Friday, September 21, 2007

Day 70: Melbourne

The final paddle and the final day of EXCISED. We got in the water at the Maribyrnong River, not far from the Lonely Planet building. Lonely Planet, after all, is an important sponsor of this project! We paddled down the river, passed where the Maribyrnong and the Yarra meet and then out into the bay. En route, we were questioned by a security guard who wanted to know who we were and why we were there. We are a little tired of this. It is fair enough that security folks wanted to know what were up to at Kirribilli. But not when we are paddling kayaks down the river. The security guy said that his need to question us was merely a reflection of the times. But we were hardly being discrete or secretive. It left me wondering how much more hassle you would get if you were of ‘middle eastern appearance’. As we are of ‘middle Australian’ appearance, it did not take much to get back on the water.

We arrived at the Brigidine Sisters in Albert Park where we had hoped to have been met by some local media. In the end, it was a quiet re-entry back to Melbourne. The trip is over.

Thanks everyone for following our journey and for taking the time to learn something about Australia’s policy and practice of excision. The journey has been fun and profound and frustrating and exhilarating. We hope that we have been able to communicate some of this. We now begin work on the documentary film!!! We hope that this will be completed by December, although it will depend on a few things, not least some funding to polish the sound and picture quality.

Stay tuned for when and where you will be able to see the film…..

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day 69: Gundagai - Euroa

Picture this: another crusty night in a public park. It’s raining. It’s cold. (We’re no longer in the tropics!). The trailer looks a lot worse than first expected. We got back to the trailer and jacked it up. Once off the ground the wheel literally fell off. It just toppled over. And in that sense we were so lucky and relieved. Another kilometre or two and we would have watched our wheel whiz past us, sparks shooting out from beneath the trailer, which then would flip, leaving the kayaks just a smudge of coloured plastic on the Hume Highway. So discovering our dilemma in town was fortunate, you might say. But still, we couldn’t believe it…., 2 days from the end of our journey and here we are….still dealing with our bloody trailer!!!

We spent about 5hrs mucking around getting the bearings fixed. We’ve gone over our budget so we have decided (or really have been limited) to a DIY job….well its not quick but it’s a good way to learn! Eventually back on the road and we made it to the Murray River for a dinner stop. In fact, this particularly pleasant dining spot is the place that I spent my first night on my paddle down the river. A nice bit of symmetry!

We’ve driven on and stopped somewhere outside of Euroa for a kip.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Day 68: Kiama – Canberra – Gundagai

The purpose for our stop in Kiama (as well as checking out some lovely NSW coast) was to do some filming in the surf. After waking up in what we thought was a quiet public park, we rose from the tent to find 6 or 7 people/groups all walking their dogs…it was not long after 6:00am! We headed for the surf and upon entering the water the swell seemed to pick up a couple more feet…this was reinforced by all the gun surfers swarming to the beach to be part of the action. Fortunately there were no kayaks seriously dumped and only the 1 capsize I think Dave?

We’ve left the coast – headed inland to Canberra, to do some filming with ‘Big John’ at Parliament House …All innocent – some would say, juvenile – fun. But not for the police at Parliament house. They were fully on our case. What were we doing? Why? And why did I keep smiling at him? This boring tiring pestering was enough to make us want to scream. We had a quick paddle ‘next’ to Lake Burley Griffin… and split.

We drove on to gain some km’s and made it to Gundagai where a truckie in the street whistled out and point to our trailer. We got out. He suggested we better check our wheel bearing. Hmmm, not good. Pretty content with the progress we’d made (we only had 600 odd km’s to go, and a couple days up our sleave)…we decided to leave the trailer in the street and head to the pub for feed. We can deal with it in the morning.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Days 65-68: Sydney

This morning, before we drove to Sydney, we had a brief breakfast-time gathering with some of the West Haven locals interested in asylum seeker issues. As always, it is encouraging to meet people who take the time to think and act for more humane responses to asylum seekers.

We then took off for Sydney. We finally got rid of Maree. She was initially going to leave us in Brisbane, but we are clearly too much fun to be around, so we couldn’t shake her.

Time also for BIG JOHN to go home. He has been with us since Christmas Island and has learnt a whole lot about the human implications of Australia’s response to asylum seekers. It has been a very moving experience for him and for us watching as he has approached this issue with an open heart and an open mind. We paddled out under the Harbour Bridge and passed the Opera House. This is truly a magnificent city. We have been in some beautiful places on this tour and the Sydney Harbour, in its own way, is on a par with those places of incredible natural beauty. We did a short live interview with Virginia Trioli (ABC Sydney morning program) on the water and a JJJ journalist joined us (with the help of John Highfield who met us in his tinny) for the trip. We paddled Big John to Kirribilli where Simon took him to a rock shelf at the base of the Prime Minister’s residence. Unfortunately, Big John got a similar response to being ‘home’ as asylum seekers get when they land in Australia: the powers that be were not so keen to see him! The security guards told us to move away and called the water police. Just as Simon was suggesting that it would be funny if the ‘water rats’ paid us a visit, a huge police boat rounded the point to check us out. They were friendly enough, asking us what we were doing and were interested in the business of excision. To view the report & pictures of this momentous occasion see: Our attempt to paddle Big John Home was reported on JJJ’s Hack program later in the afternoon. You will be able to hear the audio on the website soon.



