‘It’s never too late to be who you might have been.’
“It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.”
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
I was excited to hear the daring proposal of Leichhardt Council for welcoming those fleeing the war zone. Councillor Simon Emsley and Mayor Darcy Byrne proposed the community provide a place of sanctuary to the wave of Syrian refugees due to be settled in New South Wales. I jumped at the chance to play a part.
Callan Park, close to my home, was the proposed site.
It’s a wonderful oasis of peace for those of us living in tiny homes and crowded streets in the local area, providing wonderful walks and areas for sport recreation, dog exercising and picnics. People can simply sit and contemplate in any of the quiet green open spaces far from the din and traffic of the city. The park, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Sydney’s Inner West, is a marvellous mecca for those who worship nature.
It’s calming natural beauty and pleasant parklands, it’s palms and rainforest trees, sunken garden, bamboo plantation played a big part in my sons’ growth and well-being over the years.
It’s an extension of our garden. We share its fauna and flora.
It’s where my sons and grandchildren played, learned and continue to do so.
It has provided a much needed space for my family and others to escape house confinement during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coming out the other side of it
those interested in learning about this country could be spaced safely and come together in person gradually and harmoniously.
We share it’s tranquillity with people from all corners and all quarters.
We aim to keep it that way.
For some in the wave their lives have unravelled greatly.
The Park could provide them with a much needed taste of a healing, refined place.
Leichhardt Council, which became absorbed into the larger Inner-West Council, resolved to ask state and federal governments to fund a “refugee welcome centre” at the site, large parts of which have been disused for many years.
The Council controls and manages the State owned 40 hectares of Callan Park under a 99-year lease.
Callan Park currently houses residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, a variety of mental health services and two universities.
The proposal has to be in line with the Callan Park Act and the Callan Park Masterplan, which identifies Callan Park as a “future Centre for Excellence in Mental Health”.
Council came up with a Master Plan after carrying out extensive community consultation. Inaction over implementing it has proved harmful to many of the site’s empty buildings and gardens, which have further deteriorated. Some buildings are boarded up to prevent vandalism, some have been damaged by water and vermin entering through broken windows and banged up roofs, others are infested with cats and have collapsed verandahs or rising damp.
The buildings were previously used for an earlier group of ‘boat people’. The early psychiatric facilities were all waterfront. The reason for this was to ‘protect’ public safety by not transporting patients and prisoners by road. They were moved via barges, hence the waterfront locations at places like Callan Park.
They presently act as a showcase of failed efforts to incorporate art into our school curriculum. They attract children who don’t go to school for one reason or another. They’ve been a magnet for expelled children, lured by the lucre of copper down pipes.
The buildings have been allowed to deteriorate and fall apart, the reason given that asbestos removal was too difficult and too expensive to fund.
‘If the inner west of Sydney can’t send a proud and clear message that we can accept some refugees in our own backyard, then what hope are we of overcoming the toxic, low-grade debate that has existed in this country for 15 years?’, said Darcy Byrne.
He said a permanent mental health service for the wider community would also be established with the funding.
Refugee Advice and Casework Service executive director Tanya Jackson-Vaughan supported the plan and hoped people would give it consideration despite the terror attacks in Paris.
She said she was reluctant to put terrorist and refugee in the same sentence as she did not want people to conflate the two.
“They are fleeing what happened in Paris everyday.”
“Idiots commit crimes wherever you are and it has nothing to do with refugees who are waiting to be settled,” Ms Jackson-Vaughan said.
“The Syrian refugees who are coming are hand-picked by the government.
They will be given accommodation, Centrelink, and access to education which is very different from people who are seeking asylum.”
There will be some Australians who whether rightfully or wrongfully feel they are not receiving such benefits. This does have something to do with people who are waiting to be settled as it does for the whole community.
The plan is supported by Settlement Services International. It leads 22 organisations, including Metro Assist which delivers settlement support to new migrants and refugees across the state, within the first five years of their arrival. They form part of a large consortium, the NSW Settlement Partnership (NSP), which is led by SSI. The NSP is supported by the Department of Social Services under the Families and Communities Programme (Settlement Services).
The Department states clearly ‘Our mission is to improve the wellbeing of individuals and families in Australian communities.’
Some residents have opposed the Centre, claiming mental health patients and homeless people should be a priority for any services in the prime waterfront buildings ahead of refugees.
Police were called to a Council meeting in November 2015 after anti Islam protesters stormed the chamber, brandishing placards and shouting slogans, slamming the refugee proposal.
I passed my support for the proposal to the Deputy Mayor at Christmas 2015 and was registered for a place on the Council’s support team.
I hadn’t really retired but I was still working on it.
I shared the Christmas luncheon at the Hannaford Centre, a Council facility. I took the opportunity to ask the gathering, attended by Council representatives, to pass on my desire to connect with other volunteers.
One of the ladies celebrating at the luncheon, a migrant herself, expressed the feeling that her childrens’ generation would not get the same ‘preferential treatment’ as the newcomers. We discussed this in a congenial atmosphere and Carmen was very amicable.
Peter, a proud ex-serviceman, assured her how successful and relatively smoothly the Vietnamese influx had been handled.
Whether we like it or not the Syrian influx has arrived. It is vital for one and all that the resettlement be harmonious.
The Mayor’s proposal led to the inevitable outpouring of withering criticism from some. As well as the offensive and ignorant, some are sincerely concerned about the lack of decent housing prospects for young native born Australians.
My sons are faced with the same dim prospects but know it’s not caused by refugees. They stepped out to protest the pre-emptive and obscene attack on the Baathist ruled region. They know their ‘silent’ Nimby supporters are not about campaigning for better housing for all Australians.
Those officially overseeing the resettlement lost no time drawing attention to the deficiencies and weaknesses in their operations.
They say that they are prepared resource-wise which is patently not true.
Once again in history it falls to those who stepped out against the war to come to the fore.
To pick up the pieces.
To secure the home front.
This was the task taken on by the fictional leader of the British Labour Party.
This was task undertaken by Harry Perkins, steel worker, and trade unionist from Sheffield.
Disarmament is where our kismet lies.
Not in any military arsenal.
These support operations must involve those who stepped out, taking to the street against shock and awe that scattered the poor.
They should involve middle class, educated people who have the time and are potential volunteers. They would have refugees they could help on their doorstep without having to drive out west for an hour.
The proposal for Callan Park could provide a model in which Australians keep up with their Canadian cousins.
We could regain that relative moral ground lost in the teutonic shift to, must I say it, unsere deutsch freunde.
The Centre partners might consider the project created at the Damascus suburb of Daraya where volunteers rescued all the books they could find in the bombed-out ruins of their home town.
They used them to create a secret library, in a safe place, deep underground. It became their school, their university, their refuge. It was a place to learn, to exchange ideas, to dream and to hope.
It should be carried out by not just a select group of volunteers but by all of those said to have inundated the Council to offer their time and energy.
The new arrivals could become totally and rapidly immersed in Australian language and culture here before fanning out to their allocated places of resettlement.
This would afford them a soft landing.
They could then pass on this knowledge to others, including our many homegrown semi-literates.’
‘They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English,” the Coalition Home Affairs Minister warned of humanitarian refugees.
If that were true, why should that be an objection?
They should feel right at home.
They might pretend to be semi-literate so as to try and fit in.
And if that were true, how does that justify restricting their knowledge of English and Australian culture?
Wouldn’t that be seen by them as begrudging, as pandering to those who would like their stay to be so difficult they would move on?
Actually it would make the newcomers more rooted, less mobile, less able to move on somewhere else without the linguistic passport English offers.
Wouldn’t the wise approach for fending off any potential ‘radicalisation’ be to get them all rapidly literate in English, our mother tongue.
For all to be fully able to participate in society.
For the re-settlement agencies to draw upon the large number of generous potential voluntary human resources they boast of.
Why not allow voluntary educators to contribute without such let or hindrance?
These administrative measures correspond to those implemented in the U.K. The ‘hostile environment’ policy was designed to make staying in the country as difficult as possible for those considered undesirable. They were brought in in the hope that the unwanted would “voluntarily leave”.
The Minister’s words echo those of the leader of Australia’s populist, nativist parliamentary bloc of whose views he is ‘respectful’. Besides the ‘privileges Aboriginals enjoy over other Australians” and the threat of being “swamped by Asians”, one of the many concerns they’ve raised in Parliament is that ‘we are being swamped by Muslims’, who bear ‘a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own’.
The truth is we Australians are a very accepting people. We accept all denominations – fivers, tenners, twenties and bigger.
Like their counterparts abroad, this new bloc wants Muslim immigration to cease, a ban on new mosques in which hatred against Australia is preached. Huh!
No kinds of Australians would dare tolerate that if it actually happened.
Warning of impending terror, the leader of the parliamentary bloc declared, ‘We are a Christian country and that’s what I’m saying. John Howard said we have a right to say who comes into our country and I’m saying exactly the same.’
What kind of Christians are these?
Australia has a secular constitution and this should be respected.
Australians for Syria Association president Anas Natfaji, has said, ‘Local communities can do even more.’
Dr Natfaji also criticised any potential selection criteria that prioritised specific religions, saying it was “just not acceptable”.
“I think we should be humans with everyone.”
The ‘Crusaders’ want a royal commission into Islam and climate science.
Their demands seem to have been met to some extent.
In spite of Premier Baird’s expressed humanitarian impulse and what he said is NSW’s focus on settling Syrian refugees, the expected surge of migrants from Syria slowed to a trickle for a period.
Priority was being given to families and children and those considered to be vulnerable. Just over 20 people arrived here in February 2016 as the Federal Government ramped up its security checks. A document leaked to ABC Lateline included a warning about the 12,000 Syrian refugees coming to Australia and argued in favour of increasing monitoring.
The document states”… it is expected that some refugees from this conflict will bring issues, beliefs or associations that lead them to advocate or engage in politically motivated or communal violence.” It cites links between terrorist attacks on Australian soil and Australia’s humanitarian intake, pointing to, among a few well known others, Parramatta police shooter Farhad Jabar.
I trusted the operations proposed by the Council would help put such linkages to rest.
That they would speed up resettlement to make up for the long political and bureaucratic delays experienced by the newcomers.
That the newcomers not be confused by the mixed messages coming from the Federal Government.
New South Wales. State of Reluctance.
“The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.”
Those responsible for public education are still reluctant to encourage all children to read and write about their homeland.
Those responsible for community services seem reluctant to encourage all newcomers to read and write about their new homeland.
To agitate for this whole of society approach I came out all guns blazing.
In April 2016 a meeting organised by the local Council was held in Balmain Town Hall to explain the progress on establishing the Welcome Centre. I handed out flyers expressing my wish to make contact with other volunteers who would like to collaborate on the education project I started. I rely on their collaboration owing to my physical limitations.
I stated how it could be employed for the Centre. I discussed this with the representative of SSI and the Council’s Manager of Community and Cultural Services.
There was a volley of critical questions from one unsympathetic resident who asked why so many people had not been informed about the meeting.
In June the democratically elected Councillors informed me that the Welcome Centre had been opened. I could see in our local newspaper that it had attracted a large crowd which would have been an ideal occasion for me to leaflet again. Alas I was not informed.
I got hold of the Volunteer Handbook put out by the Council in 2006. It sets out a range of rights and responsibilities of both voluntary workers and the Council.
Council has the responsibility ‘to keep the worker informed of the organisation’.
I spoke to the Council’s Manager of Community and Cultural Services asking for the timeline of commencing operations. I was told that although the Centre had been opened, so much renovating work needed to be done and that operations were several months down the line. That at least gave me time to make contact with someone else seriously interested in working with me.
I spoke to the Manager about my difficulty with the resettlement ‘consortium’.
Council has a responsibility to be aware of my professional background.
I forwarded to her my toned down message to the public with its references to Henry Parkes. She said this made her feel ‘uncomfortable’.
Goodness knows what she would think if I mentioned what I really wanted to say about timidity, slackness or whatever it is that stops resettlement bureaucrats carrying out their social responsibilities.
They should approach this epochal resettlement as more than just part of a job.
It requires dedication, involvement of the community and most importantly co-ordination of resources.
Art for Art’s Sake.
I asked the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre to display my message at an art exhibition titled ‘Refugees.’ It was officially described as ‘politically charged’. Liverpool Council who operate the centre declined my request. Maybe they thought if people were to do anything about the situation, it might blow their minds.
I approached one of the artists but got no reply.
In late 2016 a friend passed on to me a notice from the Inner-West Council. Although my interest in taking part was known I hadn’t received it. I include it here in inverted commas followed by my comments. I passed these on to the relevant official.
‘Volunteers Wanted for Refugee and Asylum Seeker App’
Inner West Council is seeking volunteers to support the development of the ‘Arrival App’, a mobile app that will welcome and assist refugees and asylum seekers.
It will help them find services places and activities in the Inner West. They will be able to browse popular activities, nearby parks, swimming pools and so much more.’
This sounded like the same migrant re-settlement tool ‘replacing’ my voluntary services with the re-settlement consortium member, Metro Assist. It shouldn’t have replaced but supplemented the unique resources I placed at the consortium’s disposal. I had worked hard over many years to assemble these, tailor made for the same purpose.
Let’s be serious here. Before anything else, it’s people that are needed to welcome and assist refugees and asylum seekers. They need helping hands to guide them.
It’s only people who can win over those who won’t welcome them.
Yet it’s people as a resource that the consortium sees as least important.
‘Developed in partnership with the Asylum Seekers Centre, the app is a communication tool that will enhance social cohesion and inclusion by connecting refugees and asylum seekers to their community.’
Hopefully it will enhance social cohesion and a big tent.
But what will actually lay the framework that’s to be enhanced? The app should be part of a comprehensive plan to receive and re-settle migrants and refugees.
This requires the involvement of all willing to play a part and provide resources.
By itself the app’s a technical fix to a huge social challenge.
‘Arrival App Volunteers will work as a team to research, evaluate and collate relevant content for the Arrival App.
Volunteers will be based at Council offices in Petersham or at the new Refugee Welcome centre in Callan Park and must be able to commit to working on the project one day per week.’
In asking how Council itself commits itself to this admirable goal, I mentioned it’s response to my commitment as a volunteer. I brought up the aforementioned gatherings I had attended offering my services and my desire to connect with other volunteers.
I told Council this operation requires dedication, involvement of the community and most importantly co-ordination of resources. By wilfully limiting this sensitive operation’s chances of success, the consortium and Council by default do nobody a favour except nativists.
It is a sop to their more narrow minded elements.
Why lay down the welcome mat for them?
Why not win over their moderate, borderline numbers who may understandably feel legitimately anxious, left out and left behind, threatened and challenged by the influx?
Why not encourage them to expand their minds and extend their hands in peace.
These are the ‘Somewheres’, most rooted in geographical identity, who find the rapid changes of the modern world unsettling. They are likely to be older and less well educated. They have lost economically with the decline of well-paid jobs for those without qualifications. They have lost too, with the disappearance of a distinct working-class culture and the marginalisation of their views in the public conversation.
Why not encourage them to recognise themselves in the ‘other.’
I was hoping Council might be able to convince SSI to bring to bear all the resources at the disposal of the consortium it leads on the Welcome Centre. Instead it seems to follow it’s ‘lead’.
Council has been, I believe, remiss in communicating with volunteers who have no way of communicating with each other, who have no way of working together as a team. I realise Council cannot forward my request to other volunteers but it must know of at least one other who is prepared to offer more than lip service and could approach me.
Caught up on the bureaucratic barbed wire, I have spent the last years trying unsuccessfully to link up with other like minded volunteers.
I spent the previous years trying the same unsuccessfully through ‘Metro Assist, partner of SSI. The same old stall.
It would have been much more productive that I spent this time preparing educational work for the Centre.
This particular resettlement should be seen by representatives of all agencies involved as more than just part of a job.
Redemption or Exemption?
New services were announced at the Callan Park Refugee Centre in early 2017. It was said they would boost the Centre’s capacity.
So what services were there to boost?
The Inner West Courier reports claim the facility had become ‘a refugee centre without any refugees’. [Inner West Courier – Inner City Edition – Church to fund refugee centre.]
‘Settlement Services International[SSI] to whom delivery of services was outsourced would not say exactly how many refugees had used the facility, or how many were based in the inner west.’
This was hardly surprising. The consortium which it leads appears from my experience to be made up of ‘re-settlement agencies without any migrants.’ At least those who would benefit from educational services focussed on their new country.
Everything about the operations at Callan Park has been kept under tight wraps, making it difficult for community involvement.
It’s not a good look.
SSI’s agreement with the Inner West Council was said to have been ‘a non-monetary’ one.
Like the agreement I had had with the consortium partner, Metro Assist.
One in which suddenly without any consideration or discussion whatsoever the terms of our gentleman’s agreement were changed to specious monetary ones.
The verbal contract the agency wanted to void wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
Regrettably over the years The Inner West Council proved unable to help connect me with any able bodied refugees or volunteers to mount a salvage operation.
Neither could agencies of Protestant churches or or their members expressing interest.
Council officers could only say that everything about the Centre would be discussed at future meetings.
Meetings appear to be the most important part of the Council calendar.
Over the first year of my registration, I drew Council’s attention publicly and personally to my desired involvement. It proved unable to connect me with any of the large number of ‘generous spirited’ volunteers it speaks of.
It long proved unable to help me mount an operation to salvage these precious education resources from the SSI led consortium. Resources ready made for the enterprise.
