I'm Australian, a migrant, a ten-pound Pom in fact. Like all migrants I feel half in half out, as if I'll always have at least a toe wedged in the door marked exit. Not that I would wish to return to my homeland, for what would I do there? Who would I know? Besides, my children are here, my mother is here and all of my immediate family, so here I must stay. And I do like it here, though I can't help thinking this nation has an aching desire to hone its identity and I'm convinced if we stopped trying to prove that we matter, we would matter a whole lot more. There is much grace in simply being. I think the true custodians of this land could teach us this, and a lot more besides.
My family boarded a plane with a one-way ticket under a program to populate Australia with nice white English people, like us. We stayed in a Nissen hut at a migrant hostel, then my father found work in a factory and we were away, fitting in among the gum trees. That was in sixty-eight and I had just started school. The migrant hostel felt like a holiday camp and we were fed and watered, we had showers and we were safe, though my parents complained bitterly about the lack of privacy and the queues.
There is an ocean of difference between migrants welcomed into a land upon the gifts they bear, gifts of skill, wealth and progeny, and refugees who come without their suitcases and the blessing of their hosts, hosts perpetually begrudging the intrusion.
If refugees are viewed an undesirable necessity, asylum seekers are the mud on their shoes.
Somewhere along the path of my life, I became concerned for the lives of others. My mother blames my geography teacher who captivated his class with vignettes of his travels in far off lands. That was not the cause. He told us a shocking fact. He told us that when he was young he thought he was the centre of the universe, and that everything bad, including death, would happen to others and never to him. Then he realised in one devastating moment that he was not indestructible, that he, too, would one day die, and the 'he' that he thought he was would no longer exist. I was changed in that moment. For the first time I knew I was not that important and in my heart other people took my stead.
Which explains why, on that day that was the anniversary of asylum seeker Reza Berati's death, I lit a candle in his honour. I, and all the other members of my local rural Australians for refugees group, who met to galvanise resources and discuss new ways forward to contribute to the legion of good-hearted Australians who demonstrate their care, their concern, their basic humanity for people, other people who matter.
People like Reza Berati, who was murdered, murdered by a lack of proper care. For surely those in charge have a duty of care, and the immigration department an even greater duty of care, to ensure that all detainees are fed and watered and washed and protected. Immigration, G4S and the local PNG guards, all have Reza's blood on their hands and there won't be any product capable of washing it off.
I believe we all live and breathe and die and as such we are all the same, and we are all, in seen and unseen ways, connected. What our nation does, what all of humanity does, via myriad interconnections, has consequences. Therefore, beneath our fingernails is the dirt on all sides of conflict and war, even Islamic State.
When I woke that morning on the anniversary of Reza's death, I was dismayed to find that trending on facebook, along with a Hepatitis A scare, and the record box office earnings of the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey, was the news that Egypt is now bombing Islamic State targets in Libya upon the apparent beheading of twenty-one Egyptian Christians. With Jordan already in the fray, I'm concerned that the Middle East will crumble, leaving a coterie of failed states along with Saudi Arabia, with its bleach clean hands raised in a pretense of obsequious loyalty to the West, and Iran.
I am reminded of the fine and ancient cultures my geography teacher spoke of, the sophistication and grace of the people, beautiful people with gifts old and new, now perishing. Something in me perishes with them.
The bombing, the carnage, the hordes of frenzied fighters, and little wonder that many who reside in these troubled lands flee. They flee from their cities, towns and villages. They flee from their land and they walk or they ride and take refuge wherever they can. Many cross borders into neighbouring lands, entering camps located in the dustiest, rockiest, most inhospitable parts of this earth. Camps that make the Nissen huts of a migrant hostel seem like the Ritz. For vast numbers, millions I'm told, these camps will be home for years and decades, all those poor souls corralled and left to rot, kept alive by a raft of aid agencies to pass another day in a life that is no life.
If that were me, I'd run further. I'd be looking for my exodus to somewhere a bit nicer. Call me selfish but my wellbeing would matter to me that much.