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.
ADDRESS FROM CASTLEMAINE FOR LIVEWIRE FOR REFUGEES 24 HOURS FEDERATION SQUARE, MELBOURNE
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.