Council recommended I try a more distant agency assisting refugees and people seeking asylum.
Any location apart from the Centre is even more inaccessible to me.
Most agencies assisting refugees and people seeking asylum have now declined my offer of services.
According to the Courier Council says it had been working extremely hard behind the scenes to move the Welcome Centre project forward.
Just where were the ‘scenes’, how far ‘behind’ was it and to what extent if any was it play acting, just for show, a virtue signalling, vanity project?
Coming to the rescue, the Catholic Church launched a salvage mission of its own, a mission of atonement one would hope by those of deeper faith than its betrayers. It pledged to fund two full time staff members and permanent day services.
The Holy Father called on members of his Church to further human rights, to emulate an exemplar “for all those who, in different ways, seek to restore the dignity of our brothers and sisters lost through the pain of life’s wounds, to restore the dignity of those who are excluded.”
These aims and this model could and should be shown in practice at the Centre.
The Church’s Justice and Peace Office pledged to fund two full time staff members and permanent day services.
It’s spokesman said it was the “responsibility of all Sydney” to welcome refugees, “not just the western suburbs.”
He sees those in the influx as ‘the most needy and most demonised members of our community.””
Fairfield and Liverpool Councils are housing more than half of the 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees settled in Australia.
The Inner West Council said it provides buses to transport refugees based in Fairfield and Liverpool to and from the centre, as well as computers and other resources.
As talks between Inner West Council and the official co-ordinator of refugee settlement in NSW stalled, the new staff could do well to co-ordinate inter-Council activities so as to bring volunteers into the loop.
My overture to Fairfield Council regarding this was warmly received.
Liverpool Council, which pleading ‘art for art’s sake’, rejected them, hopefully could be convinced to come on board.
I hoped this welcome initiative by the Church would break the impasse.
“People of the Inner West have many gifts and talents that can enrich the lives of refugees, said Father Peter Smith.
Too much is at stake for a project such as this to fail.
Not just the monetary resources already invested by Inner-West Council ratepayers and to be invested by the Catholic parishioners of Sydney but the wellbeing of our society.
I contacted the Catholic Church spokesman to inform him of my availability. As with the other players of the Triple C-the Council, the Church and the Consortium lead he has at his fingertips this, my full account of things, the capacity to criticise it and help me edit it if needs be.
His response was to suggest that my services were not needed.
He said that the language skills of those arriving was quite high although the Mayor of Fairfield says that English language learning is needed.
He said that the children were being catered for well in the local schools in Fairfield and Liverpool.
Considering the vital role that learning English plays in re-settlement, I was very surprised at this response considering that flexibility, appropriateness, length of time of on-arrival English language training are ongoing issues of concern for refugee communities.
Asher Hirsch senior policy officer at the Refugee Council of Australia says asylum seekers are having language difficulties.
The Refugee Council says that despite a raft of challenges, many refugee children and young people perform remarkably well and have the potential to match the educational achievements of their peers born in Australia. ‘However’, it points out there are also a significant number of children and young people whose learning needs remain unmet, sometimes with devastating consequences.
Arriving at an age where it is not compulsory to be enrolled in school means that those who do not easily ‘fit’ into education and training systems are often not catered for and risk falling through the gaps. The failure to meet the educational needs of refugee entrant students at high school, and the lack of alternative post-compulsory education and training pathways, can have a devastating impact on young people. It can lead to their disengagement from education, employment and other services, and ultimately to social exclusion.
We can’t afford to be complacent in this area. The Church spokesman’s approach came soon after the release of a report into the extent of widespread student disengagement in Australian classrooms. The report by the government and business funded Grattan Institute measured it by the presence of certain behaviours like being late for class, disrupting other students, and speaking out in an aggressive way. Drawing on more than a decade of academic research, it concluded that as many as 40 per cent of school students are unproductive in a given year. On average one to two years behind their peers, and their disengagement also damages their classmates and teachers. The momentum of the class can be lost.
The main problem the report brought to attention is not the sort of aggressive or even violent behaviour that attracts media headlines. More prevalent, and more stressful for teachers, are ‘easy riders’ going slowly, minor disruptions such as students talking back, out of turn or simply switching off, complaining boredom and avoiding work, being late for class, moving around in class, fiddling with their phones, making impertinent remarks and being rowdy.
The problem is most severe in poorer areas such as the western suburbs of Sydney, the defacto warehouse of newly arrived refugees . In general, refugee students have greater educational and support needs than most other newly arrived migrant students. Most refugee children and young people have had disrupted or no education prior to arrival in Australia. Many have no literacy skills in their first language and in addition may have complex health problems, including mental health issues as a result of their experiences.
The spokesman’s comments came before it was reported Catholic school fees are tipped to skyrocket amid education funding changes. The Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Sydney, Dr. Dan White, said the new funding policy could force low income families to leave the Catholic system.
‘It would push a greater number of children in to state schools and they are struggling to accommodate them as it is,’ Dr White told The Sunday Telegraph.
“It will push more marginalised family with greater learning needs into state education.”
One way towards combatting such problems as these would be for those agencies involved in migrant and refugee re-settlement agencies to foster an engaging educational environment for newcomers and their families. To raise such educational provision from the bottom of their priorities.
To benefit all, not just bean counters.
Of all societal goods, education seems to me the highest. Were I dictator, I’d prioritise free, fine and universal education over healthcare, social welfare or public housing; over parks, pools or solar panels. Why? Because it underpins all these and sustains them. Education is civilisation. Sine qua non. Period.
I have the right as a volunteer with the Council ‘to a suitable assignment with consideration for personal preference, temperament, abilities, education, and employment background’.
What follows are the accounts of a selection of refugees to Australia who talk about the importance of education to them. You can skip these if you wish and read about what resources we can offer them.
One of the Last of the Dunera Boys.
‘It was quite a joy to hold the little kids’ hands and watch them smile’.
Australian Naval Commander Norman Banks
His countrymen had been told others had been thrown off a refugee boat by adults.
‘To this day the official meanness towards refugees, at least those arriving by boat is maintained by making sure no Australian can get close to them.’
Nicholas Gruen, [son of a Dunera boy]
‘When I hear people make derogatory remarks about refugees, I think that’s my dad.’
Lord Nicholas Stern.[son of a Dunera boy]
My father taught me that Australia should be open to refugees.
Professor Stephen Castles [son of a Dunera boy]
‘It’s typical of the refugee story that they want to succeed and excel despite all the pressure on them. It’s typical of groups in exile. It’s one of the reasons Jews have succeeded all over the world for so many centuries and millennia.
Any group like the Palestinians or others who are in exile, mistreated, denied their national rights, dispersed, disenfranchised, occupied, subjugated, under siege, whatever the conditions may be, find refuge and hope in only one thing. That is to develop their human talents and to maintain their ethical behaviour to other people in society.
In this way they can excel as human beings and engage with others for the mutual success of themselves and their families and the societies where they live, or wherever they may live.
A boatload of refugees arrive in a new land. They are locked up, confined to a camp, treated with suspicion and allowed minimal contact with the local citizenry.
How do we comprehend and deal with this all too familiar contemporary story?
The Australian resettlement agencies and those they answer to might do well to consider the experience of my convivial friend Henry James, a slice of history. He was in my eyes and letter case a national treasure although the phrase has been thrown around a lot.
He was one of the few remaining cohort of World War Two refugees.
He and his fellow internees found hope, friendship and solace in an impressively organised refugee camp community.
They continually appealed for justice, finally earning the right to recreate themselves.
They took it upon themselves to become integrated successfully into Australian society.
In ways big and small, grand and humble, they helped build postwar Australia.
Their experience is a parable for our times.
One of history’s most important roles to make us blink. It is to make us momentarily close our eyes to the present and contemplate a past seemingly disconnected from the present – only to open them again to a present that may now appear in a new light.
Hopefully this story will show Australians something of their society and invite them to dwell on what they see.’
One can draw parallels between the Dunera story and the current treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, Europe and the U.S.A.
Theirs is told in the telemovie, ‘The Dunera Boys’ starring Bob Hoskins and Warren Mitchell.
It’s nothing new that refugees in general are unwanted and unloved when they arrive, but being at the bottom of the heap they persevere and make the best of the chance they’ve been given, to become an asset to their adopted country.
Nowhere is that better illustrated than with the story of the Dunera Boys, many of whom had lost everything in the Holocaust.
Like millions forced from their homes today, they had ‘no rights and no nation.’
They didn’t intend to come here. They came to an unknown destination that seemed the very end of the earth. They had no wish to come here. They didn’t receive a terrific reception at the time. Many would never return to where they came from.
They grappled physically, emotionally and imaginatively with living as newcomers in a strange land, at a time when their world was tearing itself apart.
Yet the consensus view is that by and large Australia and the Dunera Boys have been good to each other. Many of the ‘Boys’ and their children have made a mark as Australian citizens.
By banding together, this diverse group thrown together by fate, were fashioned into one large fictive family, based on experience rather than on blood lines.
It was the Australian people who rescued the Dunera Boys. Australian officialdom was none too keen.
Central to their survival and success was the role of community education and self management. As had already been the case on the Dunera, the steamship that brought them to Australia, the administration facilitated these.
This role is restricted among contemporary refugees and those who volunteer to assist them.
The Boy from Halbe.
I met Henry James on the front verandah of Balmain Hospital. I was waiting to attend one of my regular exercise sessions.
Henry was waiting while his wife was doing hers.
When exchanging greetings, I detected what I took to be a mittel-European background.
‘Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Henry James.’
‘Sie sprechen Deutsch, Henry?’
‘Sehr gut’, he replied.’ You hit the nail on the head’, said this former painter and decorator who had hit many in his work.
‘That’s not a typical German name is it?
‘No’ he said laughing. ‘I abandoned my Germanic name, Heinz Jacobius and adopted my current one after the war. Having an anglicized name meant a better chance of getting a job, and less explaining to do.’
I suddenly knew where he was coming from.
‘That’s a distinguished literary name. Is that why you chose it?’
‘Yes, I did have something in common with the writer- at least initially. Then gradually I realised it wasn’t my ability in writing English.’
‘Irving Berlin wasn’t the songwriter’s original name either. And he changed it again when he toured in Germany after the war. He told Bob Hope his new name was ‘Irving Jones.’
‘To improve his work opportunities?’
‘To save his skin, according to his joke. He explained to the comic laureate, ‘Over here anything named Berlin they cut up into sectors.’
I told Henry of my experience in Berlin.
‘I did my technical training there,’ said Henry. I grew up not far away. In a little town called Halbe.
‘I’ve been there,’ I said. ‘It holds a strategic place in military history. The Battle of Halbe.
Were you there when it took place?’
‘Heavens forbid, no. I was lucky on that count. Thousands of civilians were slaughtered, caught up in the bloodbath. As fate would have it I was here Down Under.’
‘So you had left the motherland?’
‘I had no choice in the matter. The vandalism of Kristallnacht shattered any remaining hopes of safety in Hitler’s Germany. On August 29,1939 I left with the clothes I was wearing and my carryall bag. I escaped the Nazis by a hair’s width.’
‘You wouldn’t have got far hiding in Halbe or taking to the woods, would you.’
‘Many of the townfolk I grew up with were cut down in the crossfire when the war came home. Those who had supported Hitler were paid in their own coin.’
‘How did you manage to get to Australia?’
‘That is a long story. I was studying in Berlin at the ORT school. ORT is a global non-profit Jewish organisation that promotes education and training in communities worldwide. I escaped with others from the school and made it to England. A high-ranking British Army official had the British Embassy in Berlin issue one hundred and ten visas for the students attending the ORT school. Subsequently, the visas went for approval to Adolf Eichmann.’
‘What was the situation when you left?’
‘There was a sense of imminent danger, I recall the frantic crowds at the station.’
‘Henry, that is exactly what the Australian Ambassador to Germany told me he felt in The Hague. We’ll come back to that later.’
I had to board the train by climbing through the window. We had some hair-raising moments with custom officials and police checks.’
‘You could have been charged with fare evasion.’
‘We were on one of the last trains to leave and it was stopped by the Nazis. We were worried the Nazis would remove our passports.
Thankfully they didn’t and the train kept going.
Finally we made it to Holland and connected with our passage to Britain.
The timing was very fortunate,’ he said. ‘If we had left a week later, we probably wouldn’t have survived. Soon war was declared and the borders closed.’
‘That was a close escape indeed. It’s worthy of a Hollywood movie,” I commented.
‘How were you treated in Britain?’
‘While at the relocated ORT school in Leeds, we were regarded as ‘friendly aliens’ and as such placed in Categories B or C. Although I passed the immigration tribunal my fellow students and I were left in no doubt we weren’t welcome. In the eyes of the Leeds Christian people we were members of an enemy country which they were at war with.
‘Do nothing at any time to arouse the slightest hostility and don’t attract attention,’ we were instructed. Meanwhile we managed to continue our normal educational studies combined with our apprenticeship as mechanics and toolmakers.’
‘That must have given you some sense of normalcy again’
‘It seemed like the start of an orderly life. However it was interrupted when the British Government decided to arrest all Germans in the UK no matter how long they had been here.
‘The fear of ‘the enemy within’. After the fall of France you would have all been considered a security threat.’
‘A wave of fear over a German invasion gripped the nation. Churchill declared, ’Collar the lot!‘ The roundup was indiscriminate along the lines of ‘Better safe than sorry!’ They arrested Jewish Germans whose families were being transported to the death camps. Among others arrested were many Jewish refugees from Nazi occupied territories and many who were fully assimilated.’
‘His defenders would say Churchill had too many pressing things to think of. He didn’t want troops tied down guarding harmless aliens.’
‘I knew the situation. Dad’s Army were nightly expecting invasion. But that wasn’t much consolation for us.
The wide cross section of society we represented were again being forced into the one category. Our talents would better have enhanced Britain’s war effort ’
‘What happened to you personally?’
‘Plain clothes policemen contacted me at my workplace. After my group was rounded up, we were shunted around England on a grand tour of internment sites.’
‘How did you maintain your morale?’
‘We kept connected with each other as a community. People do badly when isolated from one another. No one suffered alone. Being aware of another’s pain only made us stronger and more able to live.’
‘No man is an island,’ I said.’ Where was your main place of internment?
‘The Isle of Man.’
‘You weren’t lashed with branches, I hope.’ I said remembering the island as the last bastion of this form of punishment.
‘Not at all. We were searched but not birched. Actually, we had it good there. The government had commandeered lodgings for us along the beach front. We had ocean views. We almost forgot the guards and the barbed wire outside.’
‘And then you remembered.’
‘Yes, our ‘seaside holiday’ came to an abrupt end. They had worked out what to do with us. When the offer arose I volunteered for transportation out of the country. We allegedly dangerous characters were herded onto this sombre grey and black ship the Dunera,I thought we’d be going to Canada.’
‘Did the leaving of Liverpool grieve you?’
‘That would come later. Once underway the ship changed course. We were bound for Australia.’
‘Heave away, heave away’, I said, quoting the sea shanty.’
There was plenty of that. Many of us got seasick. Others threw up after their beating from the guards.’
‘That sounds like the convict experience from the First Fleets.’
‘We were treated as such. More of England’s unwanted being transported to be incarcerated in some faraway place.’
‘How were you treated on the voyage? What were your physical conditions?’
‘In one word, deplorable. They were hardly better, if at all, than those endured by convicts on the same route a hundred years before. Most of us were kept below decks throughout the voyage. We would have drowned like rats if the ship sank. The only exceptions were for daily ten minute exercise periods, during which we would walk around the deck under heavy guard. During one such period, a guard smashed beer bottles on the deck so that we would have to walk on the shards. In contrast to the Army personnel, the ship’s crew and officers showed kindness to us.
‘Due to wartime exigencies, I imagine, the ship must have been overcrowded ‘.
‘Hugely over capacity.
It was so claustrophobic. Our three layers of hammocks almost touched.
Many men had to sleep on the floor or on tables. There was only one piece of soap for twenty men, and one towel for ten men, fresh water was rationed, and luggage was stowed away so there was no change of clothing. The meagre meals consisted of thin soup, maggoty meat and potatoes.’
‘That must have affected your health’
‘We became bags of bones. Skin diseases were common. There was a hospital on board but no operating theatre.’
‘What about those running the ship? You mentioned the beatings.’
‘Blows with rifle butts and beatings from the soldiers were daily occurrences.
One refugee tried to go to the latrines on deck during the night which was out of bounds. He was bayoneted in the stomach by one of the guards and spent the rest of the voyage in the hospital.’
‘If they didn’t respect your person, I don’t suppose they respected your property.’
They confiscated our razors and shaving equipment. O.K. that fits in with the ‘foreign enemy’ thinking.’
‘Standard procedure in today’s airline passenger precautions.’
‘But they also ransacked, stole and destroyed
piles of our personal, treasured possessions.
‘With allies like that who needed enemies?’
‘The U boats had a go at us too. While we were passing through the Irish sea, we were struck by a torpedo. It made a loud bang but failed to detonate. A second torpedo passed underneath us and the Dunera was lifted out of its path by the rough seas.’
’‘Neptune must have been smiling up on you, if not the the most poorly disciplined of the British Army.’
‘We found out after the war that thanks to their dumping some of our possessions overboard, the U-boats had laid off their attacks. On inspecting our documents retrieved from the waters the submariners concluded we were Germans too.’
