Jessie Taylor is a barrister who worked with detainees as a refugee advocate in Maribyrnong, Baxter and Villawood detention centres. Taylor first became involved with asylum seeker issues in 2002 when she was invited to visit a detention centre by a friend. She was initially motivated by her faith to visit. As a refugee advocate, Taylor became a regular visitor to asylum seekers detained at Maribyrnong Detention Centre where she befriended detainees and witnessed the devastation caused by prolonged detention (including solitary detention) of asylum seekers. Taylor speaks about her relationship with Amin Mastipour, whose daughter was taken from him without prior notice while he was in detention. Taylor is now a barrister, the foster mother of an Afghani refugee and the mother of an Afghani-Australian son.
More information on Jessie Taylor
- “Stranger on the Shore”, ABC TV Australian Story, July 2012 – this program tells the story of Jessie Taylor’s emergence as a refugee advocate and foster mother to an Afghani asylum seeker, Jaffar Ali, in 2010.
- ABC Radio interviews, ABC Online, 2012, February 2013 and July 2013 – Taylor is asked about her work as a refugee advocate and experience tracing the boat journeys made by asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia.
- “Jessie Taylor is Reframing Australia’s Asylum Seeker Debate”, Framed Online Magazine, 2012 – An interview given by Taylor, discussing developments in Australia’s asylum policy and her film, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
- “Speech by Jessie Taylor”, AYAD Conference, 2013 – Taylor speaks about Australia’s asylum policy and her work as a refugee advocate.
Transcript of Interview
8 May 2006
Interview conducted by Liz Dean
MS DEAN My name is Liz Dean. Today’s date is the 08/05/06. I’m conducting an interview with Jessie Taylor. The interview’s being conducted in Hawthorn, Melbourne, and I have to spell my name L-I-Z D-E-A-N. Jessie, can you spell your name for us?
MS TAYLOR J-E-S-S-I-E T-A-Y-L-O-R.
MS DEAN For the purpose of the interview can you tell us your name?
MS TAYLOR Jessie Taylor.
MS DEAN And any nick names that you go by Jessie?
MS TAYLOR Not really, just anything but Jessica, which is not my name.
MS DEAN Okay, date of birth?
MS TAYLOR 06/08/82.
MS DEAN Where were you born?
MS TAYLOR In Melbourne.
MS DEAN And you age now?
MS TAYLOR Twenty-three.
MS DEAN Do you have any siblings?
MS TAYLOR I do. I’ve got a bit of a family tree. I’ve got one younger sister – Steph, and two older half sisters – Nicole and Ula(?) and my older sibling is my half brother Pierce.
MS DEAN And could you describe your family in any way?
MS TAYLOR My gosh.
MS DEAN If you were to describe your family how would you describe them?
MS TAYLOR Probably Jerry Springer. We’ve, yeah, we’re the divorce here, divorce there remarriages left, right and centre. Everything’s a little bit shambolic but yeah that’s how I’d describe my family.
MS DEAN Step, yes.
MS TAYLOR Yes, 21st century.
MS DEAN Okay, and your education, what sort of education would you have had?
MS TAYLOR I started school when I was in Grade 3 at the age of about seven, before that I was kind of travelling around a little bit doing various bits and pieces. I went from Grade 3 to Year 12 at Ivanhoe Girls Grammar, very nice private school thank you very much, where I had an absolute ball, I loved school. Yeah, then I started; in 2000 I started a Arts Degree at Monash Uni. Having not got into law anywhere and then after first year I managed to transfer across in to Arts Law and in 2001 I did Honours in Arts and I’m currently finishing off a thesis to finish off my Honours in Law.
MS DEAN Fantastic, and do you have any religious affiliations at all?
MS TAYLOR I do, yeah, I’m a practicing Christian.
MS DEAN And involved in any other groups?
MS TAYLOR Sort of, yeah. I’ve been involved with the Oak Tree Foundation since it’s inception in 2003 I sort of started it’s local response arm which has had varying levels of success over the last few years but, yeah. That was kind of my baby for a while.
MS DEAN Can you tell us what it is?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, well the Oak Tree Foundation is Australia’s first youth run aid and development agency, which was started by Hugh Evans – who was young Australian of the Year in 2004. It aims basically at sustainable partnerships between young people in Australia and in the countries that we’re sort of been looking at. It started in South Africa, it’s now moved into the Philippines and not exactly sure where else. I’m not really affiliated with them anymore but, yeah, I sort of have always had this some what more at home sort of idea of what aid and development might look like. So, I suggested in 2004 or so, why don’t we set up a branch of the Oak Tree that kind of looks at own backyard. So, we sort of did that and were involved with some partnerships with organizations working with the Sudanese refugee community in Melbourne particularly and some people in the northern states who are affiliated with Oak Tree have been looking at work with Indigenous communities and things like that. In Melbourne I mean, that doesn’t really present itself as an opportunity but yeah, in northern, more northern states that kind of is something that they’re looking at.
MS DEAN And did you leave that recently?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, why – I love to do things. I’m less of an organiser and less of a delegator or a meeting haver. So, I love the Oak Tree Foundation, I think it’s an incredibly dynamic movement of young people and has done amazing things, but I felt as if I was not able to give that role as much as I would like to. So, I sort of stepped down from there because the amount of leadership and energy that’s coming from people of 17, 18, 19 years old is actually a bit ridiculous. So, I just thought I’d, you know, yeah, give the next person their time.
MS DEAN Could that have had something to do with being involved in other projects?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, definitely. I have been on the board of a group called the Justice Project since early 2004 or maybe about June 2004 in the lead up to the Federal Election and that sort of took up a far amount of time and brain space for me. And as I’ve been getting more involved and further along in my law degree I’ve been becoming more interested and involved in the lives of you know, detainees or people who have just been released from detention and I felt like there was something quite specific that I might be able to do that perhaps someone else couldn’t do in that area. Where as the Oak Tree is so brimming with people who are really keen to get on board that I sort of thought no, I think I want to be used over here. So
MS DEAN And can you tell us a bit more specifically what the Justice Project is that you’re now involved with?
MS TAYLOR Sure. It is a multi-facetted beast. It is – in 2004 it was set up originally to get the issue of refugee law reform on the agenda for the 2004 Federal Election. We did that by conducting a survey of members of Parliament or people who were sitting for the most marginal seats in Australia. Basically, just asking I think 20 questions about their concepts of refugees in Australia, their ideas of how do we treat refugees and how should perhaps and you know it was a very well organised survey and we then tallied up the results and gave those people a mark. A numerical grading so that if people in those electorates wished to vote along refugee lines they had the opportunity to do that. Now, we – last year after crying a lot on the night of the Federal Election in 2004 – that was one depressing party – we started to think more about the issue of a Bill of Rights for Victoria. We provided a secretary for the charter group. Which was a group of academics and legal professionals and other interested parties, NGO’S who were interested in introducing a Bill of Rights to Victoria. So, we’ve been involved in sort of campaigning for that, using our mailing list for that, disseminating information about that, yeah and that’s sort of what we did last year.
MS DEAN Can you tell us just going back just step, how did you get that information about what politicians thought about the refugee policy out to the broader community?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, well we did basically a downloadable how to read card actually from our website. Our website was our main tool at the time so, we sort would get people to click on their electorate and a how to vote card would pop up. This is what your people said if you want to vote along the lines of refugee law reform these are the way you should allocate your votes.
MS DEAN And community response to that?
MS TAYLOR Hard to say. In a lot of regional communities, fantastic, you know people were really getting involved with the issue, knocking on their politician’s doors demanding response which was you know, kind of cool. But I mean the result of the election was, you know, a story unto itself but then again, after that there were things like, shortly after that Cornelia Rau you know, was discovered in Baxter and shortly after that Vivian Alvarez and then the Petro Georgio reforms came through. So, last year was a year of incredible reform and I suppose the board of the Justice Project like to think that we were responsible even a little bit for softening the ground for those things to happen and for raising awareness so that once people did hear of something to do with the refugee problem or a problem inside a detention centre, then they would have almost like a context to fit that into. They might have a port of call if they want to find some more information so they might go to our website or you know. So, hard to say but I think the cumulative effect of the Justice Project has been reasonably significant. It’s hard to say but.
MS DEAN And when you talk about the necessity for a Bill of Rights for Victoria can you talk about that a little bit more?
MS TAYLOR Sure.
MS DEAN As your contemporary project.
MS TAYLOR Sure. Well, basically Australia is the only western country in the world that doesn’t have some kind of statutorily enshrined protection of human rights. Even the UK which doesn’t have a written constitution has a written Bill of Rights you know. It’s something which should be seen as a priority in a country such as ours which up until very recently I would say has prided itself on having a good human rights record and being a world leader in the area of human rights and probably rightly so, as I say again, until recently. So, we basically, the ACT already has a Bill of Rights which is based on the UK model, which it’s legal structure is basically not terribly powerful but it gives the courts a power to make a declaration of incompatibility. So, if a law is about to go through Parliament then a court can say, this is incompatible with the Charter of Rights or the Bill of Rights, what are you going to say about that and they can’t actually use it to stop a law going through but they do call to account the government or you know whoever’s trying to push that bill through. So, it’s basically just a mechanism for raising the awareness of a government’s treatment of concepts of human rights.
MS DEAN And I guess hearing about your involvement in different groups, you could talk about what sort of aspirations that you had when you were growing up that perhaps led to this or is it more the contemporary landscape of Australian political treatment of refugees that’s
MS TAYLOR It’s all been a big fat accident, to be honest. The first time someone asked me to visit a detention centre it was like, um, no, thanks anyway, crazy person. You know, so when I was growing up or when I was in my first couple of years of Uni sort of 2000, 2001 I always sort of looked at people who were involved in student politics and looked at people who were active and lived for something and got angry about something. I was like gee that must be an interesting way to be, I wonder if I’ll ever be like that, nah, probably not would be kind of fun though. But then sort of very accidentally found myself engaging with this kind of stuff and I was talking to Hugh Evans at a wedding a couple of weeks ago and sort of was talking about the idea that a lot of the stuff I do now is sort of activism and advocacy is construed as being highly politicised and very politically motivated. I was just you know, shaking him by the lapels saying I don’t care about politics it’s not something really interests me but I feel like to engage with the refugee issue, particularly, you have to go there if you like and he said yeah, basically you have a reasonability to respond to this injustice not only on a personal level but on systemic level and on a you know, structural level. So, yeah that’s kind of made me quite accidentally be where I am today.
MS DEAN And would you say that your background kind of led to this in anyway or your religious affiliations or is there anything in your background you can pin point that might’ve opened you up to all this?
MS TAYLOR Certainly not in my background in terms of family. I mean we are convict through and through not a thread o, you know, exoticness or anything like that. My religious affiliations, yes, that has a strong bearing on it. I mean, the Bible speaks very often of a God who loves mercy and hates injustice and calls for his followers to do the same and a powerful image that I have when I’m thinking about the idea of being political, of being provocative, of trying to poke people into action, is the image of Jesus, you know, raging through the temple upsetting tables just with this fire in his eyes and this passion and anger and I think a lot of people sort of see Jesus as being this guy who sits around patting sheep all day or something. You know, but his character which is displayed very often in the Bible as just passion and strength and a fearless commitment to the things that he knows are right and just and beautiful, so, yes, I definitely find inspiration from the Bible, definitely.
MS DEAN And your church group is quite dynamic or can you tell us a little bit about that.
MS TAYLOR I go to an absolutely huge church in, up in Kew called St Hilary’s which has a congregation of, I’m not exactly sure to be honest and we have just amalgamated with another church but basically the service that I go to which is the young adults service. People between about twelve and thirties getting, you know, a bit rusty in that service, it’s about three hundred people who come regularly. We had to move out of the church and into the school hall at Genazzano because we just couldn’t fit physically. It is a lot of energy, a lot of different people, a lot of – certainly, a lot of ideas about social justice and service and things like that. Certainly on a theoretical level and theoretically the theology of justice there is very very good. But people always struggle to put those things into practice and to see what that actually means in the application so, yeah, theoretically great, practically, a little bit – a little bit more sluggish but people are often very willing to hear you out or to follow suggestions or, you know. I mean, I’ve have taken about 130 people, 150 maybe into the detention centres over the past four years and probably more than half of them have been from, probably well over half of them, probably a hundred of them have been from that community. So, it’s a mixed bag and of course because it’s in a very wealthy, middle class, white collar area, I mean kids who are engaging with this issue are usually fighting against their parents who are, you know, the classic rusted on liberal voters so it’s an interesting – there are a few interesting dynamics at play and I’ve actually got my bum smacked a few times for being too politically provocative and, you know, whatever, which is fine, but yeah, so it’s been interesting.
MS DEAN And is your social network more broadly then also involved in activism around or visiting detainees would you say?
MS TAYLOR Well, my social network. What do you mean?
MS DEAN I guess friendship circles, perhaps who go to University with, other sort of broader interactions that you might have.
MS TAYLOR I think these things have somewhat of an osmotic effect, I mean my interest in this stuff and my commitment to it I guess is not something that I kind of sit on. It’s not something that I don’t talk about, you know, so if, I mean so often I’ll go to a party on a Friday night or on Saturday night, like, right, that’s it, I’m not thinking about it tonight. Within 10 minutes of arriving someone’s asking me questions about, you know, this, that and the other, so I mean, in a way there’s a much broader interest beyond just, you know, in my social network. Whether that’s just theoretical interest or whether it’s people saying, I want to come and visit, or anything like that but, yeah, it sort of tends to spread through people.
