It was the boy…

AUTHORS:

Former journalist Ngareta Rossell’s harrowing visit to Villawood would go on to shake the foundations of immigration law and practice.

This is a story about Villawood—about why I went there, what I found there, and why I’m still going there today.

Once a hostel for newly arrived migrants who dreamed of a better life, today Villawood is an immigration detention centre for displaced persons, where any thought of a better life is lost in the effort it takes to keep breathing. Villawood is bad. Just how bad is glimpsed fleetingly when somebody kills themselves. Villawood is not high on the public consciousness.
When I think of Villawood, I think of many things: a Grimm’s fairytale, Hansel and Gretel and the Keystone Cops all rolled into one. Happy endings? There are some. But dress it up or dress it down, Villawood is a nightmare movie with an R rating. So long as detention remains indefinite, nothing will really change, because locked up is locked up.

Yet in spite of everything, I’m not sorry I went there. No-one forced me. How many times do you have the opportunity to observe the entire human condition in all its manifestations? Villawood has caused me great grief. It has lost me friends but it has made me new ones.

It’s also had its side effects. My family and friends looked on in astonishment as I disappeared beneath a sea of legal documents and late-night phone calls. All of a sudden I had no time for the minutiae of other people’s lives. Resentment all round … they were hurt. I was hurt because they didn’t understand that I was busy saving lives while they were busy saving frequent flyer points. It was difficult to find a meeting place. With some I never did.

I first went there because a friend invited me. As simple as that. I kept going because the more I went, the more convinced I was that a great injustice was being perpetrated upon a small group of displaced persons fleeing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. The continuing claims of the politicians that refugees were ‘gold diggers’ and ‘terrorists’ seemed way off the mark. The raggle-taggle bunch of ‘boat people’ I was meeting, in their thin, hand-me-down T-shirts, were as poor as church mice. Most had arrived with only the clothes they stood in.

So why the fear-mongering and deception emanating from Canberra about refugees? It was simply not true. Whose purpose was being served by this misrepresentation? I kept visiting Villawood. There was much to learn in Villawood and the stories there were legion.

The first thing I learned about Villawood was that summers there were hotter than anywhere else. In January, hot winds from mountain bushfires sweep through, mingling with the sweat and anger of those facing yet another year behind the wire. Summers in Villawood are when fires blaze up and detainees break out.

Winter in Villawood is the season of depression, when the coldness of temperature is matched only by the coldness of heart, when the damp rises up from the ground, when the orange floodlights cast weird shapes on the wire, and when the potted plants and new-look landscaping stand stark and geometric against the fence. Winter is the season of Valium and television, when detainees save medication—because this year, they might just ‘do it’.

To remember what life was like before Villawood is a challenge. Whatever I was doing before appears trivial. The halcyon days, when motorways led to country holidays, have long since gone. Today the M4 and the M5 are simply roads to Villawood. Pollution goes with the territory.

Villawood lies one hour west of the Sydney Harbour foreshores, away from the city, the golden beaches and the afternoon sea breezes. Villawood belongs in that other land, out west. It’s an hour and ten minutes from where I live.

I still remember that first day, jammed in between high-octane semis, as, grinding and braking, they hurtled themselves at the open road to burn rubber all the way to Melbourne. Before the T-junction, where the semis turn, in there somewhere among the eucalypt trees, among the scattering of brick veneers and fibro cottages, are the prefabricated admin buildings, the run-down, dark, brick dwellings that are Villawood. There are no signs.

This is the land of the battler with the dream, who is moving ever further west to the big house, the big mortgage, the lifetime of bank repayments and Saturday afternoon football. This is the land of cheap housing, where the unemployed look for prescription drugs or an easy mugging at a train station. This is the land where the meat pie has given way to the kebab, where the scent of lemongrass pervades the open marketplace at midday in Cabramatta. Villawood can be found after Auburn but before Cabramatta. Villawood is migrant country.

It was pre-Tampa, pre-September 11, pre-‘Children Overboard’ and the sinking of the boat known as the SIEVX [Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X] when I first went to Villawood. As insignificant as it sounds, it was curiosity that led me there. I had just been to Iran. I had on my mind all things Persian—perfumed gardens, hand-woven rugs and fine miniature paintings. I wondered if there might be Iranians in Villawood.

