Monthly Archives: December 2013

Boat People Stories

Some of them didn’t have a choice. Keziah came to Australia alone as a teenager after being abused and prosecuted by the rich family she was a servant to. She met her husband William after arriving – he had been here already for two years after a series of circumstances beginning with his need to steal food in order to survive. Hannah was forced to leave her two young sons behind and never saw them again. James was fleeing from conscription into a war that he didn’t want to fight.

Others made the choice to come because they wanted a better life for themselves and their children. William was a baker by trade, Thomas a shoemaker. Eber was involved in the now-hated practice of whaling but still we let him in.

Some died on the rough sea journey. Jane arrived with her father after watching her mother and two brothers die on the way. Some had people help pay the huge costs to those who owned the boats they came on. Thomas could even be seen as a “people smuggler” given that he was in charge of bringing a ship full of poor people who didn’t want to come.

These are the stories of my family. My family came to Australia as boat people. It’s just that these boat journeys took place between 1788 and 1840. Did my family members all come with the proper travel documents? Did they all have the permission of those living in Australia at the time? Were they all worthy, deserving, acceptable people? Some. Perhaps. Maybe. No. Did the people who were already living here get to decide who came and under what circumstances they came? Certainly not.

Boat people. Two simple words. One describing a method of travel and the other the common humanity we all share. Two words that could describe the majority of people who have come to this country throughout its history.

And yet it seems today these two simple words together make a phrase that is used to imply all kinds of other things. Unwanted. Different. Threatening. Illegitimate.

Why are the people who travel this way today seen so differently? What gives me the right to make judgments about their suitability to live here when I am only here because nobody made those same judgments about my family members?

I understand the issues are not quite as simple as they once may have been. (On the other hand, some of the issues of the past were far worse). But people are people, whatever time period they are living in. What makes us so arrogant in 2013 to think that suddenly we have the right to treat people in ways which our families were not treated when they came in the same way?

I’ve enjoyed researching my family history over the past few years and learning some of the stories of those who came before me. I’ve discovered that every single member of my family who was not born in Australia came here by boat. I’m wondering what that means for me, and what the impact of me telling my story using these words is. Does it change how I respond to the stories I hear in the media about those who are defined by the way they come today? Should it?

I think about the stories I am hearing of real people, people with hopes and dreams just like my family members had, people who have made difficult decisions and difficult journeys. People who have travelled here by boat. People who are locked up and treated as criminals, as nothing. People who are demonised and politicised. And I wonder, what will it take for us to see them as people just like my family? As people just like me? How can we even begin to have a conversation in this country about this issue unless this is our starting point?

UPDATED: I’ve just discovered our former Governor General and High Court Justice Sir William Deane has this week urged Australians to do just this: reflect on our own migrant histories. See this article. I’d love to hear your story too – do you have boat people in your family tree? What do you know about their stories? Does that change how you think about those who come by boat today? Should it?

Today would be a nice day to be in Port Douglas

DSCN8143

I’ve just got back from overseas so it’s a little more difficult than a usual Monday morning to imagine somewhere else I would like to be. It’s pretty good to be home. But if I didn’t have to go to work today, a day relaxing on a beautiful beach does sound lovely …

DSCN8148

I have tended to make most of my travels to places which are either big cities with lots of history, culture and events to take in, or to places where I can serve and learn from different cultures, ways of expressing faith, and experiences of life. So Port Douglas was a real change of pace for me. I spent a week there nearly three years ago and to be honest I did get a little bored by the end. But it was an absolutely beautiful place to relax for a bit, and a day there would be a wonderfully nice change of pace this morning.

DSCN8164

What did I love about Port Douglas and its surrounds?

DSCN8178

The colours. Photos just don’t quite do them justice. The incredible variety of shades of blue in the ocean and the sky, the greens of the tropical trees and lush rainforests, the whites and yellows of the sand. And of course the incredible colours of marine life at the Great Barrier Reef.