Early Days

A word from Kerry Nettle

Friday, September 14, 2007

Day 64: West Haven

After a fantastic evening with my friend Judy, and her friends John and Mick, we finally got on the road for West Haven. Again, it felt difficult to get going after hanging out with such great people. A flat battery in the car seemed to indicate that we should stay put. But that excuse was easily overcome. It wasn’t long before we hit a traffic jam – a truck had overturned on the highway. We were stuck for an hour and a half. The day seemed like it was against us. But we had to push on. We were due to meet Elaine and Geoff – and we had to get to Sydney by Saturday.


We finally made it to Elaine and Geoff’s place. As usual, it was an absolute pleasure to see them and to spend some – albeit too little – time.

I first met Elaine and Geoff when I travelled to their house in early 2003 to do some research for the Quarterly Essay that Robert Manne and I wrote. It was during this time that a number of the men on Nauru were on a hunger strike and some had sewn their lips together in a dramatic show of how they felt completely silenced in the system that the Australian government had set up. During this time, Elaine was the conduit between the people on Nauru and Australians. I felt that I was working hard during my time with Elaine and Geoff – I would wake early, work all day, and sleep late. But Elaine was up earlier and asleep later than me. In the middle of this, she would go to work. One of the things that I remember of this time, and I know that it hasn’t always been the way, was the ease with which Elaine and Geoff would laugh. And during the single night that Simon, Maree and I were with Elaine and Geoff there was again plenty of laughter.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Day 63: Byron Bay

From Brisbane to Byron Bay. We had intended to take some surf shots in Byron – the further south we get, the colder the weather is and so we want to get some good images before the ice-bergs start appearing. Alas, there was no surf. So we hung around Byron for a few hours. Not such a bad outcome.

Also heard that 72 of the Sri Lankans who are on Nauru having been intercepted off Christmas Island have been found to be refugees. That is, they have been found to have a well-founded fear of persecution in Sri Lanka. This is a good outcome for those people. But a significant problem remains: Because they have been processed in the offshore system – i.e. the system set up by excision, the Sri Lankans have no automatic right of resettlement in Australia or any other country. The Australian government has said that it will not allow the group to be resettled in Australia. So the 72 must wait while Australia negotiates with other countries to accept them. There is no time limit for these negotiations. So these people, people whose lives have been disrupted and dislocated due to their being the targets of human rights violations, must live in limbo for the foreseeable future, unable to rebuild their lives that have been shattered by the refugee experience.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day 62: Brisbane

Today we paddled along the Brisbane River from Jason and Manon’s place into the city. Jason and a friend of Simon’s, Ali, joined us. We were met at the city end by a Courier Mail photographer. He took some shots and then went on his way. As an indication of how seriously the Courier Mail has taken the issue of excision, it did not send a journalist to meet us and didn’t ask us any questions beyond our press release. It’s difficult not be a little cynical!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Days 59-61: Mackay - Brisbane

Having barely known each other before we embarked on this project, Simon and I have spent the last two months together – day and night, with barely a break. It has, in general (S comments: what do yer mean ‘in general’?????), been easy and fun and interesting. This morning, after spending a night in the car park of a football ground, Big Simon packed his bags and left for Melbourne on a jet plane, don’t know when he’ll be back again….actually, we do know….he’s going to Melbourne to deliver a speech to the students at his old school.

Our last night together before he left was a deeply moving one: we camped in the car park of a football field near the Mackay airport. As we got ready for bed, Simon realised that his phone might not be charged enough for the alarm to go off to wake him for his 6.30 morning flight. He has a ‘travel’ alarm clock, but that is also a little on the unreliable side: it lets off a single, quiet ‘beep’ and that is supposed to wake you up…..

In the end, it did. Simon made it to his flight and our latest EXCISED ring-in, Maree, joined me for a slow, two-day trip to Brisbane where we hitched up with Simon again.


It is feeling increasingly hard to get cracking on the EXCISED project. We have been on the road and water for two months. It has been a cracking pace. If we were merely travelling we would have been moving quickly. But we have also been trying to organise and implement a public awareness campaign. The time in the Whitsundays – where our phones were down and we were unable to contact any media – and then a couple of days without Simon in which we leisurely headed south has seemed like a respite from the manic trip that we have undertaken. It has felt great. But it has also left me feeling like I am needing to find some extra energy to get back into the project. Heading into Brisbane and on to a public function feels like walking up a steep hill after a pleasant stroll in the woods!


Well Simon was there at the airport as arranged. Picked him up and headed for Jason and Manon’s place. They live near the Brisbane river, not far from the city. They are involved heavily in West Papuan issues. In fact, Jason, through his involvement with the Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights, and the Refugee Action Collective organised a small public gathering where Simon and I and one of the 43 West Papuans who made it to Cape York earlier last year spoke.

In January 2006, a small boat with 43 West Papuans on board arrived at Weipa in Cape York. The group had built their traditional canoe from a single tree and had made the journey from the north of West Papua to the south and then across the Torres Straits. One man described how their engines had failed and how they were lost at sea for five days.

They had made it beyond the excised zone. Indonesia put extraordinary pressure on Australia to reject their asylum claims and to have access to the asylum seekers. In March the Indonesian government was outraged when, in a strong indication that Australia’s refugee determination system had been able to assert its independence in the face of powerful other interests, forty-two of the group were granted protection. Indonesia withdrew its ambassador to Australia and suggested that Australia’s actions would encourage more West Papuans to come here. Indonesia was concerned that Australia – or some within this country – were promoting the West Papuan independence movement, a suspicion that was reinforced by Australia’s role in the enabling of East Timorese independence. The Howard government responded to Indonesian displeasure by announcing a review of the way in which it conducted asylum seeker procedures, with the Prime Minister suggesting a radical measure whereby consideration of the national interest might become part of the protection determination process. In mid-April, the government announced that any future unauthorised boat arrivals, including West Papuans, who made it to the Australian mainland would be processed under the Pacific Solution arrangements (i.e. extraterritorially and outside Australian domestic law). It also announced co-ordinated surveillance activities with Indonesia around the Torres Straits.

