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Camping for Easter in the Brisbane Ranges and I have brought along Cheryl Lawrie’s beautiful Pocket Liturgies for reflection…

confession

you see all and know all
or so they seem fond of saying.

you call us beloved.
which is all well and good from your side
but you can have no idea how hard it is to be loved.

[we know the bit inside us
which is beyond loving;
too awful to be named,
too hard to save,
even for you.]

we confess that we do not believe you can change us
we confess that we do not believe that we can start again
we confess that we do not know how to have faith.

so do what you can with that.

amen.

 

[p.37, Hold This Space Pocket Liturgies by Cheryl Lawrie]


 

Let me learn how to be loved
how to let love in
how to give it freely
and receive it in
whatever form it might appear
let love in, and out, in and out
let us breathe
and give air to love

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Camping for Easter in the Brisbane Ranges and I have brought along Cheryl Lawrie’s beautiful Pocket Liturgies for reflection…

i.

We have decided not to die.

We have decided not to believe the voices of cynicism
the prophets of doom
the harbingers of despair
the proclaimers of fear
who speak loudly and only of death that’s inevitable.

we have decided not to die.

we have chosen to believe in life.

and now we must learn to live.

 

ii.

We have decided not to die.
and now we must learn to live.

to really live
to stretch and wonder and test and dare
to imagine the unthinkable
to defy the gravity of fear and despair
to find the faith that believes there is another story
of life, grace and redemption
and to live as though it is the only story.

we will listen for where God’s heartbeat is giving life to the world
and we will search,
wildly, unceasingly
until we find where our own heartbeat echoes in it.

and though it may mean letting go of all we know,
we will.

for we have decided not to die.

we have decided now to live.

 

[p.80, Hold This Space Pocket Liturgies by Cheryl Lawrie]

 


 

God, let me life a life called into living.
To see, to hear, to be awake
Let me believe in life and believe in You.
“to stretch and wonder and test and dare
to imagine the unthinkable
to defy the gravity of fear and despair
to find the faith that believes there is another story
of life, grace and redemption
and to live as though it is the only story.”

Show me how to live God
how to live the life You
call me into
live a life by another story
as though it is the only story
when I lean and learn
into the story and the story
is still unfolding
that story is Yours
I am Yours
let me live

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Camping for Easter in the Brisbane Ranges and I have brought along Cheryl Lawrie’s beautiful Pocket Liturgies for reflection…

 

 

Gethsemane – A Meditation

The night is always our undoing.
All you knew to be certain becomes unknown.
All you knew to be right and true and good is tested against the shadows and whispers of loneliness and fear.

It comes up wanting.
How did it seem, just hours ago, in the company of friends and a little food and wine, that there was nothing the world could throw at you that you couldn’t overcome?

You know otherwise now.
The daylight reminders that life surrounds you, without thought, just simply existing, have gone.
The hum of a song, the overheard conversation, the sudden shock of sunlight caught through the corner of an eye – have drained from the air. It waits, empty, ready to be filled by a lurking tangle of powers and forces beyond our knowing.

How can the world sleep?

And in the middle of this night, all words of logic and good theology, articulated with certainty and clarity just yesterday, collapse and crumble, as you grasp for them, desperately, to make sense of what will come tomorrow.

But there is no sense to be made of this, at least none that holds up to the rigour of testing in the cold, dark garden of night.

You try to pray to the God you knew yesterday.

Every noise becomes sharper, has a meaning beyond itself. That footstep must belong to an intruder, or an army. A voice calling is that of an accuser, a coin falling will be the herald of betrayal. A branch snapping is an echo of a soul breaking.
Any way but this one, God.

The shadows reach out, tempting, and for a moment it seems easier to succumb, to walk into all they may hold – terror, of course, but certain terror, of your own making.

But that’s not the way of this night.

You wait as the world sleeps around you.
Loneliness is your only companion,

and fear is that which knows you best.

 

[p.70, Hold This Space Pocket Liturgies by Cheryl Lawrie]

Re-membered

IMG_8263Camping for Easter in the Brisbane Ranges and I have brought along Cheryl Lawrie’s beautiful Pocket Liturgies for reflection…

 

Holy Week – This is my body broken for you [Matthew 26: 6-13]

There are many ways to break a body.