‘Albeit not the ones they would have wanted to protect. How did you guys cope from then on?’
‘As week followed week at sea, men passed the time as best they could. Many played cards. Others played chess, sometimes with pieces made from the ship’s tasteless doughy bread. Others set up classes and discussion groups.’
‘How did the appalling treatment colour your world?’
‘It was rather harrowing but I can’t complain. As a young fellow I didn’t take it too seriously. Compared to what happened to my family and friends back home, I was lucky. Better the Dunera than a death camp or dying on the Eastern Front of frost-bite.’
‘What happened after the ‘Voyage of the Scammed’ came to an end?’
‘The treatment on the train was in stark contrast to the horrors of the Dunera .We were given packages of food and fruit, and Australian soldiers offered us cigarettes. We were grateful to the nation for having saved our lives.’
‘Your family were persecuted badly by the Nazis?’
‘Were they what! First through their discriminatory practices those criminals brought about the collapse of my parents’ business. Then they dragged both off to Treblinka.’
‘I’m so sorry to hear that. You must harbour a lot of bitterness towards the beastly swine responsible.’
‘Bitterness does more harm to the person harbouring it than to those against whom it is directed. You can end up a victim not so much of others as of yourself.’
‘Bitterness is unforgiveness fermented.’ I said. ‘The anger and resentment you can understandably feel could have led to a corrosive ulcer. Such an overpowering feeling could create or deepen your attitude of distrust and cynicism—qualities that contribute to hostility and paranoid thinking, as well as an overall sense of pessimism. Such a bleak perspective could prompt others to turn away from you.’
‘I’ve fought hard over time to to let go of any grievances and grudges I may have felt towards those in my country who went along with the Nazis. They knew they would have been killed themselves if they hadn’t.’
‘If you’d have given in to that wanting to hit back, this could have led you to the same venomous emotions of those who transgressed against you.’
‘Being obsessed about our injuries or outrage can ease our pain -just like a cigarette does. But, not for long. It can help us feel that we’re better than, or morally superior to, the source of our wrongs. But, it’s a trap.’
‘I always remember this simple edict of Martin Luther King: ‘Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.’
‘My friends and family helped me not to let the legacy of the Nazis interfere with my cultivating healthy, satisfying relationships. I was determined not to let it lead me to doubt, or put down my connection to others. Anyway they-the Nazis- lost in the end.’
‘What do you say about the taint left by the Nazi past. What do you say to those who believe Germans are intrinsically cruel.’
‘Then I would have to include myself so it’s not true. And where would the world be without the joy brought by Beethoven and Schubert? People are the same wherever you go. There is good and bad in everyone.’
‘Who could have predicted the genocide in Rwanda just a decade ago?’
‘We had our fair share of rogues, thugs and scoundrels on the Dunera.and that didn’t include the guards or the fascists. Our anti-social elements had to learn how to respect others and reject the temptations scarcity throws up. We had to rely on their common decency to surface for the group to get by. We learn to live when we learn to give each other what we need to survive.
‘Did you know any of your friends and neighbours who didn’t conform to the anti-semitic dictates?’
‘Certainly. One of them Frau Schulze offered food when others were ideologically opposed, or too frightened to be seen to be helping Jews. She took them into her home until they were informed on. She later advised me discreetly – as did the village postman – of my parents arrest and transportation to the Warsaw Ghetto.’
Then there was the action of a teacher at the state school I attended. Herr Lehmann was unfazed by the Nazis. He was not only bold but had a liking for black humour. When the Nazis came to power we had racial lessons about the superiority of the Aryan race. Having just a single Jewish grandparent was determined as a ‘polluting’ this master race. They were depicted as blond, blue-eyed Nordic types. Studies were made of the human face, with charts and diagrams to show the desired type.
Herr Lehmann, knowing full well that I was Jewish but also that I had fair wavy hair, called me to the front of the class and used me as an example saying, “This is Heinz Jacobius. He’s got many of the desired features.”’
This account took my mind back to my ‘classes’ on eugenics at the former Reichsakadamie fur Leibesubungen.[ Reich Academy for Physical Exercise] in Berlin.
‘Herr Lehmann took us boys for a day’s swimming in a nearby lake. The Nazis had erected a sign saying ‘Jews Forbidden!’ It was the day of a swimming carnival where prizes were to be awarded.
I saw the sign and hesitated. Herr Lehmann called out, ‘Forget about that. Just come in!’
‘I swam in a race and came second. This was embarrassing because the prize was a big picture of Hitler. Herr Lehmann felt he couldn’t give that to me, so he gave me a book which was first prize. The real winner got the picture of Hitler.’
‘Herr Lehmann was very brave and quick witted, Henry. A teacher in the truest sense of the word. Have you ever returned to Germany? Or are your memories there too painful to tackle..’
‘I’ve long come to terms with the past. In 1988 I went back with Leah. I returned to Halbe. I had long been sending coffee and chocolate there to Frau Schulze. Herr Lehmann’s daughter was still living in the village.’
‘I had my photo taken with one of my former classmates at our old school. I’ve always kept in contact with my best friends from primary school.
Now Allan, believe it or not as I fled the village back in ’39 I distinctly remember a boy at his window waving to me. Years later after all the momentous, historic changes, I spied the same guy, now an aging man, looking out the same window.’
‘A fly on the wall but not to you. Henry, you still have a soft spot for your homeland. As an interested observer of this rich subject, I’d like to hear more of that long remarkable story of yours’
‘Why don’t you pay my wife, Leah a visit? Then I can fill you in on the details.’
My friend Dietrich drove me to their lovely apartment in a neighbouring suburb.
I had expected to find the dining table decorated with strands of barbed wire, that being the custom at the Dunera Boys’ reunions. Instead it was covered with delicious snacks.
Henry showed us some interesting family photos.
One was of his father dressed in his military uniform from the First World War. He was wearing the standard spiked boiled leather combat helmet.
‘This picture says a lot’, I said.’ Your father’s fate alone reveals the twisted treacherous nature of the Reich’s perpetrators. Murdering those who had risked their lives in defence of their homeland.’
‘Yes, look where devotion to the fatherland got my father. He had been awarded the Iron Cross. It didn’t exempt him from the stepwise escalation of restrictive edicts. Our family were fully integrated into German society. Our first language was German which we proudly spoke at home.’
‘Tell us about your home life.’
‘My sister and I loved the outdoors so much. We enjoyed listening to our mother playing classical music on the piano.’
Another photo Henry showed us remained in my mind. Henry in his Australian army uniform.
‘I became part of a labour unit, the 8th Employment Command, under the command of Australian officers. We called it the 8th Enjoyment Company. Many musicians and performers in our ranks combined their military duties with theatrical pursuits. Though not allowed to carry guns we were ordered to shift boxes of ammunition from one train to another.’
‘You couldn’t shoot anyone but you could have blown them sky high. Your story, Henry, is one of shifting identities.’
‘You’re not wrong. During that phase of my life who I was seemed to depend on whether it was an odd or even day of the month.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, we were reclassified as ‘friendly aliens’ After our release in 1942 I went from being an internee of the Australian government to transporting their chemical weapons.’
‘Another irony,’ I said, ‘in light of our correct condemnation of the Baathist regimes for using them. We may not have used them but we would have had if necessary.’
‘Wars certainly bring out the worst in people.
‘And the best. Our popular commander, Captain Edward ‘Tip’ Broughton, took a personal interest in our welfare. He said to one of his refugee charges from across the world “You and me, we’re the same”.’
‘He must have been a refreshing change for you after so many subservient, officious officers.’
‘Fritz Schonbach described him as a near Shakespearean presence. If I were to erect a statue to anyone, it would be to him. He was deeply interested in human beings and shared our feelings. He not only gained our immediate respect and obedience, but also our love and affection.
He knew many of us by our first names. He learned German phrases and spoke to us in two languages.
He encouraged us to enrol in the courses offered by the Australian Army Education Service.’
‘It’s courses built our morale and provided a diversion from tedium. It taught us new skills and prepared us for a smooth re-entry to civilian life.’
‘The Service was accused by conservatives of all nature of sins. It’s publication Salt was often censored by the Army’s Director-General of Public Relations for ideas “damaging to morale”, content of “questionable taste”, and information which might affect security.’
‘In other words it was getting those enlisted to think for themselves.’
‘Freedom of thought is always a scary thing for those in power. The Service was accused of politicising the army, of harbouring left wing intellectual instructors, of being too high brow for under educated working class soldiers. And for the cardinal sin of revealing that many young Australians were illiterate.’
‘They would have preferred to let sleeping dogs lie. That revelation would have put the spotlight on the education system.’
‘Madgwick’s reply was that the Service provided education for personal growth and active citizenship, not propaganda.’
‘Captain Broughton said the courses gave us incentives and provided hope for us to improve our lot long term.
It was he alone who could have turned us internees into willing manual labourers. He enjoyed hugely being at the head of our unit and was immensely proud of it. He believed we did splendid work. He learned and meticulously respected our culture. After being shoved around as flotsam and jetsam for many years he managed to make us feel like human beings again. On top of all that he had a great sense of humour: ‘Seek for knowledge, go to a college, stay there ’til you’re through. If they can make penicillin out of mouldy cheese, they can make something out of you.’
‘If he had lived longer,’ I told Henry, ‘he would have liked this joke: ‘Kia Ora. What did the Kiwi say to the Jewish man?
Answer- ‘He,brew,’ which if one says with a certain accent, sounds close to the popular contemporary kiwi greeting, “Hey, bro”.
‘What happened to you after you were demobilised, Henry?’
‘In 1946, the year after the war ended, I was honourably discharged from the army. Under the Alien Registration Act I had to report to the police once a week. Attending Sydney’s Phillip Street police station, “the sergeant looked me over and said: ‘I don’t want to see you any more’.’
‘The time had come for you to return to civilian life.’
‘More of that later, Allan. How do you spend your time apart from exercising at the Strong Centre?’
‘I do a lot of reading and writing at my computer, Henry, working on my life story.’
‘Am I in it?’
‘You just entered. I hope you’ll feel at home. I’ve got the basic structure in place. You might care to advise me on the painting and decorating.’
‘Allan, here’s a thought. Would you like to accompany me to the Sydney Jewish Museum? I’m sure you’d find it fascinating and adding to your knowledge.’
‘I’d be honoured, Henry but that would be a great trek for me.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll give you a hand. We can get a ferry from near here. We’ll go to Circular Quay and from there by taxi.’
Once on the ferry I pointed to various harbourside landmarks of interest.
That’s Balmain High School over there,’ I said. My three sons all got a good schooling there. This enabled them to go on and join the throngs of university students.’
‘There’s Tom Uren’s home over there. He knows what its like to spend time
behind barbed wire. Japanese wire.
‘That’s where the comparison ends, Allan. We fought to kill time under absurd conditions. He fought to stay alive under barbaric conditions.’
Suddenly I regretted having drunk my last glass of water. I had a strong urge to activate my urethra.
‘Look, Henry, I’m afraid I have to spend a penny.’
‘I’ll help you to the toilet, Allan. I’ll wait outside in case you’re a while. I’ll act as the ‘toilet policeman’.’
I wondered what he meant but my mind was immediately on and around the muscles of my bladder.
Henry waited outside while I held on tight inside, trying to aim straight while the ferry rocked and rolled.
Once back seated on deck, I asked him,’ So what did you mean by ‘toilet police?’
‘On the Dunera there were just ten toilets for more than two thousand men. We had to have such enforcers who would call up people as vacancies arose.’
‘Were the facilities on the Dunera not adequate?’,
‘Far from it. You had an average of seven minutes per day to empty your bowels and bladder and to peer through the only portholes not covered by iron plates.
Makeshift latrines had to be erected on the decks. If you wanted to go to the toilet at night you were walking on others’ Sewage which flooded the decks.’
‘As Cec Pitt would say, the ‘poop decks’. The Dunera must have felt like one big dunny.’
‘Dysentery ran through the ship. We were issued a daily limit of two sheets of toilet paper.’
That’s scandalous! And they call members of the lost tribes mean.’
‘I didn’t know the Scots were lost. By any standards the rationing of toilet paper for us was meagre. Despite this three of our guys managed to steal a whole roll on which they wrote a ‘camp constitution’. It set out in detail a form of self-government for when we arrived in Australia.
As we passed Darling Harbour, I asked Henry, what did he remember from that day he disembarked?
‘We were pale, emaciated and bedraggled as we came down the gangway but so relieved. Many broke into a run automatically in the open air before we filed along.
I pointed upwards to the Harbour Bridge as we went under it. ‘It may not be the Statue of Liberty but it symbolizes the value of Depression era public works.’
‘The coat-hanger was an amazing sight for me. Our steamship sailed under this feat of engineering six weeks after leaving Liverpool.’
‘You’ll recall it was ‘opened’ by our local fascists who cut the ribbon. They didn’t like who’d be performing the act. The fact it was a socialist minded republican Premier.’
‘The New Guard was yet another group who hoped they could seize power. Their leader later met with Hitler’s Foreign Minister.’
‘From ribbon chop to von Ribbentrop.’
‘Fortunately, the voters gave them the chop.’
I put the following joke to Henry, ‘What’s the difference between a Nazi and a dog? ‘That’s an easy one. The Nazi lifts his arm.’
I picked up on Henry’s account of his longer voyage.
As we cruised into Circular Quay I said to Henry, ‘This has been a lot more pleasant cruise than on the bad ship Dunera, hasn’t it.’
‘I have to speak in defence of that ship. It may not have been a classy vessel but it wasn’t a broken-down tub as some claim. It was just terribly overcrowded.’
At the Museum Henry directed me to the exhibits on the internment camps. They showcase the wealth of primary material, both visual and textual, in the collections. The paintings, drawings, photographs, sketches and compositions, concert posters and camp newspapers tell the story by themselves. They show that, art and education mattered to many of these men. Together the exhibits represent an archive of creativity, resilience and dignity in the face of adversity.
‘There’s Captain Broughton,’ Henry said pointing to a photograph of him, ‘so integral to our story.
He’s a legend. The kind of soldier every military commander dreams of having. A real fighting machine. A tattooed veteran of the Boer War and the Gallipoli Campaign, he overstated his age to take part in those. He understated it to take part in the second world war.’
‘He looks like he’s of indigenous extraction.’
‘He was of mixed European and Maori parentage. He himself was completely untainted by any racial prejudice. He engaged nonstop in a publicity war on our behalf and fought hard to have our status changed. He restored our faith in our fellow man.’
He displayed the kind of leadership I had in mind when I joined the army reserve. Direction from someone at one with his force but at the same time showing initiative and daring. Captain Broughton showed these same qualities as did ‘Weary’ Dunlop. He taught Tom Uren and his comrades the value of pulling together and facing problems collectively.’
We studied the highly acclaimed paintings of scenes rendered by the camp artists.
‘Look at those huts, Allan.
When we arrived, they still smelled of fresh timber. Being clad with corrugated iron, they didn’t give much shelter from the cold and heat. All the buildings were surrounded by barbed wire, the areas in between patrolled by armed guards.
Watchtowers and searchlights overlooked the camp. None of it was necessary of course. We didn’t want to escape. We ran our own affairs.’
‘What do you have to say about the way you were treated on the ship and when you arrived Down Under?’
‘Any hard feelings?’
‘Some of us were decidedly not happy campers. Those still alive are still understandably resentful for the way they were treated. Most of those quickly left at the end of the war, their experience of Australia “an unfortunate interlude”, to be “endured and then left behind”. I bear no animosity towards Britain for having deported us. I bear no ill will to Australia for confining us. We were fortunate in coming to a fairly tolerant society where we were reasonably safe. It wasn’t terribly upsetting for me personally although there was a lot of resentment among others.’
What kind of resentment do you have in mind?’
‘What anger we felt was at being interned alongside people who were pro-fascist and anti-Jewish. This created a lot of tension. As well as transporting about two thousand men from Jewish backgrounds, the HMT Dunera also carried about 240 German and 200 Italian prisoners of war. Australia also interned German citizens who were in Australia and German Australians regardless of their political persuasions. The result was that Jews and Nazi supporters were often interned together.
‘That must have really stuck in your craw.’
‘What we had no way of knowing was the recorded view of the commander of the military guard. He’s on record as stating the Nazi Germans on board were ‘of a fine type, honest and straightforward, and extremely well-disciplined’, whereas us Jewish charges were ‘subversive liars, demanding and arrogant’.
‘How villainous from the one in top place. It certainly wasn’t his ‘finest hour’. You must have felt upset about his approach. Then not being able to achieve whatever it was you wanted to do after arriving.’
‘We felt immense frustration. Release into the community was not an option. From the moment we landed there we tried repeatedly to convince the authorities that a mistake had been made – that my fellow internees and I weren’t Nazi spies but those who had fled their reach. One news report wrongly classified us as ‘Nazi prisoners’. It didn’t help that we were portrayed in the Australian media as sinister and fifth columnists.’
‘It would have been crazy for the Gestapo to enlist refugees such as yourself, those whose accents usually made their foreign origins conspicuous.’
‘That was the looney logic at play then.’
‘Did you experience at camp any of that bastardry meted out to you on the Dunera.’
‘Australians don’t make very good internment camp operators. The top brass were more bumbling than anything, muddling along in total war. They weren’t racist and efficient enough. The guards were easy-going, casual and friendly. They didn’t intrude in our barracks. I remember one digger in the camp who said to us, ‘Jesus, I thought you were enemies, but you’re friend Jews! Jesus Christ!’