MS DEAN But your network itself, so your immediate friends are or aren’t involved perhaps in refugee action collectives or
MS TAYLOR Generally not, no.
MS DEAN Okay yeah. So how then did you get involved in visiting detention centres in the beginning?
MS TAYLOR A friend of mine, a girl from my church called Carolyn Ford who’s a solicitor now said to me, she sort of set up a little roster of people visiting when it used to be night time visits at Maribyrnong. She said to me, do you want to come and visit and I said, no. And then I rang her back a few days later because I sort of went, maybe I should, maybe I’m interested, I know it’s a complicated issue, I know the opinion of around my family dinner table is one way and but, you know, other people are arguing other things, stuff about human rights, something about international laws and whatever, I don’t know. So, I thought, yeah maybe I’ll just go and check it out just once and see, you know, see what happens, see what I think, see it with my own eyes before I make a decision about it.
MS DEAN And can you describe that first visit going out with Carolyn.
MS TAYLOR Well, I met her I think at her house in Carlton and we got in the car and drove out there and I remember thinking, where the hell are we, because I didn’t really know that area at all. I remember that we had a conversation about the fact that she had recently broken up with her boyfriend who is also a friend of mine. We pulled up at the front, it was, I think it was late summer, I think, and it was still quite light when we pulled up and there was this beautiful day and I just remember looking at sort of the, what is it about six or seven metre steel pickets out the front of the detention centre with the razor wire on the top going, oh my gosh, what am I doing here. Yeah, walking through watching the gates sort of open and walking through there and hearing them clang close behind us and everything and then buzzing on the little door and they made us wait outside the little door of the visit centre for a while because they were still processing people. Got in there, filled in the application form, which was terrifying. Giving it over to the person at the counter, looking at this horrendous fish tank that they used to have in the visit centre which was just covered – the glass was just thick black with mould and it must have been the most depressed fish in the universe and, yeah, then going through the metal detector and everything, going through the x-ray thingo, and being clicked through into the Visits area to sit down on the little plastic chairs and wait for the detainees to arrive which was, you know, what am I doing here?
MS DEAN What year was that?
MS TAYLOR Two thousand and two.
MS DEAN And can you describe how you felt?
MS TAYLOR Well, not very good, would probably be the primary school way of describing it. I’m not sure if it goes much further than that at this stage.
MS DEAN Were you nervous or
MS TAYLOR Yeah, just, I’m getting it now actually, the detention centre visiting belly. I think sort of a clench of anxiety just like, this place is not good. This place is not right, this place is not a habitat for human beings, you know, I just was wishing not to be there really and then when people came out and introduced themselves, I remember thinking, you know, it sounds like a big fat cliché but, wow, these people are not so very different to you or me or you know, my uncles and my grandfather, my, you know my friends and yeah. I left that day quite shocked, also quite exhilarated and I came again a couple of weeks later. The second time, I mean I sort of made myself come back the second time because it was horrible like it’s not a good feeling. I still hate it but something drew me back and sort of the second, third, fourth time it was really, you know, forced but then it sort of began to take on a more organic feeling when there are actual relationships developing and you know, when people didn’t just become ID numbers and nationalities but they became characters and stories and people and you know.
MS DEAN And what did draw you back do you think?
MS TAYLOR I don’t know. My twenty first was in two thousand and three and my mother did this slide show, you know, of ‘now this is Jessie’ blah, blah, blah, and she made this hilarious but embarrassing collage of me from various ages various ages ranging from about 18 months crying over dead birds. Like, ‘here’s Jessie in New Zealand crying over a swallow at Otago , here’s Jessie crying about a pigeon that she found under a tree’, you know. I think the point was that I don’t like to see suffering and sadness and death and misery and I think visiting detention for the first time really plugged straight into that and I felt like I couldn’t see that and then go about my daily business. I couldn’t see that and sort of forget it was there and not take it on. So, I really, yeah, the first – about the first year or so, I only visited maybe once a fortnight or once every 3 or 4 weeks or something, I don’t really remember. Then in two thousand and three I said, right, at least once a week from now on regardless of whether you’re actually free or not. So, yeah, what drew me back was just the responsibility that I felt I had to be there, to witness it, to make more people aware of it and to sit beside those people while they were in some of the darkest moments of their lives, I mean, you know, having felt that they were fleeing persecution to come and be free and safe and welcomed. Didn’t quite work out the way they thought.
MS DEAN How did you organise a visit, like once you got taken with Carolyn? How did you organise your own visits or what’s the procedures I guess.
MS TAYLOR The procedure is basically you just need to know the names of people you want to visit so now that I had met people and now that I had names, I could just go by myself, fill in an application form and you just go in. Maribyrnong is like that. Baxter you have to fax through your application to visit maybe a week or so beforehand and the detainees actually have to request your visit so it takes a lot more organising, but Maribyrnong is just remarkably simple.
MS DEAN And going back to what, how it appears, when you first get out of a car, can you describe Maribyrnong Detention Centre as something that you’re looking at.
MS TAYLOR It’s changed, it’s just been renovated to be all shiny and new and people friendly. But, back then it was a tiny little driveway with a sign saying, “Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Facility”, which is ninety percent obscured by a tree. It’s about one hundred and fifty, a couple of hundred metres from Highpoint Shopping Centre. So you drive up and you take the second driveway on the right after the second bus stop after an intersection which is how I remember the first few times like where is it. You drive in through this little gateway with ditches in the road, speed bumps and stuff then you park on the left, get out of the car and you still can’t see the detention centre when you’re parked there. Get out of the car and just walk around the corner of the driveway and there it is in all its silver glory. Just a big huge gate with a little people gate on the side so there’s like the trucks and then there’s a pedestrian gate on the side where you just press a button and depending on who was on duty you would either get a, ‘Good day, how you going, yep come on through, I’ll just buzz you in. Yep, close the gate behind you’, blah, blah, blah, or you get a ‘What do you want? Who are you here to see? You can’t see him’ or ‘Alright come through’, you know, really just was totally arbitrary, you never knew which treatment you were going to get on any given day. So you would walk through this little sort of passage way, sort of walkway, and then into the other end of the gate. I mean, all the detention centres have the lock sort of aspect where you locked in and then you get channelled through the other side. Baxter has like five or six of them or something ridiculous and then you used to go and press the button of the visit centre where you then, they’d click you through and then open the door, put your stuff in a locker, all ID, photographs, keys, money, everything, you couldn’t take anything in except a couple of coins for the usually broken vending machines and then you’d, you know, fill in your form. Put down the names of the people you wanted to see and, yeah, that was it. It was sort of nasty blue carpet in the dodgy yellow paint job and a few sort of portrait attempts at merriment in the forms of the bright colours and the fish tank. But, yeah they weren’t really fooling too many people I don’t think.
MS DEAN Did your have to get searched or was there a
MS TAYLOR Not searched as such but the metal detector was always, you know, on sensitive, so you’d have to be kind of careful and not bring anything in with you, although people have smuggled the most amazing things through those search systems. I hear at Baxter at the moment or at the, some of the other centres they’re putting in full x-ray jobs, so you won’t be able to take anything with you except, you know, your skeleton and that’s going to be about all. But no, there’s not actual searching so, you know, if you are ingenuous you could get things in there that weren’t necessarily supposed to be in there.
MS DEAN And how did you make contact with your people, like how did you come to have a list of detainees as in terms of names?
MS TAYLOR It’s just a flow on effect so Caz just had the name of one or two people who then would give us the names of other people who wanted visitors and stuff like that and it’s just kind of snowballed from there and the generations of detainees kind of, you know, pass on each others names and, yes.
MS DEAN And you were saying you visited your – you’ve increased your visits over the years.
MS TAYLOR Yeah, I spent a semester studying overseas in first semester 2003 for about three months I was away and there was a guy in detention who was in his late 40’s, about 46, Pakistani guy who will no doubt will come up in other interviews that you will have. He’s a bit of an icon of early days of Maribyrnong Detention Centre. This amazing raconteur with these great stories about having a motorcycle accident and running into a yak and killing the yak and him only just surviving, you know, this dramatic motorcycle accident and stuff. He was the first person that I really formed a friendship with in detention and when I was overseas in 2003, he rang me just as often as my sister or my best friend or my grandparents, you know. I was talking to him more often than I spoke to some people and I realise that what I had there was actually, actually a relationship, actually, you know, an interaction between people which was actually more than just, ‘yes, I will come and visit you and we’ll talk about the weather for an hour’, you know. So, I sort of felt that that called on me to be more committed to the people who I was interacting with, so I remember I was walking up a hill in a little town in Italy called La Spezia which is just near the Cinque Terre in the north west coast and my phone rang and it was him and it was after I hung up on that particular phone call that I said, right, this is now a part of my life and I’m not going to go, ‘if I have a spare night’ or ‘if I’ve got nothing better to do’, but I’m going to set aside at least one night a week to go there, sort of come hell or high water and that’s sort of been able to be maintained over the last, I mean, sometimes, sometimes, you know, if I am sick or whatever then I can’t go but, yeah, from time to time I go twice a week or you know it’s been a ridiculous amount in the past couple of weeks, but yeah, basically once a week for the last three years or something.
MS DEAN And did you go by yourself more often than not, I know you said earlier.
MS TAYLOR Yeah, ideally not, but there was a period of time there which I kind of remember as being a bit of a dark period where, you know, it was sort of post Tampa, post September 11, the issue was very last season, you know, nobody really was interested in it, nobody was willing to put themselves out to engage with it and I spent a lot of time driving to the detention centre by myself, visiting people by myself and that was actually quite full on because Maribyrnong was a centre where you could only visit one detainee per visitor. So if it was just me going, I could only see one person and obviously that led to quite a lot more intense interaction and often those were the times when things would come out or you know there would be disclosures of things that had happened in the past and you know people would mention that, you know, their wife has been killed or that their children were tortured. You know, those were the times when it was definitely the most full on. And most of the time, that period, which probably lasted for almost a year, where people would only come very sporadically, was really awful and I remember, I would leave the centre, one or two out of three times just either in tears as soon as I left the detainee and they went back or I’d just sort of make it to the car park and then I’d be completely gone, you know. Those times were definitely the worst and the hardest, just in terms of frustration that people weren’t seeing this and weren’t willing to take it on themselves even once every two or three weeks or once a month. People weren’t willing to invest themselves in these stories. Just the sheer, ‘I’m so sorry for this having happened to you’, the absolute shame at the way that they were being treated. Yeah, that was a shocking time.
MS DEAN Did you ever feel like just not going again or was it precisely that that motivated you.
MS TAYLOR No, I don’t think I did. There’s still, each time I go there, there’s sort of a small sense of dread, you know, even four years later. You never know where people are going to be at or how they are going to be feeling or whether it’s going to be a visit where you’ll just spend a lot of time laughing and mucking around, you know, or, whether you are going to hear something from someone about what’s happened to them in the past that will just make you, you know, want to curl up in a corner and die of shame and sorrow. But, no, I don’t think since that first visit I’ve ever contemplated not going. However, I do really look forward to the day where I never have to go again. But, you know, that won’t be until those centres are empty.
MS DEAN So, just take us through a bit more specifically what a visitor does upon arriving. So, you get greeted by the guard.
MS TAYLOR Yes.
MS DEAN Or not.
MS TAYLOR Now, okay, I’ll fast forward to now because the procedures have changed a little bit because the centre’s been renovated. Now you pull up in – if you can get a car park now, it’s amazing because they’ve now made that car park out the front effectively out of bounds so, basically there’s no where to park, so you just kind of have to risk it, park under a tree where your car will, I promise you get pooped on amazingly by, oh my God, those birds, I don’t know what they eat. But then you get out of the car and walk around to the very friendly, unlocked Visitors Welcome Centre where you just kind of walk in and there’s a nice shiny, you know, ‘Welcome to our detention centre’, a kind of arrangement. If you have never been before then you fill out the form and all of that kind of stuff, sign the declaration that, ‘no, I won’t bring in the contraband items, including bobby pins, tooth paste, deodorant, chewing gum, photographs, anything’, and but if you have been before then you just pass over your ID and they have a, it’s all automated now there is the computer system, you just tell them which names you want t, you know, call out and then you put your stuff or your ID into the lockers. Turn your phone on silent otherwise it rings in your locker and they crack it at you. You get a little plastic visits band which is basically your ticket out of there so you want to hang onto that and then you walk through the metal detector. Put your, anything you want to bring in like a jacket or anything through one of those basically scanners that you have at the airport and then you walk through a lock which has two heavy doors and then across a little pathway with some sad looking flowers, into the little visits area which also has to be clicked open from under the control desk. You walk in, you know, you arrange some chairs, sit there waiting for people to come in. That’s about it really. If you want to bring something in for someone then you have to put it through property which is a whole other saga in itself and over the last few years you sort of build up knowledge of which guards are which and who is who and who to, who you should just go, all right, it’s not going to happen today, I’m just going to let it go. Which reactions you going to get from what people, depending on the way that you behave. Basically, you need to be completely saccharine with a lot of them, just like, ‘oh yeah, fun day to visit’. Whereas I have in earlier days got into fairly significant arguments with some of them just for being absolute bastards, but, you know, sort of let those things go.
MS DEAN We’ll talk about in a minute what you could bring in but I’m interested in were there were times when you couldn’t see detainees for some reason or the rule changes or arbitrary matters in which perhaps guards may or may not have been working.
