Jenny Bourne was a resident of Port Augusta who visited Baxter Detention Centre. She first became involved in asylum seeker issues in 2002 because she lived near Baxter when it was first built, and felt that she had to do something.
More information on Jennifer Bourne
- “Mandatory Detention and Temporary Protection – Petro Georgiou’s Private Member’s Bills – Myths and Facts”, Project SafeCom Inc, 2005, Seven myth-busters based on topical issues in 2005, prepared by Bourne and Corcoran.
- “Port Augusta mayor sees red over open door”, The Australian, 2010, Bourne is quoted in this article on housing arrangements for Afghan teenage asylum seekers in Port Augusta.
- “Fallout from Easter Protests”, The Wire, 2005, Bourne comments on the reactions of some refugees detained in Baxter Detention Centre to protests staged by activists.
Transcript of Interview
4 October 2006
Interview conducted by Kristy Sangster
MS SANGSTER My name is Kristy Sangster. Today’s date is 4th of October 2006. I’m conducting an interview with Jennifer Bourne, the interview is being conducted in Melbourne Victoria, Australia.
MS SANGSTER My name is Kristy Sangster. Today’s date is 4th of October 2006. I’m conducting an interview with Jennifer Bourne, the interview is being conducted in Melbourne Victoria, Australia.
MS BOURNE Okay, so I was very concerned about what was happening from what I heard on the media, the very little that was available on the media. I think the children overboard and the few media events about people arriving in boats weighed me and the stories that we were hearing about detention centres concerned me. So, the children overboard had to be a lie right from the start. I couldn’t believe that there was any truth to that and the timing of it appalled me and Peter Mayer’s(?) book came out and I remember being riveted to my seat in my car running late for work because I had to listen to this interview with him about his book and what was happening. So, I think that happened early in 2002 or late in 2001 I was hearing about the book and it was around Christmas time that I actually met some people at a barbeque, Christmas barbeque that had been employed to erect tents at Woomera and I was thinking my god how could anybody live in a tent, in Woomera, in Summer. You know, because I know that country, I worked in that country and it’s too hot in November and December let alone January and February to be living in a tent. I remember having a conversation with a pastoralist from that piece of land he lives near Woomera and he was saying yeah, but they’re out playing soccer in the sun you know, and I’m thinking yeah, well having a game of soccer’s one thing but sleeping, eating, drinking you know, everything in that temperature is just. So, it really concerned me that they were going to put apparently thousands of people in tents in Woomera in summer, I just couldn’t, I couldn’t fathom it. So, all of these things accumulated and then I was working with the wife of somebody who worked with INVS, the blood, the people that do blood testing and I’d heard that they were mostly middle eastern people and mostly male and mostly in their late 20’s and early 30’s. So, that was the first picture of who these people were that I had and you know, I was listening to you know, I’m an ABC radio national listener. So, if there was information out there I would know about it. So, all of this developed and I bought a house in Port Augusta in early 2002 and I was having some renovations done and I remember the pest spraying person coming out and saying how he had, this was about June maybe middle 2002, how he had been under all of the new dongers or transportable atco huts whatever you like to call them at Baxter and how they were arranged in these nine compounds and I thought so it’s a divide and conquer kind of set up. I was really concerned about the way that I was hearing about how Baxter was being built but I still didn’t know where it was. I knew it was near Port Augusta but I didn’t know where and because it was on the road to Whyalla unless you were travelling to and from Whyalla you wouldn’t see it until the lights went on and then everybody in Port Augusta knew where Baxter was.
MS SANGSTER Because they were so – – –
MS BOURNE So bright, brighter really than the power station and on the other side of the town from the power station, yeah. So, when they turned those lights on the impact on the town was measurable really you could feel it.
MS SANGSTER So, you just, all of a sudden the lights went on in the desert at night and – – –
MS BOURNE Yep and even driving, if you’re driving from Woomera say to Port Augusta they are brighter than the power station. You can you know, they’re there and that’s Baxter, yeah. It was just and all nearly all the coast line that I used to walk on down near the hospital where people live you can look across to Baxter and see the lights there and along the western side of the west side area of Port Augusta, friends of mine, a lot of friends of mine their backyards were lit up basically by Baxter. It’s 10 kilometres away but you know, it’s that presence, that bright presence it’s very bright, very bright. So, we knew where it was then that’s Baxter and you couldn’t avoid it everywhere you went you walk along the beach, along the wharf, go across the bridge there’s Baxter so, it was there. Getting involved I guess, human rights is something that has been part of my life because my mother’s involvement in Amnesty when I was a child, Amnesty International. She was a President of South Australian branch and it caused a lot of tension in our household because my father wasn’t a human rights advocate at all and my mother was. He was actually quite ashamed or threatened even by her involvement but also because it’s very depressing, it doesn’t end it keeps going on and on and I really, I just really felt that I didn’t need that in my life I just, but when base opened in Port Augusta how could one not get involved. I felt it was my obligation as a human being to support other people I couldn’t not get involved. It started with we have a book group in Port Augusta, group of friends of us we just share a book every now and again and we usually talk about cooking more than the book but one of the women was a local Chaplin for the Uniting Church and she was actually laid up in hospital at the time pending the birth of her next child and she received an email from a fellow Uniting Church Minister from Port Hedland who was coming to Port Augusta from Port Pirie in Whyalla to talk to the local church people about what this would mean in terms of their congregation. Because they would have 50 or 60 new members of their congregation arriving from, mostly from Curtain and she came down to meet with people and my friend her name was Tracey, sent an email to the people in the book group saying Bev Fab(?) the Minister from Port Hedland was coming down and would any of you like to be involved in what she’s got to say. So, I said yeah, I’ll be involved and so the next thing that happened was that the church co-ordinator from the Port Pirie church came up to visit me and said okay, here’s her time table when would you like to organise a meeting? And I’m there god, I said I’d go to a meeting not that I’d organise one and because I was working and it was the long weekend in October the only time was lunch on the Friday before the October long weekend. So, that’s exactly five years ago, no yeah, four years ago now. Okay, so we had this meeting and we decided to set up a RAR, Rural Australians for Refugees and we met fortnightly from then on and because I was (indistinct) enough to organise the meeting I became kind of the co-ordinator become chair of that group, meeting fortnightly for two years or something until I could not cope with it anymore. So, that was the beginning, yeah.
MS SANGSTER And so, you set this group up and then you decided to start visiting?
MS BOURNE Visiting, well I think for the first few tasks and Bev was clear that the first thing we needed to do was establish who was in there. What were their names and their identification numbers they were given by the detention system and any other information we could collect like what country they were from, what their legal status was and their religion was often quite important. Yeah, so we started a database spread sheet of all of that information. We were fortunate to have at least one internal list fall off the back of a truck to get it started, help us fill in the gaps and then having that information you had to have a name and a number to contact somebody in the detention centre. So, when we had their names and their identification numbers then people could visit them. One of Australia’s refugees had a central data base that they were keeping, that one of the (Indistinct) people kept one and he had a list of all the people in every detention centre and this was very handy so that when people were moved between detention centres we could keep track of where these people were. It was essential to know where people were because then they couldn’t disappear off the face of the earth. If they were deported or being deported we would know their number, their name, their country maybe their lawyer, key contact person and then things could go into action. Then we can contact lawyers, get injunctions done, do whatever we needed to try and protect them from deportation if it was necessary or if they wanted it, yeah so that was the first job. The other thing that we did in that list was try work out what people wanted or needed and that became too cumbersome but one the things was I actually met a lady the other night, at the wedding and she said they needed, they wanted soft cuddly toys. Well, one of the first things that arrived was like three boxes, she said two, two huge boxes of soft toys and we had 300 men basically in detention ‘well, what are we going to do with all of these toys’. We quite literally sent every single person two soft toys, it was kind of like yeah, but people seem to think that often people like that when they’re feeling traumatised.
