A land of broken dreams

First published in New Community Quarterly, Vol 12 No 1, 2014

I visited a land of broken dreams
someone said “all’s not well it seems
the country’s splitting at the seams.
Asylum seekers on boats are pouring in
and we can’t find any room for them.”

I went to the national capital and spoke with the leaders.
They call themselves parliamentarians and they make the laws
They give instructions and public servants obey.
I asked “Does the voting public ever get a say?”
“There’s no need – they’d only get in the way.”
I asked where Craig Thompson used to sit
and why it took over 3 years to convict him
for using the Health Worker Union credit card to pay for prostitutes?
None seemed to know the reason for
but I was assured “No one’s above the law.”
I asked about the previous Speaker’s misuse of perks
someone winked and said “You’ve gotta know the lurks.”
I looked around at this motley crew
I doubted they would build the world anew,
they were very good at venting spleen
their partners probably kept their houses clean
but there was something quite obscene
in each eye an obtuse gleam.
All in all what was their downfall
was that they were could have beens,
might have beens, should have beens
and a fair sprinkling of have beens.

In the committee rooms of the Alice Springs football club
I spoke with people attempting to stop racism in sport.
Then wandered down to the RSL where I was told,
in no uncertain terms, that in this town racism is sport.
I walked down to the dried riverbed of the Todd
and watched white police loading Aborigines into paddy wagons
they had committed an horrendous crime with malice aforethought.
They had been drinking in a public place without a white permit.

I asked a young woman if she had a dream
“Yes,” she said “to live in a land which does not demean:
asylum seekers, the original owners of this land,
those with disabilities, people without work,
those who are old or young and those who don’t understand.”
“Is that all?” I asked with a whimsical look
“No.” she said as her small hand shook.
“I want my fellow citizens to respect everyone
irrespective of their gender, their utility, their status
or lack of it – to find a seat at the table for rich and poor
and for those without beauty or charm what’s more.”

I jumped on a plane and flew to Christmas Island
– a place named after Christ’s birthday –
I looked at the small jetty in Flying Fish Bay
it is here the Navy brings asylum seekers they apprehend
before the government decides where it will send:
the mother perhaps to Darwin to give birth,
the father to Manus and children to Nauru.
And all this from a government that says families are their touchstone.
Yes nice white families: mothers and fathers (both of whom work)
and two small children living in suburbia, attending the local church school.
Men, women and children fleeing war and political or racial persecution
might deserve the protection guaranteed by the Refugee Convention,
but they are not a family unit recognised by this Australian government
after all they are coloured; they may not be Christian and worse still
they may not be rich and might even be poor.
They are certainly not Australian families.

I was taken across to the other side of the Island
on the way we passed the refugee processing centre
where asylum seekers are incarcerated under 24 hour armed guards.
The guards call the place a “refugee processing centre”
and I thought about SPC Ardmona and wondered if asylum seekers
emerged dried, tinned, or just fitted with a mental health problem.
We drove on to the other side of the Island where I looked down
at the water where steep cliffs meet jagged rocks and crushing waves.
It was here that many desperate asylum seekers had lost their lives
thinking they were coming to a land which honoured the conventions it signed.
I thought about the SIEV X and the 353 people who drowned at sea
in a desperate bid to find a new life in Australia – to find liberty.
I thought about the Tampa and Australia’s “Pacific Solution.”
I thought about Australia’s broken promise to the world
I thought about petty meanness that has infested the minds
of every prime minister since Keating.
I thought about each prime ministers’ propensity to use asylum seekers
-arriving by boat- in any way to boost their flagging popularity.
The current crop of ministers has sunk so low as to refer to asylum seekers as
“Illegals” though they have broken no law in seeking asylum here.
I thought about how well Australia had behaved towards asylum seekers
when Doc Evatt was President of the United Nations General Assembly
and how our recent governments have broken Australia’s promise to ourselves.
I thought of leaving this land of broken dreams
but I’d rather stay and fight in the belief that we have not lost sight
of the need to right the wrong and end the blight.