DSCN8247

The space. Walking the beach at night with no one around for miles. Swimming and snorkelling in the ocean so far away from the cares of the world. Climbing the mountains on the scenic railway up into the misty clouds.

DSCN8197

The pace. Slowing down and taking time to see, smell, hear and soak it all in. Relaxing. Not worrying about what was happening next.

DSCN8307

What did I learn from my time there?

DSCN8352

About myself, well, that I do like to be busy and learn and grow and experience new things. Weeks of lying on a beach somewhere doing nothing is never going to be my thing. But, I appreciate that I also need to slow down sometimes, to just take time to breathe deeply and to simply be. To worship. To remember that the world will keep spinning without me. That walking alone on the beach at night is a great time to pray and hear God speak into my life  – to be still and know that He is God. (Which reminds me that I need to do that more often even when I’m at home!)

DSCN8326

I also went to church at the beautiful (and tiny) St Mary’s by the Sea Chapel and met people from all over the world who were in town that Sunday. We prayed for each other and shared something of our stories, a really special experience of coming together for a brief moment, aware of the cares of our lives and yet able to entrust them to our great God’s keeping in one another’s presence, and to worship Him for His presence and goodness right then and there.

DSCN8176

And finally, it was on my last night in Port Douglas that my niece was born. I spent a couple of hours late that night praying on the beach – praying for her birth, her life, her faith, her journey, her parents, our wider family. So as she continues to grow, Port Douglas reminds me to keep praying for her, and that one of those prayers can be that she too will find places which help her be still and know God’s presence in the moment.

DSCN8160

Some thoughts on air travel and human behaviour …

Despite my best intentions, I’ve ended up having a break from blogging while I was away. I wasn’t even able to do my usual Monday travel post this week as I didn’t have a Monday – it was lost somewhere between LA, Sydney and the International Date Line. But spending plenty of time in airports and planes this past week has got me thinking a little bit …

I often think that flying can bring out some of the less attractive sides of human behaviour (mine included). Put a large group of people into the confined space of a plane for more than a few hours and many of us seem to become a bit passive-aggressive, self-focused and/or self-righteous. From people not getting things right in the security queue to the race for overhead compartment space, the challenges of silently negotiating elbow room and knee space, and the scramble to stand up and get off asap … everyone is in a hurry and everything everyone else does is a potential inconvenience. It can feel like flying is a competitive sport, and not necessarily a friendly or non-contact sport at that!

And yet here is what I find really interesting. While all the insignificant inconveniences of air travel are often responded to as if they were major problems, when something actually does go wrong, the whole mood changes. When my flight was delayed for hours due to the snow, strangers in the waiting area starting talking to one another, sharing the latest up to date information, asking one another about connecting flights and onward journeys, even sharing food. When Dallas/Fort-Worth airport was shut down overnight and 4000 people stranded, the airport brought in cots, food and even clowns and face painters. While it may not have all been fun, we can imagine the sense of “we’re all in this together.” Thankfully I’ve never been in a plane that has had to do an emergency landing, or worse a crash, but the stories told from those kind of circumstances are usually ones of people working together, helping one another, supporting, encouraging and caring.

So here is my question. Is one of the key differences between a classic “first world problem” and a true experience of distress that the former tends to isolate us from one another and make us judgmental of those around us; whereas the latter somehow brings people together? I haven’t thought this through so I may well be wrong. But the idea that suffering somehow paradoxically can create community is certainly one that is biblical. Whereas what we in the modern world can sometimes perceive as “suffering” (but is really just inconvenience) can often have the opposite effect. And what does this say about us and our contemporary culture?

These are just the musings of a tired and jet-lagged brain, so I’m very open to hearing how this theory may actually not hold up, but it has certainly got me thinking. What do you think?

Finally, if you haven’t seen this yet, here is the feel good flying story of the year … WestJet’s “Christmas Miracle” happened the same day I was flying home. I guess I picked the wrong airline!!