My Island Home
We did this. We are responsible. Now what the hell are we going to do about it?
Words by Winston Mann. Header image via The Guardian.
“[SHE] WAS STANDING BY A TABLE BREATHING HEAVILY AND CRYING. CSO [REDACTED] THEN DISCOVERED A BOTTLE OF RID INSECT REPELLENT ON THE FLOOR. ... IT WAS EVIDENT THAT [SHE] MAY HAVE INGESTED THIS CHEMICAL AS THERE APPEARED TO BE GREY FLUID AROUND HER LIPS AND CHIN. CSO [REDACTED] ARRIVED ON SITE TO ASSIST, AS [SHE.] BECAME UNRESPONSIVE AND BEGAN TO VOMIT...”
The [SHE] was an asylum seeker. The place was Nauru. The incident one of over 2000 reports leaked to The Guardian yesterday. That's right, more than 2000 reports about child rapes, suicides, assaults, self harm, degradation and depression were leaked and have been published.
2000 reports just like this.
Let that sink in.
Well Australia, my island home, it is safe to say that the jig is up. The jury is back. The chickens are home, and they are roosting.
In the days and weeks to come there will be an awful lot said about these 2000 papers. There will be universal condemnation. There will be calls for scrutiny. There will be people calling for heads to roll. There will be the obligatory "we didn't know"s and the furious "you should have guessed"s. There will be an army of red faced, spineless bastards with shiny shoes and heaving belt buckles trawling the nation's political landscape in search of an all important scapegoat; the air thickening with desperation as they comb through space and time to find one person, place, circumstance or government on which to heave our collective blame. Yes friends, in the next few days we will watch a country of guilty hands unite in a bid to find and butcher that sacrificial lamb.
But this time, I believe, it will not surface. Because the reality is there is no lamb. This is not a failure of government, or staff, or policy – this is a failure of culture. We, as a country, are to blame.
A quick historical review of Australia shows that, as a nation, when it comes to treatment of those we judge as subordinate to ourselves we don't just bury our head in the sand – we pro-actively bring spades and buckets and build a fort around our body too. Just look at Australia's reaction when the UN Chief of Human Rights absolutely scorched our immigration and refugee policy in 2015*.
Instead of admitting that perhaps we may have been employing a somewhat heavy-handed approach – we retorted like a school yard bully caught threatening smaller kids for marbles, laying blame at the feet of others (in this case people smugglers and terrorists, who again we have deemed as subhuman) whilst doubling down on punishments and laying a blanket ban on reporting. “We must do what is necessary,” was the official response from then PM Tony Abbott.
The grim fact is that there are literally hundreds of articles, reports and enquiries dating from the Howard era about the treatment and effects of Asylum seekers in detention. Hundreds. All saying the same thing: it's cruel and unusual and is having horrendous outcomes for the people we are afflicting it on. And for every one of those there is the same excuse: it is necessary to protect Australian culture and way of life.
But why? Why must we so rigorously defend this 'culture' if it allows people to be brutalised, tortured and broken without the concerted blink of an eyelid? My bet is shame. We simply have to continue with these policies because they hide a fundamental truth. We are cruel.
That isn't to say: "Hey you! Yeah you! I think you're a mean fuck who wants children in detention." In fact if you're reading this there's a good chance you most likely feel the exact opposite, because it's highly likely if you are okay with it you won't click on articles like this.
It's more about starting to approach the primary root of modern Australia objectively and calling it out for what it is: (I wait for the cat calls and death threats) the product of English waste. We talk so proudly of our convict past yet callously ignore that bitterness and cruelty that runs in our collective veins as a result. Don't get me wrong, there are wonderful parts to this country's culture (see: mateship and freedom), but deep down exists still fragments of a beaten and unloved kid turned hopeless alcoholic, thief and murderer. A scared young individual who, instead of being helped, was banished to die on an island in the sun and so developed a savage, unforgiving nature. As anyone who has a basic knowledge of psychology can tell you (myself not included) a person of this up-brining and experience does not make for a good father - let alone a forefather - without first dealing with what has happened. Unfortunately, as history has illustrated, Australia is not one to look back with an eye on self improvement.
And so we've come unstuck. Shame, they say, is the most powerful of emotions. It burns worse than anger and destroys faster than fear. We have internalised the shame of who we were and what we have done. Instead of apologies we dish out excuses; instead of reflection we rely on accusation; instead of change we opt for blame; and instead of shouting we remain in silence. “There must be someone else responsible for locking children in detention to die, for strapping a 14 year old to a chair, for stealing babies from the arms of mothers, for hunting down and destroying every single indigenous human being that lived on Tasmania, because I didn't do it,” goes the ole Australian rejoinder.
And while I feel for sure that they will throw the country into momentary chaos (I forecast it being an issue well into the next Bachelor episode or Australian Gold medal), what I hope will happen in the wake of these papers is that we all take a quiet moment to stop and think. I hope that we as a country can stand united in guilt and shame and say: “We did it. We are responsible. Now what the hell are we going to do about it?”