Iran was different and beautiful, with its high mountains, desert landscapes and ancient cultures. I loved it. Other things were not so attractive. Life under strict Islamic rule was fraught with danger. Conspiracy theories were rife. The eyes and ears of the government were everywhere. You could taste the fear. It was there in the eyes of those brave enough to speak to foreigners. Clearly, Iran was not a country for free spirits. Many people were trying to leave.

At a pizza shop on the corner of Gurney and Woodville Roads, we turned. There it was. You couldn’t miss the wire, so much steel glinting in the sun. At the end of a cul-de-sac lined with factory warehouses were the gates. The lettering was in black, on a white sign inside the entrance: ‘Property of the Commonwealth of Australia. Welcome’.

As we approached the gate we could see the queue snaking along a razor-wire fence, through a gate and along a concrete path to the visitor processing area inside. The waiting time to get in was one-and-a-half hours. This was the old Villawood, before the age of the new pop-up tickets, before designer smiles were pasted to the faces of the Villawood staff, who today enjoin you to ‘Have a nice visit’.

Then it was all savage voices and unrelenting orders to ‘Get outta the doorway. Get back from the desk. Youse won’t get in if youse don’t get back from the desk!’
If this was how it was for visitors, how was it for the people inside?

‘They’re from the prisons,’ someone behind us whispered as we watched a guard refuse entry to someone with incorrect ID. Why prison guards? I didn’t think the people inside were prisoners. My query was left unanswered as we slowly shuffled along, until finally your turn came to be processed.

A sour-faced woman confiscated car keys, licence and wallets. ‘Youse’ll get them back when youse come out,’ she said.

Only one more lock to go. As we waited for the last gate my friend told me to prepare myself. Even today the hairs on my neck stiffen when I remember. That day I hadn’t the slightest idea what she meant.

The last gate was opened and slammed shut behind us. But at least we were in. No camera in my hand, because cameras were banned. But the ‘camera’ in my mind was complete, with a brand new film and a recording device. A low hum of different voices in different languages mingled with the sound of clanging gates as we walked in. The compound was crowded. Some people had managed to bag a table to sit at with their friends. Those who were not so lucky paced up and down while small children ran in frenetic circles, round and round like mice in a maze with no exit. Guards were patrolling the perimeter fence; hard on their heels a pick-up truck circled the compound at intervals. So this was detention.

But it wasn’t the guards, the wire, the intrusive PA system or even the runaway children that made me swallow hard. It was what I saw on the other side of the compound. It was the boy. At least I thought he was a boy—an emaciated bundle of bones in the lap of a man seated at a table near the fence. The man was dressed in tracksuit and thongs. The woman beside him was in headscarf and long coat, Iranian style. Memories of the fearful faces in Iranian streets came flooding back. The couple sat like two shop dummies, the stricken child between them. I could not take my eyes from the boy, a bizarre sight in a First World country.

At first I believed he was a fake boy, a child made to look like a boy, a fundraiser for famine in Africa. You could not look like that and still be alive. But as we drew nearer, the bundle twitched, stretched and reached out a stick arm to turn over. So great was that effort that the feeble body fell back limp. Limp but alive.

I took a breath, looked away; pretending I wasn’t staring. Thoughts ricocheted through my brain. Why wasn’t he in bed, on a hospital drip? Why was he out here among the crowds? I looked to my friend for an explanation, but already she was moving forward to greet the seated couple. It was them we would see.

‘Don’t get up,’ she said, signalling to them to stay put. They had saved a seat for us at one of the plastic tables. They were Iranian. As we took our places, a short, dark man in Bermuda shorts whipped over from the other side of the compound—another detainee. He had come, he said, to act as interpreter for my friend, who would take a statement. The child was not mentioned. It was as if he were invisible to everyone.

My friend produced notepad and paper; the interpreter translated. I vaguely heard what they were saying. My eyes kept straying to where he lay. Comatose. The trouble was, the father began, they had no lawyer. Their case was finished, failed. They’d had 28 days to appeal, but they hadn’t. Why? Don’t know. Just didn’t. Too tired, too sick. The boy? Too ill. Their case simply slipped from their grasp.

My friend looked up from her notepad. ‘Deportation?’ she asked pointedly. The man nodded. Yes. All through this dialogue the boy had not moved. I was half-listening, but then I heard ‘deportation’. I shrank at the thought of anyone who had left Iran without papers being sent back. The interpreter paused. He had something of his own to say about deportation.