MS TAYLOR Yeah, one situation in particular springs to mind, the guy who I was talking about earlier is a very very talented artist and he’s – draws beautifully, like his portraits of people are just amazing and it was coming up to my birthday and he said that he wanted to draw a – he drew a lot of pictures of people in detention centre and you know, visitors and stuff so he said, ‘I want to draw a picture of you for your birthday, can you come at nine o’clock on Sunday morning and you know, we’ll just sit in the visits area for a little while and I’ll sketch it and you know, that will be that.’ So I went, okay. It took us a few weeks to organise and you know. I went, turned up at nine o’clock on that Sunday morning, buzzed on the gate and was told that I was not going to be allowed in and I sort of said, oh, why’s that? And they said, because they had asked me who I wanted to see and I said I wanted to see this person. They said you can’t see him, he’s not seeing people at the moment and I went, alarm bells, because he was the kind of person who if you had an appointment to see him, he would be there come hell or high water. So I sort of said why, what’s wrong, what’s happening and they said we are not going to be talking to you about it, please go away. So I stood outside and rang him on my mobile, asked to speak to him, they wouldn’t put me through to him. I tried to figure out what had happened, I was there for probably fifteen minutes on my mobile trying to figure out whether he was choosing not to see people or whether something had happened, whether he was allowed to see people, what was going on and eventually I managed to get onto one of the other detainees who said he tried to bring his sketching equipment into the visits area or to you know, prepare to get his sketching equipment into the visits area and had been told, no, you are not allowed to. And he said, ‘what are you talking about, I do it all the time’. But, someone had just said, actually today, no you are not allowed to and he’d got angry and sort of started yelling at them for being completely arbitrary and ridiculous and he didn’t want to lose face by saying that he was going to do this thing for me and then not doing it and so they dragged him off into isolation where he was not allowed access to a telephone, including to his lawyers, where he was not allowed access to writing implements, a piece of paper for self harm reasons, like, anyway, paper cut yourself to death or something, I don’t know. He wasn’t allowed any access with – to the other detainees or anything and there was nothing I could do about it and I was so frustrated and they said that one of the other detainees had said that he had his crutches taken away from him. He’d been beaten quite severely and he kind of been dragged into isolation which he had a really bad back at this stage and I later found out that there was a toilet in his room that they had kept locked. Like, so that he couldn’t use it in the Isolation room, so when he needed to go to the toilet, he would have to knock on the door and they left him for maybe five or six hours before they would unlock the damn toilet for him. So, this man who had been an academic and a leader and a well respected pillar of his community was instead, you know, pissing on the floor in his room, not being able to stand up because he didn’t have his crutches and he’d been beaten. I just could not believe it, you know, and he was left there for a few days until I decided that I wasn’t quite happy with this and on the Tuesday I think I was in the city and I just looked up Julian Burnsides chambers, I knew that Julian was acting for this guy. I had never met Burnside in my life and just went and knocked on his office door and said, ‘ Hi, you don’t know me. I need to talk to you about this person.’ Yeah, while I was there Julian sort of made a whole lot of phone calls, suggested politely to the guards that they may wish to allow access to his legal representation otherwise there would be consequences, blah, blah, blah. So, that was kind of, how that situation was diffused somewhat. But, yeah, I mean that’s one story of arbitrary-ness, and also a story about beating and degrading treatment and all sorts of other things.
MS DEAN What sort of property could you, what could you take in, what were you allowed to take in and what
MS TAYLOR It always varied, some days you were allowed a cigarette lighter other days you’re not. Now I think you’re definitely not. Some days you’re allowed after shave and deodorant, some days you’re not, orange juice, some days you’re allowed it some days you’re not, CD’s, they’re rules about bringing in CD’s are absolutely insane, like they say, ‘You’re not allowed to have – to bring in CD’s unless they are a shop copy’. But I have a lot of friends who are musicians and I’ve recorded some songs myself and I sort of say ‘Oh, well, this is actually – and I say why?’ And they say because of copyright. I say, ‘Well this is my track or this track belongs to my friends and I got their expressed permission’, and they are like, ‘No you have to have to have bought it in a shop.’ And I said, ‘But this stuff isn’t available in a shop.’ And they are like, ‘Well then, I guess you’d better get better then hadn’t you.’ It’s like, oh my gosh, shut up. So they were saying we couldn’t bring in our own music because we couldn’t buy it in a shop because we weren’t good enough or something. These days though if you don’t make a fuss about it usually burnt CD’s will get in. Shhh. Yeah, all sorts of different stuff that gets kind of banned.
MS DEAN Can you take in food or can you take in
MS TAYLOR It’s funny, the rules about food are different, surrounding different centres. Like at Baxter, the rule is, you can bring in food – what is it? At Maribyrnong you can bring in food to eat with the detainees in the visits centre depending on very stringent regulations but you can’t give them anything to take back to their rooms or anything. At Baxter, it’s the inverse so you can’t eat anything with them under certain circumstances but you can give it to them to take back to their rooms and that’s much preferred. So it’s – it’s all very arbitrary which makes me think that it’s nonsensical and has no logic behind it but you know, it might just be me.
MS DEAN And what areas of the centre do you have access to as a visitor?
MS TAYLOR At Maribyrnong, just the little visits area which, it’s been renovated at the moment, but usually that constitutes a really ugly dank room with the questionable odour and a little outside courtyard area with some sad looking pot plants which is where people sort of sit and chain smoke, generally, including the guards.
MS DEAN When you talk “little”, how, what sort of size are we thinking about both of the visiting centre and the outdoor area?
MS TAYLOR The visiting centre is probably, I’m trying to think of a way that I can describe it. The outdoor area is probably about 15 metres long, kind of a strange geometric shape with some corners and stuff and the inside visits area, I’m not sure how it will be, at the moment it’s very small because of the renovation. It’s all kinds of peculiar shapes so, I don’t know, the size of the average waiting room I guess, no, a slightly big waiting room at a doctor’s office or something like, not huge.
MS DEAN And can you see anything outside or is it
MS TAYLOR Absolutely not. At the moment you can’t – at the moment the detainees have no access to outside grass or sky because you can’t – there are no windows in the visit centre. They are not allowed into the access – to access the outside area of the visit centre because I think it’s actually just been demolished, I don’t know if there’s going to be an outside area to the visitors centre anymore. They are only sort of allowed from time to time access to a grassed area outside. I’ve actually, I’ve been a couple of times to visit people who have been in isolation and that, whooooa, is something else. You go around the side of the detention centre, click on the door, buzz the door and it clicks open, you fill in all your details, signing in and everything, click on a visitor’s badge, you get led through this dingy little corridor where there are the isolation rooms on your left, sort of about three of them and a couple of times I’ve seen them with the doors open where someone’s been off to see a doctor or somewhere. Disgusting. Tiny little rooms with just a stinking mattress on the floor, dishes piled up that haven’t been cleared away, the odour, I cannot even describe, like they haven’t been cleaned in weeks. It’s disgusting, you know. And when, when you’re talking about who are seriously depressed, who are, you know struggling to find reasons to live and stuff, I mean they’re just been kept in an environment where you wouldn’t want your dog. And the use of isolation and solitary confinement in detention centres is fairly, you know, it’s fairly ignored actually. People sort of don’t tend to think about the reality of what it actually means to be kept in isolation or in separation for you know, weeks, sometimes months without access to people or a phone or writing material or anything to read or a TV. It’s lit twenty four seven, it’s chilled. Not exactly sure why but apparently it has a sort of a sedative effect if you’re constantly a little bit cold. Apparently it has some kind of sedative, I don’t know. They’re monitored on close circuit TV twenty four seven, like there’s no privacy, nothing. Sometimes there will be a little toilet in the corner of the room or it’s just kind of revolting.
MS DEAN And were they freshly painted or can you
MS TAYLOR Generally the only bits that are freshly painted are the bits that, you know, politicians might have a little tour through. So you know the visit centre famously has been revamped and got some new pot plants each time a, you know, a member of Parliament has strolled through. But, yeah. I don’t really remember much about that.
MS DEAN And what’s the atmosphere like in the visiting section itself. Is it, I mean you have just described it as being a bit more done up than the rest of the detention centre, but is it, is it cold, is it over heated, is it, brighter?
MS TAYLOR It’s completely depressing. At the moment it’s quite dark because, because they’ve been renovating there are sort of boards up, there’s no natural light that comes in really apart from a couple of very small sort of shafts like that come in through the door.
MS DEAN What’s the atmosphere like?
MS TAYLOR Try hard jolly, would probably be a good way to say it because they have like care bears colouring books and Disney colouring in books which children or visitors can sort of colour in and sometimes they stick up pictures of happy little care bears skipping around rainbows, you know, on the walls. Don’t know what they’re really going for there but, you know, I mean it’s just this kind of, oh, cringey, try hard, ‘Isn’t this fun’, you know. Disgusting.
MS DEAN Is there any privacy in the visitors centre at all.
MS TAYLOR No, no definitely not and probably deliberately. There were, about a year or two ago, that, M’mm, I wonder if they are still up, I haven’t seen them recently but a year or two ago they had a crack down on unseemly behaviour, like if you’re visiting your wife or your girlfriend or, you know, there will be no unseemly behaviour, which includes any kind of kissing or, you know, anything like that. Like, and there would be public humiliation of people who even dared to go anywhere near kissing each other or anything like that.
MS DEAN And in the outdoor area, any privacy there.
MS TAYLOR A little bit more, but like the guards still had completely had window out onto there but just they couldn’t be bothered looking at it. There were corners of the visiting area where if you needed to hand over a, you know, like a CD or if you brought anything in that perhaps you shouldn’t have then there were opportunities to do that if you knew the right angles, in the outdoor visits area, which I don’t know. Apparently there are a whole lot of nasty things that get into detention centres. There’s, you know, people with heroin habits which is somehow sustained and yeah. The way that people say that they get those is actually usually by the guards. But, I mean the kind of contraband that usually gets brought in with visitors is harmless stuff like photos and CD’s and things like that but.
MS DEAN And where are the guards at this time when visiting Maribyrnong.
MS TAYLOR Now they’re – they used to be in a little office that can join – probably the best way to describe the old visit centre was a three leafed sort of clover arrangement where there was the reception area where you’d fill in your forms and all that doodah and then the inside bit was kind of attached to that through a little walk way with a metal detector and that was all in a little glass fish bowl sort of area. The officers were all in a little glass fish bowl area which sort of faced onto that and faced onto the visits area. But then there’s only a little tiny window there which actually faced onto the third part of the clover which is the outside part. So in terms of privacy that was, you know, the outside part is probably where you’d be. Although that was where almost everyone went to visit because everyone, everyone who is in detention is addicted to cigarettes because there’s nothing bloody well else to do, apart from giving yourself lung cancer. Now there’s just one guard who sort of sits at a desk looking at everyone who’s just sort of in front of them, so.
MS DEAN And when could you visit? I know that’s changed over time too but visiting times as such.
MS TAYLOR Yes, used to be, I’m trying to remember, nine until 11, one until four, seven until nine, I think, and then a couple of years ago, or last, probably 2004 they chopped off the night time visits so no one could come at night which made it really handy as you can imagine because people actually have jobs. So then the weekends sort of became absolutely chokers and things like that. There was quite a lot of fuss made about that actually. Why? Could you please not change the visiting hours it’s ridiculous. But, you know, they did. So now you can visit nine till 12, one till – nine till 12 and one till seven are the visits hours at Maribyrnong.
MS DEAN Okay. So, we’ll talk about visiting detainees now I think. What sort of barriers did you come across more generally.
MS TAYLOR Language, there it is, I’ll just put it out there. Trust, just because we’re talking about people who have been treated often so appallingly both at home and since they have arrived in Australia. The idea of confiding in someone or actually not complaining, but, you know, telling it how it is for fear that it might get back to someone who could effect your claim, you know, that sort of stuff was always, always present. Often it didn’t take very long at all though to build up a relationship of trust and something of a rapport. One of the worst things about visiting detainees is the power imbalance of the relationship. I mean, I call the shots, I can decide when I’m visiting, when I leave, I can decide if I’m too busy this week, I can decide whether I bring anything for you or not, you know, I have the power and the effect that that very obvious fact has on people is quite, quite upsetting sometimes. I mean, you know, usually, usually the people who are detained – who are detained as asylum seekers are men sort of in their twenties and upwards and obviously from a lot of their cultural perspectives, me having all the power over that relationship is a little bit strange, not only for reasons of dignity or pride or whatever but also because of their innate feeling of wanting to welcome me, wanting to offer me hospitality or the fact that they can’t even offer me a damn cup of tea that isn’t from the stinking vending machine – worst coffee in the world, oh my goodness – you know, that’s really quite crippling and quite damaging to, I don’t know, to the health of the relationship from their perspective I think and I mean, I’ve always done everything I can to sort of dismiss those things. Oh, don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it, I’m fine, I’m not thirsty, you know. But even just the inability to offer me something is, you know. And a couple of them, particularly one Iranian guy who I visited for a couple of years, he always used to say, ‘Welcome to my place’, you know, and if I’d ring him and say, ‘Oh I’m coming to see you tomorrow afternoon, I’ll see you then’. He’s like, ‘yeah welcome to my place.’ So, yeah, there’s
MS DEAN Describe some of your experiences with the people you’ve visiting in – we’ll stay with Maribyrnong for a while.
