In 1950 the first of a new series of children’s books was published. By 1956 the series was complete. The first book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, has gone on to become a children’s classic. In this series, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” C. S. Lewis introduced us to a world within a world, to Narnia, first accessed through a wardrobe in a spare room of an old country house during World War II. The “Chronicles” allow us to journey initially with four children who go on to live two lives, one of the ‘normal’ English childhood and the other as kings and queens of Narnia.
To chronicle something is to give an orderly account of a series of events, generally events that are out of the ordinary. Over the next few weeks I will be chronicling a ‘more than ordinary’ series of events in my life, in an attempt to bring some sense to them.
When I first went to Nauru I signed a confidentiality deed with the Australian Government, represented at the time by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Penalties for breaking this code may include fines and imprisonment. The main purpose of this confidentiality deed is to inhibit the transfer of information, especially that which the government may see as damaging to itself or its operations.
I willingly and naively signed that confidentiality deed because I trusted our government to act humanely and with compassion, as that is what I believe lies at the heart of our Australian psyche. I didn’t know that doing so would place me in a position where increasingly there would develop a clash between what I held to be ethical and humanitarian behaviour and the limitations the government placed on being ethical and humanitarian in off-shore processing at Nauru and Manus. In these “Chronicles” I will endeavour to honour that agreement. But as I will be chronicling my responses to different situations and experiences there may be instances when that agreement is breached. So be it.
So welcome to “The Chronicling of Nauru.”
When I first volunteered to assist The Salvation Army in its Humanitarian Mission Services on Nauru I only put my hand up because I couldn’t think of a reason why not to! I didn’t have a burning desire to work with refugees. I didn’t especially want to work in a third world situation. I never saw myself as working for the government. I certainly didn’t think I would cope well with tropical conditions. But in the end I did all of these and more.
On the first day there I woke up and thought, “Oh my goodness. I’m here for a month! What have I let myself in for?!” Little did I know on November 6 2012 that I was embarking on an experience that would become the most significant of my working career, which would change me beyond measure, and in which my heart would be broken both for those who were seeking asylum and for my nation.