When someone pays their piece of silver to
have their way with you in a dark corner,
down a back lane…
to make your body theirs to do with what they will.
And if you can, you break yourself before they break you.

Your body stays, your mind detaches,
and you disintegrate, disremember.

Or when someone sells your body for pieces of silver,
for those in power to do with as they will,
and as you hang on a cross, battered, disfigured,
your soul splits from your body, and spins into hell,
detached, disintegrated, dismembered.

This woman touches Jesus
[she whose story all of history knows by rumour
and reputation]
and she offers him all she has to give:
her truth.

But she stays with it, this time. All of her.

And those who are watching, can’t
[it’s hard to look at raw grace face on].
They redirect attention with words of political correctness,
questions that need to be asked
but not in this moment, not at this time,
when they’re asked not for revelation, but for diversion.

But Jesus knows no gift more divine
than one who has been to hell before him.
Coming back to life in front of him,
and honours her one more time:

remember her not as a person to be bought
or a body to be broken

This is who she is
[re-membered]

Gift and giver
loved and lover.
Body and soul
holy and whole.

[p.68, Hold This Space Pocket Liturgies by Cheryl Lawrie]

 


 

God, I confess to my own dismemberment
profane and broken
who am I to touch You?
to touch anyone?
you break yourself before they break you
there is an ego to imagine I have any power
to participate in my own healing
detached, disintegrated, dismembered
what does it mean to live engaged,
holy and whole, remembered?

Let me aspire to offer all I have to give
no gift more divine
coming back to life.

“This is who she is
[re-membered]

Gift and giver
loved and lover.
Body and soul
holy and whole.”

 

love

Some notes from the Surrender panel session:

Loving Welcome or Fear and Hate?
The displacement of people and rapid rise of refugees is a global challenge. How can we as ordinary everyday people in local communities be part of Christ’s alternative of loving welcome rather than feel overwhelmed by the voices of fear and hate?

 

In what way you are currently involved with asylum seekers or refugees?

I live at the Salvos Community House in Footscray with Bron – House Manager, Maria and her son who are asylum seekers from East Timor, and Hawo and Omar and their family – refugees from Somalia.  There’s ten of us who live in and many others who work, visit or are part of the community coming and going.