MS TAYLOR All right, yeah. Well, the first few people that I met there it was all a bit of a mystery to me. It’s like, I didn’t know anything about the legal processes, if they’d say, ‘Yeah, I write to your minister, Section 417 Federal Court’, I’d be like, oh, okay then. So sort of hearing about peoples cases was always outside of the – and understanding of the legal construct that they were dealing with so I was completely useless in that respect for, you know, for a long time, didn’t understand them, had no insight, but basically the things that I did pick up on were the facts of people’s cases and the prevailing, you know, the theme that ran through them of lives that they lived which I couldn’t possibly begin to imagine, you know, like, having a political opinion and having your house demolished for it or having your wife gang raped and your kids beaten and things stolen from you and shot and all kinds of stuff, like, just these stories which kind of blew my hair back, you know.
MS DEAN And these were stories you had been told.
MS TAYLOR Yeah, you know just in this kind of matter-of-fact kind of way. Sometimes hard to understand through an accent or through you know people sort of acting out, using charades, you know, what had happened to them and stuff. Yeah, just becoming familiar with the themes of persecution and sort of beginning without even knowing it to understand the idea of what a refugee is and the realities behind what people are fleeing from. The risks that they’d taken and of course at this stage I sort of still thought that we lock them up because they are illegal and, you know, so I was kind of like, yeah, wow, that’s really bad, maybe it shouldn’t be illegal for them to come here. But then, I quickly realised and I quickly realised that that was in fact not the case. Yeah, it’s broad. I remember my first deportation. The first time that someone I knew got deported which was pretty full on. I couldn’t believe the realness of it. I couldn’t believe how life and death it was, I mean, this guy got – this lovely young Vietnamese guy who made himself extremely useful in the detention centre by cutting peoples hair and cleaning the bathrooms and doing the gardening and working in the kitchen and he got deported to Vietnam in my first week of studying in Italy in 2003 and, yeah, he was the first one I got to know quite well who got deported. I remember sort of hearing about this from a text message that he’d been deported and I thought, wow, I wonder what will happen to him, and that sort of being quite a full on thought to have about the reality of what he might have gone back to and I think he’s safe, I think he’s fine. I heard that he was living with his auntie or his grandmother or something. But, just that experience was, you know, something quite new for me, to, wow, a friend of mine might be killed tomorrow, was quite full on.
MS DEAN And the relationships were friendships.
MS TAYLOR Yeah, I mean, it always depends on the language barrier, it depends on the person themselves, depends on almost on my capacity to – often it’s the visitor who needs to do most of the hard work in terms of coaxing people out of themselves or trying to engage. Like it’s so hard to judge whether you should just ask people the stock standard questions which are, how long have you been here, where are you from, where’s your case up to, what, do you have any family in Australia, do you have any family in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Pakistan where ever. Sort of those stock standard questions. You’d usually just ask them with everyone and whether or not you went any further was always kind of a matter for discretion. You could see if they were really squirmy about it, didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to think about it. There’s one man in particular who I might talk about a little bit later who was just a perfect example of that and it took a while for him to open up but you know, yes. Another case that I think I’ll never forget was the case of a guy who was an HIV positive man from Pakistan who was being targeted because all HIV positive men in Pakistan are imputed to have the extra specially fun characteristic in Pakistan of being homosexual whereas he’d acquired his HIV from use of drugs from an incident with drugs. He was imputed by certain people in Pakistan to be gay so he was obviously a target and I think his case is one of the test cases in Australia for whether or not HIV positive male fits into membership of a particular social group as being a convention reason for seeking refugee status and he lost. He also had Hepatitis, I think he was a diabetic, the guy just looked like a shadow all the time. He, towards to end of his day in detention he was losing massive handfuls of hair and was just horrible. I think even though it was very early days at that stage I think he’s probably the worst, the person who looked the worst in detention and it looked like that it was just over.
MS DEAN Was he given any medical help while in detention?
MS TAYLOR Some, his family, he has a brother in Melbourne, his family sort of paid for antiretrovirals and other treatment for him but he was being, his case failed and he was deported to Pakistan and I don’t really know what happened to him. And he was pretty close to death when he left which was at least a couple years ago.
MS DEAN How do you deal with that not knowing?
MS TAYLOR I don’t know. I suppose in some ways and this is not really good, in some ways it all seems to be so unreal that I almost don’t deal with it, like don’t think about it much, kind of have these vague ideas of what might be the reality that faced that person but don’t sort of explore that too much. Yeah, I don’t know why, maybe just as a coping sort of thing you know.
MS DEAN While you’re on Pakistan you talked earlier about the artist academic.
MS TAYLOR M’mm.
MS DEAN Did you continue to visit him over time?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, yeah I visited him until he got out and then saw him after he got out, you know, came to my birthday party last year and I think the year before as well and yeah there’s been an ongoing contact there. His phone has been disconnected recently. I know he went back to somewhere, United Arab Emirates I think to visit his family. He got his mum and his kids to come and come there as they often do if they need to visit their families once they get their visas they go to a neighbouring country and their family goes to the neighbouring country so they can see each other. But while he was in detention his marriage broke down completely because his wife just didn’t understand why he wasn’t coming home, why he couldn’t come home. One of his children was very, very sick and on the verge of death at one stage and just the worries that he carried around with him that, the utter powerlessness of being you know, this big proud man who had, you know, a wife and kids to provide for was sitting on his butt in detention doing nothing you know.
MS DEAN How long was he in detention for?
MS TAYLOR Around about three years, I think. Close to three years, yeah.
MS DEAN And you visited him for that entire time?
MS TAYLOR No, I visited him from sort of early or mid 2002. I can’t really remember exactly when it was that I started going but I met him on my first visit and I visited him until he got out. Which was late 2003 I think maybe early 2004.
MS DEAN And he has a visa now?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, he has a, I think he has a – he had a TPV, yeah he had a TPV, that’s right.
MS DEAN Upgraded or not?
MS TAYLOR Probably not yet, probably coming up for an upgrade but I’m not exactly sure.
MS DEAN Okay and what were you able to offer him perhaps specifically, do you think?
MS TAYLOR Not much. I was, I started visited him when I was 20 or 19 or 20. I was just like some kid who had absolutely no idea. You know, sometimes I’d sing which I do from time to time. Sometimes, you know, he just wanted to hear about what was going on in my life, what was I doing blah, blah, blah school, blah, blah I mean Uni, blah, blah, blah, this that you know. I couldn’t really offer him much I feel like he was almost like my learning dummy you know because I knew absolutely nothing about the process when I met him and he had already been in detention for a while and was highly intelligent and educated. Spoke a ridiculous number of languages and stuff. He taught me quite a lot about the processes and the realities. He was outspoken about you know detainees rights and the way that people should have been treated versus the way that they were being treated. He got himself on a black list as soon as – the day after he got out of detention a big notice went up in the visits area saying ‘Under no circumstances is this person allowed to come back into immigration in to this detention facility.’ So, he was barred from the detention centre the minute he left it he was never allowed to come back. Which is just weird but yeah, I
MS DEAN Why do you think that was?
MS TAYLOR Well, because he was a shit stirrer frankly. He would stick up for rights, he would – if he saw that someone was being mistreated he would say ‘Oh, what’s going on here?’ and he made a lot of, you know, embarrassment for the guards and didn’t let them get away with much. Which was relatively unpopular. Yeah, so that’s yeah, but yeah I feel like I couldn’t offer him much except I don’t know, nothing really, just visiting. I feel like I was incredibly naive about everything at the time, yeah, not much. Just visit, company, I don’t know. Something like that.
MS DEAN Was there much that the detainees you were visiting had to do there, by way of education, access to education, leisure?
MS TAYLOR That’s always varied a lot actually. If you read the DIMIA website about the immigration detention centres it sounds a bit like Club Med, you know, Club Med – Wind sailing, arts and crafts. You know, I mean from time to time there were yoga classes or English classes or a bible study or something like that but those things always went up and down and usually people were so completely unmotivated and usually didn’t go. Now there’s a guy full time at Maribyrnong who has a job of entertaining detainees and he sort of puts on a Bollywood movie viewing – from time to time they watch a movie on a projector in the visits area or I’m going in on Tuesday with a friend of mine who’s a singer/songwriter and we’re just going to play some music and I sort of arranged that through him. There are few little diversions that they have and from time to time they get taken out for excursions and I cannot tell you how much I hate listening to grown men with you know, there’s a Turkish guy in there at the moment who’s you know – he’s got tattoos and piercings that he’s done himself. You know, he’s like fully tough arse guy and there’s two Afghan men and you know they’re in their 20’s or early 30’s and they talk about excursions to the zoo and we’re just like this is weird and you’re not eight years old, you know, but the only – and they really look forward to these things. Like, shouldn’t you be out drinking beer and picking up girls you know instead of looking forward to going to the zoo. It’s just this stripping of everything that they should be able to do, should have the power to do you know. It’s just peculiar the kind of attitude that they have towards their entertainment and they get taken shopping sometimes you know, very, very occasionally they can go to Highpoint and buy a pair of socks. You know, wow, just these little tiny things that you and I do every damn day that are these highlights of their life. You know, I hate it I get embarrassed listening to them go, yay, we’re going to the zoo, yay, we’re going to a movie. I’m like man, wow, you guys need to get out of here.
MS DEAN Are they obviously detainees at that time, I mean by that are they handcuffed, are they guarded closely or are they given a certain liberty?
MS TAYLOR They are guarded closely. I remember, I’ll never forget visiting the Iranian guy who will come up later, seeing me one day and he came out into the visits area once I called him and he was very agitated, upset, I could see that he’d been crying. He was very upset and I said what the hell, what’s wrong with you this is in the early afternoon and he said they took me to the dentist this morning in handcuffs and he was put in flexi cuffs and the physio, he’d been to the physio in handcuffs as well. How is a physio supposed to do anything with the damn handcuffs on. So, you know I mean, yes they are, probably because they’re you know three grown men kind of tough looking strolling around the zoo like with uniformed guards. I mean what is that about, you know just, yes, there obviously detainees.
MS DEAN And you talked about doing entertainment yourself in there, do you organise that or was that difficult to organise?
MS TAYLOR Yes, well it depends. The first time I did it I wrote a fax and said this is my name I would like to come in and play some music at the request of the detainees blah, blah, blah, faxed it through, was expecting a resounding bugger off. Got a phone call and they said ‘Actually yes, we’d really like that. His is next Wednesday?’ I almost fell on the ground. So, we went in we set up a little band, we played for an hour or so. Someone requested the Australian National Anthem, we played, like, Hotel California instead or something it was just like no sorry we are not playing that. And then we went back again and – sorry, we left and then the next week the guy called me and said ‘Will you come back again maybe in a few weeks time?’ I said ‘Yeah, love too absolutely.’ So, we came back again and they were kind of enjoying it and we were sort of saying, yes, we’re interested in doing this. So, I rang a few weeks later and said ‘How about we come back again?’ The guy said ‘Yes, well you’ll have to apply to DIMIA to be able to do that.’ So, we got our permission and then we said, yes. We went. We sort of had this understanding that maybe it could happen again but as soon as we actually expressed interest in coming again rather than him ringing us and asking us to, we had to apply through DIMIA. It was weird, weird, just this -we’re not going to make it easy for you kind of mentality and yeah, but I’ve sort of managed to build up a little bit of a relationship with the ‘keep them busy’ guy at Maribyrnong. So, you know I ring him and say how’s about it and usually he’ll say, yes, but he has to check it all out and everything but I suppose now he trusts me or something so, yeah. But yeah, they do make it hard sometimes unless they want you in which case it’s really easy.
MS DEAN And if detainees that you’ve visited themselves request certain education tools or
MS TAYLOR I’m not sure really. Usually people are on medications, antidepressants, sleeping pills, stuff like that, that means their concentration is absolutely shot to buggery. So, even though I’ve suggested – I mean people have trouble reading a book, let alone studying or doing anything like that, and I think that it would be made difficult for them to continue studying. I know of a few people who have been taken into detention while they’ve been at Uni or whatever and they have been disallowed from studying which is interesting because if you think about Julian Knight – the guy who committed the Hoddle Street massacre, he’s gained like three Masters degrees in prison or something. And, yeah, it’s just not really made easy for them at all, even if they did have the where-with-all to undertake education.
MS DEAN And again, more generally, do the detainees that you’re visiting express a desire for more entertainment or other activities that they would like to?
MS TAYLOR I think beyond a certain extent entertainment is putting, you know, a bandaid on a bullet wound, you know, like, what these people want is not pottery classes or macramé they want their freedom and after a certain point there’s no substitute for that. Entertainment is empty and meaningless so.
MS DEAN So, more generally again, what were the concerns which were repeatedly voiced by detainees that you were visiting?
MS TAYLOR You want the list of complaints? How long have we got? Food – chicken and rice, chicken and rice, chicken and rice, smelly chicken and rice, salty, greasy, revolting. I was talking to one of the guys who is still on Nauru the other day, and I was asking him about the food there and everything and I said, you know ‘Is the food there halal?’ and he said ‘Well, the kitchen tells us that it’s halal’ and I said ‘You sound like you don’t believe them.’ They said ‘Well, yeah it’s hard to say’. So, whether or not things are actually halal is you know, anyone’s guess. Extremely uncomfortable and disgusting sleeping arrangements, four people, four grown men in one room which is 2.3 X 2.3 or something ridiculous like that. Bunks, like the worst school camp in the history of the world. There have been people who have been very sick in detention, like a couple of years ago there was a case of Tuberculosis untreated at Maribyrnong for ten months or something, unheard of in Melbourne in the 21st Century. What else, it’s freezing. The heaters in the men’s compound were broken for around about three winters. No one sort of got around to fixing them and when visitors bought in a whole lot of blankets and sleeping bags and stuff, because they had a blanket at that stage which was flannelette and covered about the knees to the shoulders, M’mm, toasty warm, and they were only allowed one mind you. Yeah, people donated a whole lot of blankets and sleeping bags but they were donated not to individual detainees but to the detention centre which meant that they weren’t the property of the detainees which meant that the detainees had no access to them. So, they were all, all these cosy, nice pillows, blankets and sleeping bags and doonas were sitting in a property cupboard at DIMIA and people were refused access to them because they were DIMIA’s property because they’d been donated to DIMIA, or to the detention centre. So, that’s a bit mean. What else is there, gosh. Just the arbitrariness, you never know what you’re going to get on any given day. Everything depends on which guards you’ve got, how their moods are, yeah, far out. Lack of exercise, being unable to just run around and do things. There’s a soccer pitch at Maribyrnong, like a soccer area but the lights there have been broken for a few weeks and because it’s – day light saving’s over they sort of can’t use them after a certain time of day. Not being allowed outside to see the sky, yeah, heaven knows.