MS SANGSTER Right.
MS BOURNE And I know at least one guy that came out with his big gorilla so, he’s still got it. I think the others might have put them in the bin.
MS SANGSTER Right.
MS BOURNE But it’s like what do we want this for but really simple things like clothes. Then the things that weren’t permitted like mobile phones but things they were permitted like computers. A lot of people wanted computers, dictionaries, writing materials but they also earned “money”. So, people would have their jobs and they got $1 an hour for their jobs as I’m told by one of my friends the Australian version of slave labour and with those points that they earned they could buy things through little shops. So, they could buy better quality soap than the soap that they were issued which didn’t seem to lather and shampoo and cigarettes and whatever they wanted, dates. They could buy some dried fruit and nuts and chips and coke and you know, that sort of stuff, yeah but later one of the stories that I think is great is that when they were in Port Hedland, in Curtain I mean different jobs had different numbers of points. So, the person that cleaned the toilets got you know, whatever 10 points for doing that and the person that did the translating or went to the meetings got more points and the person that did this got less points and the person that did that got more points. Whatever it was and the issuing of the jobs, the DIMIA manager at the time decided who got which jobs and how many points they got for it and he used it as a tool to manipulate people. So, people would become, their lifestyles would become dependent on the number of points that they got of course. You know, their smoking habit or their whatever and he tried to take jobs away from some people and give them to other people and so what they decided to do was go on strike. So, they had their, this was in Baxter they had their Baxter strike and all their rubbish because all the cups, plates, cutlery, paper napkins everything was disposable, absolutely everything was disposable. I’ve got no idea how much plastic went into landfill in Port Augusta from that place. It was huge quantities because they were very liberal with the way they used it as well, they were conservative at all about how they used their plastic ware it was like use it once and chuck it out. Use two cups to drink a cup of tea and what have you, chuck it out and don’t reuse them, always get a new one, and um, so all of this went out into the compound, all of this rubbish went out into the compound, and they used to laugh about how it was one foot deep, you know, it was like this deep, all the rubbish in the compound, and um, they had to pay for cleaners to come in and they did that once and then they realised that they had to negotiate, so they negotiated equal pay, so everybody then got I think was 56 points which I think was equivalent of 56 dollars a week unless they worked in the kitchen which was harder work and longer hours and they got 63 or something like that, and the cooks tried to go on strike once because they thought that was unfair, it wasn’t a suitable enough difference, but um, there were plenty enough other people that wanted the job, yeah, in the early days working in the kitchen was seen as um really as therapy because you were busy and you had something to do and it kept your mind off the waiting and the pressure you were under so it was often used as you know, people that were really distressed were offered, you know people would give up their jobs for people, in the, to work in the kitchen, to, not a lot, it happened a few times you know, it was see the social worker, work out you can get a job in the kitchen and that will help you.
MS SANGSTER Right.
MS BOURNE A job in the kitchen was highly prized.
MS SANGSTER Yes. So you, once you had that list and worked out what people needed, and at what point did you start actually going out there and…
MS BOURNE Um, my first visit was late in October and at that time we didn’t have the list, we had a short list of about 15 or 20 people from ChilOut so we didn’t have a lot of names but shortly after that the magic list arrived, the one that fell off the truck and the information from Rah in Bellingen arrived and then we started the information sharing, I think they were reluctant to just hand over a list of people, I mean that’s kind of, you have to trust because it’s confidential information, especially stuff about religion and what have you, you wouldn’t want that to go far and wide so there needed to be a certain level of confidentiality but at the same time people couldn’t get a visitor unless their name and number was not, and it’s important to realise that the way this started out, the freedom bus that went around at Christmas 2001, when they went up to Curtain people threw their names out over the fence on pieces of paper, their names and numbers or just their numbers, here’s my name and number, and that’s how the list started.
MS SANGSTER Wow.
MS SANGSTER Right, and the section 417 was?
MS BOURNE Um, oh my goodness, section 417 was the minister’s discretion, the minister can use her, there’s the section 417 and a section 41(8)(b), remind me, a 48(b) was new information I think, so for instance if the person became a Christian or if something happened to a particular group of people like the Ahvazies(?)a lot of the guys here are Arab from Ahvaz in Southern Iran, and the Iranian government, late in, early in 2005 or late 2004, they basically cut off the water supply, the power, telephone, everything to Ahvaz and over 200 people were disappeared and another 200 were killed and so that new information about the pressure put on the Arab people from Ahvaz in Iran constitutes a section 48(b)and a 417 is a please use your discretion, grant this person a visa. Yeah.
MS SANGSTER Right. So can you remember the first day you went to the detention centre?
MS BOURNE I can. I was terrified, I don’t like going into claustrophobic, going into a prison doesn’t appeal to me at all, even though I know I can leave again, it was just the structure, the everything really, I hated it, I have to sort of almost hold my breath to get myself in there and hold my breath to get myself out of there and I could not get out of the place fast enough, for nearly 3 years I did that. In the early days in Baxter the fire people had come and assessed the visitor centre and they had decided that it wasn’t safe, if there was a fire there, that there was limited opportunity for people to get out and so they had decided that only 15 people could be in this centre at any one time and that included security, the guards, the detention officers of which there was 2, so there was only allowed to be 13 visitors at a time and at that stage we weren’t allowed to take in anything. Not a pen, not a piece of paper, not any food, nothing. They had tea and coffee facilities, they had a coke machine and a, you know, I think might have been chips and stuff, couple of those machines but we weren’t allowed to take in any money to buy anything, so there just to annoy people I think. And um so was very difficult it had no ice breaker, it had lots of language problems and a lot of time to fill, so, and the space was quite large, and there were only a few people there. And yeah, it’s very hard. I went with a friend who had travelled through the Middle East so she knew a lot more than me, I really, I knew Iran and Iraq existed, I knew Afghanistan existed, I was interested but I knew nothing else really.