How did you come to be doing this work?
I’ve been a member of several intentional communities, Urban Seed working with the homeless community in Melbourne CBD, Seeds City then Seeds Footscray… participation required asking of myself “who is my neighbour?” and seeking to live a life more engaged with those around me.  I remember intentionally working as an admin at Urban Seed – looking at the residents there and saying “I could never do that”.  It was only two weeks after I moved into the house at Droop St September last year that the opportunity to invite Hawo and her family to join us arose… you could say I fluked it!
I’ll be honest, I had ideas about what living there would be like – I had just moved in and was unpacking things and setting things up.  I felt both grief and incovenience when I had to re-pack things so recently unpacked to make room for these guys moving in.  I remember going for a walk with stuff running through my head, “How is this going to work? How can I make them feel welcome or at home here, when I hardly feel at home here myself? How can I teach them where things go when I don’t know where they go?” I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going and a street I thought cut through turned out to be a dead-end so I had to backtrack on myself the way I had come. As I turned back, I crossed to walk on the other side of the street and found a basket of clean clothing sitting out in hardwaste.  And I picked it up and I carried it home with me.  It feel like a symbol of Providence.  God saying, “I will give you what you need, when you need it and send no more than you can carry” and really understanding that not to be just practical needs but spiritual and emotional needs as well.
How has this work changed you and your community? What have you learnt?
The house has been a hub for lots of projects and having a lot more people living-in is a big shift in focus for the community, there are less spaces available for projects as more people need the kitchen, the lounge, the bathroom… these areas on the ground floor of the main house used to be common space and kept really tidy for external groups coming in, we just can’t maintain that when its lived in and used by so many.  This is a valuable factor in the community therapy model that sees us learn from one another by sharing life together. That main floor bathroom is used by Hawo and her family who are Muslim and wash several times a day prior to praying – water is splashed over the sinks and floor and then we walk in and out… it’s hard not to look at the “muddy” footprints on the floor and think it’s dirty.  Do they make my bathroom dirty or do I profane the place the prepare to pray?  Living together gives us the opportunity to confront our ideas of what we might consider is the ‘normal’ or the ‘right’ way of doing things. It’s a privilege, and a discipline, to lean into that learning curve. 
When Hawo and her family first came to move in we wanted to make them feel welcome so we put up a sign that said “Welcome” in Somalian and English, laminated a Somalian proverb about hearth fires burning indicating which cupboards in the kitchen would be theirs, made a noticeboard that had magnets with all our names, photos, days of the week, house activities… you know what? They weren’t literate in Somalian let alone English.  You set out with these good intentions and more often than not you get it wrong.  We all of us try to say and do the right thing and can often end up saying and doing the wrong thing – that is true of ANY family.
What is the best thing about it?
Moments of synergy in our multicultural and interfaith mix are pretty special… one morning I woke early and couldn’t get back to sleep so I wandered out into the garden and read 7 Sacred Pauses by the light of my phone, that’s a poetic, monastic rhythm of prayer, and as I came back in I passed Hawo coming out of washing in the bathroom to go to her prayer mat in the lounge. By the time Hawo has prayed, Maria and her son will rise to say their morning Catholic prayers together… we don’t all pray together, at the same time or in the same way but we do all pray.  The food is pretty amazing too!
What is one of the greatest challenges?
One of the greatest challenges for me is being an introvert and finding a balance of time by myself that’s fairly quiet, noise generally can be issue – for instance Bron does shift work as an emergency vet nurse and might need to sleep during the day – but as you hear the prayer ululations on someones phone as they move from room to room, the sounds of cooking and being able to tell who it is by what time of day it is, there is music, TV  and conversation (continuously!) that represents the rapid language and cultural assimilation  of our newest housemates, the soccer pitch is almost as likely to have a Somalian singing clap-dance as a kick-round happening… there is a rhythm, or a life-beat, to these sounds that shapes our sense of home…and I can always go out!
Have you got involved in any of the political dimensions of the asylum seeker ‘issue’? If so, how has that connected with the loving welcome you are extending in your context?
We engage in a few different ways, we’d attend rally’s and vigils, write letters of support, accompany housemates to appointments as needed.  Recently we hosted a picnic outside the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre on the first Sunday of Lent as a demonstration of the act of welcome we’d like to see extended to refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Australia. We invited our housemates to write the word “welcome” in their languages of origin on a plate and set that at a place at the table, creating space for the ‘other’ a symbol of hospitality and what we have to share… there is room at the table. We sang some songs from the Love Makes a Way movement and linked the event to the #LetThemStay initiative.
For people who are wondering how they might engage with refugees and asylum seekers, do you have any words of advice?
Well, personally, I’ve needed the intentional community model – to move in where the connections and relationships already exist.  I can’t make a case for connecting with refugees and asylum seekers over any other calling but I would encourage everyone to consider for themselves the question “Who is my neighbour?”.   Know yourself – do what comes naturally for you. If your feeling reckless, you might pray: “Here I am, send me”.  God is already at work in your neighbourhood and in the lives of those you know… don’t take the approach that you have to start up something new, ask instead to see where God is already working and how to get alongside.
What we do isn’t that “special”.  A sacred, ordinary day for me might look like going to a local cafe for a Vietnamese roll with Maria and hearing the latest on her VISA uncertainty, she currently re-applies every 3 months.  I can’t do anything about that, but I can listen and hold some of the fear of that uncertainty with her.  I get back to the house and work with Mohammed on some Newstart job applications, it takes us 2 hours to do four applications – it might be faster if I did it myself but that doesn’t develop his independence to be able to do it on his own. The apricot tree in our backyard is fruiting so I collect it all and start to make jam not thinking through the sheer volume of sugar required to see the project through – everyone raids their supplies to get me over the line and it takes finishing off 8 packets of five different kinds of sugar to get  the jam over the line.  We are all in this together, meeting one anothers needs and everyone has something to give. 
Is there anything else you would like to say today?
I think there is an epidemic of loneliness – not just for refugees and asylum seekers making a new start but all of us – despite our advances in technology and communication – maybe because of them.  What I think everyone is looking for is home, belonging and family.  How can we share our home? How can we invite people to feel belonging? How can we be family to one another?