MS DEAN You mentioned guards, so before we go back to particular detainees.
MS TAYLOR Yep.
MS DEAN Your experience of guards and the experience of guards that was voiced to you by people in detention more generally?
MS TAYLOR Basically, it just takes a while to get to know who you’re dealing with. The stories that emerge from detainees, the stories that emerge from cases. Like there’s one particular guard at Maribyrnong who is an interesting specimen of humanity if you can even refer to her like that. [A portion of this interview has been removed for legal reasons] Burnside reckons the funnest day of his life was cross-examining her. She said in her evidence when Julian was cross-examining her, he said to her ‘Has it ever been your experience that after people have been in detention for a while they get a bit depressed?’ She said ‘It’s not my job to notice that.’ and he said ‘All right, all right, that not withstanding, when people have been in detention for a couple of years, four years, no freedom, you know, that they tend not to be able to sleep well, they tend not to be too happy, chirpy, woo hoo, I’m so happy with my life, they tend to get a bit depressed?’ She just went ‘Nah.’ She’s just a woman who just refuses to acknowledge what’s going on around her and she’s got this kind of sick adherence to the rule book. Like this woman lives and dies by the rule book. Could not make a decision independent of regulations to save her life. Couldn’t reason her way out of a paper bag. She’s just quite mean spirited in her interactions with people and with, I mean the detainees say you haven’t seen the half of it. She’s probably the icon of not nice guards at Maribyrnong. You do certainly hear of people who do make an effort to improve the lot of the people in detention. To make them, you know, to make the best of a horrible situation, I suppose.
MS DEAN Have you seen that?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, there was one particular woman, a Kiwi woman called, Trudy, who I think she actually had to step down after – I’m not sure of this – I think she was one of the people who got toasted because of the transporting of the detainees from Maribyrnong to Baxter in a car with no toilet breaks, that story, you know. I think she was one of the people whose butt got fried for that, which is quite a shame actually because I think she was quite, one of the people who sort treated people like humans not like ID numbers to an extent.
MS DEAN And did you see the other guards change attitudes over time?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, one in particular springs to my mind. There was a guard there by the name of Gary Finch who worked there for a few years and early last year, I think, probably early last year he found out that he had cancer and that his cancer was not going to be allowing him to walk on this earth for much longer. And he would sort of be working on a Sunday morning and he’d be glowing red from his radiotherapy and he just looked absolutely shocking and I sort of had a bit of a relationship with this guy. He would sometimes come out and sit in a circle with us outside and have a smoke on his, you know, on his break whatever, and we’d just kind of chat and stuff, and he, over a period of a few months disclosed to me that you know, he did in fact have terminal cancer. He, and of course my first question was what the hell are you still doing in a place like this, get out of here, what are you thinking? And he sort of went, oh, you know, I’ve got to you know, pay my bills and stuff like that but then gradually over a period of weeks I could see his attitude changing and just his priorities shifting completely. And he informed me quite happily one day that he’d just resigned, he’d given a couple weeks notice, and he was going to go and go back to Perth to rebuild his relationship with his son. Who he was basically estranged from and he did that and he left the detention centre looking worse and worse each week as I came to see him and then he just said, yeah, I don’t want to be in a place like this for my last weeks, last days and stuff. So, he went back to Perth, repaired his relationship with his son and died. That was what probably at the end of last year that he passed away and you know he changed markedly as soon as things were put into something more of an eternal context for him you know. As soon as there were more meaningful things on the line than, you know, getting paid for doing this shitty horrendous job he immediately sort of came to see where he didn’t want to be. So, he left and you know it was quite great to see him being liberated from that job and from the person that that job made him to be and he intimated something quite like that to me in the sort of last couple of times that I saw him. Yeah, that he wasn’t doing what he wanted to be doing and he didn’t really like who he was there. So, he got out of there and made peace with his son and passed away, which was, you know, there you go.
MS DEAN Now, you mentioned the Iranian man that you’d been visiting in Maribyrnong detention centre. How long did you visit him for?
MS TAYLOR It actually leads on precisely from the day that I walked into Julian Burnside’s office which I think was July 2003 because after he hung up the phone from the detention centre talking about this other guy, he said to me, ‘Now, are you visiting Ahmin(?)’ and I said ‘Who’s he, what now’ and he said, ‘You need to visit this man, I’ll give you his name, go and see him, it would be great for him to have some visitors and some company’. And this guy’s story I have absolutely no doubt will arise again. Ahmin is – he was at Baxter when his seven-year-old daughter was deported while he was in solitary confinement from just underneath him, just taken from him and sent back to Iran. Him having been the only parent she’d known since she was two years old or something and he was then moved from Baxter to Maribyrnong after spending about 65 days I think in solitary confinement, distraught beyond the human capacity, having had his little girl taken away from him and stuff, and he, I started visiting about a week after he was moved to Maribyrnong. Julian was acting for him at the time and I met Julian and Julian said, go visit this guy, very soon after he arrived in Melbourne. So, I did that. I think Julian might have given me just a five second over view of what had just happened to him, you, know two weeks earlier, or a month earlier, his daughter having been deported, but I didn’t sort of go there with him. I didn’t really want to press him on that because I could see that he was quite distraught. And the person who presented himself in the detention centre, in the visits area, the following weekend, was a tall, handsome, proud, strong man. Who was obviously quite distressed but he was very – quite striking looking, quite – just very proud looking and very, you know, I don’t know like a lion or something, I don’t know. He just kind of, this thick curly hair and a presence about him, a charisma about him, and sort of visited and we chatted politely about a few things a few times. Then, one day a few weeks later he just dropped this name Mosuma(?) into the conversation and I sort of asked him about her and he said this is my daughter she was taken away from me a few weeks ago and, you know, his story started to come out and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The treatment that I had – that he had suffered and the humiliation and the absolute torture of having his reason for being alive taken away from him and the circumstances under which that happened, which were just trickery and deception and lies and dishonesty and all kinds of absolutely bloody disgusting things that happened to him. I have read psych reports of him from that point, even from a psychiatrist who knew the day before his daughter was deported that she was going to be and sent an urgent report saying, do not deport this girl, he will fall apart, he will die, he will not go on without her. You can’t send her away. And they did anyway. Yeah, so I was immediately struck by this guy’s case and his story and everything and very soon we, the other guy got released so he was sort of my person in detention who, if I was only there to see one person that I would see this guy and he has a remarkable capacity for humour. He’s a cheeky bastard sometimes. He sort of would always give me trouble about wearing jeans with a rip in them or, you know, looking like I hadn’t brushed my hair or, you know. He’d just constantly, he’d look at my fingernails and say, no one’s going to want a wife with fingernails like that, you know. Just, you know, constantly giving me trouble, yeah, but there’s a relationship that developed there which was just this, I just felt like he was an uncle that I had who, I just, he was so great, you know, and his mental state as I kept visiting over months and months and months and months just deteriorated so significantly that if I look at him now and think about him then I can not recognise the person I see now. I mean, he’s out of detention now, he’s been out for about – he got out like three days before my birthday last year which was August. So, he’s been out for about eight months something, and he’s one of those people who asked to be put back in detention because he feels like he just can’t cope with life outside because he’s just been so stripped of any capacity to provide for himself. He certainly has no reason to be here while his daughter is, you know, is not. His English has actually got worse since I’ve known him and I don’t know if there’s any correlation between psychiatric trauma, post traumatic stress disorder, and not being able to retain language but his English now sometimes is incomprehensible, where as before it was quite good. He is in pretty shocking physical condition, he smokes like you would not believe. He said he cut down actually but I’m not sure how successful he’s been I’ll have to ask him. Yeah, he has so much hardship, so much stuff that doesn’t work in his life. So many things that have just kind of been disabled from the way that his body works, from the way that his mind works, from the way that he knows how to interact with people. Everything’s just a little bit not right, not the way that it should be, you know, and I completely 500 per cent believe that that’s because he was locked up for four and half years.
MS DEAN And you visited him for
MS TAYLOR July 2003 to August 2005 at least once a week.
MS DEAN And you still see him now?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, I do fairly regularly.
MS DEAN And does he know what’s happened to his daughter since, is he still in contact with his daughter?
MS TAYLOR She got sent back to Iran to live with her mother’s new husband and their family. He of course tells me that she’s miserable there and she wants to be with him. Of course I don’t know how – what that is but you know I mean I remember one day when he was still in detention being very angry because it was her birthday and he’d spoken to her and she was crying and she said they didn’t get me a birthday cake or anything, we didn’t celebrate my birthday at all and you know. Because even when they’re in detention I mean, he’d do everything he could to make things okay for her. So, he just wants her back, you know so, I’m actually currently as part of, I’m doing a legal internship at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and one of the projects I’m sort of looking at doing at the moment is looking at the legality of her deportation under international laws regarding abduction, family law in Australia, you know, separating a child from a parent and, you know all sorts of different things. So, looking into that to prepare a report for the Ombudsman to look at the legality of her deportation. So, yeah, but the things that he’s been through, multiple suicide attempts. The one that sticks in my mind the most is when he was in isolation one day and I went and saw him and I was allowed through to see him in the isolation bit. I was just locked in a little room with him, like basically locked in a little cell with him with a phone that you couldn’t ring out from, two chairs and a table. And he said to me, I’ve got some money. Because he won a damages claim against the government a few months earlier, ‘I’ve got some money, I’m a bit worried that they’re going to try and take it off me. Can we write a will?’ And I said ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I just want to make sure that if anything would happen to me, if they try and take my money or anything like that that it’s all going to go back to Mosuma in Iran, that everything will be you know looked after’. And I was doing some work at the Springvale Monash Legal Service and I’d be doing lots of wills and stuff and he said ‘So, can we just write a will right now?’ and I said ‘I’m not comfortable about this.’ He said ‘No, no I just want some peace of mind about it you know.’ So we got out a piece of paper and we wrote out, you know. He looked up the addresses of his brother in Iran who would you know this and that and look after it. We sort of wrote out this two page will providing for her education until she was 18 that all the money would go into a trust of whatever and then we signed, counter signed. I am the executor – executrix, and Burnside is the secondary executor. We signed it, we had it witnessed. I said, I think this is valid but I’ll just go and check it with my Supervisors at the legal service because I’m not a solicitor so we’ll just check it, okay, so and then as I was leaving I said to him, ‘this does not mean it’s okay for you to try and do anything to yourself. If you do I will kick your arse.’ He’s like, no, no my baby, my baby it’s okay, it’s okay, and I said, I’m not sure that it’s valid, I think it’s okay. He said, but you know, it should work if anything happens, and I said, yes. I was very uncomfortable but, yeah, I wasn’t going to refuse to write his will for him and he gave me a big kiss goodbye and said ‘Thank you, thank you for everything. I love you thank you goodbye.’ And I left and that night he swallowed half a bottle of sleeping tablets and tried to kill himself for not the first and not the last time and I found about that the next day or even the day after that and I don’t think I need to explain now how that was and you know. Just the fact that all of these things which are horrible hardship and horrible experiences and horrible things that people are having done to them and are doing to themselves is not as a result of them being criminals or dodgy brothers or anything like that but it’s a result of them fleeing their countries, desperately in need of help, and our government punishing them like that in the most horrendously deliberate ways. In ways which are so individually targeted to cause hardship and to break people, and I mean, the prevailing opinion around people who are aware of his situation is that his daughter was a carrot, you know she’s back in Iran, don’t you want to go back to Iran too, get out of our country you pain in the arse. You know, I mean
MS DEAN What do you talk to, to somebody like that, when you go and visit, how do you
MS TAYLOR Really depends. With him, after a short while there was quite a lot of comfort that sort of built up between us like a trust, probably beyond most other relationships that I’ve had with people in the detention centre. He would call the shots basically, what we’d talk about. Sometimes he just wanted to talk about something he’d seen on TV. Sometimes he wanted to tell me about when he was a kid. Sometimes he would have a confession to make about, you know, something that he had done in his life that he wasn’t proud of or, you know. I think I actually still know something that maybe one or two other people in the planet know about him which is an extraordinary privilege, and yeah, just whatever he wanted to tell me I was, you know, there to hear and our friendship always oscillated or had these extremes of just mucking around and, you know, giving each other a hard time and buying each other terrible horrific cups of coffee from the vending machine and things which were very honest and very profound and, yeah. So, we just talked about whatever really.
MS DEAN And I’m just taking you back a step here but when you were talking before about detainees not being able to make a cup of tea or do anything like that for visitors to give. Were they ever able to use kitchens or was there – at Maribyrnong?
