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14 min 
Essays & Issue Five

How could you do this to us?

By Christine Hill

This essay won the 2017 Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition for Non fiction and was first published in Writers Victoria.

I find myself in no-man’s-land – a large and largely empty space between freedom and detention. It has taken months of patient planning to get this far. Copies of passport, driver’s licence, Working with Children check, Federal Police check, and proof of professional status, together with detailed ‘Visitor’ forms and my car’s registration number, were long ago completed, signed, carefully scanned, and sent as requested. Apparently the copies were not clear enough for the detention centre administration so I sent them again. When new information was requested I sent the forms again. When colour copies were requested I sent them again. When the office could not locate my completed, signed, scanned, clear, detailed, coloured copies I sent them again. No reason was given the next time; they knew there was no need. I sent the copies again. I learned to wait, to ask for nothing, and to expect nothing – familiar working territory for a psychotherapist, but for an infant it is a sign ofdespair.

In the spring of 2014 I was taken to visit a place in Melbourne where families were imprisoned, guards accompanied children to school, and babies were born and raised in detention. I met people of all ages but, as a perinatal psychotherapist, I was particularly interested in the babies and their parents.

Many of the parents were depressed. This was not surprising. They believed that they were coming to Australia for a better life for themselves and for their children; instead they were isolated, interned, and identified by number.

Confused and frustrated by a slippery and slow-moving bureaucracy that appeared to have no deadline for refugee-status decision-making, parents were powerless to act. My efforts to gain access may have left me feeling like a character in a Kafka novel but, unlike these families, I was free to leave, to make plans for my future, and to live a useful life.

I discovered that the birth of a baby in detention was logged as an “incident”. The incident was given a number and classified as “minor”. I learned that asylum-seeking families relied on the kindness of strangers for ‘luxuries’ like children’s clothes, nursery items for babies, and even bananas. And while there were many kind strangers, there was very little joy for babies and their mothers. With this in mind I resolved to make a space for play.

Babies are born to play; it is how they communicate with mother, father, and others. Research from a range of disciplines has helped us appreciate that infants arrive in the world with an extraordinary capacity for communication; all they need is a mother (or other) who is willing and able to respond. Studies in developmental psychology have shown that, within one hour of birth, healthy infants can mimic tongue, eye and mouth movements and sounds; a few hours later they can imitate a range of facial expressions, and head and finger movements. By two to three days of age they can tell the difference between a smiling, frowning, or surprised face, and accurately imitate each one. From birth, babies move their bodies to the rhythm of their mother’s voice. A healthy mother will respond by adapting her speech to her baby’s movements, and a healthy baby will respond to her speech, and so on; in this way a pattern of playful communication can begin.

Neuroscience gives us hard data that confirms the crucial role of environment during the first months of a baby’s life. At the time of birth, neurons (brain cells) in the cerebral cortex (the part of our brain responsible for processing information) are standing by, ready to link up via their synapses (the space

between brain cells). The stimulation of birth and the infant’s early environment creates a surge of synaptic connections at a rate of two million per second. The number, type, and duration of connections are dependent upon the quality and quantity of the infant’s interactions with others. By the age of three months, the parts of the cerebral cortex that oversee vision, hearing, and touch have realised maximum synaptic density. An infant’s environment shapes her brain, literally.

The twentieth century British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, John Bowlby may have been surprised by the extraordinary development of neuroscience but not by its findings. He believed that our very survival depends on our attachment to our caregivers. Challenging psychoanalytic theory that failed to accommodate the influence of environment, he borrowed from ethology to mount a scientific argument for the infant’s biological need to have mother physically and emotionally present. Bowlby’s recognition of the attachment needs of infants was an important contribution to our understanding of human development. There is now an abundance of research telling us that the cognitive, physical, and emotional health of each and every baby is dependent upon a warm, loving, and reliable caregiver who is sensitively attuned to that particular baby. The absence of such a caregiver can have devastating consequences. One example of the long-term effects of emotional deprivation is the abandoned children of Ceauşescu’s Romania; Australia’s infants in detention may well prove to be another.

