Beautiful Boy

(Wednesday 28th August 2013)
A 16 year old Somali boy – one among a group of unaccompanied children who are currently incarcerated on Christmas Island and are subject to Labor’s new policy of denying anyone asylum in Australia – was found hanging in a bathroom this past weekend. He is now seriously ill in Royal Perth Hospital.

Beautiful Boy

I do not know your name
I do not know the story of these 16 years
you have lived.

I do not know the names
of those who mourn
your absence.

I do not know the stories
held in your body
hidden in your heart.

I will not call you by a number

and I do not want to offend. But

may I call you Beautiful Boy?

All boys are born beautiful-
though not one can sit in for another.
And all boys are precious to the earth –
though each has his own song.

Beautiful Boy.

I wish I could embrace you with poetry –
furnish you with armour,
a shawl,
a nest

a safe place
where the winds of love
call your name

where your song is free
to grow strong.

But here I am
just weeping tears

for your 16 years.


Live Wire For Refugees

Brave Melbourne’s wintry elements and join a 24 hour, non-stop community speak-out for refugee rights at Fed Square. Live Wire is committed to reclaiming the conversation around asylum seekers in the lead up to the Federal Election, so this event will run all night long! Live Wire will be an endurance test of expression, steadfastly passing the baton from one tireless speaker to the next in a marathon of vocalised support for the rights of refugees. Come along and join a relay of prominent community organisations and speakers to bring some warmth back in to the asylum seeker debate.

I have sent in the following address along with excerpts from some of my writings about the vigil, some poems and a short story.


Castlemaine Vigil in Recognition of Aboriginal Sovereignty and in Solidarity with Refugees.

Hello to the Wurrundjeri people and gratitiude to you and your country for hosting this event. My name is Janet Galbraith. I was born on Way Wurru country. Some of my ancestors are Scottish and the others are ‘unknown’.

I am writing to you from Jaara country. Gratitude and respect to the Jaara people and your beautiful country that sustains and heals me.

Hello and respect too to all Aboriginal peoples listening. My thoughts are especially with you who are imprisoned on your lands by Invader-Australier. We will not forget you.

Hello and respect to all those listening who have fled persecution in your own home lands. Warmth to you who have not found safety but are imprisoned. We will not forget you.

I would like to tell you a little about this vigil I have been holding in Jaara country, Castlemaine over the past (almost) 3 months.

The vigil’s long name ‘Castlemaine Vigil in Recognition of Aboriginal Sovereignty and in Solidarity with Refugees’ speaks to why I, and many other peoples, sit in vigil. The horror we are witnessing being perpetrated on the bodies and minds and spirits of people seeking refuge in this continent cannot be separated from the ongoing horrors perpetrated on the bodies, minds and spirits of the First Nations Peoples of this continent. In fact these terrible crimes are only made possible by the original crime of Invasion; by the fallacy of terra nullius and the determined denial of Aboriginal Sovereignty.

We reject the Australian Government’s authority to speak and legislate about Sovereignty, and about who does and who does not belong.

I would like to quote to you from a strong leader – a Gungalidda Elder and member of the Tent Embassy who passed away in December 2012. I will not use her name here but you can find her statement in borderlandse-journal ‘Gungalidda Grassroots’ Statement, borderphobias, issue 1, 2002

Published in 2002 her words are pertinent for today.

I am appalled that even as I write this, laws are being made in the
Parliament, to keep refugees away from this land … As a black
woman I recognise the racism and arrogance that is projected
against the refugees – because that same racism and arrogance
has been directed against us for over 200 years. We know what it’s
like to suffer religious persecution, because we have not had
freedom since we were invaded . . . [T]his is not John Howard’s
country, it has been stolen. It was taken over by the first fleet of
illegal boat people. We need to remind the world that the Aboriginal
people who have stayed true to themselves, to their land and to
their spiritual beliefs, do not have the same views about refugees,
about the US or about a war of retribution that John Howard does.

I began the vigil on the 15th of June 2013.