‘None of us know when,’ he said. ‘Yesterday him. Today me.’ His gaze swept around the compound and came to rest upon me, the newcomer. ‘How do you think we feel being here? Did you ask that?’

I did not ask that. He was reading my mind. He looked hard at me. ‘I’ll tell you anyway. We thought we were coming to a democracy.’ I squirmed.

He spoke urgently, as if he had only one chance to convey what he had to say. ‘The boy can’t drink. Can’t eat. He is dehydrated. His system is shutting down.’ I stared at the small, pale face with the shock of dark hair. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘How come?’ The interpreter shrugged. ‘What do they expect when they lock a six-year-old in the desert with crazy people who want to impale themselves on wire?’

My friend wasn’t finished. We had actually only just begun. She asked the interpreter if we could get back to the family story. But I couldn’t hold back.

‘Why isn’t he in hospital?’

The interpreter laughed a laugh that wasn’t a laugh; more a scornful explosion of air. ‘Hospital!’ Beads of perspiration had broken out on his forehead. ‘He’ll be back there any minute. He is admitted to hospital, re-hydrated, and then returned to detention, only to deteriorate again. You’ll see.’ He raised his voice. ‘You tell them outside what’s going on inside here.’

My friend looked at her watch. The couple sat silent. The boy lay still. I felt ill.

The interpreter went on with the story. The family had been sent to Villawood from Woomera because of the boy’s illness. ‘A blast furnace in the desert,’ he said. ‘That’s where they keep the kids. Forty degrees in the shade. You know Woomera? Let me tell you then.’ He was working himself up. ‘Woomera is a place where they do what they like, where police douse children with water cannons, and sewage flows on the ground where children play.’

Wasn’t he confusing Australia with Iran? I moved in my seat and looked down at the boy. His breath was coming fitfully. His parents were oblivious.

‘You don’t believe me, do you?’ The interpreter was as jumpy as the parents were passive. The interpreter raised his voice: ‘You think it’s not true.’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Look at him.’ He pointed at the boy. ‘Can you see him? Is he true? That’s Woomera. Look at me.’

I looked away. I wished he wouldn’t speak so loudly.

‘My hair’s falling out. My teeth are rotten, I can’t sleep nights.’ He was determined to be heard. And I heard him. Nobody else seemed to hear him. ‘That’s Villawood.’ He sat back. He’d had his say.

My head was spinning. This was not the afternoon outing I was expecting. I half-stood but then sat down because the mother had begun to speak. Her face was blotched and pink. For the first time I noticed she had a baby. She held the baby close. She spoke in a low monotone I had to strain to hear.

‘Doctors in hospital say, let us out. Detention makes him like this.’ She blew her nose. She looked to her husband whose eyes were red. ‘But Minister say no. “No release”.’
My friend kept scribbling.

‘Minister knows,’ said the woman. Her face was impassive. ‘No release for us.’

The full impact of what she said did not hit me until later. Did she really say the Minister knew? I refused to believe it. I had seen starvation in Third World countries. But in Australia we don’t do starvation.

A guard was shouting at people to get away from the wire. In one corner, guards were creating a racket with two-way radios. Meantime, the parents had reverted to their shop-dummy pose. Later I learned that many people in Villawood were on antidepressants and tranquillisers.

Dusk had come to the compound. Visitors were packing up and heading to the exit. The interpreter had gone. My friend put down her pen. I was relieved. She stood, I stood, the family stood, we looked at each other. So much to say but I found no words.

We said our goodbyes and watched as the family trudged into the gloom of their quarters —mother, baby, father with dying son slung over his shoulder like a parcel of laundry. We walked our separate paths, through separate gates, back to our very separate lives.

We left the compound and the camera in my mind switched off, the credits rolled. ‘To be continued,’ it said. By the time I reached my front door, culture shock had turned to steely resolve. The iron had entered my soul. We would get that family out. And how many others? What of Woomera? Maybe there was truth in what the interpreter had said. Did politicians really know about this family?

That was it. My involvement with refugees began on that day: 14 July 2001.

Postscript. ‘The boy’ is Shayan Badraie, whose case became prominent after the family’s story appeared on the ABC’s Four Corners in August 2001.

Excerpted from Acting from the Heart: Australian advocates for asylum seekers tell their stories, edited by Sarah Mares and Louise Newman pp.2-9 ISBN 9781876451783

This article was published in Kindred, issue 23, Sept 07

This is a story about Villawood—about why I went there, what I found there, and why I’m still going there today.