As a volunteer, I am forbidden to exit the other door, the one that leads into the detention area. Having spent many months proving my identity, I am now instructed to not be myself. I am told to leave my politics and my professional status at the door, along with my phone, money, and anything sharp. My basket of play-things is searched and a mirror-toy is confiscated. For some unknown (and perhaps unknowable) reason, I am not to be trusted, much like the people I have come to see – young babies detained indefinitely with their well-meaning parents. In 1992, when Paul Keating, the economic reformist and so-called visionary, introduced mandatory indefinite detention for illegal maritime arrivals in Australia, could he, even in his wildest imaginings, have envisaged this?

Prior to the Australian Human Rights Commission National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, there was no readily available data on the ages of the children. The 2014 Inquiry found that, by the end of March that year, there were 153 infants under the age of two years and that these infants accounted for seventeen per cent of all children in detention. From January 2013 to March 2014 there were 128 babies born to mothers in detention. By September 2014 the average length of detention for children and parents was one year and two months. In May 2015, a Senate Estimates session revealed that one child had been in detention for one thousand, seven hundred and seventy four days.

With coloured fabric and sweet-smelling flowers, I create a physically beautiful space in the far corner of this enormous room, as far away as possible from the door and the disinterested guard who sits beside it. I wait, not knowing if anyone will come, or when. I look through the large windows, past the decking, past the out-door seating, past the fake grass, towards the barbed-wire fence. It looks like rain. The guard tells me that ‘they’ are lazy and will not come. I see a woman, her scarfed head bent, shielding herself from the cold wind. She is pushing a baby-stroller that is covered in clear plastic. I watch her negotiate the rough, unsheltered path that links this space with the accommodation block some distance away. She slowly makes her way to the door that marks the boundary between detention and no-man’s-land. As she stands there, uncomplaining, quietly waiting for the guard to notice her, I am reminded of my dog, waiting for the release command, the one that allows her to run off-leash and play in the park. The guard eventually looks up from his phone and unlocks the door, remotely, via a button under his desk. The woman struggles in the windy conditions, one hand on the stroller, the other pushing open the door, not looking at the guard who does not move to help. Once inside, she checks her scarf. I walk towards her smiling, my right hand outstretched in greeting. She responds with a shy smile and her baby looks at me warily from behind the plastic shield.

As mother removes the shield, she speaks softly and gently to her baby. All warm and pink, the baby girl returns my smile, shyly like her mother, before looking away. She twists her body, trying to find her mother’s face, to check if it is safe to smile again. Her mother’s features are all she needs – a myriad of messages exchanged in one shared gaze:

“Are you there? I’m here.

Do you see me? I see you.

Do you know how I feel? I think so.

Will you keep me safe? I’ll do my best.

Will you help me learn what I need to know? I’ll try”.

But if her mother is depressed, if her mother’s face is blank, the baby’s questions go unanswered and she will not know what to make of me, or indeed, of anything. She will have no reliable reference point, no secure base from which to explore, no safe place to which she can return, and worse, no expectation of one.

When the shield is off, and mother has smiled her approval, I greet the baby. Her arms wave and her legs kick. The play has begun.

Donald Winnicott, the British paediatrician and psychoanalyst, described play almost poetically as an experience that leads to trust and confidence in one’s capacity to live creatively. For Winnicott, play is not so much about the toy or the game but rather about what takes place between the minds of those playing. Play needs space and time. It needs minds that are not depressed, minds that are open to new experience. Play needs hope, and hope needsplay.

Several babies and mothers play on the mat. One mother sits some distance from her baby who is busy trying to grasp a rattle and put it in his mouth. She does not look at him but absent-mindedly picks up a soft toy and strokes it while staring into the distance. I say that her baby is very clever to persist with the rattle but she seems unable to think of his experience. After a while baby crawls towards her to hungrily grasp her clothed breast. Everyone, including his mother, laughs at his determination; he notices this, and looks pleased with himself. In the midst of the play a group of guards walks past. All the mothers freeze, and so do their babies.

A strikingly beautiful woman hands me her equally beautiful baby girl as if it is my right, not hers, to hold and admire her. This mother is warm and generous in her conversations with other mothers and babies but I notice that when she is with her own baby they are unable to look at each other. I wonder what they cannot bear to see. I do not ask; I play. Over the following weeks and months mother’s tragic story is told, in fragments – broken bits and jagged pieces, too awful to hear all at once. Perhaps she does not look in order to protect her baby from seeing what she has suffered, and still suffers; perhaps her baby knows.