Through their dignified treatment the guards indicated to us something of great importance. They recognised the injustice and absurdity of our situation.’:
Zelman Cowen. brought that deeply felt Australian respect for natural justice to my attention. We were discussing the idea of a fair go and how it is inculcated in the Australian character. That knockabout trait of everyone being treated equal.’
‘It’s fascinating how class differences can be subtly different from one country to another, isn’t it?’
‘Now the diggers’ conditions at the camps. They must have been much better than that of the Dunera’s guards.’
‘That voyage was extremely unpleasant for everyone. The English guards became quickly brutalised. These ruffians suspected us of being saboteurs and took it out on us.’
‘You must have also felt very isolated out there in the quiet remoteness of the broiling, Australian bush.’
‘And uncomfortable. At first we sweltered by day, shivered by night, and endured choking dust storms and clouds of flies. During our eighteen months’ internment we had little contact with the outside world or with our families.
We had been sent far away from sources of news about the War.’
‘How did you set about countering this?
‘When the feeling of being homesick for our homeland and our culture got overwhelming, we took up sport,
and put on musical and theatrical performances.’
While only a minority of our numbers practised Jewish rites and customs, we loved the music and dance which lifted our spirits.’
‘Did you have a fiddler on the roof?’
‘Ours was not up himself. He was always down to earth. As part of the orchestra we set up. We put on concerts and cabarets.’
‘I remember in the film the young man who was the camp’s only real Nazi. The one who impersonated Marlene Dietrich.’
‘Music has charms to soothe the savage breast. It was through music that we and the soldiers found a basis for communicating. This carried us all across any cultural and language boundaries. ’
‘You certainly had a fantastic group of artists. Their works are vibrant, evocative and engaging. Fritz Schonbach stands out particularly.’
‘We internees always remember Fritz warmly. With only a stub of pencil, he recorded the journey and conditions on the Dunera, his arrival in Sydney, and his time at the Hay Internment Camp through a series of beautiful drawings, satirical cartoons, and later watercolor paintings. These made him unforgettable. His artwork kept him happy enough.’
Like my writing does for me, Henry. It’s my salvation. It takes me out of myself. When I’m writing my discomfort melts away.’
‘When he was in the camp he took some classes, and taught a few others to draw. He was very enterprising and managed to start selling his art within the camp. He had one sponsor who bought enough to allow Fritz to purchase more paper and watercolours. He managed to view this time in his life as an adventure where he was free to follow his artistic passion.’
‘What happened to him after the war?”
After our release and throughout his life, art would continue to be a central theme and driving force for him.
All these pastimes would have enabled you to fill time and combat boredom.’
‘It also made the posting of the soldiers more bearable.’
‘Thanks to your talents being so organised, it would have helped them counter ‘Le Cafard.’
‘We organised ourselves to prepare for and hasten the day we’d be released.’
‘I remember seeing in the telemovie how you held classes in various subjects.’
‘Our minds were not interned nor confined to camp. We improvised our own unofficial university, ran a library and published a newspaper. We were offered scientific as well as practical and technical courses which were of particular benefit to the younger guys like me whose education had been disrupted.
We learned all about the plants and animals new to us.
One of our men was shown a galah in a tree beyond the barbed wire by a soldier. “Have you ever seen one of those before?”. The soldier asked.
‘Yes’ came the reply, ‘but on that occasion it was in the cage.’
‘What subject was emphasised most?’
‘Most importantly we held classes in English, scribbling at first on any paper we could get our hands on. Like the back of old jam labels. This prepared us to argue our case, to communicate to Australian people who we were and what we had to offer their land. We were by the day able to make friends with the local townspeople. It was paramount we win acceptance and overcome any fears.’
‘You had a good pool of teachers and instructors to draw upon,’ I said, ‘You made the best of what you had.’
We couldn’t have asked for any others better than Fritz Schonbach and associates. He documented the world around him with drawings, satirical cartoons, and later in watercolour paintings. Everyone remembers him. His artworks drawings made him unforgettable. If he was creating his art, Fritz was mostly content. He was very enterprising and managed to start selling his art within the camp. He had one sponsor who bought enough to allow Fritz to purchase more paper and watercolours.’
I would later realise how this spirit of co-operation and community involvement is so under-valued today in the Australian resettlement sector. How the value of true tolerance of difference as well as collective responsibility for one another are not seen as a priority.
How it makes so little of what it has.
‘Our arrival brought a wealth of knowledge and talent. Amongst us were artists, academics, philosophers, scientists and athletes. Our members included very well educated people, some from the ‘little Vienna’ created in the East End of London who were second generation British.
‘I remember Bob Hoskins’ film role as the ‘kosher cockney,’ the East End fishmonger, as British as they come, picked up in error.
‘What do you put the ignorance and lack of comprehension about your situation down to?’
‘In 1940 Australians were unaware of the extent of Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany and in occupied Europe. As in Britain there was some degree of support for the Reich. Hence the soldiers guarding us were perplexed by our appeal. If nothing else our strong accents revealed our strangeness.’
‘Migrants and refugees are always easy to blame for things for which they are not responsible, aren’t they?.’
‘Every migrant and refugee group can be vulnerable because of events many miles away. Events with which they have nothing to do. Moreover people have short memories.
Keep in mind that before 1914 by far the most favoured non-British migrants were the Germans. When the war broke out, they were shunned. All German companies were shut down immediately. Those of German heritage lost the vote under the Enemy Aliens Act, all this despite the fact some had sons at the front.’
Fortunately in the passage of time and the turn of events in the war, you were all released in 1942 Your internment would be later described by Winston Churchill as ‘a deplorable mistake.
’Just like the firestorm over Dresden.’
‘If you had wanted to return to devastated Europe, you would have been going against the flow of “reffos”, wouldn’t you?’
‘Happily nine hundred of our two thousand strong comrades decided to remain in Australia.
The domineering officer in charge, of the Dunera was ‘severely reprimanded’ at a court martial. One of the most sadistic NCO’s was reduced to the ranks, given a twelve-month prison sentence and then discharged from the British Army. Those whose property was lost or stolen were compensated to some extent. Gradually, we got back on our feet and settled into Australian life. I like its relaxed attitudes and its climate.
I later became an Australian citizen and studied to become a painter and decorator, a colour expert and a French polisher. I was never out of work and for many years painted various Sydney buildings, often working from a bosun’s chair. I also became a proud stalwart of my trade union, whose meetings I still attend.’
‘How far back did you take on this concern for the welfare of others?’
At the age of 10, I remember being drawn to the May Day march through Halbe.
For me this day honouring working people and marking their achievements and rights is sacred.’
‘For me too, Henry. And the highlight of your life?’
That would have to be meeting the love of my life followed by the arrival of our dear daughter.’
Henry wrote to the Australian War Memorial historical research section saying: “I am aware that I found a safe haven in this wonderful country, Australia gave me the opportunity to reconstruct some of what I have lost in Europe. Therefore, I wish to express my gratitude to all those good people who have sheltered us and have helped us and have tolerated us.”
Henry passed away in May 2020. I had the honour of his obituary appearing under my byline and that of his daughter, Paula.
It was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age.
‘Heinz, du bist ein echter Mensch! Henry, you’re true blue!
’Vorwärts immer, abwärts nimmer!
The Syrian Influx.
The resettlement agencies might do well to consider the attitude of Aida Kerfarkes, Assyrian refugee who along with her husband Antoun Abdal and their four children arrived in Fairfield:
‘Sitting at home waiting for things to happen isn’t going to make us fit in.
We’ve decided English is the top of our priority, but also any settlement services available to us we would attend to learn more about this country.’
Aida and Antoun said they were looking forward to being able to give back to the country that provided them with safety.
They could do no better than becoming involved in an educational project that allows them to pass on knowledge of their new country to others.
Such a project would enable Syrian refugee, Tony Fares from Fairfield,
to help new migrants as a gesture of thanks to Australia.
It would help 29-year-old Nirary, an IT professional who’s been in Australia for nine months. Taking ‘a deep breath’ in the words of the NSW Coordinator-General for Refugee Resettlement, he speaks of his frustration at finding a job after being rejected in more than 80 employment applications. For the first time in his life, Nirary has had to actually think about ways to pass the time. By coming to the Welcome Centre he would build on his English skills and make new contacts. Nirary, an avid chess player, thinks Fairfield is the best place in Australia.
Faraj Diarbakrli and his family are relieved to find sanctuary here. The mechanic from Aleppo says about his hometown ‘Every time you’d go to work someone would try to abduct or kill you.’
You’d expect a person escaping such horror to go out of his way to make sure such a situation never arose here.
While his two children are looking forward to school here Faraj hopes to pick up his trade again. He shouldn’t have difficulty adjusting.’
His two children are looking forward to school here.
Nader Hamouch is about to literally plant the seeds of his new life in Australia.
But like many of his fellow travellers, it’s been difficult for Mr Hamouch to find his feet.
The 44-year-old from Latakia City carries photos of his old flower farm on his phone. But says it was no longer safe for him, his wife and four children.
He’s just bought his first batch of seeds to help him start the business all over again — this time at Tahmoor on Sydney’s outskirts.
When you see the flowers growing and blooming a little bit every day, it gives you joy and happiness,’ he said.
He’s coming across flowers he’s never seen before — and learning the English names for the ones he is already familiar with.
While learning English, Mr Hanouch has also had to get his head around Australian regulations and the local environment.
‘There was too many barriers, I couldn’t take all of them in one package because otherwise I get disappointed, I wouldn’t do anything,’ he says.
Serg, an Armenian tradesman from Aleppo, arrived in Australia three months ago with his wife and two daughters.
His son is still overseas, and his full name or his face can’t be shown.
But his dream is to unite his family in Sydney.
‘I would love my family to settle here quickly, find jobs, settle here and get married here,’ he says.
He’s learning English, and says it’s a slow adjustment to the safety and security Australia offers.
‘We came from the Middle East, we are there a bit different from here, we are a bit quick, nervous maybe,’ he says.
‘But here we are learning how to be calm, how to follow the rules, follow the system in a perfect way.’
His daughter Lucy is trained as a dentist and speaks English, but is yet to have her qualifications recognised here.
‘It’s my dream,’ she says.
‘Dentistry is the first to treat the people; it’s communication with people.’
Communication with the old hands is what preoccupies the thoughts of Talar Anjer-Koushian who has thrown herself into life at Perth.
Ms Anjer-Koushian says while many of her fellow refugees will be grateful for the chance at a new life, they will need help to adjust to a completely new environment.
‘They might get afraid people won’t be welcoming of them, so they won’t approach others,’ she says.
‘They will be closed and always questioning themselves, ‘are we good enough, are we OK to approach and to talk to others, and form friendships and meet other people?
‘—- Australians are really welcoming, from my experience -everyone was really welcoming and helpful … so I think in time they will get over that.
We should aim to assist newcomers reduce this time.
Left to their Own Resources?
We can do this by helping them to read about their interests, particularly about them in Australia, whether the subject is plants, photography, dentistry.
Management in the migrant re-settlement industry sceptical about the value of books as resources could well consider the words of former Premier Berejiklian : ‘The great thing about books is they cover just about any issue or story you can imagine.’
I’m fully aware of the stress on local resources stemming from re-settlement resource imbalances as pointed out by Wendy Waller, Mayor of Liverpool and Frank Carbone, Mayor of Fairfield.
Ms. Waller compared the urgency of attending to the new arrivals as that of administering intensive care: ‘If you do not produce that attention as soon as they arrive, things can happen that are untoward that they have no control over.’
Many service providers funded by the Federal Government are not located in the actual local areas where the newcomers settle.
‘While Liverpool or Bankstown might be reasonably close, it is too far for locals struggling to integrate into the Australian system,’ Mr. Carbone said.
He compares it to establishing a whole new suburb, but one where most people are unable to work.
‘Our unemployment rate in Fairfield has gone up above 9 per cent, while the state average has gone below 5 per cent,’ he says.
There is a tyranny of both distance and time to consider here but we can work against these.
I happily trekked each day to the far western suburbs of this extended city of Sydney. I threw all my energy into developing professionally so as to manoeuvre closer to home.
Unlike costs of housing and employment, those of education can be minimised by drawing upon the large the large pool of voluntary talent. This can help lead to the proper recognition and the wiser funding such councils deserve.
In this country lucky for so many, we have no shortage of people of good will. We have no shortage of cars and means of communication.
As Ms. Waller points out, ‘We’re a big family, we can share the load.’
Raja Yassine, teacher at Holroyd High School where all the students come from non-English speaking backgrounds, showed how this can be done. Raja says, ‘I think it’s very important you feel comfortable within your own community, but I think to settle in really well you’ve got to meet people from outside your local area.
She took a group of mothers of children from her school to historic Vaucluse House in Sydney’s affluent eastern suburbs to be greeted happily by local women.
As Refreshing as the Dew from Mount Hermon.
It’s essential there be organised co-ordination of volunteered resources and talents.
This was borne out in March 2017 when Council announced with great flourish that it would launch services of the Welcome Centre on ‘Harmony Day’
Harmony Day falls on March 21 when the Federal Department of Social Services invites us, the public, through schools, workplaces and our wider communities to celebrate our diversity.
Interestingly those directing operations at Callan Park chose instead another date, March 23rd ‘to coincide with Harmony Day’.
I choose to interpret this as an attempt to extend the spread of harmony.
I believe promoting harmony should be the guiding principle for all players in the Callan Park Centre.
It raises the question of what is meant by harmony and what is meant by diversity.
The online Free Dictionary gives one definition of ‘harmony’ as the ‘order or congruity of parts to their whole or to one another’.
Congruity is a quality of agreement, relevance and appropriateness. When there’s congruity, things fit together in a way that makes sense. If a team has congruity, the players work together well, even if they don’t succeed in their goal.
The Free Dictionary also defines harmony as ‘ a relationship characterized by a lack of conflict or by agreement, as of opinion or interest’.
Mine with Metro was originally as such. Until my opinion was disregarded and our interests seen as divergent. Until the educational activity already in operation became reduced to that of a mere idea and maybe one considered a bit risky at that.
I prepared a message to distribute at the Harmony Day event drawing attention once again to my need for assistance in being involved. Then the day before came the news that the venue at the Park had been damaged by a tree collapse during a recent storm. I was told the Centre wouldn’t operate for some months or even later in the year.
After I checked with the works department official responsible for maintenance, he informed me the damage had already been repaired and that the building was once again suitable for operations.
My mind went back to the manager of the building rented by Metro Assist. If I were cynical I’d say Those officials whose activities they house must have the same advisors in damage control and window dressing. But I can’t be. My task is both to draw attention to such decisions while ensuring I don’t alienate those who I need to collaborate with.
Eventually in mid May 2017 I was informed by Council of an Information and Planning Session at the Community and Refugee Welcome Centre.
Taxiing along Callan Park, I found the location perfect for such purposes. When I got there early there were Syrians and Iraqis moving in and out of the main hall where they were being introduced to the area.
I had a message prepared to deliver to volunteers coming and hopefully to get through to the organisers, especially the consortium lead agency.
I took my wheelchair along as I can’t stand long and give sheets out. I set it up right at the entrance and when obvious volunteers started coming I started giving out copies of my message neatly contained on two A4 pages.
I began by stating my status thus:
‘I have the dubious distinction of having been both invited and disinvited.
In fact it’s greater than that. It’s a double whammy. I was both invited and disinvited to the recent ‘Harmony Day’ event, spruiked to celebrate delivery of these programs.
I had given out half a dozen when the ladies from the Council started to urge me to desist.
The mayor had told me this was ‘an opportunity to provide direct input into the Centre’ but they needed to come in between.
When they worked out who I was, they decided to pin on my badge as a community member.
Then when I insisted on continuing to giving the messages out until someone in charge of operations spoke to me, my badge was off again.
First, I was appointed. Then I was disappointed.
Welcome to the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party!
One of the ladies from the Council said my stance might spoil the vibes with the newcomers present.
I was glad and so were the ladies when the former and future mayor arrived. I had been tossing up in my mind whether to go in or let them try to evict me from outside.
Wouldn’t that have been embarrassing, an organization that celebrates International Disability Day, evicting someone in a wheelchair trying to be of assistance to those in need?
That wasn’t the kind of scene I was trying to create.
Anyway I complied, demonstrating both a reasonableness that the ladies described as understandable, and a passion. Council knew I mean business at least.
The exchange certainly added some irony to my over the transom message. Here I was drawing attention to the double whammy delivered, when I got invited in, a badge pinned to my front, then having it removed until it finally returned to stay.
I’d say that was a perfect triple whammy!
The Mayor compered the preliminary procedures with great aplomb and conviction.
The volunteers , mostly middle aged and upwards women , were channeled into groups according to interests so as to brainstorm ideas. This was well organised by the facilitators.
I asked the Council head facilitator as to how to overcome the problem of communicating with other volunteers but she left her answer vague before time ran out.
Then came out the bouquets for the Council ladies: ‘No brickbats if you please!’
Their parade had not been rained on. And from then on there was no follow up or interest shown in what skills we volunteers had to offer, at least in my case.
Information was dealt with on a need-to-know basis. The only facts considered were those we needed to know at the time we needed to know them, and nothing more.
I’m sure everyone present felt moved in the presence of the unfortunate gentle people forced to seek refuge abroad.
One little boy came up to me as I was sitting at the front with a salad wrap. What great courtesy!
