I grew up in the lucky country. I was so proud to be Australian. I heard about things that happened in other countries, and while I felt sorry for people who lived in countries that weren’t as wonderful as mine, mostly, I just felt grateful that I had been born into a society that was fair. A place where there were no class barriers, a community that would help if you were in trouble, a society that didn’t discriminate against you on the basis of gender, sexual identity, race, or religion. Australia was just the best country in the world.
I don’t know if I was just over idealistic, but I don’t think so. Growing up in the 70s and 80s meant that I missed all of the appalling ‘White Australia’ policy, (although I exist as a result of it; my mother was 11 years old when she came here as a £10 Pom), and Indigenous Australians finally got the vote just before I was born. What I did witness was women becoming more empowered; LBGTIQ people becoming more accepted and refugees being welcomed, and helped. There was never any question. These people were in trouble, we were Australians, of course we would help them. The pride I felt for my country knew no bounds. Plus, we were good at sport, and I love sport. Best Country Ever!
While I had the luxury of being born in the lucky country, my kids weren’t so fortunate. My teen years included such marvels as seeing people come together to protect the environment (Franklin Dam), My kids’ teenage years are being lived in an atmosphere of a community divided. All the issues that made us a compassionate, tolerant, pride worthy country are being turned on their heads. The empowerment of women has resulted in rampant misogyny, our government has turned its back on equality for minority groups, couldn’t make the obvious marriage equality laws themselves and dragged the country into a divisive, expensive, internationally embarrassing ‘postal vote’ to be told what was obvious all along, just get it done; and our politicians have been involved in a race to the bottom with their treatment of asylum seekers. We are at the bottom now. And I am deeply ashamed.
See, it’s not just the politicians that make me feel this shame; the politicians wouldn’t be doing it they didn’t think it’s what the people want. When did we as a society become so selfish? What happened to our compassion? Why is it that people feel a sense of entitlement above all others? Are we not all human?
I know it’s not everyone. I have been to rallies of thousands of people, protesting our government’s treatment of refugees. I read letters and blogs and articles of people who still have that sense of fairness and compassion that I used to think was embedded in the national psyche.
Ironically, given our own history, we set up our very own penal colonies in Manus Island and Nauru. It was most likely illegal, it was most definitely immoral. We signed up to the Refugee Convention because it was the right thing to do. And we have benefited from it, beyond measure. Many former refugees have gone on to become valuable members of our society, and their children have done the same. The problem with the current climate is that those refugees that come by boat are demonised. The Australian public are fed so much misinformation about these refugees, that they are no longer recognised as people.
John Lennon once invited us to ‘imagine’. What I want you to imagine is that everyone on the face of the earth, sees every other person on the face of the earth, as just that. A person. An individual with their own unique personality. Their own personal strengths and flaws. When we start seeing people as people, we stop seeing them as ‘other’, and different, and wrong. Imagine a world where we see each other as potential friends to welcome into our lives, instead of enemies to close the door on. What has happened on Manus Island over the last 4 years, and especially the last 3 weeks makes me despair rather than hope. But I still imagine how it could be.