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Take off that cloak of fear,
the divine strength you seek is here,
and you know you are dying to live.
You know you are dying to live.

We seek to live a more contemplative life so that we will not have to wait until we are dying to learn to live.

Teach us the grace of listening.
Reveal to us the art of dying.
Show us the face of God.

 

p.25, Seven Sacred Pauses – Macrina Wiederkehr

We are all too small

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we are all too small
we cannot fathom
the entirety of You
or know Your ways
we want to understand
the meaning of all of this
all there is
is finding space
to live with
some of the
fog of unknowing
softening the harsh
light and life
diffusing
grace

Talitha Fraser

Making Space

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Christop Booth sharing a workshop on making a cup of tea -“at the Indigenous Hospitality House we’ve found that sharing tea can help to make space for the stranger and can be an opportunity for reconciliation”.

Make a cup of tea…

What are your associations?

What do we know about its origins and history?

When we reflect on any every day activity, we might consider…

  • how do we want to change the world?
  • how does this activity connect me to people/world/environment/others we will never meet
  • how might I bring sacred/imbue meaning to the activity

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Of communion, Jesus says I will not take this drink again until
I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

On Sunday 14 February we held a picnic lunch at the immigration dentention centre in Maribyrnong. The first Sunday of Lent (and Valentines Day- let’s show the love) would often have a focus theme of a continued call to conversion the intention of the picnic was to physically create the space we would like to live in – that kingdom where Jesus might join us for a drink – even if only for an hour. How can we make that grass verge feel like space of celebration and welcome? How can we extend the expression of hospitality and welcome that we would like to see shown to refugees and asylum seekers?

With yarn bombing, banners, different flags, welcome in different languages, families and at each picnic blanket a spare place set at the table – a visual demonstration that there is room at the table for the ‘other’ and enough food to share.

In the face of the continued and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers including children and New Zealanders now the second highest number of those held in off-shore detention – we seek to respond with an act of hospitality, an act of welcome, and act of love – witnessing there is room at THIS communion table.

***

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Wominjeka, we acknowledge that we gather on the land of which the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation have gathered since time immemorial to tell stories, sing songs and share food together. We are gathered here today to do a little of all these things ourselves: tell stories, sing songs and share some food together around this idea of showing welcome to refugees and asylum seekers and we have chosen a specific place, time and context in which to do that.

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We are standing here in the carpark of what is now the VicUni Student Village…this used to be the site of the Pyrotechnic Section of an Explosives Factory (1942) which was built to produce flares, tracers and smoke grenades during the Second World War… a section of this was converted to the Maribyrnong Migrant Hostel (1966). Over here behind us is the new purpose-built Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre (1983) – we are standing where refugees and migrants have been arriving for the last 50 years.

We are standing here at a particular time.  Today is Sunday 14 February, the first Sunday of Lent and Valentines Day – let’s show the love! The first Sunday of Lent would often have a focus theme of a continued call to conversion and the intention of this picnic is to physically create the kingdom space we would like to live in – demonstrating the kind of welcome and abundant hospitality we as Christians believe Jesus might extend and asking of our own discipleship how we feel called to respond.

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We are gathering during a particular context.  The Premier of our own state has come out against the federally legislated law, medical practitioners are refusing to sign off of returning patients to off-shore detention and the UN has condemned the treatment of refugees as breaching human rights… the government, media, society are all sending strong messages – in an environment that seems more focused on reacting out of fear than love, how might we respond with clarity and compassion?IMG_7334

We have folded layers of symbolism into our picnic today… you can see the crocheted heart bunting by Bron for Valentines Day, we have flags representing some of those countries and cultures making up the population of those in our detention centres, and we have empty plates – places set at the table for the ‘other’.  We live with asylum IMG_7343seekers and refugees, we invited them to write the word WELCOME in the language of their cultures on one of the plates and symbolically be represented here and we remember those stories that are still unfolding.

That is about as much story as there is from me, so let’s move on to the singing! We’re very lucky to have Sam here to be the lead liturgist today so look to her for any cues – we’re not going to sing these through a set number of times or anything, we’ll just keep going until she signals otherwise.