MS TAYLOR No, no. I think it’s the case that at all of the detention centres they can work in the kitchen under supervision, washing dishes or whatever, but, no, they certainly don’t have access to facilities.
MS DEAN And cultural difference is never really regarded in relation to cooking?
MS TAYLOR As long as your culture likes chicken and rice it’s all good. Not really, no.
MS DEAN So just to conclude with the Iranian detainee from Maribyrnong, he’s in with a Temporary Protection Visa now?
MS TAYLOR Yep, he’s in Melbourne, studying, struggling always with – his hardest time I think was actually just after he got out of detention because I think it was that moment where he realised what had been taken from him, five years, and his little girl. So, the times that he had to himself to just sit and think about what’s happened to him, I mean those things were just catastrophic for him. That was extremely hard to watch because people always assume, you’re out of detention, it’s all good now, happy, happy joy, joy, you know, it’s just not the case at all. Yeah, he will be okay I suppose but he has been permanently damaged by his experiences in our system. If and depending on whether he ever sees his daughter again, I mean, what does this government think it can possibly be doing by separating a parent from a child in that horrific way without him even having a chance to say goodbye to her, you know, nothing, unforgivable really, really, unforgivable, so.
MS DEAN Would you like to talk about any other people you visited in detention?
MS TAYLOR Well, I’ve been to Baxter a few times.
MS DEAN How did you get to Baxter or how did you arrange to go to Baxter?
MS TAYLOR In a Tarago with six of my friends. One of whom was a young Iranian guy just 23, who had got out of detention a week earlier and we were saying yeah, we’re planning this trip to Baxter. He said, if I’m out I’ll come with you. We all thought, are you completely insane, apparently so. So, he did come with us. Yeah, he’d spoke basically no English. There was a Persian girl who came with us though another friend of mine who sort of acted as a interpreter for him a little bit and he learnt during that trip such staples as, how’s it going mate, g’day mate, good mate, yeah. Staples of English, of Australian language which he now uses ad nauseam. We got in the Tarago and started driving. We went via Maribyrnong because we were driving to my father’s house in Halls Gap, my dad lives in the Grampians so we were sort of spending – we’d drive the three or three and a half hours there, spent the afternoon just hanging around. Went for a bit of a bush walk, hung out at a waterfall, ate a pie from the Stoney Creek Bakery and then the next day started the really, very long drive from Halls Gap through to Adelaide and then North to Port Augusta. All shoved in a Tarago, seven of us and our luggage in a Tarago, it was an absolute shambles. It was fantastic though we had such a good time. We drove and we got there at about – it was a 15 hour drive all up, one way. We got there and late one night we arrived in Port Augusta, I think it was a Tuesday night and we got to number 120 Tassie Street, which is where we were supposed to be staying and it was demolished. We went – could be a problem, so we sort of okay, all right maybe I forgotten the address I’ll try and find the place. Knocked on a door and the door was open by a tank of a woman wearing a GSL outfit like she was a detention centre guard and we could Desperate Housewives on in the background. It was really, really strange and it was me and this young guy who just got out of detention who knocked on that door and as soon as she opened the door he sort of jumped behind me and sort of cowered and he’s like, no, because he obviously hadn’t had that great new experience with these people while he was in detention for a few months. So, I sort of politely asked her, hi, do you know where this place is, and she’s like, yeah, just up the hill go up that way, blah, blah, blah and it’s in a block of flats there and we sort of went, whoof, that was weird interrupting one those people in their natural habitat you know kind of strange. So, we walked up the hill you know the others drove the car up the hill and we found the block of flats but couldn’t see any numbers or anything on the flats couldn’t see any other forms of identification of the flats. So, we had to knock on another door and I said to Mahmoud(?), I said if this is another GSL guard this is going to be a little bit of a flip out and of course it was another GSL guard. And I just thought to myself what is this town where everyone works in this revolting dump of a prison-ey kind of place but this guy was really helpful and his daughter was kind of curled around his leg, you know, while he was telling us. He’s like yeah, yeah it’s just over there, yep, and do you know how to get there in the morning? Right well you just go up here, turn left go over the bridge, go left and, yeah, so he was great, but it was just this strange sort of everyone in this town is somehow complicit in the maintenance of this strange warehouse for people who have never committed a crime under Australian law. So, the next morning was absolutely beautiful, it was just a stunning day with blue sky and fluffy clouds you know, sailing past and we got in the car and got a bit lost but we don’t have to talk about that. Eventually, you know, drove over this bridge which kind of crosses an inlet at Port Augusta which kind of this quite beautiful bridge actually. It just kind of swerves around in quite a high arc over the ocean in a bit of a corner and the ocean was just sparkling. It was this beautiful day and we were all chattering and excited about visiting and, you know, it was great and then we found the intersection, saw the biggest thing that said, “Baxter,” with an arrow that way. And so we turned left and we were just driving down this suburban street with a house and cars and blah, blah, blah and then suddenly we drove over a boundary onto the road to Baxter and it was instantly something completely different. It was just the earth began to turn red and there were no houses, there were no people, there were no cars. It was just – it began to turn into desert and we drove along there and the further away from the town we got everyone sort of was quiet and subdued and we didn’t exactly know what we were looking for. We didn’t know if we’d be able to see it in the distance. We didn’t know which side of the road it would be on. I’d had a hunch that it was on the left from a photograph that I’d seen. Yeah, we eventually after about probably 15 minutes pulled up in front of the detention centre which is surrounded by a sort of grey/green sort of gum tree looking things and this huge perimeter fence. It stretches in – you sort of arrive at a corner of the detention centre and the fence just stretches as far the as the eye can see and it’s got a huge – what it’s called, a dog run or something, were you’ve got like a 15 metre barrier between the two huge steel fences and there’s an energised courtesy fence. Which is departmental bull shit speak, for an electric fence but on the plans of Baxter it’s called an energised courtesy fence. Don’t even, I can’t explain that to you. There it is, there it is. You do whatever you want with that piece of information. We arrived, we pulled into the car park and just as we arrived there was a truck driving in through the huge steel gate. It, you know, slid open with a sort of squealing noise and the truck drove through and then it kind of slammed shut, the truck was in the lock, it was kind of inspected and then allowed to drive through the other half of the lock. We were just like what are we doing here. The image that I have in my head of us at that stage was just being little kids totally out of our comfort zones, totally out of our, what the hell are we doing, zones. Just completely lost and interfering with grown up business that we shouldn’t be going anywhere near, that we should still not, you know, we should be innocent of this kind of stuff. It was just this feeling of my gosh this is confronting. So, we went in and went to the little visits bit and we, you know, said this is our ID, these are the people we’ve come to visit, you’ve got our application forms. There was a guy at the visit centre at Baxter called Corey who I’d been speaking to for a couple weeks to try and organise everything, who was really helpful, and very nice actually, nice guy, nice kid really he was probably 25. Yeah, so we just chucked our stuff in the lockers and went through the unbelievably ridiculous process of getting in to the visit centre at Baxter which involves so much security and scans and x-rays and friskings and good Lord. Yeah, then we got in there and met the detainees, which was a whole other experience from everything that I’d ever experienced in my life before. People who were just, I mean, Baxter is in the middle of nowhere. I mean, if you stand outside the detention centre with your back to the centre and look out there’s just nothing. In the very, very far distance there’s kind of – it almost looks a bit like a peninsula but it’s, like, I don’t know, just the side of a hill or a mountain, I don’t know exactly but there’s just – there’s nothing. And with these people having arrived in a car and driven through those gates with no concept of where they are, will I be safe here, when will I be getting out of here. You know, and the number of the people who have been in Baxter for years without a visitor because nobody sort of knows that they’re there is absolutely bloody terrifying. Just the fact – Baxter is the out of sight out of mind, you know, it’s a living example of the principle of out of sight, out of mind. We became starkly aware of that during the visit because there were people who were so abandoned and so alone and so forgotten about it was just terrifying to see.
MS DEAN How did you know who to visit there yourself?
MS TAYLOR There was a guy who was at Maribyrnong who was moved to Baxter and that was actually what sort of spurred us to visit. So, we saw him and how else did we find people. I think the Iranian guy who had been in detention, like, the young guy who came with us also had got into contact with some Iranian guys at Baxter as well. So we had a few different names of people but the first time we visited was naively very early in the morning and, hint, immigration detainees don’t like the early morning because most of them can’t sleep. They don’t go to sleep till the early hours of the morning and then they, you know, might wake up at midday or they’re basically not presentable before 11 a.m. at all. So, we only met about three different, four or five or something, very few people actually came out for a visit that morning anyway.
MS DEAN Did you have to put names forward or how did that
MS TAYLOR Yeah, yes we did. We had to fax through our application forms a week or so in advance but then I asked the people, we asked the people who we met on that first morning, who else should we visit, and so we came out with a big long list of names and I sort of said to Corey pretty please, with a cherry on top, can we visit these people as well and he sort of helped us out with that. So, by the end of it we were quite a big group, quite a lot of people. Yeah.
MS DEAN And anyone specific that – or anything specific that strikes you that you were told about in Baxter about the differences between say treatment of detainees in Baxter as opposed to Maribyrnong or was it quite similar?
MS TAYLOR It’s quite different, I think. Baxter has a very different vibe to Maribyrnong. Maribyrnong is in the city, people know about it. People can drive there within half and hour, can come and visit for the afternoon. Port Augusta, Baxter, is three and a half or four hours from Adelaide. You know not so eminently visible and visitable. So people just don’t have that same contact with the outside world which really colours everything, yeah. That has a massive impact on the way that people are in themselves the way that they feel about, you know, where they are, who they are, how they are, is coloured very, very much by their visitors and the people around them. I feel ridiculous actually talking about Baxter as being this out of sight, out of mind place where today Senator Vanstone is introducing legislation which will take people put of those centres and put them on bloody Nauru. But for the purposes of the immigration system in Australia so far in the last decade Baxter has been quite remote, until now. Yeah, there was a pregnant women at Baxter who was an opera singer and she just was, had this beautiful voice and she played guitar and sang songs that she’d written about her five years in detention with her husband. She was pregnant, chain smoking like you would not believe. Shaking like she had Parkinsons. Coffee – like, just horrific, horrific, she was just an absolute mess and when we left I was just praying for her baby, you know. That some how that child would be protected from the trauma of it’s, you know, of it’s conception and it’s gestation, I suppose. Like just the, there was not a one beam of hope or happiness in her and I mean you compare that to the way that a pregnant women should be. I mean, you know, excited and expectant and hopeful and healthy she was just the pole opposite of everything that she should’ve been.
MS DEAN Do you know what happened to the pregnant women in Baxter?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, she got out of detention about a couple of months after we saw her and very soon after that gave birth and I think her baby was prima facie healthy. Well, see I don’t know, I haven’t really been in much contact with them.
MS DEAN And your experience at Baxter was there much privacy in comparison to Maribyrnong visitors centre?
MS TAYLOR A little bit more because there’s a huge outdoors area at Baxter with a big piece of play equipment in the middle of it and you know. Not really, I mean they’re always, you’re being watched at all times, there’s always you know eyes everywhere, cameras everywhere, and certainly the experience of detainees at Baxter is that they are really watched all the time. Cameras in all the walkways, cameras just everywhere and I think they actually have little sort of kitchenette facilities and stuff. Just cameras everywhere. So
MS DEAN And detainees talked about this surveillance as something that was
MS TAYLOR Yeah, constant surveillance. I mean they all sort of knew where the black spots were, in terms of where there were little gaps in the surveillance but, yeah, generally there was just, you’re being watched.
MS DEAN And if you were to compare Baxter, I mean, it is an ex army camp or part of – does it still have that feeling you described the difference when you went over.
MS TAYLOR Yeah, on the gate outside Baxter there is a photograph that says – what does it say, I can probably look it up – says something like, Warning, Unexploded – something – Shells, Unexploded Mine Shells, or something like that. There’s gates. We said, can you actually – we said to one of the guards, can you actually walk around the perimeter of the centre. And they went, nah. And we said, is that – why not, is it physically impossible or are we not allowed to. He’s like, well, I don’t think you’d want to because there’s a whole lot of live shells around, sort of buried around the centre. And I don’t whether he was just crapping on or whether there might actually be sort of live ammunition sort of, just around the centre. I mean, I don’t know, it’s just this strange hostile environment where even if it isn’t really that hostile they certainly try and make it seem as unwelcoming as possible, you know.
MS DEAN Was there an outdoor area given that – for visitors and for detainees in particular, to meet, or to go and walk around?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, there are outdoor areas at Baxter for the detainees. They’re all kept in different compounds in Baxter. It’s a huge centre, the family friendly detention centre, as Philip Ruddock called it when it was opened. So, yes, they are allowed more access to the outside. By all accounts the facilities and things at Baxter are 20 times better than at Maribyrnong but all of that’s kind of undone by the fact that there’s, you know, hardly any capacity for visitors.
MS DEAN And when you’re visiting in either detention centre did you ever visit families or children in detention?