And one lady brought me an orange juice. Such consideration!
I made one promising contact at the session. Loretta Picone, a Balmain visual artist. was the first of the ‘guests’ to define her area of interest.
She offered to be of practical assistance when the time was right.
To help me pick up educational material from Metro Assist in Campsie.
She could advise me on what to wear if I had to ginger up any further gatherings.
Clad in chains she once carried a protest sign at Sydney University declaring “$100,000+ degrees are Anti-Australian”.
She believes in the importance of public institutions and agencies demonstrating transparency regarding decisions.
Mr. Byrne offered to approach Metro Assist which I agreed was a useful tactic. At the same time I emphasised to him that the agency should negotiate to redress in some way the loss they incurred.
After this approach later proved unsuccessful, my lobbying Council to be accepted as a volunteer appearing to gain ground, I turned my attention again to Metro Assist. After coming across it’s website, I emailed the following message to its staff and Board of Directors, expecting this to produce an outcome in which they would come more to my way of thinking.
Can Metro Assist?
The NSW Settlement Partnership [NSP] provides services to newcomers to Australia.
Is this consortium of agencies able to further our wellbeing and homeland security?
Metro Assist is one such publicly funded agency.
Metro Assist makes certain claims about itself and the benefits derived by its volunteers.
It claims it’s vision is of ‘a socially just society that respects individuality, dignity and diversity.’
It claims it ‘provides avenues for all people to fulfil their potential.’
It claims its mission is ‘to empower individuals, families and communities of diverse backgrounds through innovative, professional and responsive services.’
It claims its values are:
- Caring – ‘We care for the wellbeing of our clients, colleagues and our community’
- Respect – ‘We deliver our services in a non-judgemental way and treat our clients and colleagues with respect.’
- Client focussed – ‘We work to serve our clients and strive to resolve their issues in a professional, timely and appropriate manner.’
- Honesty and integrity – ‘We undertake our work in an honest, ethical and transparent way.’
- Innovative – ‘We strive to continuously improve the services we provide to our clients and to the community.’
Does Metro Assist live up to these fine words in relation to those it issues about its volunteers ?
Let’s look at the ways it thinks so.
Keeping in mind financial considerations figure little in any of this, you might like to consider my experience as such titled Safe Haven.
Volunteering at Metro Assist helps volunteers:
Learn new skills.
With client service officers of Metro Assist I was bringing together the fruits of my lengthy educational research about New South Wales with that of the world wide web.
This was furthering a project, lauded by the public as highly valuable, that excited both myself and Metro staff.
We were just getting into our stride, realising our potential, when the new management pulled the plug.
The voluntary commitment on my part, no matter how efficacious, no matter how cost effective, was abruptly disregarded for further development, halted without satisfactory explanation. I was suddenly frozen out. What I thought professionally was not considered worthy of consideration. I couldn’t see my work come to fruition.
I was working with Metro’s officers to build networks around education in the community.
That’s when management put an abrupt end to this without satisfactory explanation.
It believes it’s services are so innovative that even educational books custom made for its purposes are outdated.
It asserts storing knowledge that is not fully digitised is unpractical. My work was not about just storing knowledge but in drawing upon it.
Management is guided not by how much newcomers should learn but through what medium.
The problem for some pulling strings is that it’s impossible to hack into someone’s book.
It’s harder for to track someone with a book.
Hence management decreed the educational tool I placed at their disposal as redundant.
Despite my protestations resources I developed to help fill the huge gap in the NSW education system were stolen, pilfered, misplaced, lost or degraded.
Their integrity was damaged.
Their fate started to look like those of those of the ancient Library of Alexandria in miniature. Those resources mainly in Greek, suffered a long and gradual process of organisational neglect, low prioritization and general disregard for the educational process.
Subsequently I was led to building networks among other members of the NSP.
My aim has been to convince them how shabbily volunteers within this consortium can be treated and to urge redress.
Tellingly none have answered to either support me or take me to task.
On a statistical basis at least one of the number in the metropolitan area would have looked at my email message:
This says a lot about the sense of collaboration they are supposed to be imbued with as NSP partners.
It says a lot about their ability to reply in a forthright, professional way to any critique of consortium operations.
My aim was also to urge them to persuade Metro Assist to bring all the educational resources at it’s disposal to bear on the Community and Refugee Welcome Centre in Callan Park:
This venture, as mentioned is partnered by the Inner-West Council, a funder and supporter of Metro Assist, SSI and the Catholic Church.
The Park, is an ideal location for refugees— and those involved in re-settling them— to visit, set aside our differences and create an atmosphere of healing and enlightenment.
I lobbied hard for a year and a half to bring my request for voluntary participation to the partners’ attention.
While I have been finally been recognised on the record as a ‘Community Member’, I have been blocked out of any participation so far in the program at the Centre and being able to communicate with other volunteers. This is a great disservice to them.
All consortium partners express an inability to influence Metro in this important settlement venture although this is within their official ambit.
Gain work experience
My experience gives even deeper insight into what lies behind our abysmal level of functional literacy.
It raises the big question about literacy in New South Wales.
Just how total as in ‘totalitarian’ are the barriers placed in front of educators?
Before those striving to make noticeable progress in reducing such a shameful level.
The consortium upholds this level by omission.
The detriment to people’s welfare from its decisions can be just as serious.
Learn more about the welfare sector if they have an interest, or are undertaking studies in the area
I learned how questionable decisions in the delivery of resettlement services in New South Wales rival those in delivery of public educational services.
Give back to society
Metro Assist and the lead partner of the consortium know from my work this to be my leitmotif, but they have not been able yet to come to terms with it.
They have not been able yet to implement our shared educational tool as designed.
Metro should itself give back to society access to hard-earned educational resources.
The ones about New South Wales and it’s culture that I entrusted them with.
It should negotiate as to how to set right what I consider gross negligence and wastage.
It should negotiate as to what condition the resources should be recovered and resuscitated in.
It should commit to collaborating with me again seriously as I have encouraged them over the past years.
Resolving the issues I have brought up with it is hardly responsive, timely or appropriate. It’s taking years as it refuses to address them.
Above all – volunteering makes you feel good in knowing that you are doing something for someone in need.
Volunteering with Metro Assist at first filled me with optimism and hope.
Then it filled me with great pain. I have been left deeply shocked, disappointed and offended. While resisting I have tended to despondency.
As for volunteering with Metro making me feel good, you could have fooled me.
Metro certainly doesn’t care for my welfare as a Living Book, the persona it bestowed on me in a library of all places.
This character too seeks refuge, denied it in Campsie Library.
Metro has treated me, a professional educator, with great disrespect.
It has acted neither ethically nor transparently towards me.
As for honesty—get out of here!
It’s management may feel good believing they are doing something for someone in need.
I feel very bad because instead of being able to assisting anyone in need, I have had to continue critiquing re-settlement decisions and operations.
My approach was rather to pick flowers, not weeds.
I feel bad because I’d rather write about a social success story. Something as inspiring as the refugee re-settlement operations of our Canadian cousins, if not even more.
I feel bad because I have had to consider networking Metro’s various funders and supporters.
Metro’s intransigence in this matter left me little choice.
I feel bad because I have to consider networking interested people and organizations more widely. Bringing it to the attention of others.
Starting with Metro’s home base, Campsie.
This is a suburb where migrants have had such difficulties in the past due to their deficiencies in English.
Build stronger communities
To do so in this climate of heightened security fear and seething anger requires that agencies such as Metro and SSI give greater priority, not less, to provision of educational services.
It requires that they expand rather than restrict knowledge of our homeland.
That they marshal their resources strategically rather than divest themselves of them.
That they boost more than their own feelgood factor.
Re-settlement agencies should utilise the talents and resources of all willing and suitable volunteers who provide an untapped constituency for helping get us out of this profound crisis.
Lakemba state MP Jihad Dib has said this is ‘no time to shy away from our moral potential’.
The Refugee Council of Australia has said ‘strong community leadership’ is needed at this time, with English lessons helping to make refugees feel welcome.
Instead Metro management puts a spin on things and spins things out. Stretching out noble sounding gestures to make them look good.
It’s self-congratulation little more than window dressing. Parsley on the plate. It’s mouthing of liberal values and constructiveness nothing more than charades.
Going through the motions to justify their activities.
Metro Assist should not pick and choose according to it’s fancy, then discard those it claims no longer fit this.
To show it’s words not ring hollow Metro should reply to my critique of its decisions. I believe they lack any professional and administrative basis.
Or it should simply re-commence collaboration in a constructive manner.
‘Do good and good will come to you.’
Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
Hedy Lamarr, screen actress and inventor.
George Costanza: ‘He fired me.
Jerry Seinfeld: ‘He fired you?!?’
Elaine Benes: ‘How do you get fired from a volunteer job?’
Seinfeld Scripts, The Old Man.
The management of Metro acted swiftly in a manner I would never had thought possible. It came out of nothinkness. While confirming resoundingly it’s view of how total barriers to educators should be, it revealed it’s serious lack of professional ethics. It issued me a one week deadline in which I had to remove the materials or it would ‘dispose’ of them.
When I saw the words ‘Final Notice’ I thought, ‘Good. Metro’s CEO is announcing that at last, he has decided to operate responsibly. If only that was the way things worked.
In my placing the resources at the disposal of the re-settlement agency partner, it’s management somehow confused the preposition ‘at’ with ‘for’.
This provider of resources to newcomers to Australia would just as well destroy resources tailor made for such clients than assist in making them available to refugees. Just as well leave no traces of my professional tools in order to deny my argument.
Rather than reply to my critique, to ensure the CEO engaged in no verbal jousting, the managers hid behind a cloak of frivolous legal gimmickry. They didn’t want to to justify the losses caused by their inaction. They couldn’t justify this obstructionist game of ducks and drakes just as they can’t justify their mental confusion.
In deigning to grant me a non-negotiable time extension before disposal they sent me a letter. It’s first line reads, ‘This letter has been formally sent via registered mail to ensure you have received it (sic!)’
Now I’ve seen everything! Their in house lawyers have nothing better to do.
They’re more concerned that volunteers read small print than newcomers read English.
So what’s the statute of limitations on inanity?
This act of lawfare reminded me of the scene in ‘The Spanish Prisoner’ where Steve Martin’s character warns a business innovator what to expect from the company whose prospects he is boosting:
‘I think you’ll find that if what you’ve done for them is as valuable as you say it is, if they are indebted to you morally but not legally, my experience is, they will give you nothing and they will begin to act cruelly toward you.
‘To suppress their guilt.’
The re-settlement CEO who sees himself as an advocate for the well-being of migrant and refugee families and communities is on the board of a long-standing organisation that provides welfare and cultural services to the Italian community in Sydney. Significantly this highly uneducated operator of the Italian Bilingual School in Sydney has a similar problem with books as that of the Axis my father enlisted to fight. The problem of disposal.
During their rampage against Rome the Blackshirts raided the homes of nationally prominent politicians—including the anti-authoritarian former prime minister, Francesco Nitti—throwing their books out the window and lighting the pile on fire.
The same task was faced by the Indonesian military regime who disposed of the writer Pramoedya’s books-the best collection devoted to knowledge of his country.
Daesh it, the very same task that confronted ISIS in their Caliphate, along with that of restricting education.
This is the face of Australia that many new arrivals are presented with.
One that the CEO wants the record to show.
So goes the way of the resettlement world.
Little tread left on my tyres, shackled by my own creation, I’d been gamed again.
The collection threatened to get irretrievably away from me.
Was I being punished for some crime in a previous life?
Does this kind of stuff follow me around you might ask? You would be right to do so.
Is it from ignorance or hypocrisy?
I tend not to assume malice when stupidity’s on the table.
I put it down to the law of extraction. You see I have this pull on bureaucratic louses. Bent on stalling and impeding, when they catch wind of me, they crawl out of the fittings, they crawl out of the mouldings, they crawl out of the baseboards. They crawl out of the cosy niches and crevices of the public service. Their obstructionism is a pestilence. Burnt into my hard drive, the results speak for themselves.
In the case of a book when you come to a part you don’t like, you can turn the page.
It doesn’t work the same with people.
I have nothing personal against the CEO in question and never met him.
I certainly never wanted to adopt an adversarial position towards him. I only wanted to shake his tree and provoke a response. My criticism of his operations was intended solely to spurring him into accelerating my assisting the wellbeing of migrant and refugee families and communities.
Am I unjust in likening his behaviour to that of an authoritarian apparatchik?
I couldn’t put that question to him directly as he blocked any approach through his use of the law.
In my book whether you destroy valuable resources by shoving them perfunctorily in the rubbish bin or by burning them ceremoniously, the result is the same.
We could have disagreed without being disagreeable.
I never saw my arrangement with his organisation as a legally binding one but one based on professional and social principles. However because of it’s threat backed up by recourse to the law, I had to pursue my options in order to stop its proposed destruction.
LawAccess NSW, a free government telephone service that provides legal information, referrals and in some cases, advice for people who have a legal problem in NSW referred me to Redfern Legal Aid Service.
The Service couldn’t meet with me until after the deadline.
One of Metro’s board members works there.
I understood why she does pro bono work there. It cleanses the palate after handling distasteful assignments like mine.
Redfern Legal Aid Service confirmed what I had always thought- that I had no legal case. Metro wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. It could have done whatever it liked with the material regardless of my concerns and could have done so at any point during our association. They could have thrown it in the rubbish or burnt it as is the biblioclast custom. So much for old fashioned goodwill.
Curiously their letter had the word ‘Confidential’ emblazoned across the letter. Providing me with self damning information that was hardly confidential seemed rather perverse and based on bush law. On enquiring they supplied me with the following explanation: ‘The CONFIDENTIAL watermark on Metro Assist Ltd. correspondence denotes that it is Management Restricted. This is for documents that should only be viewed by the senior management and/or the Board of Directors of Metro Assist Ltd.’
I solicited the support of both the federal and state Ombudsmans and the state Department of Fair Trading who all pointed out they have no jurisdiction over the area of voluntary work.
I tried to make it clear to the state Ombudsman that I wasn’t complaining, that I just needed an intermediary to facilitate communication, but they had to take it as a complaint. What I ended up needing was an extra ombudsman to deal with the ombudsman.
Any deal I had had with Metro was rendered null and void.
‘Dear Mr Davis Your complaint about Metro Assist Thank you for your email received on 25 July 2017, complaining about Metro Assist. You complained that Metro Assist told you they would destroy your documents if you did not collect them. We are not taking any action in response to your complaint for the reasons outlined below. On 26 July 2017, Ms Natalina Cheatham, Senior Investigation Officer, spoke to you about your complaint. You were advised that as your issues were employment-related we would be taking no further action as employment related matters are outside of our jurisdiction. Schedule 1 of the Ombudsman Act 1974 sets out these exclusions, including under clause 12: Conduct of a public authority relating to: (a) the appointment or employment of a person as an officer or employee, and (b) matters affecting a person as an officer or employee, Ms Cheatham suggested that you should attempt to make contact with Metro Assist to renegotiate the timeframes that had been imposed on you. I trust this information has been of assistance. Yours sincerely Simon Kempton Investigation Officer Community Services Division For the Acting NSW Ombudsman’
Finally the Inner West Council’s Community Development Coordinator, found space for the materials at Petersham Town Hall, for which I am very grateful.
My Last Hurrah.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function.
Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savour their songs.
In preparation for the December 5,2017 meeting of volunteers at the Welcome Centre, I aimed to reach across any possible ideological divide of those who express support for it.
I wished to propagate the following message:
‘Fellow volunteers and organisation representatives at the Welcome Centre for Refugees,
In comparing her new Australian homeland to that she was forced out of, refugee from Aleppo, Talar Anjer-Koushian comments, ‘Here people don’t go around and around, they just tell you straight what their opinion is or what they think about a topic.’
That straightforwardness just happens to be my approach to matters, including those about refugees.
You know those stories you sometimes get in the papers about refugees doing brilliantly in their HSC, being offered places at our universities and setting up businesses. Well, the story for some is pretty much the opposite of these.
In fact it’s the same story as that of those born here.
While Australians by global standards achieve individually a high level of knowledge and training, one in five lacks functional literacy.
Overcoming the entrenched resistance that maintains this situation requires a progressive and methodical approach to popular education.
The new leadership of the Inner-West Council has declared:
‘With our belief in social justice and our commitment to diversity, we can show the rest of the country how progressive principles can be put into practice at the local government level.’
It’s stated goal is one of efficiency.
After my application had been in a coma for two years, I looked forward to helping it show such a practice.
First and foremost to local Councils in western Sydney.
Those that plead for better educational provision for refugees.
Those that plead for back up resources.
Understandably and rightly so.
At the Welcome Centre for Refugees in Wharf Road we have potentially the resources to take some of that burden off their hands.
Weapons of Mass Instruction.
We have a highly educated local citizenry, many of whom are on call as volunteers at the Centre.
Thanks to the Inner West Council’s Community Development Coordinator, we have in house in terms of educational resources a mother lode to draw upon. The seed materiel to assist the wider populace approach universal literacy more closely.
It was put together by myself facilitated by volunteers from the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
I did to provide a service to families of the large number of children forced out of our schools.
This was highly approved of by Tom Uren. He had collaborated with the Sisters of St Joseph, the Catholic order in supporting the East Timorese people and refugees. The Sisters admired his humanity and called him an honorary Josephite.