MS SANGSTER So what would happen when you actually went in? Would you get – – –
MS BOURNE Oh, getting into Baxter was, we called it the gates of hell, in the early days you had to, you’d push a button on the outside and you’d wait for them to say whatever it is, pleasantries, “Good afternoon, Baxter IDF, how can I help you” sort of thing and you’d say “I’ve come to visit” and you’d have to give your name I think and then they would, the door would buzz and you would push it open, this great big heavy mesh gate and you’d walk through a wire tunnel, it was, I don’t know, maybe 2 meters wide but it was all enclosed up to a door and you’d push another buzzer, sometimes later on they’d open it for you, before you, as you got there, you didn’t have to push it but sometimes you had to push it and wait again, and then you went into a little transportable hut, it had a little counter and the security equipment you see at an airport basically, a conveyer belt for your things which we weren’t allowed to take in to begin with, and um the metal detector, and then they’d run the wand over you as well. And you’d have to sign your name in and you’d have to give 3 pieces of I.D. each time, you had to put down your numbers all over again, I almost got to know them off by heart, and other people did but I refused to learn them off by heart. So you fill in all this paperwork and then you had to sign in again and that’s the same paperwork you’d faxed in 2 days beforehand or 3 days or 4 days beforehand, whatever, then you put your whatever, your I.D. and your car keys in a locker and the only thing you took in with you was your locker key and then you got wanded and then you waited by another gate in a cage and then when you were all there together the officer would push the button, look at the camera and they’d let him through with us and you’d walk across, might even be, might be 50 meters, maybe less, across to another door, you push another button, went into a little office and then another door and you went into a little, a really small space, a little corridor, less than a meter wide and maybe, maybe 2 and a half meters long, with no windows, eventually they put an exhaust fan in there, very claustrophobic, and they’d make you all get into there sometimes, totally crowded, later in the piece, sometimes there’d be 20 people squashed in there, it was worse than a lift cause it was so narrow. Then you go through another door and you’re in the visitor centre. I think it’s 6 doors, you go through, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, yeah, 6 electronic doors, and then in there, there was, it was a couple of transportables put together, a little kitchen area, male and female toilets, reasonable sized space, they held their church services in there later, earlier the church was, had run in a compound but there had been an incident, so that they observed, the ministers were in there when this incident happened, so then they decided well we can’t have incidents and church running together so they moved church into the visitors centre and then one visit session got closed for church and that was huge uprising over that. And there was an outside area outside the visitors centre, kind of a compound area which had corrugated iron and then a curved veranda and a shade area inside with play equipment underneath it. Yeah. It was very interesting, the sorts of criticisms that were raised about places like Curtain and Port Hedland and Woomera(?) about the lack of play equipment, and the lack of grass, and the lack of this and that, all of those were addressed in Baxter so therefore Baxter was perfect you see.
MS SANGSTER Right.
MS BOURNE Because they had addressed all of these concerns, every compound had play equipment, whether or not there were children let alone children that were mentally well enough to play on them. Yeah.
MS SANGSTER So in the visitors room there was just a table?
MS BOURNE Tables and chairs, plastic table, no no trestle tables and chairs, and tea and coffee and a water machine that disappeared later that was meant to have cool drink and cordial in it. And um, originally they used to provide plates and knives and forks and pepper and salt when were allowed to take in food, all of that was provided, but then that, when GSL took over, that was one of the cost cutting measures, so then the guys just smuggled them from the compound, putting on a big coat on a hot day, taking some plates and knives and forks and yeah. They wanted to contribute. It was like they didn’t want to be always given to, there needed to be some giving back. So that was their opportunity to give back.
MS SANGSTER So on that first day who did you actually meet?
MS BOURNE Um, Rafiq, Rosita, um Hossain and Hassan. Yeah, so yeah, and really Rafiq was, Rafiq and Rosita had enough English to have a conversation but I went also with a friend and she was sort of sitting on the side of the circle with Rafiq and I was sitting on the side of the circle with Hossain and Hassan and I had much more trouble, their English wasn’t so good on that first day. Yeah.
MS SANGSTER And what was the sort of response, were they, were they happy you were there, or?
MS BOURNE I think so, I mean, I think, I’ve missed a step in all of this. The second freedom bus came through Port Augusta and I was in the throws of renovating my house a friend phoned me up, I was really exhausted, she phoned me up, I think I may have even been in my pyjamas, I was just, I had it for the day, she said to me, “Are you going to this refugee meeting tonight?” and I’m there “which refugee meeting?” and she said “at tafe at 7.30” or whatever time it was, I went oh okay better go, so I went to that meeting and um I left my name there with those people, and some of them were associated with ChilOut I think and Rank(?) perhaps, in Victoria, and one of those people phoned me and said could she give my name and number to a friend of hers that was coming down from Curtain. I said oh yeah, okay, so that was Rafiq, and then when he arrived in Baxter he phoned me, and said, introduced himself, and I said would you like me to come and visit and he said yes, so then I had his name and his number and he gave me the names of some other people cause we could visit 4 people. So I chose Rosita and he gave me Hassan and Hossain just came because Hassan was blind and Hossain was his guide and support person, so yeah, they came together so that’s how I met Hossain, cheeky Hossain, yeah.
MS SANGSTER And how long had they already been in detention?
MS BOURNE Um, Rafiq was the most, he 3 years at least by that stage, nearly 3 years in October, and yeah really close to 3 years, and the others were a bit less, 2 and a half or, yeah. So they’d already been in detention a long time and I think what really gripped me was how gracious they were and how polite, and as time progressed, as that 2 and a half years that I was visiting progressed, how that, how they became to really not to care anymore, their dress standards dropped, their graciousness and politeness dropped away and, and I could really see it that it was a real loss of dignity, how it was put to me, you know, we have no dignity left. And you could actually watch it happening over that time.
MS SANGSTER So their dress, their appearance and —
MS BOURNE Yeah, I mean they were never very untidy, but you could see that it, it was done with less care, less self-esteem, yeah, it’s hard to, you could see it though, the way they walk, their head wasn’t so high, yeah, everything.
MS SANGSTER So you would visit once a week, or?
MS BOURNE I’ll never forget saying to Hossain’s now wife, Linda, she said “how often do you think you’ll visit?” and I said “oh well I just got my new house and my new garden and I really want to do my gardening, I think I’ll go maybe once every three weeks” and by the time they all left I was going 3 times a week. Yeah, so fairly quickly, I think it went to once a week, and um, then we had daylight saving and they had more evening visits and so it was more possible cause I worked, yeah.
MS SANGSTER So that first visit really was, stirred you or?
MS BOURNE I remember saying, I can’t hardly remember, but I can remember, I can remember how disorienting it was, and yeah very disturbing, very disturbing, but like the guys that were detained, you block it out, you know, you kind of, you can’t focus on how it affects you, or you couldn’t keep doing it, but I do remember saying to people, especially people that came in the first time, they’d be really upset, people would leave crying, and they’d be coming back the next day, and I’d say by the third visit you’ll know what to do, you know, but um, and you had to learn not to take your anger out on the officers, you know for them it was just a job, and probably they didn’t choice, you know if you were on Centrelink in Port Augusta and there was a job for you at Baxter, what choice did you have, or you need money and you lived in Port Augusta. So you know they were, they were captive to the system, though some of them were terribly cruel, some of them tried their best, and so there was, and upsetting the officers that did the visit was really, I really had to pull people aside and say look, not now, not him, or her because you know they’re just doing their job, and they have to do this job, so what you need to do is attack the system some other time, here you focus on visiting the people inside. And whether that becomes complicit to make it or work or not, I mean there always less tensions, you know the protests meant that the visits couldn’t happen, the protests raised profile but the one person who drops his dacks ruins the whole protest, for everybody, the guys inside didn’t want somebody representing them who drops their pants, you know, they would never do that, that’s their worst enemy, so I know, I don’t know, all of those tensions and one person put it to me everybody that’s involved is involved at a different level, some people will be knitting teddy bears and there will be other people planning and assisting with escape and there’s everybody in between and I met them all. I met them all. Yeah.
MS SANGSTER So, after that, after that sort of first visit, um did Rafiq and the others ask you to bring things or did they —
MS BOURNE We weren’t allowed to, to begin with.
MS SANGSTER Still?
