August 30th 2007
Paddlers heading to "excised" Magnetic Island
In 1846 when shipwrecked seaman James Morrill washed ashore at Cape Cleveland - just opposite Magnetic Island - the local Aboriginal people took him in as a returned (from the dead) member of their own society. Thus began a period of seventeen years for "Jemmy" of living with and being accepted and becoming a trusted member of the clan. But if "foreign" survivors were to be washed ashore today on Magnetic Island they may well be welcomed by the locals but government policy, which has excised Magnetic Island from the Australian migration zone, could still see them forcibly transferred to Nauru.
The hospitality extended by the Australians of this area in the far tougher, wilder time of 1846 contrasts sharply to today's law that, according to a group called Paddling for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PRAS), means northern Australian islands, including Magnetic, have become places where asylum seekers cannot apply for protection under a process with an independent appeals mechanism or one subject to judicial oversight.
Simon Keenan and David Corlett at Christmas Island
PRAS founder, Simon Keenan, and, author of Following them home: The Fate of the Returned Asylum Seekers (Black Inc 2005), David Corlette, have embarked on a sea kayaking journey in and around Australia's excised zones to highlight the plight of people and show evidence they believe demonstrates that this system has led to some being returned to the countries they sought to escape where their human rights have been violated and where some have been killed.
David Corlette told Magnetic Times, "Part of the reason for visiting Magnetic is that it seems bizarre that Magnetic Island, which we, and I think southern Australians consider a cultural icon - a place of our dreams - has been excised for refugee protection purposes."
The pair are also making a film of their paddling adventure which has taken Simon on a 2,226km solo kayaking trip down the Murray River. The couple have already paddled in the waters off Christmas Island and the Cocos Keeling Islands off Western Australia.
In these places and in much of Australia David believes there is little understanding of what excision means. "People generally don't know about excision. They know about tough laws on refugees but when you explain that it can lead to people being returned to real danger, when you talk about the real life situations, it moves away from an impersonal political realm. The consequences are grave. It's not an, 'Oops we made a mistake!' issue. The system needs to be as accurate and effective as it can possibly be. You have to get it right," he said.
Weather permitting David and Simon will depart from Townsville at 10am this Sunday, September 2, and head towards Magnetic where they plan to arrive for lunch and to meet locals at a Picnic on the foreshore at Nelly Bay from about noon onwards. They are hoping to meet locals and talk about the implications of the Island's excision, and seek signatures for a petition asking the Federal Government to revoke their excision laws. They will also be seeking donations and selling items including T-shirts and hoodies to finance their work.
For more information about Paddling for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Click here)
Story: George Hirst
Image of James Morrill (or Murrells) from the book, "White Blackfellows" by Charles Barrett, Hillcraft Publishing, Melbourne 1948