‘No single life has encompassed more of Balmain’s history and traditions than Tom’s did,’ said the last mayor of Leichhardt. ‘Tom used to say that local government is crucial to the success of society because it is the level of government closest to the people. Let’s act now to make this grassroots principle a reality once again.’
Bob Brown likewise knows only too well Tom’s love of Balmain, where he lived the last decades of his life. How dedicated Tom was to the preservation and extension of public access to the foreshores of Sydney Harbour.
Tom and I discussed our exchanges on human nature and education with the founder of the Australian Liberal Party who encouraged me in my studies 3.
It goes without saying Tom agreed all should be actively encouraged so.
One of the relatively few people on earth who knows what a nuclear bomb exploding on people looks like, Tom shared at least one of former Premier Berejiklian’s choice of books .
The Welcome Centre should not appear a pet project, a photo op stocked, posturing PR exercise by poseurs trumpeting their sense of compassion.
It should not appear an exercise in political grandstanding,
The meetings held to create it should be seen as more than just stage managed theatre.
Are the newcomers aware of any choice they have in what skills are available to them?’
At present the Centre offers limited classes such as in sewing skills, tapestry making and zumba.
How is this knowledge so much more strategic for newcomers than that of knowledge of their new homeland?
To recover from this global viral onslaught and emerge safely citizens will have to gather together eventually.
They need to know the lay of the land and master knowledge about it.
Restrictions cannot be maintained in light of an aggressive assault on Leichhardt Council by nativists .
When the Centre was first proposed some felt the newcomers would stand in the way of them fulfilling their vast potential.
Inner West Council declares it is ‘a uniquely creative community with vibrant and diverse neighbourhoods living side-by-side in harmony. We’re a proud community made up of different cultures, ideologies and experiences that define us.’
Here’s the deal. I call upon all involved in the operations at the Welcome Centre to act in the best interests of the homeland we each love in our own way.
To blend our different ways of thinking about people into a harmonious way of raising the educational bar.
To work with me towards maintaining and developing our educational materiel.
To assist any newcomers to NSW and old hands to become fully conversant with our language and culture.
I’m urging all to see a fully literate populace as being within our reach.
I call on the Church’s Peace and Justice Office and the Inner-West Council to get the volunteers behind this project right away, not in some distant time. To put into practice these words of former Premier of NSW, Mike Baird, on education :
Everyone counts. Every single person has something to contribute and sometimes being a leader is about ensuring that everyone gets the chance to show their talent.
I call on all to engage in a discussion as to the viability of this educational project. To give me constructive feedback.
I never distributed this message far so as to avoid any misunderstanding of my motives as happened at the previous meeting. I am not about making any scenes. Although Council says there are many volunteers, the problem remains how to connect with the others. I had hoped to link up with Derek Waddell, a former TAFE teacher but he has become involved in family matters, including the loss of his wife.’
In April 2018,I contacted Council to enquire as to what was happening for volunteers.
I was informed that a training session had been held for them.
Unfortunately I was heading for open heart surgery at the time and couldn’t attend.
I was reminded that matters of literacy were being handled adequately by existing institutions of learning.
After thanking Council again profusely for rescuing my educational materials from being’ disposed’ of,I was reminded:
‘The storage of your resources —- is temporary and we assisted you when it was becoming urgent for you to move these resources.
I told the Council representative, ‘ Please don’t have any reservations about having arranged the storage of the educational resources. You did the right thing. And don’t look on it as a case of accommodating my personal property. Tailor made for what the Welcome Centre is supposed to be about, the resources are designed to be used collectively. This should be expedited.’
Pulling up the drawbridge?
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Hedy Lamarr, screen actress and inventor.
In early 2018 after continuing to wait for my clearance, I was informed by Council of a new hurdle for me to contend with. My involvement was contingent on my attending human rights training sessions. I communicated the following message to Council:
‘At the inauguration of the Welcome Centre for Refugees in Callan Park, Father Peter Smith, was asked if there were any barriers to voluntary involvement on ideological grounds.
In the presence of the Administrator of the Inner West Council, the last Mayor of Leichhardt Council, the State member for Balmain and representatives of Settlement Services Īnternational, Father Peter stated that there were none.
I have waited six years in vain to be involved as a volunteer educator at the Centre.
My professional career involved selling the idea that all Australians are indeed genetically capable of reaching a high level of functional literacy.
In order to further this aim, I built up a unique collection of educational resources focussing on a major social problem in our country- the inability of one fifth it’s citizenry to read and write about it.
This estimate didn’t come out of my head. It’s derived from official statistics.
However representatives of all three partners behind the Welcome Centre, the Inner West Council, The Justice and Peace Office of the Catholic Church and the re-settlement agency SSI, assure me that existing educational services are more than adequate to cater for the educational needs of the refugee influx.
They don’t recognise that there is an important gap at play here.
All point out to me that activities and programs at the Centre are to be guided by evidence and needs and that the agenda will focus on this.
I have brought to their attention well documented evidence as to the grave inadequacies in the education system. These militate against the achievement of universal literacy. I set out my practice to compensate for this.
According to this April 18, 2013, statement by UNESCO : “Literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning. It is fully essential to social and human development in its ability to transform lives.”
I have brought to their attention my methodology in addressing this shortfall.
The community expresses a great need to have everyone resident in our homeland able to read and write about it. To the best of their measurable ability.
Representatives of the partnership have not considered this relevant.
My pedagogic approach has been disallowed out of hand. No argument as to how what I’ve got to offer is less appropriate than others has been given.
I took this approach after the NSW government rescinded the right of a large number of allegedly disruptive school students to attend school.
I set up my practice to help compensate for the damage caused to life and property by this policy.
At the last NSW government school I worked at, I warned in vain about the risks faced by children denied supplementary assistance with their language skills. The consequences were tragic.
I set about encouraging families with children absent from school to get them to attend classes.
I set about advocating the authorities consider the welfare of children to be of paramount importance.
At the four meetings I have leafleted regarding the Centre, I have informed representatives of all three partners of this account online. I have invited critical comment but never received any reasoned response.
I have one quality if one quality alone. Where it comes to providing cultural immersion in New South Wales and beyond, I bow to no one.
Representatives of the partnership so far consider all this irrelevant.
.So on what grounds is my potential contribution being brushed off?
Why do I continue to be excluded from this project?
How can the Centre achieve inclusiveness through exclusiveness?
This raises the following questions regarding my suitability:
‘Am I seen as too forthright and direct?
Too strongly opinionated?
Too politically incorrect?
Taking human rights too seriously?
Not ‘multi’ or cringing enough in my approach to culture?
Has the acrimony directed to me by the CEO of Metro Assist followed through to SSI which he has represented as a Board Member?
Little tread left on my tyres, I can only guess at what’s in the minds of the decision makers. When their motivations are a different shade of opaque, it is difficult to say.
If there has been a can of worms opened, it wasn’t of my doing alone. When representatives don’t answer your questions openly and transparently, misunderstanding is bound to arise.
Transparency is essential for public trust.
Trust determines whether the public has confidence in government action and listens to its advice.
Trust is also necessary for people to believe public education and health announcements.
If the chasm between those governing and the governed opens up, then there’s fertile ground for conflict.
My pedagogic approach has been disallowed out of hand.
As with my former voluntary work with Metro Assist, another partner in the resettlement ‘consortium’, my services are seen as superfluous to need.
Council states there are other providers already doing the work I offer, and so mine would be duplication.
This is not the case. No one in the Council or consortium can tell me whose work I duplicate.
Council asserts its strategy is to select volunteer based programs that are ‘meaningful’.
This is not considered so in my case. Anyone who has looked at my resources or has worked in a N.S.W. government school knows things to be otherwise. My approach is resource based in terms of both people and materials. It eliminates the duplication of material so baneful to teachers and students and so prevalent in schools.
It doesn’t pretend to replicate the five hundred hours study of English required of new arrivals. It aims to allow all members of the family to read and write about what interests them in New South Wales and beyond at their own pace.
Through becoming fully immersed in Australian culture, they can better reach a world culture.
My approach is resource based and eliminates the duplication of curriculum content that can be so prevalent in schools.
Why is this not considered meaningful?
The educational resources now stored by Council are remembered by the CEO of Settlement Services International for helping me make a ‘great contribution’ to her previous agency. That was my goal.
I want the fruits of my labour to be in safe hands and continue to be put to good use.
Just as Francis the pontiff urges, I adopted the same attitude he attributes to those who built Europe’s many cathedrals: ‘The builders of the cathedrals knew that they would not see the completion of their work. Yet they worked diligently, in the knowledge that they were part of a project that would be left to their children to enjoy.’
Council rules out any role I can play due to the time commitments that refugees already have to attend compulsory English classes etc.
If nobody has time to attend, this raises again the question as to what actually goes on at the Centre. I say ‘again’ because I drew attention in one of my in house circulars to negative reporting in the Inner West Courier. It raised the question of ‘The Centre for Refugees without Refugees’.
Council states that while it has no doubt of my ability, rules are rules and must be adhered to. It downplays the value of professional and community based experience.
One representative told me it didn’t matter how proficient I am in doing what I do professionally.
I reply to this by pointing out that the knowledge and skills accrued from five hundred hours of English classes need to be reinforced, consolidated and built on when these come to a close.
They are ‘the foundation for lifelong learning’, not the end.
Australia’s Chief Scientist put it this way: ‘Students need a solid foundation of knowledge that is built upon, layer by layer. That is how you hone your skills – then after that, in the workforce, it is far easier to pivot from one career to another.’
It can be established easily enough that the satisfaction of one interest or felt need of learning will inevitably produce others, and the educational process continues.
Yes, the digital revolution has made information instantly accessible from an electronic device. Technology provides us with new tools to grab people’s attention.
These innovations are dismantling traditional boundaries of private and public, home and office, work and leisure. Emails and tweets can reach us almost anywhere, anytime. There are no cracks left in which the mind can idle, rest, and recuperate. This can lead to overload, one’s sense of being overwhelmed.
Moreover, as we grapple with this pervasive new digital culture, the personal element that such devices lack and the attention they infringe upon have become an issue of pressing social concern.
Attention is what draws us out of ourselves to experience and engage in the world. The word is often accompanied by a verb—attention needs to be grabbed, captured, mobilized, attracted, or galvanized. Reflected in such language is an acknowledgement of how attention is the essential precursor to action.
For students to be able to determine to what extent virtual reality corresponds with reality itself.
This requires the teacher to be able to capture the students’ attention and to counter the Weapons of Mass Distraction.
Digital technology has provided consumer capitalism with its most powerful tools yet. And our attention fuels it. Every glance of our eyes is now tracked for commercial gain as ever more ingenious ways are devised to capture our attention, if only momentarily. Our eyeballs are now described as capitalism’s most valuable real estate. Both our attention and its deficits are turned into lucrative markets.
The huge crisis we are confronted with has magnified what has been broken in this process and where the opportunities for better are.
It reminds the inner child in us to look to children for guidance.
It brings up the matter of the elephant or some other thing in the room.
Some in the State don’t want to hear mention of this concern of theirs.
‘Can we risk citizens at grass roots level becoming actively involved in our recovery?’ they ask themselves.
But couldn’t a tightly protected classroom be the most severe possible outcome that can reasonably be projected to occur in this situation.
In this scenario school children could be physically but not socially distanced, the kind that alienates so many objectors.
They’d understand better that they’re working towards our recovery together.
During the Corona Virus lockdown the Rapid Response Information Forum chaired by chief scientist Alan Finkel brought up the matter of blended learning.
Drawing upon the advantages of both on- line and in-class learning.
Allowing the teacher a better opportunity to channel the students attention to where it should be.
The Forum warned that almost half of Australian primary and secondary students are at risk of falling behind in their education because of the long school shutdown.
It warned that learning from home could disadvantage vulnerable students if nothing is done to support them.
‘If this is not addressed promptly and directly, learning gaps can emerge and widen,’ contributing author and UNSW Professor Andrew Martin said.
‘It is vital that students who are at academic risk receive the necessary instructional and other supports required for them to successfully engage in remote or blended learning.’
The Forum’s report was submitted to the Federal Education Minister and is a synthesis of research from 35 organisations on the effects of online versus in-class education.
It says students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, with English as a second language, who have special learning needs or are from remote areas, are at particular risk of poor learning outcomes.
They suffer much more than others because of social inequity.
As the literacy requirements in all aspects of our lives are increasing, those adults the likes of which I encountered in my work and who missed out on achieving functional literacy at school have proven to be at a particular disadvantage during the period of pandemic. Those adults the like of which I encountered in my work who missed out on achieving functional literacy at school have proven to be at a particular disadvantage during this period . All at once completely reliant on being online for form filling, for communicating with family members, working with emails, feel like they’ve suddenly been exposed.
In his embrace of monetarist policies the Coalition Australian Treasurer hinted this disparity will increase.
We’re not in this ‘all together’. Some profiteer handsomely. Many get dragged down way more than others.
Factors impacting the success of remote learning include digital access,
family support, teacher and student readiness and capability.
There has to be developed a continuous communication between the class and the home.
There needs to be variability here.
Some households are well purposed for remote learning and home schooling
Other breadwinning parents depend on the facilities of a school.
This crisis is too good to waste.
Authoritarians are only too aware of the opportunities it raises. Feeding off the fear that the system engenders, they come to the fore mandating punishing restrictions.
It could be a catalyst for educational progress.
It should also be seen as an opportunity to eliminate most of the shocking wastefulness in our education system.
It could be an opportunity for the so called the so called maoist run education bureaucracies to revive an earlier practice of theirs.
They could mobilise teams of educators whether barefoot or shoed to bring literacy and knowledge of culture to those who need it.
Of course in the Chinese education bureaucracy as in it’s NSW equivalent the ideals lauded by the maoists, such as accepting scarcity and making do with the best available, are out of favour.
They have been replaced by a focus on higher incomes and on finding jobs for those graduating.
Students have little power to influence decisions.
Yet all students should have some say on how they and others can achieve greater knowledge and skill sets.
There has to be some flexibility in how and what students learn.
After all, students and teachers around the world have been adapting to a system where students are graded by course work and teacher assessment rather than by formal examinations.
If ever there were time to question the value of a HSC above a students’ aptitude and passion for a career, it is now.
Students should have a degree of freedom to choose what they study.
If a child loves animals such as cats and wants to study them, he or she should upon academic consultation be allowed to develop that interest.
They can look at cats from say a zoological perspective of from a literary one.
They could present the connections they make in this area to a potential employer or educational institution.
They could be given academic credit for what they learn as well as any formal academic credentials they are awarded.
My methodology allows this possibility.
My approach is to lay knowledge all out in front of students with family, friends and supervisors.
They can run through it with the educator.
Alternately they can run through it by themselves having recourse to the educator when necessary’.
‘So what’s the point of the Centre?’ the cynics continue to ask.
‘Why the continued static on its implementation? Was it’s establishment just a publicity stunt?’
If nobody has time to attend, this raises again the question as to what actually goes on at the Centre.
I say ‘again’ because I drew attention in one of my in house circulars to negative reporting in the Inner West Courier. It raised the question of ‘The Centre for Refugees without Refugees’.
The Council asserts it’s resettlement partner has engaged and mobilised the refugee community very well.
Why hasn’t it considered mobilising the bulk of volunteers to promote key knowledge about the newcomers’ intended homeland? This knowledge should become a a priority requirement for newcomers.
The Council says its process of developing programs for refugees has been based on consultation, engagement and documenting the gaps and priority of issues to develop it’s plans which neither duplicate nor re-invent what’s already happening in other parts of Sydney and the Inner West.
It consulted and engaged with me to rescue the resources it has stored but has not been able to follow this up regarding how they can be released and put to use.
I made several unanswered requests to the mayoralty to explain my being left on the outer.
I believed it has the authority to over-ride the questionable decisions being made.
Over to you Mr. Mayor.
I had to took a chance on whether to draw his attention to abysmal educational standards in NSW and risk his being fearful or being extra careful to say nothing controversial.
As it turned out the Mayor speaks of the education system as one that has been ended up in decline. Rather a different picture than the hunky dory one painted by the non elected Council officials and the Church and resettlement partners.
He says rebuilding this system should be prosecuted with vigour and a sense of mission.
Rather than expecting the mayoralty to do anything I ask, however slight, I just wanted an answer to something that is in its interest.
Yet the mayoralty put it to me put it to me that my requests to appeal the questionable decisions are excessive. It put it to me that I was expecting it to be at it’s ‘beck and call’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Not in a month of Sundays could I regard Council officials as subservient to me.
The mayoralty didn’t respond to my earnest requests to justify operations. It pulled down the shades.
Power protects power.
Council fails to see universal literacy as a priority.
Yet at the same time the Federal Minister for Multi-Cultural Affairs and Citizenship” has revealed ‘close to a million’ Australians now do not speak the national language, it still fails to see the goal of universal literacy as a priority.
Council has spoken of the large number of volunteers it says have offered their services
Council says it’s resettlement partner SSI has mobilised refugees in various activities. The Centre Co-ordinator speaks of ‘fantastic outcomes’. In its learn to swim program for refugees at Leichhardt Aquatic Centre” while some participants had never been in water before, some are already good swimmers. Three, possibly four, would like to become lifeguards and or learn to swim instructors, The SSI spokesperson says that training refugees will help to make Australian beaches safer places.
‘One of the advantages of this program is [that the] people who are becoming lifeguards — they can speak two languages,’ she said.