MS BOURNE And I can’t remember how it happened, I think somebody wanted to bring in a cake and then we had some meetings IDAC, the Immigration Detention Advisory Committee came and I think we had the opportunity to raise it there and then DIMIA, a manager, a notorious and a man who has a reputation beyond his name of Greg Wallace, um, I think at that point he said “Yes, yes you can take in food” and so then the food started, and he had to tell ACIM people were allowed to bring in food. So you know, we had to continue to apply pressure. At one point we argued that if the coke machine was there then surely we should be able to buy something with it. But you’re not allowed to take in money, I said okay, if I give you my 2 dollars or my 6 dollars, I think I took in 10 dollars worth of change, 2 dollar coins, I give it to you and then when we get in you give it to me and then I can buy the drinks. But at the time I got around to doing that it was Ramadan. So I didn’t get drunk anyway.
MS SANGSTER So you bought 10 cokes?
MS BOURNE I can’t remember what I bought. I bought a few soft drinks.
MS SANGSTER Right.
MS BOURNE But the point is; it’s not that anybody really cared. I don’t drink soft drink half the time anyway, and the other guys didn’t drink it, the people who were Muslim didn’t drink it. The point was if you’re going to have the machine there, then we have to have the money to put into it. You can’t put a machine there and note let us have anything out of it. It’s like, what is this? Yeah, so it was, it was all a game you know. It was a horrible game, it’s not a fun game at all, it was a sickening game it made me feel sick. But it’s kind of like you have to keep applying this pressure. Yeah.
MS SANGSTER And it got easier to know what to, how to talk to the guys and everything?
MS BOURNE Oh yeah, um, the people that I visited didn’t talk their problems or their difficulties. Um, occasionally Rafiq would bring someone different out, you know say “Jenny please put this person’s name down to visit him” because he wanted that person to get some help and that person to build some trust with me so that I could organise for him a migration agent or whatever they needed to get their process under way, but usually it was just mucking around stuff you know, trying to be light hearted and, and I got frustrated because other people were hearing all the stories about what was really happening and who’d broken something and who’d done this and I might get a little, you know, I might get two sentences, but I didn’t want to go into that stuff in detail. But I remember having to smuggle out the maggot meals when the maggots appeared the food, that was smuggled out so that the evidence could be given to a minister of parliament and tested to prove that they were maggots and um things like that, so yeah.
MS SANGSTER so there was actually —
MS BOURNE Oh yeah, it was well known. Anybody that trained in that army camp as an army person, cause Baxter was an army camp too, knows that in this part of the season, September/ October in particular, knows that the blowflies are dreadful and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with blowflies and, and blowen food. And um, my understanding was that the bain-marie was under the electric um, insect zapper so the blowflies would get zapped and drop there maggots into the bain-marie. That’s my understanding, but I’ve never really been able to clarify it, and really it is a matter of moving one or the other, you know, and closing the bain-marie, surly, so yeah.
MS SANGSTER So you smuggled out dishes?
MS BOURNE The food was smuggled out, yeah, yeah. Some of the others smuggled out a whole plate of food and took a photograph of it, this is a Baxter meal, look at it, you know. It was pretty… I think it was designed to be boring. Somebody else told me that the kitchen, one of the kitchen managers used to sell all the good food, or give it to other officers to take home, so they got you know, the chicken and the good broccoli and all of that and the stuff that was on the verge of going off was left for the detainees and that’s how he made a profit, he made extra money on the side by on selling the food, yeah all sorts of things happened. You know, as long as ya. A million stories out of Baxter, you know we could, yeah. What’s that new TV series? Patrol, the patrol boats series, I think we should have a detention inside detention series, just to sort of balance things out a bit. Oh it just went on and on. I remember Rafiq telling this story that when they were in Curtain they got quite good quality fruit and they two or three pieces of fruit a day. Once they got to Baxter they’d get, you know, bananas that were always off um, and he talks about these oranges that were really hard on the outside and they were inedible oranges, and to have inedible oranges is pretty difficult, you have to keep oranges for a very long time for them to go off, you know, and so they had these bad oranges and so they had a complaints box and envelopes and they put the oranges in the envelopes and addressed one to the DIMIA manager and one to the, I think it was ACIM at the time, the ACIM manager and they came to him and asked him you know, “what’s going on Rafiq? What’s this?” And he said this is food “please take it to you family to eat, share it with you family” you know, so.
MS SANGSTER So what would, what did the guys sort of say they would do when you weren’t visiting?
MS BOURNE Um, um they slept a lot. I think one thing I notice was when they first arrived, they used to go to bed around 1 o’clock, and by the time they got out they used to go to bed around 6 or 7am. So progressively they got more and more depressed so that they couldn’t sleep at night and they do the headcount at those sorts of times, where they’d get woken up anyway, so they’d get woken up at about 6am for a headcount, so there was no point in going to sleep until after 6am anyway. So you know, the whole system is, well really it’s torture in my view, doing that sort of thing, there’s no chance of them getting out, though a couple did, that was very funny.
MS SANGSTER They escaped from Baxter?
MS BOURNE Mm, very early in the piece, two people escaped. They um, they used woollen jumpers and bubble wrap I think, and I’m not really sure how they did it. Something about a laundry window and a wheelie bin and they climbed the fences, they climbed, and they walked to almost port Augusta. But that night, all the ministers of the church, a whole heap of them, and the nuns got raided at 4am looking for these guys and they were walking down the road, you know, they didn’t know where to go. And why did they do it? Just to prove they could. You know, you can’t actually keep us in. we are here because we have to be here, not because you can keep us in, you know.
MS SANGSTER So they do headcounts at 6 in the morning?
MS BOURNE Yeah, I can’t remember, they did them at those sorts of hours, like at midnight and 6am in the morning.
MS SANGSTER And they’d come in and tap them on the shoulder?
MS BOURNE Yeah basically, make sure that they were there. Knock on the door until they got a response, or yeah.
MS SANGSTER So they all decided, they just, as they became more depressed they – —
MS BOURNE Yeah, didn’t sleep at night and wouldn’t go, wouldn’t really go to sleep until after that headcount in the morning, yeah. Yeah, I mean, I mean those guys can tell the stories better than me if they’re game enough, but um, um what were we talking about? ???
MS SANGSTER Sorry, just wondering, as you started visiting like you began visiting and then you visited more frequently, and eventually you were allowed to bring things in?
MS BOURNE Yeah, I used to take a huge basket and I’ve still got it. It’s one of those, I got it from a community at board shop, it’s a big, can’t remember where they’re from, but it’s quite a big basket and that was my Baxter bag and that had in it the, when, when GSL took over, they didn’t provide the plastic plates and the plastic knives and forks, you had to provide your own so that had all that in there and the salt cause Iranians and Middle Eastern people have lots of salt in their food so that was a compulsory part of my kit and my little notebook because by that stage we weren’t allowed to take in um, paper and pen as well and um yeah I used to take in, to begin yes, I’d ask them what they wanted and they wanted things like fruit and pickles and little bits of that would get bundled up in whatever was available, but eventually I started bringing in spare plastic bags so that they had something to bundle it up in and take it back so they had pickles to eat with their meal because that was part of their diet to eat vegetable pickles in their meal. Um, and then I started cooking, this is when life got very time consuming, because I bought myself and Persian cookbook and I started cooking, and the first time I cooked the favourite dish, gourmet sabzi, I got 10 out of 100. And the reason, well I didn’t cook it on my own, I had some help, I was kind of coming and going from work but the main reason was there wasn’t enough salt in it and I think that we completely omitted the salt in good old Australian health food, healthy food style but not it really should have a handsome delivery of salt in the pot while it is being cooked so yeah, I got better at that.
MS SANGSTER So you sort of come home from work cook up a big —
MS BOURNE No, usually it was Sunday I’d take in that sort of stuff. On an evening I might take in nuts and fruit or yeah, almonds and pistachios and some fresh fruit. Yeah.