MS TAYLOR Yeah. Sort of came across quite a few children at Maribyrnong. Usually not children that were very young though, but I – at Baxter – when I think about children in detention and what that actually sort of looks like, I have an image in my head of two little Iranian boys, sort of matching red and blue tracksuits and thick curls, thick black curls, and beautiful big doe eyes. I think these kids must have been about four and five or four and six, so they’d now be about five and seven or something. They were just collapsed in a heap on the grass in the outside visits area of Baxter with their mum, this beautiful gorgeous Persian woman, just worn down from worrying about them because they were both very sick. They were both coughing and coughing and coughing all the time this horrible chesty cough, like croupy coughs. One of them was coughing so much that he was vomiting phlegm and it was just revolting. I mean any mother in Australia who heard her kid cough like that would get straight to the doctor immediately. You know, and they had no medical attention. They were just sitting in a heap, ten metres from where there was this brightly coloured beautiful play equipment, yay, let’s go and play on the play equipment, you know. The play equipment at Baxter, I don’t think I’ve ever seen detainee kids actually playing on it. Seen visitors kids playing on it but the detainee kids just you know, there’s no room for that in their universe, I guess. And in February this year I was at my friends birthday party, my Iranian friend who came to Baxter with us, and there were these two little kids there and they were beautiful, just gorgeous little children and they were running around, they were cheeky little buggers and I was kind of sneaking them, you know, mouthfuls of chocolate cake out of the fridge and sort of, shhhhhhh, feeding it to them and stuff. And so they thought I was, you know, great and giggling and pulling my clothes and, you know, it was fun, it was really fun. Then I was talking to their mother in the kitchen later and she was smiling, beautiful voluptuous, gorgeous, you know, beaming woman, and she said to me, ‘I remember you from detention.’ And I just said, ‘Really, I don’t think I remember meeting you at Maribyrnong?’ And she ‘No, no, no at Baxter’. I realised that it was the same mother and her two children, unrecognisable, and I sort of went, Oh, my gosh, yes, I remember you too of course I do but I can’t recognize you now. She said to me, when I met you I always thought, I hope one day I can see this beautiful girl again and now here you are and I see you and we’re free and everything and my gosh. We just hugged and had a bit of a sook in the kitchen because, you know, just the fortune that they’ve had, the luck that she has that her children aren’t, I think they’re not permanently damaged and completely destroyed by the detention experience. Maybe because they were too young to quite understand, maybe by virtue of her skills as a mother because she must’ve, I don’t know, I can’t imagine what it must be like to try and look after your babies in that place. But, you know, those kids I think will be all right.
MS DEAN Have you been in contact with former detainees like that who’ve arrived in Melbourne from detention.
MS TAYLOR Yeah.
MS DEAN And if so, I mean I suppose what I’m asking is how do they arrive in Melbourne from some remote detention like Baxter?
MS TAYLOR There’s a really interesting report that’s just been released by the Asylum Resource Centre called ‘Dumped at the Gate’. That’s what happens, they get given maybe a bus ticket from Port Augusta to Adelaide and then they might be given a bus ticket from Adelaide to Melbourne or a plane ticket to wherever. I’ve had phone calls from the Port Augusta bus station at eight o’clock in the morning saying ‘Hi, I’m coming to Melbourne tonight can you pick me up from the airport?’, or ‘I think I’m going to arriving at a bus station in Melbourne at about ten o’clock tonight can you possibly come and get me?’ It’s like, sure. Not sure what I’m supposed to do with you after that but that’s fine you know, we’ll sort that out when it comes along. They’re given a bus ticket instructions to a DIMIA office in that capital city to go and get their – if they’re getting a TPV or whatever to go and get their visa, you know and they’re told you know you should probably get a Medicare card and you should probably get a tax file number. You’ll have to go to Centrelink, you’ll have to prove your identity to Centrelink to be able to get your payments and stuff. Until then here’s 20 bucks or here’s 50 bucks you know. The most I’ve heard of someone getting is 200, the least is 25 for maybe a week. My gosh, so there’s definitely a sense of being dumped at the gate or landing completely unprepared on someone’s doorstep and just kind of having to deal with that. Find somewhere to sleep that night, find, you know, some way of – and again it’s just another layer of creating that lack of provision for one self and dependence on other people, welfare dependence, and, you know, having to ask people for things. Ask people for money, ask people to feed you, ask people to cloth you or house you. I mean, it’s just not good.
MS DEAN And how did you – what were you able to offer people. I mean obviously you picked them up at the airport or the bus stop. What could you offer beyond
MS TAYLOR I’m obviously in a situation which is a little bit probably inconvenient being a young woman living with two other young women and stuff and my house mates if, they sort of woke up and found some random middle eastern man asleep on the floor of our lounge room, may freak out a little bit. So, I – of course, of course would accommodate people as a last resort, absolutely. But belonging to the kind of church community that I do, I’ve been able to draw on people who have really remarkable capacity for hospitality and just opening their houses to people. So, there are two particular friends of mine who have taken five, probably five people just because I’ve rung them and said, May Day, ‘This person needs a bed for a week, can you help me out.’ And they just unquestioningly say, yes. Which is amazing and I just love those two and they have made the difference between, you know, between someone feeling welcomed and someone just not being able to cope in their first couple of weeks of Australia. I love those two Tim and Jay Jeffries. One other interesting experience was I was house sitting with this guy – the Iranian who came to Baxter with us, the young guy – was house sitting with him for a couple of weeks when I got one of these – ‘I’m getting out of detention can you pick me up from the bus stop phone calls.’ And I did and he sort of just moved in with us while we were house sitting. There were like just three of us, me and two random people just living in a little house in Williamstown for a couple of weeks. Which was really fun, really strange, really fun. And one of them was the guy who got out was trained as a French chef in Syria. So, he cooked for us like there was no tomorrow and it was absolutely beautiful and he was in detention for five or six years or something and just he was, what is he 26 or 25 or something and he just cooked like non stop. It was so good. Yes, just sort of these random experiences that nothing could prepare you for have
MS DEAN How did they know to contact you?
MS TAYLOR Because I’d met them at Baxter, so they just sort of you know, through Mahmoud, through the other guy they’d sort of knew that I could be trusted or something like that. You know, they knew that I might be able to help them so they’d ring me and I’d do what I could.
MS DEAN And are these Temporary Protection Visa holders now or permanent?
MS TAYLOR Most of them are. The latter guy, the chef is on a Return Pending Bridging Visa. He’s stateless. He – someone – the government tried to deport him a couple of years ago at massive expense and it took 11 days or 18 days or something. They took him from Woomera to Perth and then flew him across to South Africa, who wouldn’t take him. Flew him all the way up through Africa trying to find countries that would just accept this one poor guy. Took like $30,000. Him and a couple of DIMIA guards just flying around the world for a few weeks trying to find somewhere to give this guy a home. But he wasn’t allowed into the country so he just spent – like, when he wasn’t on the flights he’d be asleep on the ground in a departure lounge at an airport and then he would arrive back – the he arrived back in Australia, you know, because no one would take him and they just chucked him back in Baxter where he sort of sat for a few years. It’s just insane. There’s a fantastic cartoon that I think Leek(?) did, I hope it was Leek, I think it’s Leek. I just saw it the other day I hadn’t seen it before and it’s a picture of him sitting in an aeroplane, holding a suitcase on his lap with like Tanzania, South Africa, like all these countries, like all these stickers on the bag and he’s sitting next to the rather gargantuan looking Amanda Vanstone and he’s drawing on the side of the aeroplane you know one, two, three, four, five, one, two, three, four, five, like people count down there prison days. And Amanda says to him ‘What’s wrong Mr Abdulraman(?) are you counting up your days in detention?’ And he just says, ‘No, no just adding up my frequent flyer points.’ which is really cute. Kind of making light of something that’s not funny.
MS DEAN Are you still seeing him now?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, I see him all the time. He’s going quite well. He’s cooking at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and working as part of their catering company. He’s doing well but on his Visa he could be deported at any second. He could get a call saying pack your bags, you’re going tomorrow. Any moment, he’s just got no security what so ever.
MS DEAN Anybody else that you’d like to talk about that you’ve been visiting in any detention centres. I note you also went to Villawood?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, I went to Villawood couple of times which is definitely the nicest centre out of all of them. The visit centre in Villawood in spite of it being surrounded by razor wire with a big Australian flag in the middle kind of has quite a nice feeling. It’s almost like a park. It’s quite, it’s huge I mean, this outdoor areas really quite nice. It’s got a lot of shelters and picnic tables and stuff, it’s really nice. The detainees at Villawood are definitely the happiest out of any detainees I’ve met around Australia. Yeah.
MS DEAN And you’re suggesting that perhaps the atmosphere of the actual place itself helps that?
MS TAYLOR I don’t know exactly. I mean, I’m not saying that they’re all, yeah, this is great, but you know, they don’t seem to be completely destroyed as human beings which, you know, people in other centres often are. Maybe it’s the surrounds, I’m not exactly sure. I can’t really explain it. I’ve only been to Villa a couple of times so I’m not exactly sure. Certainly, the fact that they are also in the city, so they also have visitors quite regularly. They can get outside. I mean, there’s room to move. They can see the sky, they can see the grass, they can hug a tree, you know. Which makes a difference I think because they’re locked in.
MS DEAN Could you – what you could take in to those, different to Maribyrnong.
MS TAYLOR M’mm.
MS DEAN Was it different to Baxter and different to Villawood again, did it always
MS TAYLOR I think they standardised it now. So, it’s basically the same principles of food and other things that you’re not allowed to bring in and stuff. I think it’s basically standardised, yes.
MS DEAN So, do you ever need to take a visit or a break from visiting from time to time?
MS TAYLOR Probably.
MS DEAN Do you?
MS TAYLOR No, well, I sort of have travelled a bit. I’ve just been in Geneva. For about two months I was over there doing some work at the UN in Geneva and I really missed it. I, you know, I mean, I get phone calls a few times a day from people, usually now from people who are outside detention. People who just use me as a point of reference or, you know, I got a phone call ten minutes before you arrived from a guy who I helped at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre who’s a French speaker who couldn’t communicate with someone he was trying to talk to. So, he rang – I speak French and I’d interpreted for him at ASRC so he was like, can you talk to this person, okay tell him this, okay tell him this, okay tell him this. So, things like that or I’m talking to one of my friends about sponsoring my mum over here what should I do, who should I talk to, or can you come over and help me buy insurance for my car, I don’t know which ones I should get. Or do you have any time this weekend to go house hunting because if I turn up with me and my other middle eastern friend then everyone looks at us funny and doesn’t trust us to have the keys to the houses. So, very often I’d get these you know, Centrelink stopped my payments and I don’t know why can you read the letter that they’ve sent me. Just all this stuff that is so easy for me, I mean, you know, it’s no worries but it’s significant assistance. When I was out of the country for six weeks or eight weeks or whatever it was, I was not able to help with those things but was still aware of them because I was still in contact and it drove me bloody insane. It’s just like I just want be able to drive over to your house read the letter or help you do this or whatever because it’s just something that is part of my daily routine you know. I just allow for unscheduled pit stops and, yeah. So, maybe I should take a break from it I don’t know but I’m about to move overseas to do a masters in September and one of the things that I am actually dreading is leaving people behind in detention. Leaving behind people who might sort of rely on me a little bit. Even if it’s just for, you know, because they don’t have too many friends or they don’t have too many people that they know or, yeah. I’m really, really not looking forward to that. I mean I’m going to miss my dog a lot. I’m going to miss my friends a lot. I’m going to miss my family a lot but this is a different level, you know. Like my dog will be okay, my friends will be okay, my family will be okay but these guys I sort of worry more about and being removed from them, being unempowered to do anything for them I hate it so, yeah.
MS DEAN You also have contact with offshore detainees?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, I do. I talk from time to time with one of the guys who’s still on Nauru. Have contact with him about – fairly regularly, a few times a week. That’s only fairly recent actually. I just got his details from Burnside a couple months ago. Being in touch with Nauru is something else entirely. I mean, Maribyrnong is one thing, Baxter’s another thing but Nauru is just out of this world. The fact that those guys have been assessed as refugees and they’re still not allowed to come here and they’ve been there for five years now and people have totally forgotten about them and one of them is, you know, blind, virtually blind, struggling with serious mental disturbances and stuff and these guys, you know, the guy who I talked to is going to be 30 in a couple weeks and, yeah. They’re just spending their lives in a place where you don’t really want to be. Yeah, I don’t know quite what my role is there, or what my – what I should be, you know, it’s hard to say except that providing some kind of conduit to the outside world. Making sure that they know that people haven’t forgotten about them. Making sure that they know that their stories are being told. That their causes are being fought for. I think that’s sort of more important than I can sort of, possibly imagine.
MS DEAN And do you think you have been able to create through visiting that conduit to a broader community, I guess of obvious of awareness is what I mean?
MS TAYLOR Yeah. Sorry?
MS DEAN An awareness of
MS TAYLOR Yeah, certainly.
MS DEAN of them specifically, but more generally, around detainees’ situation?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, definitely. People often say what did you do on the weekend? And I’ll often say, visited a detention centre. And they go, ‘What?’ You know, and it’s just an opportunity for communicating about the whole – the issue as a whole because I don’t look like some kind of strange dero. I don’t – I hope. I don’t look like any kind of a complete freak or a social misfit or anything. So, sort of, my normality, if you like, and this thing that I sort of do sometimes is kind of an interesting challenge for people, I think. I don’t really know. But, yeah, a lot of people have asked me about it. A lot of people have visited with me. A lot of people have been exposed to the issue through sort of, through me in a way. Yeah, people become like, on the way there in the car, people who haven’t visited before are always nervous. Some of them have this conception that their going to be one on one in a little room with one other person which really freaks them out. And whenever I realise that people have been thinking like that I always have extra respect for them actually coming anyway, even though that would be absolutely terrifying for them. And then on the way home after the visit they are always just full of questions. Why are we doing this. How can we do this. You know, what’s this person’s story. They mentioned something about what happened to them. What does that actually mean you know, I mean. People finding out about the Taliban through meeting Hazaras in detention and hearing their stories of disappearing families and people being executed and being hung from trees and stuff. I mean, that’s the kind of thing you can’t get from a book, you know. So, people learning not only about the situations of Australian treatment of refugees but also the root causes of those refugees, where they’re coming from, the situations that they’re leaving. And the amazing widening of horizons that sort of happens through that process.
