To be Australian is to be hateful. There’s no two ways about it. You can’t escape it. I was born into it, and I’ve lived with it my entire life. You can either be hateful because you’re ok with the hateful things we do as Australians, or you’re so against them that you’re left in a constant state of hateful shame and rage. There’s no third option. Indifference isn’t an out. It just means you’ve acclimatised to the atmosphere, and that atmosphere is a hateful one that defines us as a country and as citizens. That’s where we’re at, and there’s no denying.
Looking at the photos of Tharnicaa Marugappan in her hospital bed this week reminded me how much hatred I have inside me for this country and the Government.
BREAKING: Tharnicaa (nearly 4 years old) is being medically evacuated to Perth for treatment of a suspected blood infection. She was hospitalised yesterday on CI after suffering a high fever, vomiting/diarrhoea & dizziness for 10 days. Pls keep our little cockatoo in your hearts. pic.twitter.com/ynnT5uNQIh
— HometoBilo (@HometoBilo) June 7, 2021
Australia’s refugee policy, as we know it, essentially came into being with the Hawke Government’s enactment of the Migration Legislation Amendment Act in 1989, a year before I was born. The Keating Government’s introduction of mandatory detention in 1992 twisted the knife, and we’ve lived with the bloody horror of it ever since.
If you’re a millennial like me, Australia’s barbarous immigration policy has been one of the dependable continuities in your life as an Australian, outlasting Cheez TV and Bert Newton’s toupee. The image of boats splintering against waves and bodies bobbing in a tumultuous sea are as much a part of my atavistic internal imagery of my ‘Australianess’ as the trenches of Gallipoli or whatever a “jolly jumbuck” is. (Dear reader, I know what it is, the ‘whatever’ is a joke.)
Likewise, the dead-eyed stares of the think-tank Cenobites that we elect to public office and their soundbite ready speeches about border safety and “line jumpers” scar my sense of an ‘Australian citizen’ like cigarette burns.
It is who we have been my entire life. As I get older, I worry that the only thing I’ve ever known will remain the only thing I’ll ever know, and that thought alone fills me with a deep sense of shame.
I worry that my generation has come to terms with this policy as an immovable pillar of Australian society. I’ve seen people I’ve known for years move from careers in activism into careers in the media or politics and suddenly go quiet on the issue of mandatory detention. A person I know who now works for the ALP in Canberra has gone from a ‘bring them here’ radical to a line-toeing ‘the policy is the policy’ droid in under two years. Career journalists, snagged on the thorns of ‘objectivity’, write about our refugee policy with the cold distance of a child disinterestedly watching a bully shake an ant farm. It is all very disheartening in a way I can’t really put words to.
I do not want this to be a problem that we foist on to the one beneath ours with a shrug. Yet, talking to Gen Z activists, I sense an anger both wild and unyielding that, I’m sorry to say, fills me with hope.
Gen Z, like us, have only known this policy, yet in the years in which they’ve come of age—the eight years of right-wing Government—the policy has become more entangled with the heat-death nightmare that is recent global history. Where before the policy seemed parochial in its evil, it now seems swept up in a tide of modern horrors, a player on the world wide stage of catastrophe, caught up in the interconnected maelstrom of a generation’s flamethrower-like discourse: one hot unending flame of enough bullshit fuelled by the unending torrent of content and information.
When I worked with refugees in 2017, I always found myself apologising. In transcribing their stories about why and how they came to Australia, I would find myself reflexively saying “sorry” in response to everything. One day an older woman from Burma told me that if I stopped saying sorry and started saying thanks, she’d make me a bowl of her famous Mohinga soup. (I still dream of that soup!)
“Are you sorry I’m here,” she asked me, “or are you thankful? It really is as simple as that.”
She was 61 then. The last time I saw her was at a Black Lives Matter rally in Perth last year, surrounded by teenage students she’d met at university. One of the students told me this was her first protest, and when I replied that it could be the first of many, she said: “Yeah, until we bring out the guillotines, at least.”
We are two generations raised in the shadow of this brutal policy. It has not made us safe, content, or proud. It has only made us hateful. At some point, that hate will bubble over into rage, and that rage will form a wave that will sweep away policies, politicians, and governments alike, and there will be no life preservers, rescue, or mercy, just as they taught us.
Patrick Marlborough is a writer, journalist, comedian, and musician based in Walyalup/Fremantle, WA. Their past work can be seen here, and their music can be heard here. All their work is overseen by their very bad dog, Buckley. Follow them @cormac_mccafe on Instagram and Twitter, or Patrick Marlborugh Writer/Comedian on Facebook.