Instead of taking a break at Christmas, we decided to keep our vigil going throughout the vacation period. “After all,” Marion Gevers, one of our members pointed out to us, “People on Manus and Nauru don't go on holidays.”
Of course our numbers dropped in January. These were hot and busy days but we managed to maintain a core of protestors. We are a motley group made up of members of the Grandmothers, Amnesty, The Hunter Asylum Seeker Awareness Group, Quakers and Christians for Peace. We stand holding our banners or our placards, a reminder to people walking or driving past us in King Street, of the continuing plight of asylum seekers in our offshore detention centres.
By the end of January, we vigil keepers were feeling weary and despondent, lacking the energy even to urge those passing by to sign one of our petitions. Then without warning, the following letter arrived:
My name is Cassie (aged 22), and my friend Jackson (24) and I are currently running 4000kms from Cooktown to Melbourne as part of a project we've called Bounding Plains to Share. For every day that we run, we share the story of someone who came to Australia as a refugee or migrant and has settled in or around the area we're running through that day. To see some of the stories and our daily updates, please take a look at our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/boundingplains2share/. We're also fundraising for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.
We've now run 2350kms in 54 days, and we're currently in Valla Beach, northern NSW. We're scheduled to run into Port Macquarie on Thursday morning. We haven't found any refugees or migrants to interview in Port Macquarie, and we'd really love your assistance to do so there, as well as along the rest of our route into Melbourne if possible!
If there are any other ways that RAR [Rural Australians for Refugees] would like to get involved in our project (including running with us or just spreading the word!), please let me know. I understand there are plenty of RAR chapters along the rest of our route through Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (and everywhere in between!).
And since the Bounding Plains to Share team was due to arrive in Newcastle on Thursday 1 February, it seemed an opportune time to invite them to come to our weekly vigil and to join us in a shared picnic in Civic Park afterwards.
What an inspiration for us to meet and talk with these people still in their twenties, so aware of our need to have a wider understanding of the waves of refugee people who have created our rich and varied population!
I was particularly impressed with their sensitivity to the feelings of people they did not agree with. “We knew, when travelling in Queensland,’ said Cassie, ‘that many of the people we met would have been supporters of Pauline Hanson. We didn’t want to confront them.
“Exchanging the stories of local migrants has been a good way to encourage a conversation,” Jackson explained to us. ‘If we can gently nudge people, helping them to see the possibility of considering refugees differently, then we are achieving a great deal.”
Cassie and Jackson stayed a night in Newcastle, and intended to head for Sydney the next day. They aimed to be back in Melbourne, arriving at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray by 2 March.
Their visit has reinvigorated us. And as one of the Newcastle Grandmothers against Detention of Refugee Children, I feel heartened that there are people, the age of our own grandchildren, taking up the cause of justice for refugees with such enthusiasm and wisdom.