It was the day after the Invader-Australier Government had said that the retrieval of the bodies of about 60 people who had drowned after the boat they were in sank off Christmas Island – was ‘not a priority’.

For me this was it. I could no longer bear or carry the horror of this and must act, speak, demonstrate that for me, each person is a priority. Each person must be mourned. Each person is beloved of the earth. So, with tears streaming down my face and rage growing in my belly, I wrote Ms Gillard a letter, made a sign that read ‘I CARE FOR YOU WHO SEEK ASYLUM’ and another that reads ‘RESPECT AND GRATITUDE TO JAARA PEOPLE AND YOUR COUNTRY’, then I grabbed some candles and went to sit in front of the Castlemaine Market Building to demonstrate care.

And so the Castlemaine Vigil began and continues.

When I think of the word ‘vigil’ I think of it as ‘watchful attention’. Watchful attention has power – it shines a light on that which people in power would deny, forget, seek to hide or dis-remember. It allows us to bear witness.

To ‘bear witness’ can be defined as a form of deep attention, deep listening without pre-judgement. To bear witness gives another human being absolute and total recognition. To bear witness is to take notice of, to remember and to give testimony to the violences of some and the suffering of others.

Central to this vigil is a focus on the humanity of every individual. At this time of rampant de-humanizing the vigil provides a time of watchful attention and deep listening that allows us to step outside of the whirlpool of political rhetoric that distances us from the humanity of each other. Our attention is drawn to the person behind the numbers imposed on those in detention, the person behind the un-named bodies recovered (or not) in the seas, the person behind the dehumanizing images and language of mainstream media and politicians. It allows us to place those whom this violence is being acted upon at the centre of our consciousness.

With this, the vigil seeks to grow care, compassion, courage and love – valuing these as strong weapons against the lies, fear mongering and white supremacist actions of the current government.

Underpinning the vigil is the belief that we do not have to abide by, and remain within, the racist, white supremacist, imperial framework and rhetoric that politicians and others tell us we exist in. And that care, compassion, courage and love are antidotes to fear and cynicism. I see empathy and responsiveness to the distress of others as powerful tools that grow from these – opening spaces for other frameworks, for other languages that help us to move beyond a sense of powerlessness and regain our voices, our power to say NO; our power to act, speak, experience in a loving way- and so, day after day model and demand that these – political acts – be those through which we define ourselves and our communities, our places within this continent and our responsibilities and relationships to others.

Our vigil has now been going for 11 weeks – almost 3 months. Many many people have come and sat, or signed our petitions, or come for a chat. Many stories have been exchanged. This vigil comes from the heart remembering that we are part of a much bigger story. As Kim Scott writes in his book Benang(which means tomorrow in Nyoongar language) ‘Speaking from the heart, I tell you that I am part of a much older story, one of perpetual billowing from the sea, with its rhythm of return, return, remain’(p497). And remembering too, that we are not the first to speak out and neither are we the first to sit back and watch.

Janet Galbraith and the vigilers of Castlemaine.

Castlemaine Vigil WEEK 10 AUGUST 18-24

Castlemaine Vigil in Recognition of Aboriginal Sovereignty and in Solidarity with Refugees

WEEK 10 AUGUST 18-24

Thank you to Narelle and Rob who sat the vigil on Friday evening.

The past week saw an increasing number of people fleeing persecution arrive in Australia by boat. The mainstream media no longer announces the numbers of people seeking safety in Australia! I guess this is to try to create the perception in the wider public that deterrence policies are stopping people fleeing unlivable circumstances!

Over this past week I have been very aware of Aunty Carmel Barry – Jaara Elder who passed away recently. I attended a commemoration of her life at the local Anglican Church this Sunday 25th August at midday. It was, for me, so good to hear stories of Aunty Carmel’s life that I did not know. I was especially struck by her important working role in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and of her invaluable way of working within the Melbourne Custody Centre- not least her way of creating strong and real relationships with the people being brought into custody.