In order to make its intentions law, the government introduced the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006 into parliament. The bill would have extended the excised zone to the whole of the Australian coastline – mainland and islands included. It would have meant that any non-citizen to arrive anywhere in Australia by boat (including those airlifted to the mainland after being picked up at sea) would have been ineligible to apply for protection in Australia. Instead, they would have been transferred to an offshore processing centre where they would have been channelled into a protection determination system that is substandard.

In the end, the government withdrew the Designated Unauthorised Arrivals Bill. It had become clear that, despite controlling the Senate, the government would not have the numbers to pass the Bill.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Days 54-58: Whitsundays

Its hard to believe the sacrifices that the EXCISED team has had to make on this journey. Paddling in the Whitsundays might sound to the unaware as an undisguised jaunt. Actually, it was all hard work….or nearly all…..or some….or maybe a little bit.

The Whitsundays are, of course, holiday and cultural icons for Australians needing a break from hectic lives and the cold winters of the south. The pure white beach at Whitehaven which seems to stretch on and on has an international reputation as a tropical paradise. The irony for us is that the Whitsundays are excised from Australia’s migration zone. Although no asylum seeker has landed in this area, the excision zone continues to just south of this island group. Pity all those yacheties, those hip young things on boisterous party cruises, those grey nomads who have stepped away, briefly, from their ‘vans….pity them all if they need to apply for protection from within the Whitsundays.


We have just returned from our brief trip to the Whitsundays. Our time here was great. Lots of fun and lots of beauty. We paddled around Whitehaven and South and North Molle. We then paddled from North Molle back to the mainland. We have exited the excised zone for the last time. The conclusion of this part of the journey reinforces that we are on the final leg of our trip. There is a heaviness to this realisation because the trip has been such a fantastic experience. I don’t want it to end, but it feels like the end is drawing nearer.

From here we travel to Mackay where Simon must leave the project briefly – he has a talk to do in Melbourne so he will fly there and back for a couple of days.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Days 52 & 53: Magnetic Island

The Magnetic Times anticipated our visit with an article that began by telling the story of seaman James Morrill. In 1846 he was shipwrecked at Cape Cleveland just opposite Magnetic Island. The local Aboriginal people welcomed James (“Jemmy”) into their lives and he lived with them for the next 17 years. The article continued: “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 (along with almost 5000 other Australia islands) from the Australian migration zone, could still see them forcibly transferred to Nauru.”

We were met by a small number of Townsvillans (?!?) who escorted us to Magnetic. It was great to have some local company on the paddle. Thanks in particular to Peter Handly of Amesty International (AI) who organised for our sea kayaking companions to join us. We parted company at Pinic Bay and made the final part of our paddle on our own. The seas had picked up and as we past the point, it became just a little challenging. We were told later that our greeting party was about to send out for us at our earlier stop, assuming that we would not be able to make it round the point. As it turned out, we did. And a party it was that greeted us. We were met by a vanguard in a little tiny. There was some threat that the children in the boat could have been thrown overboard. Thankfully, they were in good hands and the threat was averted. The party on land was about 30 adults and an array of kids. They presented us with two visas: Firstly, the ‘John Rudd, Kevin Howard Piss Off Visa’ (to symbolise the response to asylum seekers by the government if they were to land on Magnetic), and then the ‘People of Australia Welcome Visa’ (the visa that our welcoming party would like to extend to such people in need of protection). It was such a warm, generous welcome – the support & exceptional company has charged the batteries for our last long leg…down the east coast. Thanks to everyone for meeting us, and in particular to Mike and Kerry O’Grady for organising and putting us up.

(ps. You’ll have to watch the Visa(s) presentation…it’s a classic!)

We paddled back to Townsville the following afternoon where we were met local newspaper, radio and television journalists. The great work of Jen from AI generated a heap of media interest. From Townsville we took off with the latest member of the EXCISED team, Maree, heading for the Whitsundays.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Days 49 – 51: Darwin – Townsville

We travelled day and night to get to Townsville to Darwin. If we haven’t said it before, this is a bit country! And it is truly beautiful.

Before we left Darwin, Oxfam and A Just Australia released a report that they had written on Australia’s offshore processing system. I wrote a piece that was published in the Age Online about the report:

At what cost protection?

The waters off Christmas Island are remarkable. Beneath the surface, they are alive with tropical fish and coral. From above, the sea is a blue that is at the same time translucent and deep. It was in these waters, six years ago almost to the day, that the Tampa sailed and sat, waiting to offload its human cargo. It is here that children were not, in fact, thrown overboard. These are waters in which people seeking Australia’s protection have sailed and swum, and in some instances, died. It is not far from here that the SIEV X sunk, with the loss of 353 lives.

These are waters that have been central to Australia’s response to asylum seekers over the past decade or so. They are Australian waters. But this is also part of the ‘excised zone’. Christmas Island was one of the first Australian territories to be removed from the migration zone in order to prevent asylum seekers landing there from being able to make a valid visa application.

Instead, such people can be removed forcibly to places like Nauru and Manus Island – or kept in detention on Christmas Island – where they are processed in a protection determination system that is demonstrably inadequate.

A report released this week by A Just Australia and Oxfam Australia called A Price Too High: The Cost of Australia’s Approach to Asylum Seekers documents in painful detail the cost of Australia’s offshore processing system.