Once a hostel for newly arrived migrants who dreamed of a better life, today Villawood is an immigration detention centre for displaced persons, where any thought of a better life is lost in the effort it takes to keep breathing. Villawood is bad. Just how bad is glimpsed fleetingly when somebody kills themselves. Villawood is not high on the public consciousness.
When I think of Villawood, I think of many things: a Grimm’s fairytale, Hansel and Gretel and the Keystone Cops all rolled into one. Happy endings? There are some. But dress it up or dress it down, Villawood is a nightmare movie with an R rating. So long as detention remains indefinite, nothing will really change, because locked up is locked up.

Yet in spite of everything, I’m not sorry I went there. No-one forced me. How many times do you have the opportunity to observe the entire human condition in all its manifestations? Villawood has caused me great grief. It has lost me friends but it has made me new ones.

It’s also had its side effects. My family and friends looked on in astonishment as I disappeared beneath a sea of legal documents and late-night phone calls. All of a sudden I had no time for the minutiae of other people’s lives. Resentment all round … they were hurt. I was hurt because they didn’t understand that I was busy saving lives while they were busy saving frequent flyer points. It was difficult to find a meeting place. With some I never did.

I first went there because a friend invited me. As simple as that. I kept going because the more I went, the more convinced I was that a great injustice was being perpetrated upon a small group of displaced persons fleeing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. The continuing claims of the politicians that refugees were ‘gold diggers’ and ‘terrorists’ seemed way off the mark. The raggle-taggle bunch of ‘boat people’ I was meeting, in their thin, hand-me-down T-shirts, were as poor as church mice. Most had arrived with only the clothes they stood in.

So why the fear-mongering and deception emanating from Canberra about refugees? It was simply not true. Whose purpose was being served by this misrepresentation? I kept visiting Villawood. There was much to learn in Villawood and the stories there were legion.

The first thing I learned about Villawood was that summers there were hotter than anywhere else. In January, hot winds from mountain bushfires sweep through, mingling with the sweat and anger of those facing yet another year behind the wire. Summers in Villawood are when fires blaze up and detainees break out.

Winter in Villawood is the season of depression, when the coldness of temperature is matched only by the coldness of heart, when the damp rises up from the ground, when the orange floodlights cast weird shapes on the wire, and when the potted plants and new-look landscaping stand stark and geometric against the fence. Winter is the season of Valium and television, when detainees save medication—because this year, they might just ‘do it’.

To remember what life was like before Villawood is a challenge. Whatever I was doing before appears trivial. The halcyon days, when motorways led to country holidays, have long since gone. Today the M4 and the M5 are simply roads to Villawood. Pollution goes with the territory.

Villawood lies one hour west of the Sydney Harbour foreshores, away from the city, the golden beaches and the afternoon sea breezes. Villawood belongs in that other land, out west. It’s an hour and ten minutes from where I live.

I still remember that first day, jammed in between high-octane semis, as, grinding and braking, they hurtled themselves at the open road to burn rubber all the way to Melbourne. Before the T-junction, where the semis turn, in there somewhere among the eucalypt trees, among the scattering of brick veneers and fibro cottages, are the prefabricated admin buildings, the run-down, dark, brick dwellings that are Villawood. There are no signs.

This is the land of the battler with the dream, who is moving ever further west to the big house, the big mortgage, the lifetime of bank repayments and Saturday afternoon football. This is the land of cheap housing, where the unemployed look for prescription drugs or an easy mugging at a train station. This is the land where the meat pie has given way to the kebab, where the scent of lemongrass pervades the open marketplace at midday in Cabramatta. Villawood can be found after Auburn but before Cabramatta. Villawood is migrant country.

It was pre-Tampa, pre-September 11, pre-‘Children Overboard’ and the sinking of the boat known as the SIEVX [Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X] when I first went to Villawood. As insignificant as it sounds, it was curiosity that led me there. I had just been to Iran. I had on my mind all things Persian—perfumed gardens, hand-woven rugs and fine miniature paintings. I wondered if there might be Iranians in Villawood.

Iran was different and beautiful, with its high mountains, desert landscapes and ancient cultures. I loved it. Other things were not so attractive. Life under strict Islamic rule was fraught with danger. Conspiracy theories were rife. The eyes and ears of the government were everywhere. You could taste the fear. It was there in the eyes of those brave enough to speak to foreigners. Clearly, Iran was not a country for free spirits. Many people were trying to leave.