Thank you to Rick Nelson for organizing this. And to Rev. Ken. Thank you to those who brought the photos, to all those who shared and to Sarah James and Ron Murray for the beautiful didj playing and honouring and gentle goodbye song for Aunty Carmel.

After the service I was thinking about unprecedented increase in the building of gaols and detention centres by Australia. And how without justice there is the fall back position that seems to be being taken of so-called ‘deterance’. I am thinking of this in the context of the huge increase in the incarceration of Indigenous women in Australia. This invader-Australia is truly demonstrating the indivisible links between its formation, dehumanization, torture, murder and imprisonment.

On Tuesday 20th August , 120 nautical miles north of Christmas Island, 106 people were rescued from a boat that was sinking.

Sadly 5 people are missing presumed drowned. Five people have died.

Those who survived will be sent to either Nauru or Manus Island – into horrible and unhealthy conditions, in an “atmosphere of fear and impunity”* overseen by invader-Australia. ‘Facilities’ that have been built and are operated in such a way that – ( according Mr St George – who worked for GS4, security on Manus Island and became a ‘whistleblower’) – if they were in Australia ”couldn’t even serve as a dog kennel. The owners would be jailed.”*

*(Mr Rod St George, SBS Dateline Interview transcribed on ABC Radio National July 24 2013)

The names of those who have died have not been released. This is a deliberate and political practice designed to create a false separation between the humanity of those who flee persecution and those who currently live in this continent.

To each of you who survived – I am sorry that you have not been cared for or afforded the respect and dignity that a humane society/populace would impart. I am sorry that you will be forced to try to survive inhumane circumstances. I am sorry that the trauma you have endured will not be recognized by the illegal rulers of this continent. I am sorry that you will likely be further traumatized. I am sorry that you will not feel the embrace of many of us who care about you.

To those whose loved ones died during this sinking – I am so sorry for this terrible loss – this loss that results from the inhumanity of invader-Australia. I am so sorry for your loss.

To those who drowned in these seas I send my love. I am sorry I do not know your names. I am sorry I do not know your homelands. I am sorry I do not know who, what and how you have loved. I am sorry that I do not know of the sorrows you have endured. I am sorry I do not know of the times you have danced. I do know though that you have been courageous people.

To each of you who died on Tuesday the 20th of August 2013 I will remember you

precious one

precious one

precious one

precious one

precious one

“and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular
… and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth”. – Mary Oliver

To those in Castlemaine, you are encouraged and welcomed to pay your respect to, and celebrate, this beautiful Jaara country and to honour the Jaara people and other Aboriginal peoples as well as Torres Strait Islander people by attending the PERMANENT RAISING of the ABORIGINAL FLAG (by Jaara Elder Rick Nelson) and the TORRES STRAIT ISLAND FLAG (by Uncle Phil Ahwang) at the new Civic Centre in Lyttleton Street this FRIDAY 30th AUGUST at 10.30am. The Meeting Place students will also offer their hospitality.

week 9 vigil 11th – 17th August 2013

Castlemaine Vigil in Recognition of Aboriginal Sovereignty and in Solidarity with Asylum Seekers
11th – 17th August 2013

Firstly i would like to send condolences and care to the extended family of Aunty Carmel Barry – a local Jaara elder – who passed away last Friday. I remember her as very bright, very creative and with the ability to speak her mind. We, who live in Castlemaine and surrounds are blessed to be living in the country that has remained in her family from time immemorial. On behalf of those who participate in the Castlemaine Vigil in Recognition of Aboriginal Sovereignty and in Solidarity with Asylum Seekers we send our love to each member of the wider Nelson and Barry families and will continue to remember and honour Aunty Carmel through the vigil.

As some of you were aware, I did not sit the vigil this past week. I needed some time to recoup my energy and to become clearer on where to from here.

It was, for me, a fruitful week off. Over time you will notice some of what has come out of this. The name change is one.

The vigil did, however, continue. Helen Seligman came to my house and asked if she could help by sitting the vigil for 3 of the nights last week. I was so pleased that a presence would still remain.

Helen did sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Some of the evenings she had a friend with her from Daylesford. People dropped by for the petition and to chat and just to sit quietly.