The most devastating costs are, of course, human. According to the report, ‘A central concern with the offshore detention of asylum seekers is the destructive mental and physical effects for people detained over an indefinite period. Many asylum seekers have already been through traumatic experiences, facing human rights violations and, in extreme cases, torture or the death of family members, in their home country or while escaping overseas. Their psychological ill-health can be exacerbated by their placement under mandatory and indefinite detention, according to medical studies.’

There is also considerable evidence that asylum seekers have been returned to persecution and other serious human rights violations. My own research with returned asylum seekers in Afghanistan and Pakistan illustrates this. More recent research conducted by the Edmund Rice Centre found that as many as eight Afghans who had been returned by Australia from Nauru may have been killed. According to the Edmund Rice Centre, three children of an Afghan man denied protection in the Pacific Solution were also killed.

This is hardly surprising. The offshore processing system is designed deliberately to exclude the checks and balances that are built into to the onshore system.

For example, in the onshore system asylum seekers whose cases are rejected by immigration department officials can appeal to the independent Refugee Review Tribunal. Between 2003 and 2006, the RRT overturned 92 per cent of immigration department rejections in cases concerning Iraqis and Afghans – the most prominent nationalities of asylum seekers in the Pacific Solution. 3200 people who might otherwise have been returned to situations of persecution were instead offered protection because of the RRT safety net.

There is no such independent appeals mechanism in the offshore process.

The financial cost of offshore processing is also alarming. A Price Too High shows that at least $1 billion has been spent on offshore processing since 2001. This amounts to half a million dollars to process each of the almost 1700 asylum seekers who have been caught in the system since its inception.

It is not merely the bottom line that is concerning. It is also the allocation of funds. Rather than being focused on the future development of countries like Nauru, aid has been directed towards Australia’s immigration outcomes. Increases in Australia’s Overseas Development Assistance have been ‘directly tied to the Pacific Solution on Nauru,’ the A Just Australia/Oxfam report says. According to a former staff member of the official Australian aid agency, aid payments to Nauru are “an unmitigated bribe” to ensure the continuation of the Pacific Solution.

Offshore processing was a radical development in Australia’s response to asylum seekers. It is also the bastard child of a set of policy assumptions that had been developing since the before the Howard government assumed power. It was Labor that established a system whereby asylum seekers who arrived in the country without prior official authorisation were detained – arbitrarily – well away from the major population centres of Australia. The Howard Government’s offshore processing system has reinforced emphatically this sense of asylum seekers being ‘out of sight and out of mind’. It has also ensured that the government’s actions, to the greatest extent possible, are beyond the scrutiny that is fundamental to accountable government. The failures of the offshore system, according to the authors of A Price to High, ‘ultimately undermine Australians’ ability to be confident that a fair and equitable application of the law will occur in their country; they undermine their ability to be confident that governments can be held accountable for their decisions and they potentially damage social harmony and cohesion.’

Taken together, the costs of offshore processing – particularly for those people caught within it – are far too great. It is time to excise the excision laws and to abandon Australia’s offshore processing system.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Days 45-48: Darwin

Thanks to Jean Fenton (NAILSMA), Lorna and Lisa (Amnesty International), and Nic Borgese and Waimei Lee (Melaleuca Refugee Centre) for organising the stall and sausage sizzle at Nightcliff Markets. Haven’t seen any money from you guys, but I’m sure it is about to hit the account.

Spent days at Jean’s place trying to get on top of this project of ours… much to do, but so little time. Although there was enough time to have some fascinating conversations with Jean, including about the failure of the green movement to engage and consult properly with traditional owners regarding issues concerning conservation and local, appropriate economic enterprises.

On the Wednesday, we paddled from Gunn Point to Darwin. Simon and Jean risked life and limb to get the kayaks to water, nearly rolling the car. We did an interview with Darwin ABC and then another with the Sports Factor ( as we paddled between the mainland and Melville Island.

In November 2003, fourteen Turkish Kurds were detected on a boat, the Minasa Bone, at Melville Island near Darwin. After towing the boat 20 kilometres from the island, the government eventually turned them back to Indonesia, claiming that they had not even applied for asylum. This claim later turned out to be false. The government also claimed that it did not matter whether or not they had applied for asylum; Melville Island was excised and because of this, the Kurds were offshore entry persons who could not apply for a visa in Australia. As it happened, the gazetting of the excision of Melville (and Bathurst Island which, together form the Tiwi Islands) occurred after the Kurds had arrived, but because regulations take force from the midnight of the day they are gazetted, Melville Island was effectively excised before the asylum seekers had arrived there. The regulations were subsequently overturned by the Senate, but by then, they had done what they were designed to do – exclude the asylum seekers from being able to claim protection in Australia. The government vowed to find new ways of excising islands from the migration zone.

It is difficult not to view the excision of Melville Island in late 2003 as an entirely cynical act on the part of the government. It turned out that the Kurds’ applications for protection were rejected by the United Nations High Commissioner in Indonesia. Several people in Australia were reportedly linked with the group’s attempt to enter Australia without permission.

In Darwin we lost a big contingent of the EXCISED crew. Richard, Dot, Issie, Leo, Owen, Nadine, Tenzin and Annie all flew south. Thanks to you all for being part of the journey!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Days 41- 44: Derby – Fitzroy Crossing – Kunnnannarrra – Katherine – Darwin

A long day of driving to Fitzroy Crossing was rewarded with a campfire by the river. In the morning we hit the water at Geeky Gorge. Four kayaks, four adults and two children. The river was magnificent, the red banks opening up into the gorge with its rock formations, white and red and grey. The paddle was too short, but we had to hit the road again.