MS SANGSTER So you do all this cooking —
MS BOURNE On a weekend I’d often take in a meal, yeah.
MS SANGSTER So, emotionally obviously for yourself more and more —
MS BOURNE Well, between getting up in the morning, checking the email, responding to all the emails relating to what’s going on, the latest trauma, the person that is depressed, the person that is suicidal, the person who’s just eaten glass or plain old what’s happened to this person, where have they gone, you know so there would be emails about that, there might be phone calls to return, there might be faxes to send, come home at lunch time do more of that, maybe put together the food for the evening, come home after work, um, usually I’d quickly change clothes and often I didn’t have time, just pick up the bag, chuck in a few things and race out the door because visit was at 6
MS SANGSTER So there wasn’t, there was not much time, basically everything was —
MS BOURNE The evening visits were shorter there were only 2 and a half hours so by the time it would take you half an hour to get in there and the clock on the computer in there, in the book in centre, was a head of the clock in the visit centre so they’d push up out at quarter too instead of, I told them, I said “that clocks wrong” and they’d said “but that’s not clocks we’re going by”. I’m thinking you, you know, oh on it goes, on it goes. I think the other thing is that in the beginning early in the days the guys used to clean up, that place was ??? and towards the end, talking about dress and all that, towards the end, yeah, very much less care was taken about the environment. There were all these sort of little bits to the pie of how everybody was going really backwards.
MS SANGSTER Right, and that’s —
MS BOURNE And sleeping in and not being able to get to a visit even in the afternoon, an afternoon visit people would have to wake up deliberately. You know, yeah.
MS SANGSTER So they’d have too —
MS BOURNE They’d be getting up, in fact, a visit that started at, when do they visit? I think they started at 1 or was it 2? People would be getting up, you know.
MS SANGSTER And it would be an effort for them to actually get to the appointment?
MS BOURNE Yeah, oh yeah. Sometimes they didn’t want to do it, sometimes they didn’t do it. I think um,
MS SANGSTER And would Rafiq, did he manage to come? Or
MS BOURNE No, sometimes he’d be really late, and that would really annoy me cause I’d rush like anything to get there on time and then I’d be sitting there for an hour or more, that was really annoying. Really really annoying. Well he didn’t come because he was sick, that’s okay you’re allowed to stay in bed if you’re sick. Um, there were two weeks fairly early in the piece; a whole two weeks were he didn’t speak. He just said “I’m really really tired, I’m not going to talk” because he was a translator for most people he just said “I’m too tired” and for two weeks I had no translator, so.
MS SANGSTER He came and just sat there?
MS BOURNE He came and sat there yeah, yeah.
MS SANGSTER And how long had they already been in detention again? From when you —
MS BOURNE Most of them had been there nearly three years when I met them. Two and a half to three years when I started. And then when they got out it was between 5 and a half and six years. Mm.
MS SANGSTER And you’d seen them for almost half that time.
MS BOURNE Yeah, yeah, two and a half years. Yeah.
MS SANGSTER And so you just found yourself more and more —
MS BOURNE Actually it was September 2002 until August 2003 so it was going on two years, it’s enough.
MS SANGSTER It’s a long time. And you just found yourself more and more emotionally draining —
MS BOURNE Oh me? I was a wreck, I, I burnt out, I got depressed, I wasn’t sleeping, I was having migraines almost weekly, um, I don’t know I was, it was in that overdrive, beside myself, only just coping frame for at least three quarters of that time. It was just, in about August; it was August 2002 they tried to do, August 2002? They were going to depot about 15 people and we heard about it, I don’t know how we heard about it, but we heard about it and these people were put into vans but there was, for some reason or another there was a bit of leave time and there was a group called um, the anti-deportation, what was it called? NADA or something? A group of people, a big network, and they were organised to stop these deportations. So there were all these little networks that were doing a little bit of the pie so you know, you get onto their hotline and say “we’ve heard this is going to happen” and a whole group of them came up and they had binoculars and ?? and they were watching the gates of hell and watching for these vans to come out and they took them to the police cells and in those police cells they put pressure on them to sign because when you were being returned, not deported you were being returned. You got um, $2000.00 to take home with you and, if you signed. But if you didn’t sign you didn’t get the money and you didn’t get the support to go back. So this was a, and they were taken to the police cells and given, put under pressure to sign. In the end I think one of those people was deported, but it was a weekend of hell. You would not believe it, three phones going, and fax machines going and a group of people on the internet searching for case notes to send to lawyers and groups of lawyers all over the place trying to organise injunctions and non refoulement documentation, um, yeah. And most of those people are now, have got temp protection visas.
MS SANGSTER So what sort of pressure were they under?
MS BOURNE Oh, I haven’t been told a personal story about that, but there were held in those cells for a couple of hours and threatened and yeah.
MS SANGSTER So by this state you were basically – – –
MS BOURNE That weekend, none of us thought that we could survive that again and unfortunately on that scale and at that level we didn’t have to, but that was just the weekend that, it was huge pressure, huge pressure. You know, so, the thing that saved us, telling trade secrets here, the thing that saved us was the time lag between South Australia and Perth. And the fact that, that gave us an extra couple of hours to get paper work done, effectively and then the delays between flights. But they had this um, I wish I could remember what they were called, NADA I think, had people watching the airports and watch flights and see who got on and, if a plane was leaving Port Augusta we’d be able to contact somebody who worked at the airport and find out which way the plane was going, you know all of these sorts of things. Yeah, well I mean it all took time to learn and to get the contacts but yeah, we could say you know, “where is that plane going” or you’d be there watching see which way it would go and we’d be saying “I think it’s going to Sydney, or at least Sydney or Melbourne, it’s going that way, or its going to Perth” yeah. But then with Abackdiaris(?) what did they do, they did at it 10 passed midnight. Masuma was in Baxter with her father and I think they had a good relationship as daughter and father, and he, she was a beautiful little girl, just, well is, she’s still alive of course, just a beautiful little girl. In Iran, whether you like it or not, in Iran children are the property of the father, and when there is separation the children are assumed to go with the father, sometimes they don’t, so I think he and his wife were divorced, not as sure of the details and he had come to Australia and I’m not sure, I don’t know his claim to Asylum either, but he, some of the people, their frustration showed in ways that, or they played out their frustration in ways that were perhaps less sensible than the ways other people did, and he didn’t tend to, he did some things that really provoked officers, I think. So he got put in management and separated from his child, and the first time that happened his child ended up in child protection with a family, I think in Port Augusta or Port Pirie somewhere nearby and I thing subsequently they had some sort of care for her in Baxter in this particular incident happened, so he was in, I’m not sure that we wasn’t even provoked in to being frustrated and put into management, probably happened, that sort of thing happened.
MS SANGSTER What is management?
MS BOURNE Management, management is like isolation, it’s…they called it spin effects in the early days, I don’t know why. Each of the cells had like, there’s was red gum and blue gum and white gum I think they were called, but they got ended up being called red, blue and white. Outcome I think but management was called spin effects. But yeah but there were isolation cells and they had no privacy screens so there was toilet and I’m not sure about a shower and a bed in a corner and it was just a square room with a camera in the middle, a 360 camera in the middle and the officers could watch them doing everything so, and I don’t know that they even had a window but yeah.
MS SANGSTER Right.