One of the things that Helen noticed was that the vigil is becoming a safe place for people to come, sit, and share company; to speak about what’s happening for them and just to experience a little care. I love this about the vigil. For me this is of primary importance because it demonstrates locally how care and safety can be so healing and nourishing for all involved. It certainly has been for me. It grows openness which can then transmit into peoples lives outside of the vigil creating possibilities and, from my experience, the reality of respectful shared exchanges that grow understanding and connection. Peoples who often would not come across each other are meeting, and relationships and learnings growing. Within our differences we share and re-humanize ourselves and our connections with others.

I’ve just read the following article “who are the Hazara’s”,(see link below) about the protest/vigil that followed the terrifying and deadly February bombing of Hazara’s in Pakistan. The attempted genocide of Hazara’s is horrific and continued yet the Australian Government continues to actively stop Hazara people from escaping Pakistan, and from finding safety in this country. This article is both troubling and inspiring. Within it is such strength and compassion. I think it is a must-read.

From the article:
Even though the protest was initially met by inattention and unconcern, their fortitude and perseverance eventually started attracting attention. It was not long before Pakistanis of all backgrounds joined the protest; outnumbering even the Hazaras and Shias. It was for the first time in the history of Pakistan that everyone participated in a protest, which was for a racially and religiously distinct group. Here was a new history in the making. Here was a protest which was history’s most nonviolent and peaceful one with dead bodies lying un-buried unless justice was dispensed.

Do follow this link and read:
‘“Who are the Hazaras?”, Asked the Wondering Australian’ August 17, 2013 | Hazara Netizens Watch

You may also be interested in the hazara asylum seekers website – see link below:

On the 24th of August there will be a big rally in Melbourne. A number of people are going from Bendigo and I am hoping that there will be a crowd from Castlemaine as well. The group from Bendigo will be gathering at the Bendigo Station and have invited the media to attend. I would love it if there were also a group from Castlemaine who met at the station prior to the departure of the 10:53am train to Melbourne so we too can also invite the local media. Building a presence in as many ways as possible is important. If you are able to come please let me know via a message on fb or on this site or drop in to the vigil.

I will be on the steps of the Castlemaine Market Building from 5pm – 6.30pm tomorrow, Monday the 19th of August. Thea will be there Tuesday and I will return for Wednesday and Thursday. Not sure yet who will be sitting on Friday yet. Hope to see you there.

janet galbraith

Week 8 vigil Wednesday 7th August 2013

Week 8 Wednesday 7th August 2013
I am not sitting on the Steps tonight. I am unable to. I do have candles lit here however, to remember those who struggle, those who suffer, those who listen to the suffering, and those who stand in solidarity with those struggling. I also have a candle lit for Thea’s friend who is leaving this life. I send much care to Thea and her friends. Thea often sits the vigil on a Thursday evening.

I have needed to clarify what I am doing and why in terms of this vigil. I express it as follows:

I sit in love, attention, imagination and intelligence because this is what I have to share – not to preach, not to try to convert. Nobody need receive it but I need to demonstrate it. It comes from me sincerely and with feeling. This is not a burden – infact it is nourishing. Like a creative act that then grows more creative acts, sitting quietly in vigil – publicly stating my recognition of Aboriginal Sovereignty and my Solidarity with Refugees – is what I have to offer this world, at this time. It adds to the ‘Not In My Name’ movement that is steadily growing, and, I believe, it promotes love in often unknown ways. In this climate of hate and brutality, to love is a political act. It is simply all I am able to give.

I will be on the steps of the Castlemaine Market Building tomorrow from 5pm – 6.30pm.

My petition to our local political representatives will be there to sign should you wish.

