Unprepared but excited, my boyfriend and I set off from our new place to Belmore Park with an expectation of a sunny afternoon, a good march and maybe a trip to a gallery afterward. Not until we were on the train did the weather turn and I realised my t-shirt, shorts and thongs weren’t well thought-out. At Central we ignored the $20 umbrella hawkers, determined to get amongst the action, and what we found at Belmore Park was truly warming.
What I later found out was over 2,000 people gathered in the park, most representing groups – students, churches, communities – huddled together under umbrellas, discussing the day’s event, signing petitions and distributing pre-made signs. I was lucky enough to receive a sign from the Refugee Action Coalition, the group that organise many of the big events in the refugee rights calendar, including this one.
My feet were wet but I was ready. But first a line-up of distinguished speakers to hear, and as a prolific marcher, I have to say that the Refugee Action Coalition have outdone most of the other events I’ve been to over the years by hiring a really effective sound system. For the first time in my marching career I could hear perfectly the speeches and stories of all the speakers, and what they said broke my heart.
I could hear perfectly the speeches and stories of all the speakers, and what they said broke my heart.
First there was Jessica Walker, from the Queensland Teachers Union and a teacher at Yeronga High School. You might know the story of Mojgan, the Iranian girl who, over the past three years has joined the Yeronga HS community and has, in August last year, been forcibly removed from her friends and teachers to Darwin detention centre. Ms Walker told Mojgan’s story with compassion, anger and confidence, and it was truly moving. Her cause, the Free Mojgan Campaign, is a stark reminder that even after refugees have seemingly found asylum here in Australia, they can still be violently removed by security forces.
The tears didn’t stop there, as Joel Shakespeare, a former Save the Children worker on Nauru, took the stage. Joel risks his freedom under the Border Force Act by revealing what he has seen on Nauru. I cannot fault his eloquence and passion for the traumatised young people who, being separated from people of their own culture by security tape within Nauru cafeterias, are consistently attempting self harm and suicide due to their past trauma and current situation in detention.
Being Palm Sunday, many groups of faith were represented and some of their leaders were asked to speak. My personal favourite was Reverend Myung Hwa Park, a Korean Australian female reverend from the Uniting Church who spoke with the gravitas of a civil rights leader of the contributions immigrants and refugees can and do make to this country.
Before Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition rounded us up and started the chants, former Afghan refugee Shokufa Tahiri spoke of the pain her family suffered at the will of John Howard and Temporary Protection Visas when they fled to Australia by boat in the early 2000s. Now a law student, Shokufa was beautifully spoken and, although nervous, recited a poem by Somali poet Warsan Shire with perfect grace and feeling.
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
As we headed off down Broadway once again I was cheered to see so many people following behind, so many drivers beeping in support and so many compassionate comrades in my midst. Although it rained, the day was a huge success, and when I got home to soak my icy feet was glad to hear it reported on ABC radio. Apparently there were 2,000 people there.
To any and all in fear, pain and suffering, wherever you are in the world, there are people who are with you. You are not alone, we will keep fighting for your safety, health and wellbeing. Stay strong.
And finally, my innermost fear and problem with Australia’s policy was expressed perfectly on this sign from the RAC:
There can be no more bipartisan support of the cruel and anti-free-speech policies that are off-shore detention and the Border Force Act.