From Fitzroy we stopped briefly at a waterhole where Big John and the rest of us took a cool break from the heat of the day. We drove all day, stopping at sunset at a dusty break to camp the night. We could hear the road trains rushing by all night. In the morning we headed in to Kununurra and to the Mirrima National Park where the so-called mini Bungle Bungles are located. Another breathtaking place on this journey!

Kununurra to Katherine was just one amazing landscape after another. If we had the time, we could have stopped every few kilometres to take photos and footage for the doco. If we had the time!!!! The trip has been a rush from one place to the next since we got on the road. The time on the water has been almost the only respite to this mad pace we have been setting. We have taken on too much for such a short amount of time. And it is frustrating and tiring.

Not long after the sun had gone down we drove into Katherine. We needed to eat and to set up camp. We were all feeling exhausted. But nothing that an evening swim in the hot spring couldn’t fix.

Friday morning: A paddle at Katherine Gorge. Another treat in the EXCISED project. And a break in the crazy pace we have been setting. But again, we had to get on the road too early. This time, heading for Darwin.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Days 39 + 40: Derby to Lennard Gorge and BACK to Derby

The Gibb River Road. The guidebooks say that it is a must if you want to get a real sense of the Kimberly. They also say that it is hard going. A four wheel drive is a must, as is an off-road trailer built for travelling. We have the former. And although our trailer was not built for such roads, we’re confident that it’ll do the job. It was new, having been bought near Adelaide and is ‘Built Tough’. We have also fitted it with four-wheel drive wheels, so that we can interchange all the wheels - car and trailer. We’re as prepared as we could be. And all very excited.

Owen, who had joined us from near Warrnambool for the Kimberly leg, has planned the week we have for the Kimberly. It was going to be slow driving. Short days, punctuated by lunchtime stops at various gorges along the way. Our camping spots have been plotted so that we can set up before nightfall and enjoy the last light of each day to explore the country.


They say that even the best laid plans can come to nothing. And we were only a couple of hundred Ks – five or six hours of driving time when the wheels fell off. Literally. We turned off into Leonard Gorge for a spell and as we slowly moved down the hill towards the parking area the trailer started bucking….violently. Riding it would have tested the best of cowboys and from the revision mirror it looked like it was going to topple over. Getting out, we discovered that one side of the axle had come away from the trailer completely. The left wheel was floating about 30cms further back than it was designed to. We were blocking the road so that no-one could come in or out of the Gorge. Time for some bush mechanics. Luckily for us – none of us is suitably qualified – we were patched up by a fellow traveller. With straps that we use to tie down the kayaks, our momentary saviour tied the axle back into place. We crawled to the carpark and left the trailer, Owen, Nadine, Tenzin and Annie to set up camp and to check out the gorge.

Meanwhile, Simon and I, took off to the nearest community, Imiji. Here we were very fortunate to meet Neville, mechanic extraordinaire who is, it seems, always in demand. He agreed to pick up the trailer and take it to Derby.

We had done all that we could, so we wandered back to camp, stopping along the way for some footage. The country here is stunning. I wonder how it might be possible to capture how amazing it is on the video. There is both the size of the place and the incredible details. There are amazing landscapes accompanied by the widest of skies…you’ll have to watch the ‘excised’ doco!!

Arrived back at camp, had dinner and made Tenzin a birthday cake of sorts – damper cooked in our camp oven. A bit burnt, but a memorable birthday nonetheless.

A dawn swim in the Leonard Gorge. As Neville had said the previous day, ‘There are worse places to have broken down!’ The gorge is awe inspiring. The water is clear and mild. There are some photos of Big Simon that I would love to share with those following the blog, but we would have to move the blog into a different part of the cyberspace.

Neville came by as he said he would, taking the trailer and Simon back to Derby. The rest of the EXCISED team followed, stopping at Windjana Gorge where we saw a bunch of freshwater crocs. It was near Windjana that Pigeon waged a guerrilla campaign against his colonial invaders.

Arrived back at Derby, landing back on Michelle’s door. We weren’t to see the Gibb River Road again. 24 hours later, having had the trailer repaired and a new tyre put on, we took the low road out. Bitumen all the way!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Day 38: Curtin RAAF Base

It is a short distance from Derby to the Curtin airbase. You pass the Prison Tree, a great boab where Aboriginal prisoners were held temporarily in the late 1800s

Further south from the Prison Tree, we came to the Curtin Airforce Base. It was here that in 1999, a detention centre was hurriedly constructed in response to the increase in numbers of asylum seekers arriving without prior government authorisation by boat. Over the years I have read, heard and seen footage of the Curtin detention centre: stories and images of abuse, unrest, and hopelessness.

In late 2002 the Curtin detention centre was closed down. Its remaining detainees were sent to the new high-tech Baxter detention centre, near Port Augusta (see Day 8)

We didn’t get to see the old detention centre. The turn-off warned us that we were entering a prohibited area. We took it anyway, but only got to the front gate which was shut. There was no need to go any further. The remoteness of the place was palpable. Another part in the government’s strategy of keeping asylum seekers well out of the sight and out of the minds of Australians.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Day 37: Broome - Derby

Just a small drive up the road to Derby town where I lived for few months last year. It was a great feeling to be travelling through the boab country and returning to this place and some of its folk…all of which holds a special place – I didn’t realise it left such a permanent mark on me. Made it in time for a quintessential Derby evening pastime… sunset from the iconic jetty – it didn’t disappoint. Michelle was kind enough to put us up (us being 7 people) – a big thank you.