At a pizza shop on the corner of Gurney and Woodville Roads, we turned. There it was. You couldn’t miss the wire, so much steel glinting in the sun. At the end of a cul-de-sac lined with factory warehouses were the gates. The lettering was in black, on a white sign inside the entrance: ‘Property of the Commonwealth of Australia. Welcome’.

As we approached the gate we could see the queue snaking along a razor-wire fence, through a gate and along a concrete path to the visitor processing area inside. The waiting time to get in was one-and-a-half hours. This was the old Villawood, before the age of the new pop-up tickets, before designer smiles were pasted to the faces of the Villawood staff, who today enjoin you to ‘Have a nice visit’.

Then it was all savage voices and unrelenting orders to ‘Get outta the doorway. Get back from the desk. Youse won’t get in if youse don’t get back from the desk!’
If this was how it was for visitors, how was it for the people inside?

‘They’re from the prisons,’ someone behind us whispered as we watched a guard refuse entry to someone with incorrect ID. Why prison guards? I didn’t think the people inside were prisoners. My query was left unanswered as we slowly shuffled along, until finally your turn came to be processed.

A sour-faced woman confiscated car keys, licence and wallets. ‘Youse’ll get them back when youse come out,’ she said.

Only one more lock to go. As we waited for the last gate my friend told me to prepare myself. Even today the hairs on my neck stiffen when I remember. That day I hadn’t the slightest idea what she meant.

The last gate was opened and slammed shut behind us. But at least we were in. No camera in my hand, because cameras were banned. But the ‘camera’ in my mind was complete, with a brand new film and a recording device. A low hum of different voices in different languages mingled with the sound of clanging gates as we walked in. The compound was crowded. Some people had managed to bag a table to sit at with their friends. Those who were not so lucky paced up and down while small children ran in frenetic circles, round and round like mice in a maze with no exit. Guards were patrolling the perimeter fence; hard on their heels a pick-up truck circled the compound at intervals. So this was detention.

But it wasn’t the guards, the wire, the intrusive PA system or even the runaway children that made me swallow hard. It was what I saw on the other side of the compound. It was the boy. At least I thought he was a boy—an emaciated bundle of bones in the lap of a man seated at a table near the fence. The man was dressed in tracksuit and thongs. The woman beside him was in headscarf and long coat, Iranian style. Memories of the fearful faces in Iranian streets came flooding back. The couple sat like two shop dummies, the stricken child between them. I could not take my eyes from the boy, a bizarre sight in a First World country.

At first I believed he was a fake boy, a child made to look like a boy, a fundraiser for famine in Africa. You could not look like that and still be alive. But as we drew nearer, the bundle twitched, stretched and reached out a stick arm to turn over. So great was that effort that the feeble body fell back limp. Limp but alive.

I took a breath, looked away; pretending I wasn’t staring. Thoughts ricocheted through my brain. Why wasn’t he in bed, on a hospital drip? Why was he out here among the crowds? I looked to my friend for an explanation, but already she was moving forward to greet the seated couple. It was them we would see.

‘Don’t get up,’ she said, signalling to them to stay put. They had saved a seat for us at one of the plastic tables. They were Iranian. As we took our places, a short, dark man in Bermuda shorts whipped over from the other side of the compound—another detainee. He had come, he said, to act as interpreter for my friend, who would take a statement. The child was not mentioned. It was as if he were invisible to everyone.

My friend produced notepad and paper; the interpreter translated. I vaguely heard what they were saying. My eyes kept straying to where he lay. Comatose. The trouble was, the father began, they had no lawyer. Their case was finished, failed. They’d had 28 days to appeal, but they hadn’t. Why? Don’t know. Just didn’t. Too tired, too sick. The boy? Too ill. Their case simply slipped from their grasp.

My friend looked up from her notepad. ‘Deportation?’ she asked pointedly. The man nodded. Yes. All through this dialogue the boy had not moved. I was half-listening, but then I heard ‘deportation’. I shrank at the thought of anyone who had left Iran without papers being sent back. The interpreter paused. He had something of his own to say about deportation.

‘None of us know when,’ he said. ‘Yesterday him. Today me.’ His gaze swept around the compound and came to rest upon me, the newcomer. ‘How do you think we feel being here? Did you ask that?’