One morning, after I have been visiting regularly each week for several months, the receptionist announces that I cannot go into the room to play because my forms are not on file. She says she knows I have completed them – she watched me do it (again) last time– but she cannot let me in because she cannot find them. When I calmly suggest that this is insane, she is un- perturbed, her voice unnaturally bright as she admits: “There are a lot of insane things in this place”.

After one year of making and holding a space for babies to play it is clear that everyone is struggling. Infants born in detention celebrate their first birthday in detention, and their parents, who had previously made good use of the play space to nurture healthy relationships and delight in their babies’ development, are losing hope. Mothers who had once laughed and played, encouraging and supporting their babies’ play, are now quite depressed. Some threaten suicide. While this is desperately sad there are no words to describe the change in their babies. These once joyful, confident, playful infants are now withdrawn, frightened, and easily distressed. Some are refusing milk, sleep, and comfort. There is very little play. It is alI I can do to keep coming, reliably each week, at the same time, to hold the space and with it the possibility of hope.

In 1952, when the Austrian-American psychoanalyst René Spitz showed his film, ‘Grief: a peril in infancy’, to a group of experienced psychiatrists and psychoanalysts he shattered some of their long-held beliefs (or delusions) regarding the mental health of infants. The film clearly showed the physical and psychological decline of very young children who were separated from their mothers and given no reliable mother-substitute. These medical specialists were moved to tears as they witnessed the terrible pain caused by early emotional deprivation. Spitz had opened their minds to uncomfortable truths, truths they could no longer ignore, causing one distressed senior analyst to reproach him with “How could you do this to us?”

A 2010 study, commissioned by the Australian Government, analysed the health records of 700 people in detention and found a clear association between time in detention and rates of mental illness. A number of studies before and since clearly demonstrate that children and adults in detention suffer much greater levels of poor mental health than do families in the general community. This has prompted a number of organisations of health professionals, including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, to call for an end to a government- sanctioned system that is making people sick. The conclusion reached by the Australian Human Rights Commission National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention was plain: “it is the fact of detention itself that is causing harm.”

When the mental health of the mothers deteriorates further, they stay in their rooms and fathers bring the babies to play. Their commitment to doing what they believe is best is admirable, but these men are exhausted. They provide every aspect of physical care for their babies and for their wives, staying awake all night to watch over them, fearful that their wives will self-harm. With no space in their parents’ minds for play these immaculately dressed, carefully wrapped babies lie motionless and quiet, asking for nothing and expecting nothing.

Very gently, not wanting to overwhelm her, I bring a bright-coloured but soft- sounding rattle towards a baby girl. Lying on her back, she holds her arms stiffly by her side, her fists clenched, her eyes dull. Gradually she turns her head to look at the toy but she makes no attempt to reach for it and soon turns her head away. Her depleted father does not notice.

Successive Australian governments have argued that the policy of indefinite detention deters people smugglers and prevents deaths at sea. Hence, while some nations responded compassionately to Nilüfer Demir’s heart-wrenching photograph of the drowned body of three year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Australian reaction was more like: “I told you so!”. When Le Monde journalist, Philippe Dagen linked Demir’s now iconic image with Picasso’s Guernica and Poussin’sLe massacre des Innocents, he reminded us that atrocities involving infants in the name of politics or progress are not unprecedented. Surely we must ask: since Herod’s slaughter of infant boys and the Nazi bombing of Basque families, have we learned nothing?

Sadly, it appears that clinging to delusion is preferable to learning the truth. The Australian government’s criticisms of the ABC’s Four Corners report (October 2016) on children detained on Nauru suggest that this is the case. Having failed to effectively silence those who have seen for themselves the human cost of this head-in-the-sand approach to the mental health of families who wanted nothing more than an opportunity to live a safe life, our political leaders would rather risk ridicule than see what we have seen. Of course it may well be a defensive mechanism, one that needs to work hard to protect a fragile but blustering ego. After all, as some of us know, it is not easy to be in the presence of babies and their parents who did not drown but who are dying insideanyway.

Delusion may also explain the Border Force Act which was passed by both sides of Parliament in 2015 and sold to the Australian people as a necessary security measure that would discourage people smugglers. The Act effectively ensures that the general public remains ignorant of the actual experience of people in detention facilities. This may be a misguided attempt to protect the public from the guilt and shame of knowing the truth, but it is unlikely to protect us from the judgement of future generations who will wonder why we did nothing to prevent the systematic destruction of the mental health of innocent children and their parents.