Derby has also played a part in our more recent response to asylum seekers. It was at the Derby police station that Mohammed Kadem, as a 15 year old, was detained with his father and several other men. The group had been brought to the Derby police station as an example to the other detainees at Curtin immigration detention centre. The centre manager, according to Mohammed’s mother, wanted to demonstrate to the rest of the centre’s population should be obedient and docile. Mohammed was extremely traumatised by his two weeks without charge in the lock-up. He soiled his pants and was unable to change them. This was just the beginning of a litany of experiences, under the Australian government’s duty of care, that led to a deterioration of Mohammed’s mental health. By the time he was returned to Iraq (to Iraq, of all places!) he was suffering severe mental illness, had developed a substance addiction and had other chronic health problems. His whole family had imploded. Their story is told in detail in Dave’s book, Following Them Home: The Fate of the Returned Asylum Seekers which you can buy from the Project SafeCom

Friday, August 17, 2007

Days 34 – 36: Broome

Broome…a chance to catch up on operational matters (fix broken equipment, replace tyres, have the car serviced, prepare for the Kimberley roads) as well as a few media engagements and meeting with a few local residents including Paul Lane of the Lingarri Foundation who travelled to Afghanistan in 2006 with the Edmund Rice Centre to investigate and expose the return of Afghans from Australia to serious danger. Tragically some of those returned where killed. It is outrageous to think that these people, already very vulnerable, risked everything to come to Australia to seek protection, to seek a life of safety and freedom, instead they were caught in a highly politicised and inhumane system and eventually forced back to Afghanistan, to their death. I find it hard to stomach…that we are partly responsible for such horrendous outcomes.

The Kimberley is the closest part of the Australian mainland to Ashmore Reef (610km north of Broome) where in August 2006 a small boatload of Burmese was intercepted on their way to Australia in search of protection. The eight men, members of the Rohingya minority group, were taken to Christmas Island before being forcibly transferred to Nauru.

Before attempting to come to Australia, the men had been living in Malaysia – with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ papers, but without the right to settle. In mid-December the immigration department offered the Burmese a deal: They could return to Malaysia on two year temporary residence visas with work rights attached, gain a cash allowance to cover their expenses, and receive an assurance that the UNCHR would be notified if the Malaysians attempted to deport them. Australian officials would process their refugee claims in Malaysia and if accepted as refugees, the men would be eligible for resettlement with their families in Australia under the offshore humanitarian program. The group rejected the offer, citing a lack of faith in the Australian government and fears of returning to Malaysia. The Australian government reiterated that should they chose to remain on Nauru where their protection claims were being processed, they would not be allowed to resettle in Australia even if they were found to be refugees.

In May 2007, the Burmese lodged an application in the High Court on the basis that the process by which their protection visas have been determined is unlawful. The case would be ground-breaking and is a direct challenge to one of the fundamental purposes of excision and offshore processing, namely to prevent asylum seekers from judicial oversight of their cases. The Immigration Department agreed to hear their claims and the processing of these cases still continues.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Days 32 - 33: Port Hedland

Port Hedland is an industrial town. Great heaps of salt grow out of conveyer belts as you enter the place. Steel frames, the colour of rust, mark the skyline. This is different to the past few days in a space that largely has been untouched by human development. But there is something inspiring about the industry of the place. There is a beauty here too.

It was not far from here that in July 2003 a boat called the Hao Kiet, with fifty-three Vietnamese passengers on board, was intercepted. It was initially assumed that the boat had not made it into Australia’s migration zone and that its passengers were therefore ineligible to apply for protection visas here. However, it was later revealed, as the passengers were being sent to Christmas Island – an excised offshore place – that they had indeed reached the migration zone, defined as the low water mark when the tide is out, or a port area. The Hoa Kiet had entered Port Hedland’s port’s limits – which extend 10 nautical miles out to sea. Immigration minister Ruddock was clearly annoyed at the prospect that the asylum seekers would now have access to the established checks and balances of Australia’s refugee protection determination system. For Ruddock, these were ‘complex, time-consuming and expensive arrangements.’ Notwithstanding the change in the legal situation, the government insisted that the group should continue to be removed to Christmas Island as a show that asylum seekers would not be allowed to make it to the Australian mainland. The Hoa Kiet passengers, when assessed by immigration department officials, were denied protection as refugees. However, when they appealed these negative decisions – which they were entitled to do because they had escaped the excised zone – the entire group was found to be genuine refugees after all. Most had been detained for more than two years.

From Port Hedland, we set out for Broome. Not far into the trip, we blew a trailer tyre. We drove into the evening, setting up camp a couple of hours from Broome.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Day 31: Yardie Creek

We met up with Nadine, Tenzin, Annie & the rest of the support crew in the morning and decided to spend the day exploring the area. The geography in the last little bit of our paddle had changed significantly and just inside the coastal land was a huge, tough, harsh ridgeline. Yardie Creek arrives at the sea from its journey through substantial red rock gorge country. The terrain, from a distance, appears to be no different from the harsh desert inland. You would imagine the heat to be unforgiving. The wind also. The red ochre country is perfectly dotted with a pale green bushes, trees and covering. Paddling up the creek and into the gorge we all agreed was truly impressive. I was surprised how close to the coast the gorge actually was. No more than a couple hundred metres down the creek, rock walls on both sides commence their rise and before long you feel like a little spec slowly being consumed by an awesome valley. It felt like something out of the rugged Kimberley. We were escorted up and down the gorge by cheery cockatoos before setting up camp and preparing for the 800km journey to Port Hedland the following day.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Day 30: Ningaloo Reef

We’ve just had 2 days of breathtaking, picturesque paddling sandwiched between Ningaloo Reef and the WA coast. I can’t really articulate the sights our eyes have seen but its been a treat to say the least. Countless turtles and pods of dolphins swimming around our kayaks, moving in and out of the water, doing their thing and totally unfazed by our presence. Stunning colours of the water moving between a rich deep blue to a turquoise light green, and as we moved up the coast we were continually rewarded with postcard sights of the reef, fish darting below our paddles and the fine white sands to our right. BLISS.