I will also have a flyer with the time and date of the next Rally organized by a coalition of Refugee Support Groups and others to be held in Melbourne on the 24th of August and meeting at 1pm at the State Library. There will be a group going from Bendigo, and they are interested in people from Castlemaine joining them.

janet galbraith

Week 8 vigil August 5 2013

Week 8 August 5 2013

It was very wet here in Castlemaine today. I dressed in water-proof clothing expecting to be drenched by the end of the vigil however the rain calmed and I remained relatively dry. In that context I didn’t expect anyone to drop in so was really pleased to see Helen – who is doing a great job teaching English, Sue – who came from the Anglican church where I spoke on the weekend, and Elizabeth who often sits the vigil. People seem to be feeling pretty tired and burnt by the terror-filling policies that both Labour and Liberal are spruiking at the cost of the most disempowered in this community – and the world. I too felt pretty tired. But twas good, as usual to be there, and remember.

I was thinking today how this is the 8th week of the vigil. Thinking about this what become foremost in my mind was that this means it is 8 weeks or so since a boat filled with about 60 people sunk and all of the people on board drowned and the Australian ‘authorities’ decided it was ‘not a priority’ to retrieve their bodies. Only 8 weeks since those people died…. And as I write this I feel again the deep deep sorrow I felt on hearing of these people’s deaths. And the ways in which these people are spoken about as though they are just some kind of cargo, and the way that Australia chose not to give them any care or dignity in life or death.

This weekend I went to Melbourne to visit my friend Barry’s daughter. He died on the 26th of June – almost 6 weeks ago (my respects to the Priors). During that visit I was thinking about how grief comes in waves and that it takes some time to absorb the shock – and that it seems about 6 weeks (I’m sure its different for everyone) when the reality of the loss of a loved one really hits. I was thinking too about the relatives and friends of those who drowned 8 weeks ago and imagining that for those who actually know what happened to their loved ones that the grief is so raw and deep. And tonight I felt that – felt all the oceans of tears that are being shed or held inside. And again I want to open my arms in a huge embrace. And all those people who don’t know what has happened to their loved ones – not knowing ….. … there are no words!

I read about a community on the Sunshine Coast where there were a lot of families who had said they would be happy to support people seeking refuge (refugees and asylum seekers) in their community. It got me thinking that it may be a good thing to collate how many people and households in the Castlemaine community would be willing to do the same. I suspect there are quite a few. I know there are a number of people already doing this. I think the power in working out how many people and households would support people needing refuge (refugees/asylum seekers) within this community is that it sends a message to those in power that their reading of community attitudes and compassion is not what they think and promote. It also adds to the movement that is growing: ‘not in my name’. Whether people are allowed into communities or not I think it is a powerful act.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘not in my name’ movement and how powerful its potential is. And I have been thinking too ‘where did the phrase come from’? I suspect it is from Uncle Ray Jackson’s speech at the Aboriginal Passport Ceremony, September 15 2012, when he says: ‘as I have put so many times, these racist One Nation clones do not speak in my name’*. This speech has been so so important and influential and I would like to recognize Uncle Ray Jackson and thank him for making many things very clear and for giving me a framework within which to understand what is happening.

I was very pleased to be able to speak at the Anglican Church on Sunday and thank all for their kind welcome and open response.

I will be at the Market Building Steps tomorrow from 5pm -6.30pm. Please come along and sign the petition. The petition is also at the Theatre Royal, and at The Food Garden in Campbells Creek. You can sign it there also.

Ps. Do go along and see the film ‘Mary Meets Mohammed’ – tis very good.
janet galbraith

week 7 vigil July 29 2013

Castlemaine Vigil in Solidarity with Refugees
Week 7 2013

There were quite a few people at the vigil over the past evenings. Some sat for a while. Some dropped in for quiet conversation and questions, others to sign the petition. One evening I talked about the importance of keeping the soul of the vigil alive. By this I mean that it is easy for this action to fragment. In order to sustain this vigil we need to maintain the focus on people, on care and connection. We must focus on the people behind the numbers given in detention centres; the people behind the un-named bodies who are found drowned at sea; the people behind the numbers reported on the news, the people who are suffering; and on ourselves, on our own personhood, our own humanity.

So I have been reminding people that the last half hour of the vigil will be a quiet time of remembering and contemplation; of bearing witness; of sending love.