More than seventy years since Spitz’s film a large body of research supports and reinforces his findings: We know that emotional deprivation is catastrophic for infants. We know that indefinite detention not only causes but is, in itself, emotional deprivation. We know that infants and their parents have been, and are still being detained indefinitely. Yet with all this knowing, where is the reproach?

The father apologises. He says he cannot come to playgroup anymore. He must watch his wife. She has twice attempted suicide. He tells me that there is no God and that drowning would be better than this. I wonder who will play with the baby.

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14 min 
Essays & Issue Five

Making a stand. By Isobelle Carmody

Tonight the air smelled of rain as I stood in King George Square for one hour, holding a sign over my head protesting the brutal bipartisan practice of off-shore detention. I have done this – somewhere in Australia or overseas – for more than 150 days, much of it consecutive.

The question I am most often asked is why I do it.

Why me?

I am a writer of fantasy. I spend my time in imagined worlds. I have won book of the year twice. I have mainstream publishers waiting for manuscripts and a dozen smaller deadlines for articles breathing down my neck. I am trying to complete a PhD. I have thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook. But I stand, deliberately anonymous, a lone person with a sign.

The seeds of the answer lie in the protest at the Lady Cilento Hospital in Brisbane, centred on the refugee baby Asha and her mother. One night I was home in Brisbane, where I am living while I complete my PhD at UQ. I saw a tweet saying a few people were gathering at the hospital in solidarity with Doctors blocking the Immigration Department’s attempt to deport the baby back to a detainment camp on Manus Island. The tweet urged people to join those protesting. The thought of a baby being sent to off shore detention sounded unthinkable to me. I said I was tempted to join the protestors but I was about to make dinner.

‘I can make my own dinner,’ my daughter said. ‘Go.’

I didn’t know the way, I didn’t have a car and it was late at night, but I found my way there via public transport and a bit of walking around, only to see five people in the empty square beside the hospital, one kneeling on the ground making signs. I thought how absurd they looked. I felt I ought to go home and get on with real life. It was silly to join these few strangers in what was clearly a lost cause.

And yet.

And yet there was something so irresistibly quixotic in their minimal presence. I felt a rush of love for these people with their mad courage and decided to be with them in solidarity. I crossed the road to join them that night, never knowing I was crossing the Rubicon, and that there would be no going back.

I returned hope at dawn, and slept a few hours before undertaking normal life. I went back every night thereafter to protest all night long, when the blazing sun set and the day watch wearied, went home, or rolled themselves in sleeping bags.

Sometimes, being naturally insomniac, I was the only one awake while all the world slept, and I sometimes looked up at the windows of the hospital imagining Asha’s mother, silently pacing, the baby sleeping safe, oblivious to us or Peter Dutton and the Border Force guards, the Media and the Oligarchs who own and manipulate it. I thought of how it had been to be in hospital after giving birth to my daughter; the quiet purposefulness of the nurses, the Coca-Cola and mars bars they consumed to stay alert.

Some nights, people came by wanting to know what we were doing. One night two drunk foreigners who had passed in a taxi, came back with alcohol and chips. We accepted the chips, refused the alcohol, explaining it might be enough to have the police move us along. One my one, the other protestors slept, until I was the only one awake. I spent an hour trying to answer their questions, correct their misapprehensions, encourage them to look up information for themselves. They sobered slowly, and by the end, leaving, both of them hugged me. After they went away, leaving me feeling exhausted but content, several of the ‘sleepers’ applauded.

The number of protestors grew. People all over Australia and beyond began sending pizzas and coffee. I was dazzled perhaps because I had seen- been part of- the tiny seed of resistance that grew and grew until politicians came to talk to us, the media turned up with cameras, and we had to ask people not to toot in solidarity because it would disturb the patients. Sometimes, parents of children in hospital came out to talk with us. Once, a protestor drove a terribly distressed mother home, when she realised there were no more buses.

It was a potent experience for a person in whom the lonely, often frightened child of primary school years still resides.  As a teenager locked in my sense of being an outsider, I had watched friendship groups form and fall apart, envying the friendship but not the conformity that seemed to be required by it. But this solidarity I found at Lady Cilento was something else entirely.  It was not about us and our needs and wants. It was all those people, standing day by day in defence of the human rights of an unknown asylum seeker and her injured baby. We never saw Asha or her mother in all that time. Not once. Not then and never since, even though we won to the extent that they are still in community detention on a bridging visa that could be snatched away at any time.