We’ve also received much welcomed sponsorship/product support from Roman ( – manufacturers of top quality outdoor equipment. They have just sent us a couple of bivvy bags (which is like a compactable swag) and sleeping mats. The bivvy bags (photo) have been a big success…compact, quick to assemble, effective, and most importantly, looks good! Considering we know very little of bivvy bags (I’d never heard of them before), they have had an immediate impact…after 1st nights sleep, Dave: “I think I’m falling in love with the BIV!’

They were long days of paddling but with such incredible surrounds any pain was numbed. Fortunately the light southerly winds pushed the seas in our direction and moved us a long at a good pace. After 120km our journey finished on a timely deep orange sunset which fell into the ocean just as we arrived in Yardie Creek.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Day 29: EXCISION ZONE: Latitude 23 degrees south

We camped at the 23 degrees south latitude and were treated to a big wide sun setting into the ocean last night. Whilst I slept right on the beach to the sounds of lapping water, Dave spent the night up on a dune as he was expecting an early morning call for an interview with 3CR (Melbourne)… and it was… 4 in the morn our time!!

I woke up to the sight where, to my left (south), anybody arriving on an Australian island by boat seeking protection could lodge a valid visa application in Australia, thus having access to the onshore processing system (and its various safeguards). However if a boat was to land on an island to my right (north), the asylum seeker on board would not have access to the above system and supports and can be forcibly removed to places such as Nauru & Papua New Guinea – being processed through the offshore system.

Being here, looking to my left and right, it feels absurd that legislation like this can exist… purely to prevent asylum seekers coming to Australia. Most of these islands are considered to be Australia for every other aspect…Australian’s have lived there ever since the country has existed, we are happy to extract natural resources to benefit economically, etc etc but for this above reason it seems like it is not considered to be truly Australian?? I find it bizarre that this exists…that it can be allowed to happen…that parts of Australia can be removed from the country to suit a particular purpose. It’s like we want to play both sides of the fence…and in the middle vulnerable people are unfairly trapped, damaged and broken…and I wonder, how do we feel about being responsible for such human suffering??

Days 28: Coral Bay (Ningaloo Reef)

Our 120km paddle along the North West Cape commenced at Coral Bay, which on arrival, appeared to be the snorkelling Mecca of the west. This so called ‘tiny, chilled out’ place was absolutely bumpin’ with tourists, 4wd’s, caravans and their share of grey nomads. Parking on the beach we packed our kayaks with sufficient supplies for a few days as well as all the necessities that real kayakers require…fishing lines, snorkels/fins, spear gun, and BIG JOHN.

The purpose for kayaking this stretch was to enter the EXCISED waters off the mainland. The excised/unexcised boarder is at 23 degrees south latitude which is not far north of Coral Bay. Farewelling the support crew after a quick lunch (Dave’s family & a small group of friends who’ve joined for this leg to Darwin), we paddled off into the glare of the hot WA sun. Happily leaving behind the tour boats and the Coral Bay masses, we paddled around Maud’s Landing and soon found our space in a paradise. The afternoon paddle of about 20km finds us at 23 degrees south… a place of great significance to those arriving by boat seeking protection, and as the sun sets today a place of extraordinary beauty. It couldn’t feel more contrasting. And much like the issue of EXCISION, which is unknown by most Australians, this place feels relatively untouchable/inaccessible by most. With its beauty, it doesn’t really feel like this is, or could, or should, be that place of such significance.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Days 25 – 27: Perth – Coral Bay

It was difficult to leave the hospitality of Linda and Hossein. We had a lovely time hanging and chatting with you both. Thanks for letting the EXCISED entourage invade your lives, your floors and your washing machine for a few days and nights!

We’re running a tight ship…well trying to, especially when it comes to our itinerary. About 1400kms to be travelled over 2 days plus a little sight seeing! As can imagined they were long days & nights…and it was at the end of night one, after visiting the remarkable pinnacles and journeying on to Monkey Mia (adding an additional 300km to the trip to play with the famous dolphins – as documented in the definitive travel book ‘Are we there yet?’), that we got bogged in an off road sand dune at 2:30 in the morning…it was a little hard to see where we were going! Leaving the problem til morning light we found ourselves digging our way out for a few hours and missing the dolphin show. We cut our losses, not visiting MM, and got back on the road to drive straight through to Coral Bay with the highlight being the stunning native flora lining the road.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Day 24: Fremantle – Project SafeCom gig

‘Big ups’ to Jack Smit from Project SafeCom for organising an EXCISED function at Kulcha in Freo. Thanks Jack. You can check out Project SafeCom’s website which is jam packed full of interesting stuff on It was fantastic to hear some great music, too. Thanks to Blac Blocs and Airport City Shuffle ( donating their time and creativity to the EXCISED project. Another highlight of the gig was Allan Boyd’s performance of a poem he had written about excision. Here it is:

under the stark imperfect structures, the halogen glare, we gather to kill the states of industrial gauge dispossession. the black sky a rigid scar of Christmas, a fence in the barbed wire sea.