I did not ask that. He was reading my mind. He looked hard at me. ‘I’ll tell you anyway. We thought we were coming to a democracy.’ I squirmed.

He spoke urgently, as if he had only one chance to convey what he had to say. ‘The boy can’t drink. Can’t eat. He is dehydrated. His system is shutting down.’ I stared at the small, pale face with the shock of dark hair. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘How come?’ The interpreter shrugged. ‘What do they expect when they lock a six-year-old in the desert with crazy people who want to impale themselves on wire?’

My friend wasn’t finished. We had actually only just begun. She asked the interpreter if we could get back to the family story. But I couldn’t hold back.

‘Why isn’t he in hospital?’

The interpreter laughed a laugh that wasn’t a laugh; more a scornful explosion of air. ‘Hospital!’ Beads of perspiration had broken out on his forehead. ‘He’ll be back there any minute. He is admitted to hospital, re-hydrated, and then returned to detention, only to deteriorate again. You’ll see.’ He raised his voice. ‘You tell them outside what’s going on inside here.’

My friend looked at her watch. The couple sat silent. The boy lay still. I felt ill.

The interpreter went on with the story. The family had been sent to Villawood from Woomera because of the boy’s illness. ‘A blast furnace in the desert,’ he said. ‘That’s where they keep the kids. Forty degrees in the shade. You know Woomera? Let me tell you then.’ He was working himself up. ‘Woomera is a place where they do what they like, where police douse children with water cannons, and sewage flows on the ground where children play.’

Wasn’t he confusing Australia with Iran? I moved in my seat and looked down at the boy. His breath was coming fitfully. His parents were oblivious.

‘You don’t believe me, do you?’ The interpreter was as jumpy as the parents were passive. The interpreter raised his voice: ‘You think it’s not true.’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Look at him.’ He pointed at the boy. ‘Can you see him? Is he true? That’s Woomera. Look at me.’

I looked away. I wished he wouldn’t speak so loudly.

‘My hair’s falling out. My teeth are rotten, I can’t sleep nights.’ He was determined to be heard. And I heard him. Nobody else seemed to hear him. ‘That’s Villawood.’ He sat back. He’d had his say.

My head was spinning. This was not the afternoon outing I was expecting. I half-stood but then sat down because the mother had begun to speak. Her face was blotched and pink. For the first time I noticed she had a baby. She held the baby close. She spoke in a low monotone I had to strain to hear.

‘Doctors in hospital say, let us out. Detention makes him like this.’ She blew her nose. She looked to her husband whose eyes were red. ‘But Minister say no. “No release”.’
My friend kept scribbling.

‘Minister knows,’ said the woman. Her face was impassive. ‘No release for us.’

The full impact of what she said did not hit me until later. Did she really say the Minister knew? I refused to believe it. I had seen starvation in Third World countries. But in Australia we don’t do starvation.

A guard was shouting at people to get away from the wire. In one corner, guards were creating a racket with two-way radios. Meantime, the parents had reverted to their shop-dummy pose. Later I learned that many people in Villawood were on antidepressants and tranquillisers.

Dusk had come to the compound. Visitors were packing up and heading to the exit. The interpreter had gone. My friend put down her pen. I was relieved. She stood, I stood, the family stood, we looked at each other. So much to say but I found no words.

We said our goodbyes and watched as the family trudged into the gloom of their quarters —mother, baby, father with dying son slung over his shoulder like a parcel of laundry. We walked our separate paths, through separate gates, back to our very separate lives.

We left the compound and the camera in my mind switched off, the credits rolled. ‘To be continued,’ it said. By the time I reached my front door, culture shock had turned to steely resolve. The iron had entered my soul. We would get that family out. And how many others? What of Woomera? Maybe there was truth in what the interpreter had said. Did politicians really know about this family?

That was it. My involvement with refugees began on that day: 14 July 2001.

Postscript. ‘The boy’ is Shayan Badraie, whose case became prominent after the family’s story appeared on the ABC’s Four Corners in August 2001.

Excerpted from Acting from the Heart: Australian advocates for asylum seekers tell their stories, edited by Sarah Mares and Louise Newman pp.2-9 ISBN 9781876451783

This article was published in Kindred, issue 23, Sept 07

Categories: Conscious Parenting,Social Justice,Thinking Global

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.