MS DEAN Is that what’s important do you think or at least in part why it’s important to visit detainees, continue visiting detainees?
MS TAYLOR Why is it important? I think it’s important in a more than just the one way. I mean, sometimes I feel like what am I doing, do they just think I’m some annoying person who just calls them out to visit. Do they only come out to visits because they’re being polite and they don’t want to tell me to piss off. What’s the story here? But then usually when those doubts just start to creep in you know. A few weeks ago I was visiting someone at Maribyrnong and I said to him, can I bring you anything, what can I do for you, you know, you look shocking today, what can I, you know, can I do anything to make it better. And he just kind of gazed wistfully into the middle distance for a while and sort of said look, Jess, just all you can do is just keep visiting me. That’s the only thing that really matters. The only thing that really keeps me going is, you know, people. So, that’s important I think. The other aspect of it is as a witness. As I carry around in myself a huge body of knowledge and of evidence of stories that have happened and people’s live and people’s treatment and people’s experiences. Which is ready for me to call on it any given second and the accumulation of that understanding and that knowledge and those experiences with my own eyes not just from a book or from hearing it third hand, is a very powerful tool to be able to, you know, if I’m arguing with someone or I use arguing when I’m talking about people in my immediate family. But if I’m discussing with someone, you know, this issue then they might ask me questions which I haven’t answered to because I have first hand knowledge of it and usually it’s first hand stories which are, which speak the most powerfully. Not the laws, not the policy, not our international obligations you know, none of the high fluting crap, it’s just people that matter the most. And then you get the extra dimension of that when, you know, when people are out of detention and you invite them to a party, to a 21st or to a barbeque or, you know, invite them to come out for dinner with my friends or anything and people who have previously been like, yeah, bloody queue jumpers, meet one at a barbeque with a beer in their hand, five minutes later they’re cornering me saying, why have they been locked up for four years. What’s our excuse for that. Why, how – that’s not fair. Is that even legal, you know. Just meeting someone instantly turns around the opinions even of the most staunch rednecks, you know. So, there are all those aspects of it that just make exposure and continuing, you know, to visit and to be involved with people’s lives really very, very – much more important probably than I can even articulate. So, yeah.
MS DEAN How has your interactions with detainees both in detention and outside of detention impacted or affected your own life?
MS TAYLOR Completely changed it. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m in my seventh year of an Arts Law Degree, so I know what it means to have well rounded CV and put things on your resume that look good and all this kind of rubbishy, junky stuff. And the idea of volunteer work, the idea of, yes, I spend an hour a fortnight handing out, you know, scarves to homeless children. I don’t know. I don’t want to laugh about stuff because, you know, everything that people do is a good thing but the idea of it being confined into the section of the heading of your CV that says, volunteer work, is kind of, foreign to me. I feel like this has gone from a vague curiosity into a lifestyle by which it’s just a part of my day. It’s probably a part of my identity. Probably a part of my – the things that I get out of bed to achieve each day. I have a whole different set of priorities now than I did before. Frustratingly to a lot of my family both extended and otherwise, it means that I don’t get paid for much stuff that I do which is actually a bit of a problem sometimes but I’m not starving. Yeah, I don’t know.
MS DEAN How have those priority changes, can you say a bit more about that?
MS TAYLOR Yeah.
MS DEAN Occurred, I should say.
MS TAYLOR I mean, I grew up in such privileged circumstances, you know, my mum always made so many sacrifices to send me to a great school and I’ve travelled so much it’s actually a bit rude. I’ve just had an amazingly privileged upbringing where I’ve never wanted, you know, for anything and I mean I suppose the trap of that is to very typically in my socio-economic demographic, if you like, to stay within, well within the confines of a comfort zone. I’ve realised and I think this is actually the way I’m realising this quite recently actually is I think the way that God has wired me up, the way that I’ve been created is as someone who finds it not easy but not hard to expand my comfort zones and when I get comfortable somewhere then right okay let’s push it a bit further, let’s push it a bit further, let’s push it a bit further and I really love doing that. I really love sort of, putting myself in the situations that kind of scare me a bit, getting comfortable there and then moving onto the next thing. Which is certainly something that I don’t think I would’ve discovered if I’d just been working in a commercial law firm or, you know, just going about my daily business. Yeah, just the emphasis that we place – this is the part where I sound like a cliché – the emphasis that we place on money and possessions and status and wealth and all of those comfort and you know, stuff like that I just see that from time to time being completely – a light shone on it – as what it really is. Which is just meaningless crap, you know, and the way that people are boiled down to their essence when they’re in detention or when they’re facing situations of real life or death is quite powerful. I mean, people don’t sort of, moan about how they don’t have a plasma screen television or the latest model Mercedes. They moan about how they don’t have their families because they were executed, you know, or they don’t have their dignity because they’re disallowed from doing anything that remotely resembles freedom or you know. I mean, just those kinds of things and I know that I’ve frustrated people sometimes or been frustrating to the people around me because I can be quite – sometimes I can be quite intolerant of attitudes which don’t appreciate the reality of other people’s situations and that’s something that I need to work on more. I have got better at it but still I have a low tolerance for stuff like that. For people complaining about how hard their lives are. I’m sorry, you have no idea. Yeah, that’s been quite significant. It’s completely changed my world view. There you go.
MS DEAN Anything else you’d like to add about your experiences as a visitor, either specifically or generally or anything that we haven’t covered that you would like to talk about by way of perhaps concluding?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, maybe just one observation. Not quite sure how this would fit in or why I feel like I want to say this right now but my experience has been that people get very fired up about this for a short term period. I’ve had friends who say, yeah, man, I want to write a song about it or, yeah, man I want to do this, let’s do that. They have these great radical ideas, you know, revolutionary ideas. And they might visit, you know, every week for four weeks and then never see them again. Or they might visit, you know, solidly every three or four weeks for three months and then you never see them again. There’s an incredible amount of ‘compassion fatigue’ or something I think is the phrase, of people giving up on it as soon as it’s not fun anymore or as soon as it’s not – it doesn’t feel good anymore or something. And the number of people that I’ve seen turn away from it, turn away from people just kind of dissociate themselves as soon as they realised that someone is actually just a broken person. As soon as they’ve discovered some flawed humanity behind the sort of romance of fleeing your country in danger you know. That’s killed me. People say, Oh, man, I can’t believe you still go. I so can’t be bothered anymore, you know. Makes me, I don’t know, and it is hard to go back and I really appreciate that and it is hard to keep going and maintain the commitment and everything. But finding the right balance between, you know, going because you feel like and going because there is quite a profound duty to keep doing that or not even romancing it like that but a profound duty to acknowledge these people as human beings and as friends and as whole people, who don’t just need you to visit them once a week or once a fortnight but who actually have holistic needs. I don’t know, I’m waffling a bit, but, you know.
MS DEAN I think you’ve made two points that are really interesting and if you could speak a little bit more about them. One is that there is this romance of the exotic other. And that’s one separate thing I’d like you to talk about. But perhaps what do you think it is about you that motivates you to keep going, that people who can’t get past that sort of romantic other icing, if you like, can’t keep, like
MS TAYLOR Yeah.
MS DEAN I know it’s not as oppositional as that but
MS TAYLOR Yeah, well almost. The romance of the other? I was talking to, I was at a training day for Asylum Seeker Resource Centre over the weekend and we were given the talking to about, you know, you will get cracked onto by people who you’re dealing with. You know, these, you know, beautiful African men and these, you know, all – and Con said, and all the women swoon over the Hazara men with their high cheek bones and their, you know. I don’t know what it is. You know, maybe it is the fact that so many of them are young men or so many of them are, I don’t know what it is exactly but there’s definitely this romanticisation of their situations. I mean, maybe because here in Australia we just, you know, go to our jobs, come home, go sleep and maybe go to the pub you know, and we’re a bit bored and you know, the idea of some drama is attractive or something. I’m not sure exactly, that might be it. Maybe there is more to it than that, maybe there’s less to it than that I’m not really sure. It is like people, often people don’t actually even make it to the stage where they get passed that romantic ideal but I will never forget the event that led me to having that ideal crumble. I will never forget the realisation that you might have had someone not being honest with you or that someone has, you know, I mean, there are all kinds of things that emerge by virtue of the fact that we’re dealing with real actual human beings, you know. And watching that, I’ve seen a couple of people go through that realisation because they’ve been committed to it over a period of time and it’s really, really a hard thing to watch. People going from there everyone’s so nice, they’re all so nice, they’re all this, they’re all that until, whoa, you know, the realisation that people are in fact, broken. It’s really a full on thing to witness.
MS DEAN Can you speak a little bit about the events that propelled you from a kind of perhaps slightly naive romantic ideal to, these are human beings.
MS TAYLOR Yeah.
MS DEAN And they have vulnerabilities like us all?
MS TAYLOR I don’t want to say much about that. But my experience was finding out after a fairly significant period of visiting someone that they had in actual fact been dishonest about basically everything. And, yeah, that’s probably all I want to say. I mean, there’s yeah, that was horrible. I am a person who tends to trust. Who tends to enjoy other people’s trust and I hate being lied to and that was really hard and I don’t think I handled it very well. Yeah.
MS DEAN Were you able to continue visiting that person?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, yeah I was and I have and I’m still in contact and all of that kind of stuff but that was really hard for me. It was really, really hard and I
MS DEAN Can you describe what that was about do you think?
MS TAYLOR Not really. No.
MS DEAN Okay. Not so much the detail of the event but what it was about for you. Was it sense of betrayal or how did you feel when you
MS TAYLOR I’d actually been really busting my arse for this person. Like I’d been researching this, and doing that and doing that and, yeah, and when it was revealed that all of that was on a false premise it was really, really, really awful. Not because I minded doing that stuff at all but just because I – to use a bit of a grandma sort of phrase – had been led up the garden path. That was just – I wasn’t angry about it but I was deeply sad about it. Particularly, because this person is a good person and, you know, had been driven to not being completely honest simply by the virtue of being absolutely terrified about what was happening and everything but, yeah. Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about it more but it was basically just that it was awful.
MS DEAN So, what motivates you to keep going? We’ve touched on it in numerable times but if you were to say a last thing about why visiting is important and how you find the strength for yourself I suppose?
MS TAYLOR A few factors. I sort of, I hadn’t been sick. I hadn’t had a cold so much as sniffle or a dose of hay fever since just before I met Ahmin, the guy whose daughter was deported, at Maribyrnong. And I visited him for a couple of years and as soon as he got out of detention, about three days later, when he got out of detention, I found out at about eleven o’clock in the morning, I cried all day. All day I flat out sat on our couch over there and cried all day. Both with happiness and with relief and also with just profound sadness at everything that had happened to him. And I – what was I going to say – yeah, a couple of days later I got extremely sick. I was like, unconscious for 20 hours a day. My mum made me come home with her and she sat me in a bed and like, made me eat a couple of times a day. I was absolutely out to the count for about three weeks just exhausted, sick. They tested me for bird flu, they thought I might be Australia’s first bird flu case knocked into the old Tammy flu, you know, the drug that’s been stock piled for – like, I was sick, okay, and I sort of felt like that was just giving in. Like my body just went okay that’s it, he’s out. That relief was so massive that I just packed up for a few weeks and I sort of mentally – because I’d been looking towards that day and I cannot tell you the amount that my friends and I prayed for him. And there were times when I remember one specific time with two of my friends we’d just been visiting and we went back to my friend Cath’s house and sat on the ground and we prayed for him for like two hours or something. We were all just in tears, you know, just asking for God’s justice to be done for this man you know, and we – yeah. He – that day was a mental point for me where it felt like everything was going to be all right after that day and then of course I realised that, no, no, there are still people in detention. He wasn’t the only one, he’s not the only person who needs to be out and everything. Because I had relationships with those people who were still there, even though he was out, those people still needed people to visit them and still needed people to be there for them. So, in a way it’s just an organic fact that relationships go on beyond other people being deported or freed, or deported or freed, and so you can’t just sort of say, Oh, I was only seeing you incidentally because I was seeing that other person. I mean, you know, they sort of link in to each other and, you know, those threads sort of continue through time and through people then leaving the detention centre. So, that’s one sort of reason why I keep going back because I’ve still got people in there who are my friends and who I care about so, I still go back. On a more profound level, I suppose, I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like much of a profound level but probably the way I’ll express it will sound like it is or something. I feel like I have the strength to keep doing it and to keep going because that strength is God given and because I can keep going and I have the means to keep going. I have a car, I have money for petrol, I have, you know, everything that I need to be able to keep going and I’m plugged into a source of – it’s hard to describe without using like really, really daggy, biblical jargon. I feel like because of the way that I am loved I have the capacity to love and that is basically the bottom line. Yeah, the ability to love is given through the love of God, which I’ve witnessed a lot in my life. It’s basically what it’s about. So, there you go.
MS DEAN By way of conclusion is there anything else you’d like to say. We’ve tried to conclude you a couple of times but I’m just thinking if you’d like to continue please do but that could also be a nice place to stop?
MS TAYLOR Yeah, I think that’s probably all.
MS DEAN Thanks, that’s great.
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