Tag Archives: asylum seekers

View from a bridge

The woman sees the man climb on to the bridge railing as she arcs down the sweeping bend towards the river. She pulls to the side of the road, calls 000.

She gets out of her car and approaches, carefully. Tells the man she wants to talk. More importantly, to listen to what he has to say.

The second car passing is driven by a ‘tradie’ on his way to work. He also halts mid-way across the bridge. Now two people entreat the man on the edge, trying desperately to connect with him.

Perhaps he is past listening. Bereft. Beyond hope of help or understanding. As the woman continues her heartfelt appeals he topples.

A third motorist, another tradesman, recognises his colleague’s ute and stops. He follows their gaze down from the bridge. Sees a person bob up from the dark green water below. No. No. No.

He’s not a confident swimmer but determines to sprint down to the water. Shed his work gear and plunge into the current. Do something, anything. The woman beseeches him not to, saying he will be dragged down and may also perish.

The man below bobs up again. Then, after an agonisingly long moment, a third time. The second tradesman runs to his car and returns with ropes to lower as a lifeline but they’re not long enough. The bridge is too high.

The man in the water doesn’t resurface.

Another car approaches. It jags to a halt and is abandoned in the middle of the tarmac. Minutes earlier, this distraught fourth driver found an envelope. He tore it open to find a statement of intent. A farewell from a friend.

The letter writer had an appointment with the Immigration Department on this day. A fortnight earlier his cousin’s application to remain in Australia was refused. The cousin was taken to the airport and put on a plane. Immediately, unwillingly, fearfully, forcefully returned to his country of origin.

The letter writer couldn’t, wouldn’t face that same possible fate.

The man’s death echoes through the lives of at least five families. Those who stopped on the bridge are left asking what might have been. Could they have said something different? What if the ropes were longer? What if they hadn’t lingered over a cuppa at breakfast? Seconds and centimetres might have made a difference.

And, leaking through the morass of unanswerable questions, comes a bilious realisation that sours with each hour. An awareness that the system failed this man and his loved ones.

The system that criminalises people for seeking sanctuary or refuge in a safe place.

The system that takes the desperate, despairing and traumatised and compounds their suffering, yet seemingly washes its hands of their welfare.

The system that incarcerates children.

The system that doesn’t specify time limits on detention (while in the justice system convicted killers and rapists get minimum sentences).

The system that is devastating the staff working within it.

The system administered by Australia. That means us.

Increments & inspirations

8765 hours, give or take. That’s how long it’s been since my 2012 Wrap. A year isn’t long when you think of it that way.

But context matters. Imagine if you were an asylum seeker detained in an Australian detention centre. Each arduously dull hour would become a feat of survival, not that you’d savour the achievement. Indefinite detention would slowly decay your soul, second by horrible second. Time would be torturously slow.

In a hospital the opposite can occur. There are wards where time is languid but there are theatres, cubicles and trollies where it gushes uncontrollably and is gone all too fast. Minutes or seconds can make the difference between life and death, miracle and misery.

Yes, I’ve had an unusual year. There were slow hours, express ones and some that went missing. There were sleepless nights, minutes that felt like hours and moments to savour.

I started 2013 as an editor within an enormous entity, perhaps the megalomaniac bull cousin of Patricia Piccinini’s incredible Skywhale. I departed with the nerves of a father and provider and the relief of a teenager who had just finished their exams.

I finish 2013 as an author, speaker and tutor. I’m deep into a YA speculative fiction manuscript that may be the first book in a series and certainly looks to be the longest work in my career to date. At present, and I take nothing for granted, the story feels strong and my confidence is unusually resilient. The story gains colour and vigour every day. Several other projects are unfurling like green shoots in our vegetable garden.

I’m also about to take my family on an international adventure and research mission. We’ll swap three weeks of summer for a foreign winter but the trip will add flavour to the recipe I’m mixing in my manuscript. I can’t wait.

So, with a plane to catch in a matter of days, I need to tidy up. Thunder Road tradition requires that I end the year listing favourite moments from books, television, music and film for 2013. Here are some highlights:

Art (new category): Having developed a keen interest in street art appearing around my city, I helped one enigmatic artist by pasting their work around town. Maybe 2014 will see me paste some of my own ideas! I also greatly enjoyed exhibitions by Meredith Squires, Ghostpatrol and TwoOne.

Film: I recommend Gravity (especially in 3D), Rust and Bone and Zero Dark Thirty. Aussie western Mystery Road also deserves a mention for the atmosphere it invoked.

Music: Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at Hanging Rock was one of the absolute high points of the year. Chet Faker has been on regular rotation in my car, along with Lana Del Ray and Johnny Cash. Watching Vika Bull play Etta James was excellent, too.

Reading: As per my previous post, I’m still immersed in George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. I’m late to the party on Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series but the voice(s) and concepts in book 1 were brilliant. Fiona Wood’s Wildlife, Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective and Chris Ware’s Building Stories were great. The People Smuggler: The True Story of Ali Al Jenabi, made me gasp. Wonder by RJ Palacio, made me cry.

Television: Breaking Bad (no spoilers, please, I’m still going); Broadchurch; Gruen (various series); Game of Thrones.

That’s pushing it for my already addled memory. Thank you to everyone who has shared the peaks, troughs and rollers of 2013. May your festive season be fun-filled and your new year deliver on hopes and dreams.

NB: Vale to Nelson Mandela today and Valeria, some weeks back. R.I.P.

It's been that sort of year.
It’s been that sort of year.