So does the Government silence the oppressed among us, preventing them telling us their stories, or anyone else’s.

It didn’t matter that we did not see her. Asha stood for all the oppressed and broken, all the lost souls crushed under the oppressive neoliberal world that cared nothing for ordinary people like us, let alone desperate traumatized seekers of asylum like Asha’s mother. We were standing for them, and for ourselves.  We were not sitting at home wringing our hands. We were acting.

The fact that we were supporting the doctors inside, and the nurses, who were getting in the way of the immigration department, gave us a gravitas that drew many to the protest who might otherwise have turned away.

There were people from all walks of life, and for the days that the protest lasted, we lived and existed in that small space, enduring one another’s differences, enlivened and inspired by one another. I remember thinking how seldom in life you ever feel so potently that you are in the right place at the right time doing the right thing as strongly as I did, during that protest. And it was not only me. Everyone who took part in that protest was changed by it, and many, like me, were inspired to a higher level of activism.

It was not only that we were protecting Asha and her mother. Not only that we succeeded in stopping her from being deported. It was that I saw up close how our protest inspired hope and even a fierce rebellious joy in a time when people were hungering for justice and courage in a world that seemed to be arranged to take care only of the rich and powerful; When poverty was judged a moral failing, and people seeking rightful asylum were branded by a thousand names designed to demonise them, so that they could be pushed into off shore detention camps.

Before Lady Cilento I had felt frightened, depressed, helpless and hopeless.

The feeling that I could not change anything led me often to despair.

I did not imagine how taking part in that protest would empower me, give me a way to act that embodied my ideals and anger and outrage, my abilities. I did not know that it would set that frightened child inside me free.

I did not know where it would lead.

I started standing alone with my sign, protesting off shore detention almost a year later, during the final days of the siege of Lorengau on Manus Island. A siege that was, conveniently, and late, found to be illegal by the PNG High Court. Ever since the Lady Cilento protest, I had kept an eye on the situation on Manus Island. So I was informed and I watched on social media as refugees refused to leave in the countdown to closure, protesting their removal to another camp, which we now know was not complete, not adequate to the needs of the people who would be put there, and not big enough to hold all of them. In addition, it was situated in the midst of enraged locals on Nauru, and island about the size of Tullamarine airport.

Their refusal to leave was regarded by many Australian as pointless and puzzling, even ungrateful, due to a media blitz of misinformation representing the ‘new accommodation’ as unthinkably lavish, and refugees as undeserving. The media presentations of the desperate protest might as well have been choreographed by the increasingly powerful, increasingly oppressive Department that had since morphed into Peter Dutton’s empire. We know now from a hundred reports and eye witness accounts that everything the refugees feared was correct. The UN has condemned us over and over, accusing Australia of serious human rights violations.

I watched in horror as power and water were cut and the camp was inexorably dismantled around sick, traumatised, desperate refugees protesting with the only thing they had – their bodies. I was packing to fly to Oregon to do research for my PhD and knew I would be on the other side of the world when the last day came. I felt suffocated imagining how those refugees, innocent people trapped for years, now being forced from one camp in to another, knowing they were hated by locals, with no end to their captivity in sight.

The night before I flew, I posted in despair that all of us who opposed offshore detention should just go into a public place and sit down and refuse to shop or work or move, until the inhumane practice was ended. If there were enough of us, no politician could stand against us. Someone responded saying that Australians would never bother.

A stubborn furious outrage flared up in me, and yet here was I about to fly away. Impulsively, I posted that I would make a sign and stand with it alone, then, in Oregon.  I didn’t care if it was pointless and mad. I had to do something.  I flew to Oregon and in between doing my research while the archival library was open, tweeting and posting my support for the besieged refugees, I made a sign accusing Australia of humanitarian abuses on Manus and Nauru and stood for an hour a day with it somewhere in public. I posted a daily picture of myself on Facebook and Twitter, doing it and related any conversations I had as well as information about the siege.

It was not easy to stand alone with a sign far from home, yet I felt that in a small way, I was sharing in the vulnerability of the refugees.

Of course, people there wondered what on earth I was doing. I told them: ‘I am accusing my country. I want the world to accuse them. I want them to stop off-shore detention.’

‘I didn’t know Australia was like that,’ one woman memorably said. ‘I thought it was better than that.’