So, I will invite you to stand if you want to, in this place, at this time in this context and sing with me, this is not a new idea… we sing in the tradition of so many justice movements: civil rights, suffragettes, apartheid, slavery…in the words of Ched Myers to “Sing about it, until it can be realised”.

This first one is from the Ngatiawa River Monastry, up the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand, a contemporary contemplative community retreat centre.

 

Given for you  [link here to original version on the Ngatiawa website]

 This is my body given for you

Remember me.

This is my blood of forgiveness,

Remember me.

 

Tricia Watts is an Australian singer, composer, she’s used singing and dance for advocacy and therapy and to call people to unite in heart and voice. This next song is from her resource titled ‘Sanctuary’.   We want to offer Sanctuary, we want to link hand in hand, we want to hear the voice of justice cry.

 

Justice Cry

Hear the voice of justice cry,

Moving through our land,

Ringing out oer hills and plains,

Linking hand in hand.

 

Well, I guess the credit or the blame for this one is on me… many of you will have heard of the Love Makes A Way movement. They have undertaken a variety of actions but in particular sitting in politicians offices and praying for them has attracted media coverage. What might be less known, is that while the actions are being undertaken inside, there is a support team outside praying, singing and bearing witness to, and holding vigil with, what happens within. Samara has been one of the people playing that part and collating a Love Makes A Way song book. And as we were talking about it once we remarked the we were drawing heavily on the Freedom songs of the civil rights movement but their style and language were written for a particular context and a particular time – certainly we can borrow their songs but Samara posed the questions “Where are our songs? Where is the style or the voice arising out of our own context?” This song came out of trying to answer that… as I looked at the Freedom songs I felt like they communicated grief but called for hope, they were often short and memorable because as your walking around you need songs people can just pick up even if they don’t have the words in front of them. I wrote this trying to find words for a situation I don’t have words to explain. You might feel moved to offer your own words here in a verse … there is room for the children, there is room in our playgrounds… feel free to lead us! Speaking specifically to context, this was originally written “Let them in, let them in” but with the Sanctuary #LetThemStay initiative just this past week as we were rehearsing we changed it to read “Let them in, let them stay”

 

There is room

There is room at the table (x3)

Let them in, let them stay.

 

There is room at the border (x3)

Let them in, let them stay.

 

There is room in our hearts (x3)

Let them in, let them stay.

 

There is hope for a new tomorrow (x3)

Let them in, let them stay.

 

Flowing on from the last song and our desire to have local songs coming out of our own context, I had a look around for who might already be producing words that hold this sense of lament and hope, short and memorable… this led me to make up the melody for the round you’re about to hear to Leunigs Love Is Born.  I think Leunig is a bit of a prophet, speaking out of hope and darkness, on behalf of many voices… I think “love is born”.

 

Love is Born [link here to a recording by Nathan Brailey]

Love is born with a dark and troubled face

When hope is dead and in a most unlikely place

Love is born,

Love is always born.

Love is born,

Love is always born.

This little ‘set’ wouldn’t be complete without a rousing Hallelujah chorus from the Freedom songs of the civil rights movement – it’s hard to know who to give credit to because groups of musicians gathered for “Sing for Freedom” workshops and wrote them together.  These songs were written to be a call for integration and confrontation of the status quo.  African-Americans in the 60s in the South were singing “Were gonna sit at the welcome table”, today we have to acknowledge that we’re already sitting at the welcome table, or the welcome picnic blanket… Again, you might be moved to call out a chorus of your own making! {e.g. We’re gonna share our songs and stories} By Samara’s hand now we will sing “they’re” as we aspirationally hold space and hope that those inside will one day come outside and join us at this table.

 

They’re gonna sit at the welcome table

They’re gonna sit at the welcome table

They’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days (hallelujah)

They’re gonna sit at the welcome table

Sit at the welcome table one of these days (one of these days)

 

They’re gonna feast on milk and honey

They’re gonna feast on milk and honey one of these days, (hallelujah)

They’re gonna feast on milk and honey

Feast on milk and honey one of these days (one of these days)

 

A-ll God’s chil-dren gonna sit to-gether

Yes, a-ll God’s chil-dren gonna sit together one of these days (hallelujah)

A-ll God’s child-ren gonna sit to-gether

All God’s children gonna sit together, one of these days (one of these days)

 

They’re gonna sit at the welcome table

Yes, they’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days, (hallelujah)

They’re gonna sit at the welcome table

Sit at the welcome table one of these days (one of these days)

Sit at the welcome table one of these days, (one of these days)

Gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days (one of these days)

 

Thanks so much for making the time today to come here – to stand, to sing, in a particular place, at a particular time, in a particular context to say something.

