In response to this picture of a former refugee now donating his time and effort to assist the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, I posted the following comment on FB:
Part of my mob came here to South Australia on boats in 1838 (German Protestants used to get a hard time from their Catholic neighbours, unfortunately). Thinking about that while on the banks of the Torrens the other night, watching the opening gigs of the Festival, made me realise that you probably couldn’t throw a rock into a crowd of non-indigenous Australians without hitting someone with a refugee or a desperate penniless migrant somewhere in their ancestry.
Also, let’s not forget the convicts that were sent to Australia (well, not to SA) in their thousands – many of whom were imprisoned for petty crimes, sentenced out of all proportion to their offences and were then used as slave labourers, building the new colonies for the Empire under frequently brutal, inhumane conditions.
A lot of Australians seem to find it very easy to forget that the early history of their own nation was built in large part by poor bastards on boats who didn’t have a choice but to escape their homeland, or who literally came here in chains. Once that history is forgotten, it appears it’s very easy to start locking people up in inhumane camps – not even for petty crimes, but without charge, trial or conviction – all over again.
People were supportive of (they “Liked”) this point of view, so I followed it up:
It just mystifies me that people so readily forget that we were ourselves largely founded and settled by people who were escaping persecution or repression (essentially asylum seekers – many of whom had no papers and joined no queues), seeking opportunity (“economic migrants”) or were unfairly convicted, disproportionately sentenced and brought here to build a colony (essentially political prisoners – not all convict labourers were simple, starving bread-thieves of course, but to give them the same sentences as murderers and rapists speaks of a deeply warped and callous system of justice).
It wasn’t just centuries ago that this occurred either: during the Cold War we were more than happy to accept defectors from Soviet & Communist nations (no “queues” there), prior to that we accepted refugees from nations torn to pieces by WWII, after that came the first “boat people” fleeing death & ruin in SE Asia, with many Australians even adopting babies left orphaned by the tragedies of Viet Nam, Cambodia etc (including two of my primary school friends in the 80s).
John Howard/Peter Reith’s decision to demonise asylum seekers in 2001 and the Rudd/Gillard plan to offshore their summary, arbitrary and indefinite detention, now turned into an ugly, tragic farce by Abbott & Morrison, has left a stain on the nation which may take many years to fully cleanse. Even if Abbott and his vandals were thrown out tomorrow, Labor, being the architects of this secretive, incompetently-administered nightmare, could not be trusted to return to a fair system of promptly processing and humanely housing asylum seekers.