‘It would be a real advantage for people going on the beach [to] find some people who speak their language as well.’
This would especially be the case if they got into difficulties. Really, I mean how many people at the seaside are likely to know that the Arabic for help!’ is ‘yusaeid’.
This brings to mind the cruel joke reported to circulate on social media during the anti-Arab rioting at Cronulla: ‘Did you hear about the lousy leb sprouting gypperish on our beach? He came came to the Shire learning to swim? We taught him to run before he escaped on a bike. He’s now training for the triathlon.’
Most Australians expect others living here to speak good English. Like people everywhere they are more likely to be impressed by and build a quicker rapport with others when the newcomer displays a good knowledge of their homeland.
With one in four drowning deaths in Australia involving people who were born overseas, it might be wise for overseas-born people, even if they are good swimmers, to be able to hear from locals who only speak English. That’s the language in which they could be told where the submarine dangers lie.
The SSI spokesperson said the swimming program will help to create a conversation about refugees within the wider Australian culture.
‘It provides an opportunity to Australians to get a better understanding of who refugees are and how they can be beneficial for this country,’ she said.
‘I think one of the other things from learn-to-swim program is that it really helps them to build their capacity and their confidence.’
So why can’t those directing operations at the Centre consider mobilising the bulk of volunteers to promote key knowledge about the newcomers’ intended homeland.
Hopefully conversation about this omission will also help to create a conversation about volunteers and education within the wider Australian culture.
Such knowledge should become a key requirement for newcomers. As essential at least as sewing and tapestry making, other priorities for SSI.
I’m sure those learning to swim are allowed professional training, learning more than just how to dog paddle.
And I’m sure if those behind the Centre were to look at the resources I prepared they would conclude that they’re at least as economically viable as the swimming program.
To salvage and develop them further would require mere ‘loose change’ in comparison.
To quote the Mayor of the Inner-West Council: ‘Public money going to the most effective and necessary public purpose, now wouldn’t that be nice for a change.’
Any teachers, including the TAFE teachers who lay the foundations for the newcomers knowledge of English, know that the five hundred hours of classes involved needs to be built on to strengthen students’ capacity and their confidence. This is best achieved by students becoming immersed in English and putting their own language on the back rather than the frontburner.
‘It’s not that this is an idea foreign to the re-settlement sector.
Settlement Council of Australia CEO Tammy Wolffs says, ‘Many [refugees] need particular access to English language services well after the period that they’re funded for.’
realized the sacrifice this means when her brother would come home from school crying because he had no English and couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. Paz’s mother decided she absolutely had to learn English, so these Chilean refugees moved away from the Latin community.
Paz might like to catch up with what she may have missed by checking out my account of Latin American culture in Sydney:
The drawn out requirements of linguistic mastery is understood by Ms. Fatema Al Askar.
Her long-term aim for life in Australia includes improving her English.
‘When I first arrived [from Syria], I didn’t know any English. Now step by step, I’m starting to speak English. I now have friends from all different countries and cultures too. I talk to them in English too. Sometimes I don’t understand, but I try different sentences to make my friends understand me. We try our best to understand each other.’
Language has also been a challenge For Dana Al Samaan from Damascus.
‘No matter how much I thought that I knew English as a second language, when I lived here, I realised that I knew little of the language expressions, not to mention the Australian accent.’
The partners behind the Centre’s operations might heed her words on smartness.
The idea of refugees forming a task force to make our beaches safer should be supported. It is a bold and ambitious one no less than mine. The difference is the resources I offer are aimed at making our country safer for everyone, both in the water and on dry land. Moreover they can be brought to bear immediately, depending on the damage to them caused within the re-settlement consortium.
The Council says it started small and developed some key programs and so therefore haven’t needed a large number of volunteers to date.
Previously it drew attention to the large number of volunteers offering their services. It says it’s work with refugee community is strength based and around capacity building.
It says the process of developing these programs ‘has been based on consultation, engagement and documenting the gaps and priority of issues to develop our plans which neither duplicates nor re invents what’s already happening in other parts of Sydney and the Inner West.’
It should consider the fact that its strength lies in it’s volunteers whose commonality is a high level of education. Volunteers who are capable of helping put a dent in our abysmal level of national literacy.
This pool of human resources would be, if managed wisely, a magic pudding, an endlessly renewable resource.
Volunteers who could help refugees consolidate the five hundred hours of English study required of them by reading and writing about our country.
Do the organisers want the Centre to be known as ‘the volunteer based refugee centre without volunteers?’
Do they want it to be known as a community project operating outside the community?
In June 2018 The Welcome Centre held an open Refugee Day, The New Beginnings Festival, at which I hoped to distribute a leaflet inviting contact with other volunteers. Once again Council asked me not to which I reluctantly complied with.
I hoped the gathering might create a new beginning for my tortuous effort to come on board as a volunteer.
To create a comity between all participants.
The SSI festival producer said that the festival demonstrated how ‘collaborative work and community engagement are key elements to building a sustainable and diverse arts community’.
Why can’t such elements become key to building a safer and more sustainable wider community?
SSI was proud to report that it had facilitated, in partnership with the Department of Home Affairs, a visit to Canberra.
Thirty invited refugees attended a special meeting with the Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration and Border Protection, on Wednesday June 20,2018.
The Department of Home Affairs, where Australia’s immigration programs sit, would take over management of settlement services and English-language programs in mid 2019.
The Minister and upcoming Leader of the federal Opposition makes a lot of noise against foreign interference and about Australia’s security and protection.
The visitors had the opportunity to tell their stories of successful settlement in Australia and their dreams for the future.
As things turned out neither my hope of being invited on board the Welcome Centre project nor the Minister’s dream of settling into The Lodge would be realised any time soon.
Only days after the meeting, the Minister declared that Australia is facing a ‘danger phase’, so to to show compassion for refugees would undo the government’s hard-fought success in discouraging people smugglers.
His downplaying the value of refugee and migrant education which became his direct responsibility would continue to flow onto the resettlement sector.
The Welcome Centre Coordinator said that the Centre is ‘all about bringing communities together and that the Festival provided an ample opportunity to do just that’.
There are exceptions, of course the main one being bringing together the community of volunteers involved who have little opportunity whatsoever to work together.
Other groupings are not considered as yet being able to be brought together. Every week women come from the western suburbs to the Centre where the social exclusion they are said to confront is tackled. They do belly dancing. The coordinator says ‘many face social isolation because of language barriers — they don’t have much opportunity to get involved in wider Australian community, so we’ve got people from this community here, and they get connected with people with a refugee background.”
That Australian community turns out to be not very wide. Half the population is ruled out. Although the women express a wish to learn English and knowledge about their new country, this is restricted to conversation with a few lady volunteers. That rules out my contributing not only on professional but gender grounds.
Is this what crisis denialists and those imbued with literacy hesitancy see as ‘immunity from the herd’ ?
The coordinator says that at the Centre the women ‘can do what they like’ but how do they know what educational possibilities they’d like to explore if information about them are kept from them.
I’m fully aware of the sensitivities there may be at play here and the troubled histories the women may have experienced. However one can’t escape the world of men and expect to fit into society. The women obviously get a lot of pleasure from the gatherings which is to be encouraged but why are they denied choice of a social and professional service they most likely express a wish for?
Council says it is looking to expand the programs offered at the Welcome Centre. It says it is in discussions with Welcome Centre attendees to identify and support activities the refugees and their families have expressed an interest in.
Now that I know there are volunteers active at the Centre I have to track them down. Then to find out if they would be interested in working with me on the materials I developed. They could offer them to the newcomer women on my behalf.
There will long be a need for the kind of service I offer.
Council sees the Welcome Centre as a template for resettlement practice.
It might consider building our capacity to assist a greater future influx of refugees in the likely situation that the war keeps intensifying.
It’s organisers might keep in mind warnings the pandemic could see an entire generation of students slip out of the education system and never return.
It’s organisers might consider the Centre employing the education resources at its disposal to counter this tendency.
The virus, not our children’s development, has to be kept in check.
Everyone who is capable and willing of contributing to the wellbeing of our populace should be encouraged to do so.
I signed a legal waiver to the effect that I would not speak negatively about Centre operations to outside parties such as the media.
For its part Council has a responsibility not give so much easy ammunition to its critics.
That’s my view from the cheap seats.
It points out that the resources it correctly and wisely rescued from ‘disposal’ by Metro Assist whose executive straddles SSI can only be stored temporarily. It also points out that I can only become involved until after I attend a compulsory four week training period at the end of the three year waiting period.
Which defeats the purpose of having such a singular tool for furthering social progress and human rights. Catch 22.
The theme of the compulsory training sessions is “Human rights approaches to working with refugees.” Council reminds us that refugees are vulnerable and have experienced grief and loss, including fleeing their country under extreme circumstances.’
I accept this requirement but would like to point out some matters for consideration.
I wasn’t required to attend such sessions before assisting such people at the Sydney resettlement agency Metro Assist.
I wasn’t required to attend such sessions when teaching children with such issues at Chester Hill, Granville Boys and Auburn Girls High in the eighties. The youth from Vietnamese and Lebanese refugee families fleeing devastated war zones needed available permanent teachers rather than to be left hanging round the playground or street. My recommendation as to this didn’t reach a receptive ear.
Is the grief and loss experienced by such people so different to that experienced by those who come to the Welcome Centre?
These said youths needed the satisfaction an equitable schooling provides rather resentment at a raw deal. For some this would erupt into violence at Cronulla in response to that of semi-literate skippies with gripes of their own.
The situation of such schools hasn’t changed substantially a generation later.
For those who believe everyone’s access to the attainment of a functional level of literacy is assured, this of course is not seen as a human rights issue.
The received wisdom among the education and resettlement sectors CEOs is that ‘semi-literates are born this way, so why waste time on them’.
Those who claim their aim is to promote human rights should well keep in mind this paraphrase of Margaret Thatcher’s dictum: ‘Being an advocate of human rights is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.’
I write at great length about the highly restrictive educational situation facing migrants and refugees.
As they indicate, management in the migrant re-settlement consortium can reject the educational value of books. It can happily dispense with resources available to it’s ‘consortium’ for furthering literacy. This is tantamount to restricting a most fundamental human right of it’s clientele.
The Centre’s clientele should have access to valuable educational resources whether material or human.
Is the management to be charged with teaching me about human rights?
Are these training sessions part of some radical innovative program designed to produce empathy with the refugee?
To instil in the volunteer a related sense of frustration and pain as suffered by the refugee?
The actual situation facing new arrivals should be handled quite differently. There’s great merit in the citizenry reading more from whatever source.
The need for the citizenry to read more books is stressed by none other than the outgoing N.S.W. Premier herself.
Assisting volunteers make contact with others among their great numbers has proved to be an insurmountable difficulty for Council.
The catch is that it’s only through the specific current work, meetings and programs that this can occur.
This proviso didn’t stop Council reps denying me access to one meeting unless I surrendered my circular. In it I requested contact with other volunteers.
I rely on their collaboration owing to my physical limitations.
It’s not as if I am asking Council for other volunteers’ details. But it’s entirely proper for it to inform other volunteers about my interest.
I have the right to sound guidance, direction and support by someone who has the time to invest in giving guidance.
I have the right ‘to know as much about the Council as possible. It’s policies, programs and people’.
Council advertises an English Conversation Program which ‘provides a wonderful opportunity for students and volunteers to make new friends and support each other.’
I have plenty of friends as it is but would just like to meet what the Council’s Volunteer Handbook refers to as ‘co-workers’.
I have the right to sound guidance, direction and support by someone who has the time to invest in giving guidance.
I have the right ‘to know as much about the Council as possible. It’s policies, programs and people’.
In the leadup to 2020 as part of it’s creating a healthy ageing strategy it talks of offering ‘access to learning opportunities through knowledge sharing and cultural experiences’.
So why do I continue to be excluded from this process?’
The new Council administration has pledged to be progressive and efficient.
I volunteered in the first instance believing in my heart of hearts that this would be the case.
I believed only through such qualities could the regressive and wasteful publicly funded educational decision making I’ve experienced be counterbalanced.
I somehow believed that it would follow the example of sanctuary cities in the U.S.
That it would limit its cooperation with the national government’s effort to enforce restrictions on government sponsored educational activities.
I’m fully aware now I have no rights as an educator either as an employee or a volunteer.
How can Council justify the policy of exclusiveness and restrictiveness when it advertises that it is both ‘transparent and accountable’?
It’s way out is that legally it’s partners believe they don’t have to be.
The services I offer are interpreted as not part of Council’s functions or business.
This is despite my requested involvement going through the Council’s Community Development office. Earlier through the office of Community Services in Leichhardt Council.
Whatever the legal case of its involvement Council has certainly made it its business. Whether it’s a success or a damp squib affects the reputation and prestige of all three partners.
The Mayor reports he and other elected representatives have, like me, experienced challenges with accountability and transparency.
He says they have no influence over executive staff and that they been removed from overseeing, determining the organisational structure, and supervising the regulatory, legal and planning decisions of councils. He says the elected councillors have no legal recourse to end the waste and instability.
He says those in charge of local government at state level- the Office of Local Government- see councils as ‘vessels for political power rather than servants of local people’. He argues executive staff should return to being contracted by the elected council and their performance contracts published for the community to scrutinise. The structure and staffing levels of councils must be returned to democratic control as well.
He believes Councils should be required to conduct regular community cabinet sessions so local people are guaranteed access to the people responsible for spending ratepayers’ money.
The Mayor’s conclusions are truly shocking. His office has no authority to over-ride the questionable decisions being made about waste. At all levels of government in Australia the corporate state allows no democratic oversight whatsoever over matters such as popular education.
Where to go now for what my opinion’s worth, which in this arena hasn’t been much.
I am now expected to be content with being a ‘Living Story’ rather than a ‘Living Book’.
Round and round it goes. Where it stops nobody knows.
Exceptional circumstances require exceptional thinking from our leaders.
Meantime librarians and elected government officers continue to argue in favour of books.
The NSW Public Libraries Association president Dallas Tout, deputy mayor of Wagga Wagga Council, has said libraries are the ‘heart and soul of communities’, providing a safe space and access to books and other resources.
Councillor Tout said he was keen for them to reopen as soon as it was safe after the pandemic. He said councils ‘wouldn’t be sitting around’ once they got the green light.
When will the Inner-West Council get the green light to consider the mini library I constructed to be of value?
The Centre should be seen as becoming an open community operation as originally mooted.
A broad church as it were.
One whose scope would widen to recognise we’re all refugees of sorts now.
Ones from a pre-pandemic state of greater health and prosperity going on a ventilator.
The Co-ordinator of the Welcome Centre has said, ‘Refugees did have jobs in their countries. They also had their own homes and many of them are well educated and experts in their field.’
These days the same could be said about a good number of people born in Australia.
The Centre should be facilitated and guided by the partnership, not tightly controlled by it.
It should utilise the talents of volunteers whether they can contribute a little or a lot.
It might be thought that since these talents come at little cost, it’s fine to toy with volunteers. The thing is the costs are of the opportunity and hidden kind.
Can the Catholic Church step in and implement a more robust approach to human rights?
The Holy Father has called on members of his Church to further human rights, to emulate a model “for all those who, in different ways, seek to restore the dignity of our brothers and sisters lost through the pain of life’s wounds, to restore the dignity of those who are excluded.”
These aims and this model could and should be shown in practice at the Centre.
The Centre should be encouraged to be a visibly collaborative community operation.
It should be an operation that may have started small but grows in full view rather than remaining stunted.
The ability to striking up a rapport with one’s potential assailants or to needle them should be equal options for newcomers.
The ability to striking up a rapport with one’s potential assailants or dancing to their tune should also be equal options.
These new arrivals are seen by the Centre as becoming agents of multiculturism.
Wouldn’t it be just as wise for them to become agents also of the prevailing culture?
As capable of blending in as of standing outside.
As potential ambassadors for their host or adoptive country.
If the Centre’s title could be upgraded to take on an acronym- The Community Refugee Welcome Centre becoming the CRWC -shouldn’t the services on offer be upgraded and involve the community?
It should be more than at most a limited success.
More than a photo op packed PR exercise to trumpet one’s sense of compassion.
It should be allowed to become what the Mayor speaks of : “A template for promoting community inclusiveness.”
Operations should be considered best practice.
Whether through our tithes, taxes or rates, we all pay for it.
Referring to the medieval builders, the pontiff Francis says “Each man and woman in this world — particularly those with governmental responsibilities — is called to cultivate the same spirit of service and intergenerational solidarity, and in this way to be a sign of hope for our troubled world.”
I recommend the partnership give approval to my immediate participation. My clearance from the police should be instantaneous.
Regarding my working with children, comments from the school principals I served under are instantly available on my website.
I have committed to attending future training sessions on human rights.
In the meantime I could observe and learn from the numerous other volunteers who inundated the Centre. They completed the packed training sessions. I could gain from them the insight the sessions provide.
I would like the partnership to either critique my methodology as laid out at length or just trust the judgement of my fellow volunteers as to its value.
I call on it to inform their numbers of my willingness to touch base.
Wise governance should resolve this matter once and for all.
”Where there is discord may we bring harmony…
Where there is error may we bring truth…
Where there is doubt may we bring faith…
Where there is despair may we bring hope’
Francis of Assisi:
I sent my message to the office of the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs.
I was hoping that due to her expressed commitment to her faith, her being a representative of the ALP and concerned with what goes on in the Department of Home Affairs, she might use her influence to help resolve the deadlock in its operation as a community project.