Let’s enjoy the picnic!

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Further rough notes for those interested in the background of how this picnic came about:

Last year, Mayra and I went to a conference called the Kinsler Institute and heard an amazing activist and speaker Bill Wylie-Kellerman doing a session on ‘Liturgy as Activism’.  He is the Minister of an Episcopal Church in Detroit where they’re experiencing some severe water cut offs and he described a Good Friday Stations of the Cross walk where they stood outside the water company, at the river, at block where there is only one house with people still living in it… there was something about singing or praying or standing in a particular place, at a particular time, in a particular context to say something that made it more powerful.

We came back from that conference inspired to imagine what a Stations of the Cross walk  might look like for our own context here in Footscray – we went to the Palms Motel where they provide crisis accommodation for people experiencing homelessness, we went to the river and reflected on the impacts of climate change, we came here to the Maribyrnong detention centre … most of you will know of the Christian tradition of communion, sharing bread and wine together, this is done symbolically because Jesus says ‘I won’t eat this again with you until I see you in my Father’s kingdom’. In a church we have communion and we eat it as a reminder of that promise… well, we came here and compared what it must feel like for refugees who take a long and dangerous journey to get here, who expect to find shelter, and safety and hospitality and instead…  we passed around an empty cup and an empty plate as a symbol of the kind of hospitality people have experienced arriving here.

Of communion, Jesus says I will not take this drink again until
I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

We decided on Sunday 14 February we would hold a picnic lunch at the immigration dentention centre in Maribyrnong.

The first Sunday of Lent (and Valentines Day- let’s show the love) would often have a focus theme of a continued call to conversion the intention of the picnic was to physically create the space we would like to live in – that kingdom where Jesus might join us for a drink – even if only for an hour. How can we make that grass verge feel like space of celebration and welcome? How can we extend the expression of hospitality and welcome that we would like to see shown to refugees and asylum seekers?

With yarn bombing, banners, different flags, welcome in different languages, families and at each picnic blanket a spare place set at the table – a visual demonstration that there is room at the table for the ‘other’ and enough food to share.

In the face of the continued and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers including children and New Zealanders now the second highest number of those held in off-shore detention – we seek to respond with an act of hospitality, an act of welcome, and act of love – witnessing there is room at THIS communion table.

Why here? A conversion of the New Pyrotechnic Section of the Explosives Factory Maribyrnong established in 1942 to produce flares, tracers and smoke grenades – the Maribyrnong Migrant Hostel first opened in 1966. Part of an ambitious assisted migration scheme that was implemented by the Commonwealth government in the late 1940s in order to increase Australia’s population. Until it was discontinued in 1981, this program saw thousands of British, European and Asian migrants start a new life in this country, temporarily accommodated in government hostels until they were able to buy or rent a house of their own. The Hostel has accommodated migrants from almost every national group that has arrived in Australia since World War II. Initially these were people from Britain and Europe but the later migrants arrived from Asia and South America and people escaping political upheavals in places such as Hungary, Chile and Vietnam. The hostel at various times also accommodated naval personnel, apprentices and evacuees from Darwin after Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Attempts by migrants to personalise their surrounding are apparent in a mural of windmills and tulips by Dutch migrants painted on the side of one of the surviving concrete bunker structures and a mural of an Asian scene that appears to have been painted by Vietnamese migrants on a section of wall of one of the ammunition stores located next to the Phillip Centre. This building also includes a number of paintings by children on its walls. Staff of the migrant centre also erected a large aviary attached to the former electrical substation that was part of the pyrotechnic works. (onmydoorstep.com.au/heritage-listing/35583/former-maribyrnong-migrant-hostel).  These site spaces are now occupied by Victoria University and in the last few years used predominantly for student accommodation.