MS BOURNE So people got put in isolation. And often it was the people that were most mentally sick that got put in isolation. I think in this case, this case was similar, this man was very distressed and he was getting ready, they’d had made an arrangement he could see his daughter at 4 o’clock in the visiting centre which was after visits closed for that, each day, and he was getting ready on the second or third of whatever day to go and see his daughter in the visiting centre and they said “no, don’t bother, she’s Iran” and in the lead up to that what had happened was that she was calling her mother from the DIMIA office once a week and that way they were able to contact the mother and attained that of course she wanted her daughter back, and they basically took her one morning to Iran without his knowledge while he was in isolation.
MS SANGSTER Deported.
MS BOURNE Yep, and that meant that their problem of having a daughter and a father to put in the housing project was solved. This is the way I see it. It’s one thing, you know apart from the fact that they were cruel, deliberately cruel, they were serving up the housing project in Port Augusta and that was only for women and children and boys under 14 only. And to have a father with a daughter complicated that arrangement. Mm.
MS SANGSTER And you don’t, you don’t know if the daughter’s at home or?
MS BOURNE Oh yeah, the daughter’s home and with her mother, and he’s in contact with her I think.
MS SANGSTER Yeah.
MS BOURNE But what hadn’t been, what hadn’t been reckoned on was the impact that that would have on the school that she attended in Port Augusta. School had a little of forewarning, they knew the night before but the kids didn’t, the school kids didn’t, so when the Baxter children arrived on their bus they just ran off the bus and “Masuma has been taken, Masuma has been taken” and the whole school was shocked, incredibly shocked you know, there was a kidnapping, and not long before that we had two deaths one weekend in Port Augusta of two teenage boys one was digging bottles into a sand hill with his father and the sand hill collapsed and he suffocated and the other was some kids stole a car and crashed it and one of the boys died, and the whole town was in shock, one was Aboriginal and one was non-Aboriginal and the whole town went into shock over those two deaths that weekend, every school that those kids went to had a counsellor, there were big services and mourning and it was all coped with, you know, all the processes were in place but when Masuma was taken there was nothing and the whole school was in shock, she was a lovely, is, no doubt still is, a lovely person. Yeah, that sort of thing happened all the time.
MS SANGSTER Just deliberate?
MS BOURNE Well, I mean when people got out you know, there visa would normally before 5pm, and because people knocked off, DIMIA knocked off all paper work blah blah blah, generally when people were released from Baxter they had less than two hours to get themselves ready. To pack their bags, to say goodbye, to have a shower and a shave, to get dressed, to go and do the paperwork, that was all they had, and they could only say goodbye to the friends that were in the same compound as they were. They’d be taken to a hotel in Port Augusta and put on a bus the next morning, now later in the piece we worked out the system, and the person at the motel would say “they’ve booked 5 rooms tonight” and so we’d know if we turned up there at about 5.30 or 6 o’clock there’d be at least 5 people there that have been released that we could take out for dinner, have a drink with and say goodbye to. But before that there was no closure for the people that visited them locally so you know, there was very little opportunity to say goodbye. And we might not see them again unless we travel to Sydney or Perth or Melbourne. Yeah, I mean they wouldn’t, I said Sydney but that, Sydney’s actually not true. Because people weren’t allowed, because of all the places that people could opt to go when they left, Sydney was not one of them. Sydney, they could go to Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane I think, Canberra but not Sydney.
MS SANGSTER Interesting.
MS BOURNE Yeah it’s very interesting. And of course all the Mandaeans go to Sydney cause that’s where the community is. Now I have to ask you to pause because. Because
MS SANGSTER Some people would just arrive at the detention centre to visit someone and they weren’t there?
MS BOURNE That happened a bit certainly, and some people would come from long, long distances and find that they weren’t there. Often people would write letters and get letters back, return to sender with no explanation, or make phone calls and make phone calls and make phone calls and not know what’s going on, so that’s where our list came in really important, because people could then contact Rahn in Port Augusta or, and we could say “oh, that person’s been released or gone back home” or whatever. Yeah, as time progressed I think in the pre Baxter days there was a lot of letter writing and contact by phone and letter, (inaudible) but once people got to Baxter, it was, it was almost achievable to visit and a lot of people did. People came from, we had people come from Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, some people came from Melbourne monthly, there were a group of the Baxter mums that came from Queenscliff, Geelong area, they came monthly in to see their people in Baxter, and it let to what could be called as ‘Baxter tourism’. In Port Augusta the caravan parked boomed, they made a fortune out of it, and so did some of the hotels and the places to eat out, in terms of the economy Baxter had a huge impact of Port Augusta, not just in terms of jobs for people employed in the centre. So it really did you know, you’d get no complaints from business about the detention centre because they all did really really well, all the trades did really really well that, council complained about it, they wanted to use council swimming pool and the library and, and sections of the council wouldn’t approve that, it did in the end get approved but big hullabaloo was made about all these people “these people using our swimming pool”. Yeah.
MS SANGSTER So that was, so it’s a big enough social movement that it changed.
MS BOURNE Council actions, it was more than that, they changed the system from having wards to a not ward system and that changed the made up of council in Port Augusta, and I think we had more intelligent people I think from that point on in my opinion. Yeah and I think also that the spokesperson the mayor tendered to say what she thought rather than what council had agreed a bit, so some of the stuff that came out was not necessarily the agreed position of council.
MS SANGSTER And the detention centre had a big impact on Port Augusta?
MS BOURNE Yeah it had a huge impact. It had an impact on, no long before Baxter opened, maybe, I might be wrong there, when did I move there? And about in the late 90’s, over 400 people lost their job overnight when the railways were privatised, and there was big slump right up until the beginning of 2002. House prices were very depressed, there was a huge vacancy rate of houses, I bought my house then and I didn’t pay very much for it at all compared with what you’d pay now. When Baxter opened, we now have hardly any houses for sale, we now have very low occupant, very low rental availability, very hard to rent a property in Port Augusta now. And that was, at that point, to begin with it was Baxter, because a lot of people, a lot of staff came from, they had been in Curtain or they might have lived in Melbourne or Sydney or wherever but they’d gone to Curtain, Derby or Curtain for a job and now they’ve come to Port Augusta for a job, they needed a house to live in. Some of the officers bought houses in Port Augusta and Baxter, I think Baxter is going to be closed next year, that’s the fairly consistent, unspoken rumour, if you know what I mean, it’s quietly there simmering. I think the GSL contract expires this Christmas and probably by the next June it will be (??) or turned back into an army camp because that army camp is being expanded, yeah they’re buying, they’re buying out a heap of partial leases around that area to make it bigger, so no doubt they’ve got their bitalion accommodation all set up there, take out the security cameras and some of the fences and you’ve got accommodation there, paid by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. I don’t know how they do all this, but yeah, so the mining boom, oh I guess all these people move onto the mining boom next for jobs, but some of the officers are saying “I’m not moving to Darwin” because the expectation is that they’ll now move onto the next detention centre which is in Darwin, and that’s, I know the DIMIA manager has gone there and at least one of the GSL managers have gone up there and about 10% of the staff have gone to Darwin from Baxter. There’s only about, I shouldn’t say only. There are about 50 at the last time I had a count, because I’m barely out of it now but there are about 50 immigration kind of people detained there whether they be asylum seekers or something with their visa or whatever, and the rest of the people out there are Indonesian fisherman and they come and go quite regularly, yeah big jets fly in and all these people get on and or off, whichever way they’re coming in and being taken back.
MS SANGSTER Sounds like it’s a very big sensation within living in Port Augusta with a detention centre.
