought I’d get 'em, I started to thank Rebecca for helping make this happen. This sort of thing (the toy delivery) was what I’d come to Woomera to do, and after all the mayhem of the previous days, I hadn’t thought I was going to get a chance to do it. However, I completely lost it halfway through, and my throat closed up again so that I couldn’t speak. Rebecca gave me a pat on the shoulder, and I wandered off into the desert a bit so I could be on my own for a while.
I don’t know how long I spent sitting out there struggling to get myself under control; however long it was, it was enough to get thoroughly sunburnt and put myself close to heat-stroke. I eventually struggled back to my tent where I threw myself down and finally let go; I bawled like a baby for at least an hour or so.
However, the tent was bloody hot, and even with bugger-all clothes on and a wet cloth across my forehead, I was starting to cook. So, once I’d got myself calm enough to be presentable, I headed out of the tent and plonked myself down with a book (Primo Levi, “If this is a man”) in the shade of the workshop marquee. Most of the camp had buggered off to go around the back of the camp again (although this time in a more peaceful manner), but there were a good half dozen or so folks sitting where I was, and they were all assorted brands of moderates (although still mostly a bit more radical than me). We talked for most of the afternoon about what had been happening and where to go from here, and general philosophies of the world; the usual rubbish.
That night there was a nice mellow party; a couple of fires were lit in the “town square” bit (we hadn’t had any fires until then, 'cos there’d been a total fire ban) and a bunch of assorted people put on bits of theatre and music while folks sat by the fires and watched. It was nice; very laid back.
The next morning it was get up, take a few last photos, say goodbye to the people I’d met and pack up and go. Four days back to Canberra, a few days resting up there, then back up the motorway to Sydney.
It wasn’t what I’d call a fun week, although moments of it were enjoyable. But I’m glad I went; even though it was stressful to the edge of traumatic and it was as much of a PR disaster as I’d expected, it was still worthwhile. We did give hope to the people in there, and for many of them, that’s the only thing they’ve got. And I needed to see it for myself; I firmly believe that if more Australians did that, then that camp wouldn’t be there anymore.[/quote]
In the leadup to the 2002 demonstrations, a common protest inside the camp was for some of the detainees to sew their lips shut in order to represent how they’d been silenced.
Children were doing this.
I read about that. Lip-sewing and self-immolation are protests, but Dutton seems to be framing them as if the refugees hope that if they hurt themselves badly enough, Australia will be forced to take them so they can be admitted to a proper hospital. Or something.
If people are burning themselves to death in protest of your policy, that’s usually a signal the policy ought to be reëvaluated. (To put it very mildly.)
John Howard found a wedge that worked back in 2001 and Labor’s been terrified of opposing it ever since
Beazley should have jumped on the opportunity to have a real point of difference between our major parties, I couldn’t believe it when he didn’t.
Our immigration policy has been a national disgrace ever since. It’s shameful.
If your goal is not to welcome everyone, and if a similar structure could be run in a fair way, it does not seem an horrible idea.
Big ifs, though.
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