Returning home after a month away, seeing the ever worsening situation in off shore detention, I made a new sign and went out into Brisbane somewhere public, day after day, standing for an hour. I made no overtures. I answered questions asked by passer-by’s and I kept myself informed, so that I could do that efficiently. I urged people to check for themselves and let me know if I was wrong. I had also realised that people were using my Facebook page and twitter site as an information hub about the refugees and I wanted to offer up to date information.

Some days I could not stand. I took to carrying the sign with me as I did the things I had to do on those days. I carried it on buses, along streets, to the pool, to cafes and movies and even to the doctor. Incidental activism I called it, recommending it to people. I had hundreds of conversations with people who wanted to know what the sign meant, why I was carrying it. People took photos to post and asked if they could hug me, they smiled and nodded and told me it was hopeless but applauded my stand. Most seemed to agree that off shore detention was an abomination, and those that disagreed always did so in Government approved language.  ‘Queue jumpers’, ‘economic refugees’.

Sometimes those that disagreed, told me I was brave. That seemed a kind of triumph because it played against the government’s attempts to demonise activists and advocates, because they would not silence us. Surprisingly few strongly disagreed, which surprised me. People often told me stories about their parents coming to Australia, their friends having visa problems with for partners or children, someone they knew who had been a refugee, immigrant, a person seeking asylum.

‘What can I do?’ I was asked often and earnestly. It was not a rhetorical question but I had no answer.

‘Something,’ I said. I say.  ‘Do something.’

One day out front of the Convention Centre during SupaNova a security guard ordered me away, saying he had been a guard on Manus Island. Chilled at the thought, I pointed to the dozens of people sitting or standing on the steps in costume and refused. More security guards were summoned. I was told that I had to get off the steps because they said so. It didn’t matter if other people were there. Intimidated, humiliated, uncertain of my rights I went to the taxi rank opposite and for the first time, held the sign defiantly above my head, facing the steps. People coming streaming the steps stared and pointed and came to ask me what I was doing. I realised I was far more visible than when I had sat modestly on the step with the sign resting on the ground.

Since then, I protest standing, holding the sign over my head. In the beginning my arms trembled. Sometimes with fatigue, sometimes with fear. I don’t listen to music. I stay focused. I think about the refugees and any new information I have learned, how it fits with the other things I know. I compose the thoughts I will post that night, along with my proof of life picture.

The hour I stand is often eventful in small vivid ways. I am a magnet for crazy and angry and sad. Often refugees on temporary visa come to thank me and say they dare not stand with me because they might be deported. One night a young man sniffing a can of what seemed to be underarm deodorant stared at me with dead strange eyes. I can still smell the horrible sweetness of the stuff bubbling down his arm.

The day before Christmas Eve, I stood in the Queens Street Mall, as I had done before.  My sign asked people to think about the refugees, some children about to spend their fourth Christmas on Manus Island or Nauru. Two security guards ordered me to leave. I refused.  I was doing none of the things listed in the bylaw they were citing. The security men fined me anyway, then called the police to remove me.  The police came and threatened me with arrest if I refused to go. They pointed out that I would not be arrested for disobeying the bylaw but for refusing to obey the police – this was a different and more serious charge. Unsure of my rights and due to fly out of the country the next day to spend Christmas with my daughter and partner, I did not dare to let them arrest me, though I despised myself for not standing my ground.

But I did not pay the fine and notified the Council of my intention to contest the charge. Recently, I went to court for what is called a Mention. That is, the charge is read out by a judge and I say not guilty. Then I am given a date for the real court case. That case will come up in late July.

Sometimes when I stand, I feel lonely and the words of those well-meaning friends who doubt the value of what I am doing weigh me down. Yet there is never a day or night I stand, when I don’t have people tell me they agree. More importantly. standing stops me feeling that sick, helpless hopelessness I once felt. I had always felt myself to be a bit of a coward, but after all these months I know that although I am often nervous or afraid, I can make myself brave.

I have discovered, too, that it is not I who am confronted by all those people coming towards me. Theyare confronted by me. And it is not I who look away.

I have read so much in the faces that pass that I will use as a writer. And I know that whatever it is that makes me a writer, makes me write the things I write, comes from the same part of me that is outraged at the injustices being authorised by our politicians for the sake of votes, and accepted by Australians so frightened of everything that is not them.

But the most important thing I have learned is that there is hope. Because in standing, I am hope. And I am not alone.