Facing up to new faces

Ironic juxtaposition? 'What Makes a Real Aussie?" poster showing 1916 ID photo of Monga Khan from Afghanistan situated next to "NO ENTRY" sign. Image: Su Leslie, 2016.

Ironic juxtaposition? ‘What Makes a Real Aussie?” poster showing 1916 ID photo of Monga Khan from Afghanistan. Image: Su Leslie, 2016.

I saw this poster a few times around Melbourne, and learned that it is part of a campaign called What Makes a Real Aussie?

The aim is not only to highlight modern Australia’s ethnic diversity, but to remind people of a previous immigration policy (finally ended in the 1970s) which sought to exclude non-white Europeans from migrating to Australia.

It follows on from an earlier campaign around the issue of refugees, called Real Australians Say Welcome. Both were created by artist Peter Drew.

It seemed an appropriate image for the Daily Post Photo Challenge this week. Not only does it ask us to consider the faces that make up our nation(s), but is also a reminder that those of us secure in our homes, countries and citizenship need to face up to the terrible worldwide crisis brought about by others being denied these things.

According to UNHCR figures, nearly 60 million people world-wide are currently displaced from their homes, including almost 20 million refugees. Just over half of refugees are under 18. Instead of living as children — playing, learning, growing within the bonds of home and family — these young people are passing their formative years in conditions of extreme uncertainty, dislocation, poverty and danger.

Many countries are grappling with the enormous and complex issues created by displaced populations. Government policies are often divisive. In New Zealand, our government continues to accept a pitifully small number of refugees — all the while talking about the “cost”of resettlement and ignoring the economic and social good brought by accepting skilled, motivated and grateful refugees. This is also the same government that earlier this year spent at least $26 million on a referendum about changing our national flag (in which the majority voted for no change); and $36 million supporting our America’s Cup Challenge. Here’s an interesting piece about this from The Timaru Herald.

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Meanwhile, many ordinary New Zealanders — like our cousins across the ditch — want to say “Welcome.”

Today’s NZ Music Month choice is Welcome Home, by Kiwi music legend Dave Dobbyn. Although it was written in 2005, before the current refugee crisis, the lyrics speak even more clearly now.

Tonight I am feeling for you
Under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here
‘there but for grace…’ as I offer my hand
Welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of my heart

 

We are Billy Bold

Sometimes the scale of tragedy and injustice in this world is just so enormous that words seem to have no power — to persuade or to comfort.

Arum lily. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

Arum lily. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

Such has been this week as we are finally waking up to the growing disaster that is the world’s refugee crisis.

So it may seem frivolous, in the midst of so much suffering, to mourn a single death. But today I do.

Today Graham Brazier died.

Unless you’re a New Zealander, you probably haven’t heard that name. But for Kiwis of my generation, the singer-song writer and frontman of Hello Sailor, has been a huge part of the soundtrack of our lives.

Troubled, argumentative, frequently drunk; he personified Rock ‘n Roll’s bad-boy image.That didn’t stop his music being powerful, beautiful, thought-provoking and sometimes utterly breath-taking.

And that is the point of music; of all art. To take our breath away. To make us feel.

And I can’t help believing that right now, we need the capacity to feel. Compassion, empathy, anger: whatever it takes to ease the suffering of our refugee sisters and brothers.

My favourite Graham Brazier song is Billy Bold; written about the 1981 riots in Toxteth, Liverpool. The lyrics are sadly appropriate to today.

Born in the sight of a Liverpool dock
It weren’t the call of the sea
Was the sound of poverty
So they write you down on their social list
Songs of war and girls that don’t exist
And how you can’t be free
Yesterday we were ten years old
Yesterday we were freezing cold
Yesterday you had us bought and sold but now
We are Billy Bold
Must we immigrate or stand and fight?
Troubled times we must unite
Let the chains that bind us be
There’s no need to shout, everybody knows
It’s wilted now, our English rose
Let’s storm the last Bastille
For baton’s hard and the dungeon’s cold
You are black and white, young and old
Yesterday we did what we were told but now
We are Billy Bold
Yesterday we were ten years old
Yesterday we were freezing cold
Yesterday you had us bought and sold but now
We are Billy Bold
And you hear the drums they roll
Street war must take it’s toll
But now we are Billy Bold

— Billy Bold, Graham Brazier

Graham Brazier (6 May 1952 – 4 September 2015)