MS BOURNE Yeah.. I would’ve really liked to see, I would’ve really liked to have seen some social assessment of the impact on the town. Port Augusta has a high ratio of Aboriginal people; we have more Aboriginal people than any other town of that population in South Australia, it is the highest population of Aboriginal people and a lot of those people are doing very very well and some of those people are you know, high suicide rate, high, when I say high there’s a group of people they’re called the (Manuwera) and they’re alcoholics, group of people, there’s a lot of issues around housing and poverty and you know Port Augusta didn’t need a detention centre, it didn’t need more racial tension, it didn’t need more stress on limited social capacity, we already had enough to deal with without having to deal with asylum seekers and I think the sort of reconciliation and social harmony side of Port Augusta really got left, the sector of the community that would’ve put a lot of effort into that, shifted their effort to asylum seekers and I think that the need is still there and if anything has expanded, yeah.
MS SANGSTER What was the sort of, Aboriginal communities’ response?
MS BOURNE All mixed, some Aboriginal people, this certainly this, this fear of disease, I think that’s a learnt fear, there was certainly that particularly at the schools, the Aboriginal people on whose land Baxter is were very angry because Baxter was an explorer name, I’m not sure what his actual role was out there but he massacred Aboriginal people at that place, near there on a hill so for them the name Baxter and the location has carries a lot of weight, so they were never asked whether they wanted people coming into this country imprisoned on their land, so there was a lot of tension around that. There was a lot of tension around the fact that DIMIA was a department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and that they felt that their money, the money that was left to go towards supporting Aboriginal people was being redirected towards asylum seekers and that these people were being held in new accommodation with air conditioning and Aboriginal people were living in housing without air conditioning and being berated by leadership in Port Augusta for being out at night down at the beach where it’s cool, which is where you want to be when you don’t have any air conditioning. So, and then there was a group of people particularly from the Christian United Church, Aboriginal Uniting Church that came in and visited and took and interest but the energy really has to be about dealing with their own issues, the stolen generation has, still has big impact in Port Augusta. Yeah, a range of different things, but I think more racial tension, it really created more racial tension I think. One of the other impacts on Port Augusta was very definitely in increase in, I don’t think that the people that where trained as detention officers were given enough skills in dealing with their own personal trauma and some of them become quite brutal and some of them became quite traumatised. I remember being told about an Aboriginal man that worked in Woomera and he was asked to do a job and that was to fly out to wherever it was, Christmas Island get on a navy ship and talk some people off a sinking boat, onto the ship and tell them that you know, that they were going with him back to Woomera, he landed on Nauru with those people and was mute for over a year because he was traumatised by the fact that he had betrayed them. Now that’s one example of the traumatisation of the officers. I know of several families that broke down, marriages that broke down, I know a person who worked in child protection that said there was an increase made for child protection, there was definitely increased substance abuse, one GSL officer worked, was visible from a friends unit dealing drugs, on it goes you know and none of that, I don’t think any of that has been documented, the impact, we are the prisoners of those we hold in prison. You know, for every person in prison you need prison guards and the trauma is mutual and I don’t think any of that has been documented. Some I think some are utilising forms such as this and the people’s enquiry to tell their stories. There were numerous nurses that haven’t been able to work for months or years because of what they’ve seen. I know that they were flying nurses in on three week contract just to keep the nursing capacity on the level it needed to be. It traumatised everybody, it traumatised everybody.
MS SANGSTER And as a visitor?
MS BOURNE Oh yeah, and as a visitor it traumatised me, definitely. I, I can’t even look at the place anymore, I really can’t. Every morning I used to walk down to the local park with my dog, stand on a dirt mound that’s put there for people with their bikes and look up at Baxter saying you know, send them a message before I went to work you know, you’re in there and I don’t even look at it now, I still have to go down to that park but I don’t get up on the mound and I don’t look at it anymore you know. I can’t cope with it. I’m just totally over it; I just don’t want to know about it anymore. But there are people still there and somebody’s got to do it, somebody’s got to help them. But the whole system was structured and very deliberately set up to burn us out to make us ineffective you know, to swamp any attempt at being an honourable citizen in Australia and stand up what we think of Australia values. It was very traumatising. I know when I did my presentation to the people’s inquiry, I just cried. These people are very damaged, and once they get out, they aren’t less work you know, they still need a lot of support, they need to get jobs, they need to find a house and they’re still discriminated against and they’ve got health issues, and there’s not capacity in the health system really to support them unless people are almost suicidal, they don’t have the capacity. You can’t see a psychologist for free you know it’s a hundred bucks an hour, who can afford that? Teeth, dental stuff you know, six years without adequate dental care, under a lot of pain, lot of them had teeth removed and no bridges and so all sort of dental problems. And language, and they don’t have the mental capacity to focus, a lot of those people have been out for a year and they still wouldn’t, really wouldn’t be able to focus on study or yeah a job that requires that sort of level of intellectually important, something physical or manual maybe, but not, yeah. We had a dentist in there, we had a pharmacist, we had people with agricultural engineering degrees, metallurgical degrees, engineers, and numerous people there can drive trucks and equipment and the country is screaming out for all of them but they left them in detention for five years. It just really didn’t make sense, none of it made sense, and the games that were played with them. You know, people, their visa would be in the pipeline right but what they’re being told by DIMIA in Baxter is “you’ve got to go home, you have to sign, you have to go home” you know right up until the day before they’re given their visa DIMIA is calling them in and telling them “you’ve got to sign to go home” that pressure was put on them all the time and they’re not idiots, they can see the pattern, those guys that were taken to that those police cells to be deported, knew the game. One thing that one person told me was that when they were first taken to Curtain when they first arrive, they were locked in a big compound and they had contact with the outside world and no contact with anybody else that had been interviewed, so they were kept in isolation. Isolation, there might have been you know, a whole boat load of them there, there might have been 100, 300, 600 people there but they had no contact with any idea about what the process was. It wasn’t until it was a set up that some people were taken into custody, into police custody and were held in I think a reman centre in Perth and because of that they had contact with lawyers and they could find out the law and that’s when they found out about the Immigration Act and the processes because these guys had been held in custody and they came back with information you know, people in prison had more rights. I actually visited, when the east protests were held in, at Baxter, heaps of, a whole heap of people were held in management and when I found out that some of the guys were held in management, I went you know “you? You know, you’re pussy cats” they’re not harmful people at all, anyway. They seem to pick single people out and play people up against each other but a group weren’t, because they didn’t have enough room in management or for whatever reason, a group of them were taken to Port Augusta prison, so these people could have visitors but the people in Baxter couldn’t have visitors so we went to visit some people in the prison and you know when you go to Baxter you personally have to fill a form, you personally have to provide three forms ID, you have to sign it, you have to provide the detainees name and number and you have to fax it in more than three days in advance at least three days in advance. In a prison, you phone up, you book, you give a name, you turn up with your driver’s licence and you walk in, you know, you get scanned. You can go see a criminal, someone that has been charged, you can go see a criminal easier than you could see someone seeking asylum. These guys make a point in fact, that most people that are found guilty of paedophilia get less time in jail than most in detention.
MS SANGSTER So, less than 5 or 6 years?
MS BOURNE Yeah, hardly any of them, hardly one single person charged with paedophilia will get more than 4 or 5 years.
MS SANGSTER And you said the management, how many, there was not just one isolation? There was more than one isolation?