The current, purpose-built, Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) was opened in 1983, set up for people who have over-stayed their visas, had their visa cancelled, or who have been denied entry into the country through international airports and seaports.  Unlike the Broadmeadows IDC which has been home to families and children, Maribyrnong IDC has been home for mostly adult single male detainees identified as medium/high risk and therefore it is a site that has had higher security.

In June, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 was passed.  The Citizenship Act has always said that if a foreign citizen or foreign national fights for a foreign country at war with Australia, they automatically cease to be an Australian citizen. Fair enough. The Bill adds three new categories of circumstances which will bring about the same result.

  1. Fighting for a terrorist organisation – still with you…
  2. Convictions for certain offences – if you’re a foreign citizen or national and you are convicted of any of a long list of criminal offences, your citizenship will automatically cease.
  3. Acting inconsistently with your allegiance to Australia – what does that even mean?

The protocol is that ASIO notices you’ve done a particular thing and tells the Immigration Minister who deports you. To do that, he has to accept that the factual allegations are correct. You have no right to be heard before he does so. You can contest it later but by this time you’re already on a plane.

(you can read more about this here if you’re interested: abc.net.au/news/2015-06-25/bradley-how-you-could-lose-your-citizenship/6572382)

At 30 December 2015, there were 1,792 people in held immigration detention facilities. Of these 1,792 people, around 18.6 per cent were from Iran, 10.2 per cent were from New Zealand, 8.0 per cent were from Sri Lanka, 6.5 per cent were from China and 6.3 per cent were from Vietnam. (Department of Immigration and Border Protection).

New immigration laws brought into effect back in December 2014 mean that anyone who has served a jail sentence of 12 months or more in Australia could be deported.  “We don’t want people who get into trouble, who have a criminal record, and those who fit into that category will have their visas cancelled and sent back to where they came from,” Australian senator Ian Macdonald said, saying that New Zealanders can’t expect special treatment.
“We love our cousins across the ditch but they must be subject to the same laws as everyone else.” [ The Australian, 29 Sept 2015]

It may be that New Zealanders thought they were being treated by the same laws as everyone else when they were convicted, served time and released just as an Australian might be.  That once they had observed due process and due punishment they were free to resume normal life, 5000 New Zealanders have done time in the last 10 years and these changes mean they can retrospectively be sent home.  I’m not trying to be permissive or whitewash anything these people have done. Clearly they are convicted criminals all. But surely we must ask whether it is fair to punish them now, again, a new law applied to an old crime?  These who might have family here, work here, barrack for an AFL team here… is it justifiable?  Is it justice?

With all these legislative changes, the population of the Maribyrnong IDC has housed both of these groups – convicted criminals whose visas are cancelled and are being sent back to where they came from side by side with refugees seeking asylum and safety.  I can’t find a number for 2015 but between 2010-2014 the number of “boat people” identified as legitimate refugees is over 90% in each year.  The treatment of the asylum seekers and the treatment of the criminals is the same. “Hard-line” centre managers from the prison system have been brought in – ex-prison guards who have a very different culture and mentality to officers who have been trained to guard asylum seekers amidst outbreaks of racial violence and hunger strikes .

People come to Australia with the hope of a better life but they are kept in the same place, and in many ways treated similarly, as criminals.  A friend of ours who has visited here – a refugee herself – has shared stories of the intimidation to herself of the conditions of entry; the boredom, the frustration, the fear, the hopelessness, the despair of those she met inside. She had her own complex needs but returned again and again not only to meet the hunger for Arabic home cooking, but for stories and news of life outside.

The latest development is this: all refugees in Maribyrnong are due to be moved to Broadmeadows which has recently had a high security upgrade. They were due to be moved already but it hasn’t happened yet – we have no way of knowing if this will occur prior to 14th of February.  This comes at a high cost to those at Broadmeadows IDC because along with the higher fence, more guards and greater security screening, comes heavier dehumanisation.

And, you know, some of the symbolism of our picnic is lost.

Or is it?

What a contrast over fifty years between a hostel and a prison, between encouraging people to move to Australia and border control to keep them out… but this place, this space, is where weapons were made that were used during World War II then offered a new start to some of the refugees of that conflict.  What has been used for building harm in this place has been transformed for building hope before… maybe we can build it again.

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