My message went unanswered.
The leader of her party declared during the pandemic, ‘Events have changed the way we live and they have changed the way the country should be governed.’
The NSW leader of the ALP acknowledged during the pandemic, ‘Public libraries are an important part of the learning environment, particularly when many schools do not have adequate library facilities.’
Now her party has got it’s hands on the levers, couldn’t it do away with the restrictions that keep these facilities inadequate?
The outgoing Minister for Home Affairs urged Australians to holiday regionally but didn’t lift the restrictions on community education about Australia.
He demands greater transparency from the Chinese in health matters. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask — it would certainly be demanded of us, if Australia was at the epicentre of this virus making its way into society.’
Australia shouldn’t have had to been afflicted with such epicentres. Yet we have suffered our share and ignorance, low levels of functional illiteracy and governmental inaction play a role here as elsewhere.
Those answerable to the outgoing Minister of Home Affairs in matters that affect our health remain exempt from the same kind of questioning.
“I think it is incumbent upon China to answer those questions and provide the information, so that people can have clarity about exactly what happened because we don’t want it to be repeated, said the Minister.’
It is incumbent on the him to respond likewise.
Many demand greater transparency from him and his party in health matters. I don’t think it’s too much to ask — it should certainly be demanded of them, seeing Australia did become another regional epicentre of this virus making its way into society.’
Could it not be the case that our governments were caught off guard likewise, just as slow off the mark in dealing with the spread as that of the Chinese?
Isn’t the role of government to protect us from the entry of invasive alien viruses as well as that of alien human beings?
Shouldn’t this apply to those who come on regular passenger ships and planes as well as those who come on unauthorised leaky, rickety boats?
The fact that the greatest spread of NSW Covid occurred in the south west of Sydney ,home to many newcomers whose grasp of English is not good, should not be lost on policy makers.
It’s why I’m broadening the scope of this narrative to take into account the pandemic which has affected all our lives, whether newcomer or native born.
In September 2020 I made the following submission to the government of NSW recommending that provision for educational activity be developed at Callan Park:
‘I am a voluntary educator who has lived with my family close to Callan Park the past forty years.
Six years ago I placed my services and resources at the disposal of the Welcome Centre for Refugees there.
I recommend that an educational unit be established at Callan Park to support the wellbeing of Sydneysiders.
It would assist in the economic and social recovery of the State of New South Wales.
The Inner West Council has demonstrated there are many community volunteers who would operate it.
I spent the greater part of my professional career explaining to the public the nature of this state’s crisis in education.
To compensate for this I offered an immersive program. It enables all members of the family to read and write about the state of New South Wales and it’s culture.
It enables them to respect the diversity of others.
It was widely welcomed by numerous clients who registered their appreciation.
I record this experience at great length and make it available to one and all.
My ideas on learning and public instruction are guided by the principles of N.S.W.’s longest serving Premier.
I believe the key to recovery from the fire, flood and health crises that beset us lies in popular education.
I was informed in this prophylactic approach by Australia’s first Director-General of Post-War Reconstruction.
He was charged with promoting ideas designed to make Australia something to live for and fight for.
With its long history of therapeutic health and educational services, Callan Park would continue to service the community through provision of such a public need.
This would enable our citizens to gather in a safe, controlled setting to study about our homeland.
It would act to lessen the risk of violent extremist ideas taking root.
It would enable our citizenry to better deal with further emergencies.
It could become a template for others to follow.
Following this up I began circulating a message online to this effect:
Fellow Citizens of New South Wales,
The State of N.S.W. warns us of further viral attacks, violent extremism and natural disasters.
Yet in this time of contagion and crisis it maintains it’s long term social engineering.
It’s over the edge restrictions on educational activity about Australia.
One in five of our citizenry is unable to read and write about our country.
The Federal Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs has pointed out an alarming statistic.
‘Close to a million’ Australians now do not speak the national language.
It’s proponents claim that the one in five are born genetically deficient.
‘So why waste time and energy developing their intellect?’ they insist.
Truth be told practically all Australians are capable of reaching a high level of functional literacy.
This all affects our ability to communicate with each other.
It raises the question of a most essential right.
The right to be part of a populace fully literate, inquiring and informed.
We must be wary of the abyss of ignorance .
The eugenists are responsible for the coordination of governmental emergency responses.
Their responsibility is to identify any issues that need to be addressed outside direct health management.
It is they who assess the capabilities available to meet those challenges within government and the community.
They can rule out any critique of their operations. They reserve the right.
Our lives are in their hands.
We must convince them to address chronic educational dysfunction as an issue.
We must convince them to assess more accurately the capabilities available.
We know the effects of isolation on educational outcomes to be highly damaging.
The Australian Chief Scientist warns of this in a government commissioned report.
We need leadership to offset these effects.
We need leaders who’ll answer dissenting voices.
We need leaders who’ll consider disasters before they happen.
Knowledge is power, without it we become ignorant towards the truth.
Those at the frontline and those at the cutting edge raise their standards.
They have to call the shots.
Their message must get through.
We have to kick this insane virus.
We have to distance evermore this most pressing common enemy.
Safe human distancing must be clearly distinguished from anti-social behaviour.
Physical distancing has to be justified case by case.
It has to be regulated according to circumstances.
Social distancing must be rejected.
People feel an innate need to stay in touch with each other
Everyone can be called on to justify their movements.
Those who rise to the occasion, those who obstruct them,
and those who sit on the sidelines.
Many people feel these times are too testing.
Some may fear they’re being treated too much like guinea pigs.
That they’re being made to be passive, docile and obedient.
That even if healthy themselves, unjabbed they’re being mandated out of their jobs.
Mandated by those who failed to protect and secure Australia from this alien virus .
Some feel it’s all a stratagem of the flourishing surveillance state.
To raise levels of political control while maintaining low levels of literacy.
Some fear that they’re being lied to again a la WMD.
‘Operation ‘Spread Freedom’ of course, backed by the police and military force.
Pushed by those who sold Operations ‘Iraqi Freedom’ and ‘Enduring Freedom’.
Salespeople discomforted by lockdown and over it’s restrictions.
Over working from home and spending protracted time with their children.
Over having to stretch those limited intellects of theirs.
They miss the nature of the hesitancy.
People know what’s in those barrels.
It’s what’s in these that concerns them.
You can’t hold down holdouts from a distance.
You can’t play people for fools
Compared to health and construction workers the mandators’ discomfort is kindergarten stuff.
Such workers can’t work from home.
Teachers can, but they are threatened them with even stricter controls.
Yet at least one in five residents of NSW lacks functional literacy.
Little wonder so many won’t give mandators their trust.
Trust is the key to recovery.
As is a well informed citizenry.
The viral threat must remain a health issue.
Consequently there must be the fullest panoply of safeguards.
Militarising matters and criminalising jibbers leads to confusion.
Consequently there must be the fullest panoply of safeguards.
Militarising matters and criminalising those who shun the shot is counter productive.
It leads to confusion and strengthens resistance.
The mandators must be unmanned.
People can be pushed back only so far.
Once the pandemic recedes, people should be able to help our recovery and progress.
They can gather in a safe, controlled setting to study about their country.
This can act to lessen the risk of violent extremist ideas taking root.
It can enable our citizenry to better deal with further attacks.
It can enable us to deal with fire, flood and health emergencies.
To better prepare us cope with the effects of isolation.
This aim and this model could and should be shown in practice.
At the Sydneyside centre of healing and learning. Callan Park.
At the Welcome Centre for Refugees
Pass it on! Help it go viral! Be a superspreader!
I emailed the message to every elected member of the progressive parties and independents in the state parliament and the Inner-West Council.
The response was very clear. Rather than a chain reaction of replies, none in the ALP and the Greens got back to me.
I’ve been left with no option but to follow up each one individually with a phone call.
The Office of my State Member recommended I offer my services elsewhere or try he Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre. The Office believed the Centret offers ‘wonderful’ options for volunteers.
I got through to the CEO of the Centre three times but couldn’t get a response.
That got me wondering even more. This state has absolutely no provision for its citizens to be involved in our recovery. Instead, it relies on fining those who are ill informed about the virus or who mistrust the government.
As the world becomes more and more confusing, we tend to focus on the things that are right there in front of us while ignoring the massive forces that actually change and shape our lives. With people working longer and longer hours, for less and less when they do have free time, the last thing they want is complicated analysis of virology and government. So it’s no surprise that when a pandemic comes along intertwining the two, people switch off.
When a corona virus hotspot emerged in Berala, a western suburbs suburb of Sydney, the problem of how to communicate to people about dealing with it came up against the language barrier. Cumberland City Council issued letters to more than 240,000 residents with NSW Health advice translated into 10 languages. Cumberland Mayor Steve Christou explained that Berala’s different ethnic communities “don’t necessarily have fluency with reading news through the internet’.
His council said it made a significant effort to provide correct translations. In 2020 the Federal and Victorian governments were criticised for errors in their translations in relation to materials distributed about coronavirus.
Instead of communicating to the people of poorer suburbs in the city’s west with words, the NSW government messaged them with brutal restrictions for them while allowing the north and east to ease through lockdown. The two tier approach allowed Sydneysiders in the city’s east- where the Delta outbreak originated from- to spend lockdown lazing on the beach and the north shore bushwalking – while the west was under near-martial law with a military-enforced 9pm curfew.
Those in the west faced the sight of ADF personnel on their streets enforcing a draconian lockdown and a 9pm to 5am curfew, while police helicopters hovered overhead ordering people back into their homes.
In the west, residents were restricted to within 5km of their home while those in the east and north were only confined to staying within the borders of their LGA, or 5km from home if that was greater.
The Deputy Premier described those critics of this divisive approach as suffering from a ‘victim mentality’.
Is this his government’s way of making residents of these suburbs, many who left repressive countries, feel more at home?
Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier for everyone concerned if the residents were helped learn basic English?
A serious task force could draw on the resources of the wider Sydney community to bring this about. People could come together from diverse branches, positions, and points of view to facilitate the development of ideas, create new opportunities, answer questions, and solve problems emanating from the crises.
Wouldn’t be wise to consider prevention of these as much as detection?
As for the Rapid Response Information Forum I couldn’t get an answer from it’s public faces .
My hope to find any positive response from those in charge any time soon is rapidly disintegrating.
Haven’t enough people died or become sick to move somebody in authority to action?
This is in spite of the NSW Premier warning repeatedly against complacency ‘creeping in’.
I have been drawing to public attention this exact feeling with respect to education over the past generation.
For many another feeling has long crept in.
The fear that nothing can be done to question official directives without retribution.
I put the lack of response to my message down in part to people being overwhelmed by spam email.
It’s estimated to account for around 90% of total email traffic.
Another factor would be crisis fatigue. People don’t have the bandwidth to take in more info about it.
I had hoped that statistically I was bound to hear from someone who knew something beneficial.
‘Crises! What crises?!’ I hear some say.
All I can do is keep plugging away because the virus is doing just that. It seems here to stay for the unforeseen future. We might be tired of it but it shows no sign of being tired of us.
Many Australians have been forced out of their comfort zone, forced to confinement apart from friends and family, leaving behind their jobs and displaced, if only temporarily.
Hopefully the State education decision makers might now encourage everyone, young and old, to be able to read and write about our country.
The Mayor of the Inner-West Council says he and others must ‘seize the opportunity to put forward a vision for how to strengthen and remake our society in the wake of the pandemic.’
He had made similar remarks in 2009 regarding our recovery from bushfires. He declared his council ‘ready to support the work of affected communities and stand in solidarity with them.’ In ‘Operation Helping Hand’ Council would ‘co-ordinate it’s assistance to local governments across the state.’
I expressed my interest in helping but thirteen years later my offer hasn’t been taken up.
This would involve helping fill in the huge gap exposed by the deepening crisis. The inability of the State of New South Wales to offer it’s people universal literacy and comprehensive knowledge of their homeland.
The Mayor and others should follow through on their well meaning.
The Welcome Centre for Refugees in Callan Park might serve the public good.
It should open the door to all who need the support it is capable of offering.
As the partner which initiated this project, the Council is well placed to fulfil these good intentions.
It recognises the community whose affairs it administrates as ‘a uniquely creative one’.
One which is ready to devote it’s manifold talents voluntarily.
The Council states it’s policy as being ‘progressive and efficient’
The operations of the the Welcome Centre show the extent to which these factors come into play.
I was the first to volunteer for the Centre over six years ago.
I am still waiting for my offer to be taken up.
The Council is aware of the extensive correspondence between it’s representatives and me.
The reader can follow the trajectory of my bid by scrolling back to the start of this portal.
I’m hoping readers will then persuade their representatives and others to support my proposal.
In between the pandemic lockdowns I’m back and forwards at the Balmain Hospital Strong Centre to resume my exercise regime.
The peninsula around Balmain Hospital is the catchment area for the Refugee Centre volunteers.
I have been distributing the following brief message on paper which will link to that online.
‘Could better literacy skills help contain and recover from the pandemic?
The Federal Department of Health has acknowledged, ‘Health workers are facing unprecedented circumstances and pressure —-during this challenging time.’
These frontline workers must contend with heavy resistance and lack of co-operation.
One in five Australians has a low level of functional literacy.
All members of the public should be able to communicate with each other about what’s around them.
The community can alleviate many of the difficulties that may arise.
Any meaningful task force would bring it on board.
To find out how we could better literacy skills within the community
Find: Fellow Citizens of New South Wales
Pass this message on! Help it go viral! Be a super spreader!
I got through to two independent Councillors who are supportive. One was able to have a Council representative contact me regarding the Centre’s service.
The rep told me, ‘It is not Council or the Welcome Centre’s role to provide this service.’
I replied, ‘I am fully aware it’s not a regular role of the Council. But it seems to have been taken on as one for the purpose of the project.’
In an email to me the officer responsible for dealings with the Centre informed me, ‘The Inner West Council, SSI as well as the other partners are providing direction and overview of the work undertaken’.
That sounds suspiciously like a ‘role’ to me.
Is it the role of Council to provide assistance to to communities affected by bushfires?
And is it the role of the Council to provide free swimming lessons and belly dancing to refugees?
While these are admirable initiatives, they are not part of the Council’s purview either.
I set out the timeline of my volunteering for the Welcome Centre for Refugees.
This listing of numerous emails to both elected and executive officers stretches over six years.
Thence followed a total breakdown in communications from Council management.
At the height of the pandemic lockdown in 2021,I managed to get through to another Councillor whose term of office was coming to an end.
The Mayor pointed to her as an exemplar of someone who seizes the time.
She launched a bold move to take advantage of this historic moment .
The Mayor cited her decision to return to the nursing sector as one of bravery.
I told her, ‘Most people ,including myself, would concur with that.’
I went on, ‘Your consuming concern is assisting in the country’s battle against the viral attack.
Mine is to assist minimise the growing tensions and divisions arising from it .
To help overcome the prejudices and forest fire of ignorance concomitant with the pandemic.
These factors show signs of being as damaging as the virus itself.
They not only hamper an effective response, but can directly affect the people on the frontline.
Like the spread of the virus, pandemic related violence has proliferated around the globe, largely out of sight and unchecked.
It is in all our interests that such violence is closely addressed and – where possible – prevented.
Only then will the people responsible for keeping us alive be able to work without fear for their safety.’
Following that the Mayor announced ‘Inner West Council has offered governments the use of our town halls, depots and other Council facilities for use as walk-in vaccination clinics. Unfortunately these offers have not been taken up.
He said he has launched a large-scale public education campaign encouraging the entire Inner West community to get vaccinated against COVID-19.’
The ‘grass roots,from the bottom up’ campaign consists of installing banners, placing posters in shopfronts, rolling out a social media campaign and writing to households.
The campaign is in effect an extension of the propaganda campaign being promoted by State and Federal governments.
Some say it doesn’t pass the sniff test.
This is not to question the validity of the propaganda.
What is to be questioned is these governments’ refusal to take up offers of community back up to overcome this damaging crisis.
Not everyone even in a local government area like the Inner West can read and write English sufficiently to understand the complex issue of vaccination.
What the Mayor might consider is offering the community the future use of it’s facilities for use as walk-in education centres embracing health matters.
The Mayor might consider including a grass roots, from the bottom up, education component of the mooted public education campaign.
I hoped with the installation of an interim Mayor in the latter part of 2021 this would come about. However the new short term executive directed me back to the same officials responsible for community volunteering. Back to where I started.
Late 2021 as my sixth year of attempting to become involved approached, I prepared to lobby the new Mayor.
And to take account of the newest Premier of NSW, a fervent member of the Roman Catholic Church, backer of the Welcome Centre for Refugees.
Would he heed the wishes of the Pontiff?
Will he take steps to relax restrictions now that Australia will be providing entry to many Ukrainian refugees?
Accordingly I am rebooting my message as follows.
‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.
Can the leader of New South Wales mandate against this?
His administration claims to uphold family values.
My grandchildren, come to me.
Under my guidance they are pursuing studies of what interests them .
The knowledge gleaned will be available to potential institutions and employers for accreditation.
My grandson is reviewing my saga as a story telling form.
My granddaughter is cutting her teeth on knowledge about tigers.
She is learning about the Smilodon and it’s unique teeth.
She is learning about what led to it’s extinction.
And how this could happen to humans in nature red in tooth and claw.
Everything always ends well. If not – it’s probably not the end.