MS BOURNE Okay, in the original isolation wing, I think there were 4. Then after the fires at Christmas time of, was that the first Christmas? That was the first Christmas, before Woomera closed, so Christmas 2002/03 there were the fires, they had the fires at Woomera, Baxter and yeah. And I was coming back from the shack and it’s all hullabaloo happening and red one was the compound that was mostly burnt and that was redeveloped by Greg Wallace and into a management wing. I don’t really have a clear picture of it but the, and there was this punishment regimen set up I think that the showers were opened to the bedroom and they had security cameras in each of the rooms, this is where Cornelia Rau was, and we knew her as Anna and they put her in there and people were held for I think months and they were only allowed out of their room for one hour a day and then they’d move to the next phase where they were held for a month or six weeks, can’t remember, where they were allowed out of the room, I don’t know, for six hours a day and then they moved. So they moved through three phases, so first of all they’d go to the management isolation, then they’d go to red one, and they’d go through these three stages of good behaviour and there’d be this criteria that they had to meet before they’d be allowed to be let back into their compound. I remember when Cornelia was there and Rafiq would come and see me and say “Jenny, it’s not right, she shouldn’t be here” you know, all of these guys knew that there was something wrong, that she should not be here and they were really distressed by it, really really distressed by it. Because she was as sick as she was, we couldn’t uget a name from anybody, she wouldn’t tell anybody her name, we couldn’t get a number, eventually we got a number, we couldn’t get her to sign a form, had to sign a form saying you know, ‘I, (whatever she called herself) Anna (whatever), agree to have Libby or somebody as my lawyer’ to get an approval for her, for a lawyer to contact her. The day we actually got that signed, eventually we actually got one into her and one of the blokes that she trusted managed to get her to sign it and the day that happened was the day she was found out to be Cornelia Rau. And we were just like “what do we do?” you know, how do you get anybody to look into this, there was no independent person to say then arbiter or anything, you could say, couldn’t talk to the Ombudsman, the Ombudsman had no power, HREOC couldn’t do anything, South Australian Police couldn’t do anything, nobody you know, we were just sort of spinning on our, I’ll say spinning on my arse you know, we can’t get a signature, we don’t know who she is, we’re putting a lot of pressure on the German Embassy. A few people spoke to her and I suppose eventually somebody clicked that she had an Australian accent.
MS SANGSTER Really?
MS BOURNE Partly, and they did a description of her in the paper and she was recognised by her family. You know, and there was all of us trying really hard, we told, we have Lauryl Ferguson come and visit us and we told him about her and when the news broke all his miners were on the phone to us saying ”well you didn’t tell him” and I said “yes we did” you know, all he cared about what covering his arse, saying that he didn’t know about it, he didn’t care about it, the only thing he cared about when he came to see us was when we said that we thought that the offices were being maltreated as well. It was the only thing he cared about, it’s like, you don’t give a damn about the people who are held in detention.
MS SANGSTER Can you tell me a couple more details?
MS BOURNE We told him that there was this person Anna in there that we thought was a problem, that she shouldn’t be there and she had mental health problems and people that had seen her, she had come to the church service and so some of the nuns said you know “you can tell that she’s not, she doesn’t give you any eye contact” you know, it’s just like you can tell, and then my brother works at Cliffside where she was taken and he said that she is very smart, very very smart. She can hide her illnesses well, so you know, but you can’t hide it 24/7 and some of the guys had some experience, you know she did, she ate dirt, she ate ants, she ran around naked, she did all sorts of things that you know, us, a person that had any control over themselves wouldn’t do.
MS SANGSTER So, they were just very distressed?
MS BOURNE Very very distressed, very distressed to see a woman, to see a woman do those things is very distressful. Very distressing when a man did that as well but you know, they could just see that this person shouldn’t be there.
MS SANGSTER And was there a lot of self-harm?
MS BOURNE None of the people I personally knew, so I didn’t kind of experience it at that really personal, first hand level. The one that really shocked me was one of the people that got out of Woomera was first one of the first families to be released, at some point they, in the evening he pulled up his shirt and showed me all the scars where he’d hurt himself, I think that was much bigger in Woomera, people ate glass a bit in Baxter and a lot of sort of overdose kind of things. One guy who was really distressed, I think this one hurt me the most, was he started, he hung up a noose and started digging his own grave and lay in it but he didn’t, you know it was just a sign of his total despair, dug it with a plastic teaspoon, dug this hole and lay in it. Yeah I don’t know, on it goes.
MS SANGSTER So there was this hole in the compound?
MS BOURNE Yeah, he dug it big enough to lie in; I don’t think it was very deep but yeah. And yeah I think one of the guys had post traumatic distress disorder and they weren’t giving him his medication, they kept changing the rules about medication, they had a nurses room in each compound and the nurses decided they wouldn’t go into the compound, they didn’t feel secure or whatever and that was how they felt it wasn’t situated, I don’t think, the guys say they didn’t threaten the nurses. But then they were made to go to the medical centre to pick up the medication twice a day, and this guy was so paranoid that he would not leave the compound because he thought that if he went they would deport him, if he went to medical, and they wouldn’t bring his medication to him so he wasn’t getting his medication. A big riot formed over it because they wouldn’t give it to him, he got very distressed, they had a sit down protest outside the officer’s office saying “we’re not going to move until you give him his medication”, then a week later again they were not giving him his medication so he went a bit crazy, he climbed up onto the shade thing and cut himself with this blunt and they sent, I know, they sent in 50 riot gear people at 5am in the morning to take him away, that’s what they did. He got up onto the shade cloth and cut himself, and it ended up in this big standoff with a couple of people negotiating for over 2 hours saying just bring him his medication. This is when the mobile phones came in; one person was on his mobile phone to his girlfriend in Queensland, giving her a blow by blow account of what’s happening. That person was typing it up, emailed it to me, I had two phones going and in the end we decided that we would just send that email out saying that this whole situation can be calmed down if only they would give him his medication. So I emailed that out at quarter to nine, at which stage I’m still in my pyjamas and have to be at work in 15 minutes, emailed that out to a dozen people saying please spread this through their networks. A friend of mine in Adelaide said she was over the 100th or something person that had phoned and the person said, on the other end in DIMIA said “please tell your friends to stop calling us” you know, and this was a riot, this was a full scale riot over a man that’s seriously ill, mentally ill, just getting medication. On it goes, on and on it goes, on it goes. So unnecessary, we are paying nearly 2 million dollars to keep Port Hedland mothballed, we are paying almost as much to keep Woomera mothballed; we’re paying I don’t know, thousands and thousands a week per person in Nauru, why? How many schools, how many patient waiting lists, how many school dentists, how many you know. What for? What for? And how traumatised people have come out of the system? What for? They’re a bigger burden on us mentally ill than they would’ve been as healthy migrants.
MS SANGSTER So you feel like they use a definite effect of a detention – – –
MS BOURNE Oh God yes, absolutely. These people are seriously depressed and keeping them on temporary protection visas, they can’t earn enough money to go to a country next door, where their family can meet them and just see their family, just see them. Some of them, that’s all they want to do, is go to Turkey or Dubai and see their family. And they can’t do that until they’re permanent, and that’s nine years for some of these people, ten years.
MS SANGSTER Is there a message that you’d like to —
MS BOURNE Yeah, I think the whole system is making us ‘Prison Australia’, where we’re being imprisoned from our own policies. Mentally, socially, financially, border protection process and policies isn’t helping, it’s closed down our freedom of speech. What freedom does it bring us? It doesn’t. What safety? None that I’m aware of.