The word VIGIL can be defined as ‘watchful attention’. Watchful attention has power. It brings attention, shines a light on that which people in power would like to deny, forget or dis-remember. It allows us to bear witness.

‘Bearing witness means listening deeply. Listening without judging. Listening to become one with another. Giving another human being absolute and total recognition’. Powerful in a time of dehumanization. Lawyer to Peacemaker website speaks of ‘listening another person into existence’. This is what the vigil is about. Truly listening for the humanity amongst the dehumanizing rhetoric, seeing the humanity amongst the dehumanising images. Listening. Listening in the silence, in the quiet of sitting on the steps as the sun goes down and people return to their homes. Listening to our own quiet voices. Listening til we can hear the sobs, til we can hear the unworded silences, til we can hear the sighs, cries, hopes of those suffering.

The Castlemaine Vigil in Solidarity with Refugees incorporates education, solidarity, and is a visible reminder of the horror of what is happening to people. And, importantly it grows compassion and love through watchful attention, quiet listening and bearing witness. With this, we step outside of the whirlpool of the for-and-against political rhetoric, reactive behaviours, loud words (all of which have their place) and find a place of quiet shared humanity, that will sustain our action, our vigil, throughout the long haul that is, and will be, needed.

I will share with you a quote from an article by Patrick Stokes in ‘The Conversation’ posted 26th July 2013 and titled:’ Drowning Mercy: Why We Fear the Boats’.

‘There’s a Latin word: misericordia.

It’s usually translated “mercy” or “pity”. Thomas Aquinas took misericordia to be a kind of grief at the suffering of others as if that suffering were our own. Alasdair MacIntyre, the leading modern exponent of Thomist virtue ethics, sees misericordia as a responsiveness to the distress of others that offers the same concern we would normally show to those in our own family, community or country to total strangers.

Misericordia in this sense is the virtue of the Good Samaritan; it’s the virtue the ancient Chinese sage Mencius describes in the way we would rush to help a child who has fallen down a well, not through hope of reward, but simply through concern for the child – any child’.

Throughout the vigil I have felt the distress of many. I began the vigil because I could no longer bear the distress I felt. This distress has led to a form of “misericordia” – a responsiveness to the distress of others that offers the same concern we would normally show to those in our own family, community or country, to total strangers’.

Our experiences of distress are often dulled by many forms of distancing and othering employed by politicians, much media and within our own communities. Such experiences of distress are often seen as ‘crazy’. I remember a psychiatrist saying to me once: ‘you are not crazy, your responses are normal within an abnormal, violent and crazy environment’.

I have been taking note of how powerless, and sometimes ‘crazy,’ many people feel at the moment. And I have taken note of those who have told me that I am crazy – responding in visceral emotional ways to the suffering and torture of others. What I want to say is that such responses are not crazy.

Such responses are human.
Such responses are the experience of profound grief at the suffering of others.
Such responses grow from experiences of profound shock at the inhumanity and cruelty of those who would purport to speak in our name.
They are normal responses to a violent and crazy situation.

If we are unable to feel empathy; to experience some form of misericordia it seems to me that we have lost our own humanity. Isn’t our inablitity to feel, to imagine, to recognise the humanity and suffering of others, a kind of madness!

To feel, though, to experience some level of misericordia enables us to grow our humanity and to regain some power. We are not powerless. We do not have to abide b,y and remain within, the racist, white supremacist, imperial framework and rhetoric that politicians and others tell us we exist within. Through misericordia the boundaries are expanded – we find another framework, other languages, we regain our own agency, our own voices, our power to say NO; our power to act, speak, experience in a loving way- and so, day after day model and demand that this – a politics of love – be that through which we define ourselves and our communities, our place within this continent and our responsibilities and relationships to others.

Come along to the market Building between 5pm and 6.30pm on a weekday evening. Come visit the vigil, exchange ideas and conversation – accept your power and act, sign the NEW petition – and spend some time sitting quietly in vigil, bearing witness, listening, remembering and sending love.

janet galbraith