here brother you have the right to perpetual desertion, disparity, dysfunction for certain, you and yr family in the wet salt face, the constant rumble of a diesel toxicity - the fossil peak drowning in a bat shit mountain, a shattered dreaming, a tattered cloth, a photograph of sisters lost. and the roll roll roll as the nights heave closer to the excised zone - yr neck deep in jargon, a slight of the razor hand, and they slash n slice into race, they turn people into gates. our messages lost in the hegemonic trail of glass and fire. a tragedy in one foul act an outright victory a cousin on ice, on fire on fire on fire - and this week the riot is funded by the government the nearest broken computer, a missing key on a calculator - and I'll see you later, he said, his face crooked with rage. and the batons in yr back as you approach the doors, the pack thinning to trickles, the horses high and hostile. and they spilled over the metal in droves, scaling the bloody walls, the children tossed to running doctors and lawyers and mothers and brothers and sisters and fathers. and the setting desert sun, the thin orange dust in yr teeth. the star maps of this journey, this paddling farce, to reach an open door, a concrete crack.

and in the bitter forests of 5000 islands we sing as the ripple of oar to ocean tears a new path, the rainbows chased us to the ridges, to the fences the fences.

Allan also designed the flyer for the gig and we thought it was too funky not to show you all.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Day 16 - 22: Christmas Island

It feels like we are on a strange, macabre odyssey. We have just returned from Christmas Island and, as well as meeting some fantastic people - thanks Robyn, Lyn, Margaret and Charlene - we visited some of what I think are and will become sacred sites for Australians. This is a frontline of Australia’s response to asylum seekers and refugees. Before the excision laws of 2001, thousands of asylum seekers passed through Christmas Island before being brought to the mainland where they were detained until they were granted protection or removed from the country.

It was here that the Tampa came and sought to offload the asylum seekers it had rescued at Australia’s request. It was off these shores that the children were not thrown overboard and that the SIEV X sunk.

The waters here are remarkable. They are a deep blue; they seem to absorb the light from the sun, and reflect it back, becoming luminous. We paddled and snorkeled in excised waters; waters that asylum seekers and refugees who have sought protection in Australia have sailed in, swum in, and in some instances, died in. (The photo here is us paddling in Flying Fish Cove.) We heard the stories of the asylum seekers who had passed through here and of the ways in which the local community has supported them. We saw the new, multi-million dollar, high security detention centre that is being built here. The government, having commissioned the new facility clearly endorses it. The Australian Labor Party has said that it will scrap the Pacific Solution, but will maintain excision. It will process asylum seekers caught in the excised zone on Christmas Island. This is a place of extraordinary beauty, great people, but which is being used by our political leaders as a place in which the nation’s dirty work can be done out of sight.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Day 15: Perth – Cocos (Keeling) Islands

The Cocos Islands are a picture perfect tropical paradise complete with white sand, coconut trees, perfect weather, warm, clear water. And they are fascinating. The island we are on, West Island, is home to 120 people most of whom have come from mainland Australia. On the airstrip at West Island is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Hercules. The strategic location of this place nearly 3000km north west of Perth means that it is an ideal stop-off point for RAAF planes heading to and from the Middle East. Australians who have served in the Iraq war stop here and get drunk before making the final leg of their journey back to peace.

The Cocos are also perfectly placed as a base from which to survey Australia’s waters for boats that may be here without official approval. This includes the boats of asylum seekers.

There is a quarantine area on the island where the elephants that ended up in Australia from Thailand were brought. And before them, small numbers of asylum seekers were housed there.

Home Island, another of the islands in the Cocos group, is home to 450 other Australians. The ancestors of the Cocos Malays were brought to these islands eight generations ago. Until the late 1970s, the Cocos Islands were owned and run by the Clunies-Ross family. The Cocos Malays lived in a feudal existence under – denied freedom of movement, paid in plastic money that could be redeemable only in the Clunies Ross-owned store, and prevented from meeting outside visitors. They lived an isolated existence where their commitment to Islam flourished and where they spoke an old Malay Trading language of the East Indies. Even now, as they have become more integrated into the wider world, the Cocos Malays seem keen to maintain a life that is quite separate from that of West Island.

This is the first time we have made it to the excised zone. The flight to Christmas Island stops over at Cocos and we squeezed in 24 hours here. The Cocos were removed from the migration zone as part of the original excision of 2001. This means that any asylum seeker who lands here cannot apply for protection in Australia except with the express permission of the immigration minister. They can also be forcibly removed to places like Nauru where a demonstrably flawed protection determination process is in place.

We met a guy on here who had been a detention centre guard all over the country – in Curtin near Derby, in Baxter at Port Augusta, in Woomera and at Villawood in Sydney. He even said that he had been to Nauru. When we first met him, we were struck by his easy smile and his gentle demeanour. He seemed like the sort of bloke it would be easy to like. After a few drinks, he began telling us about his views of asylum seekers. He told us that ‘Arabs are c—ts.’ He knew this because he had guarded them. He told us that at Curtin, the asylum seekers had set fire to new accommodation for detention centre staff. I recall the unrest throughout the whole detention system that during the early 2000s as desperate asylum seekers began clocking up years of being detained there without having committed a crime and with no sign of release. When I asked our friend why he thought the asylum seekers would have set fire to the detention centre, his reply came quickly: ‘Because they are c—ts!’

And there was the story – completely beyond belief – that having forced a fence down, asylum seekers at Woomera used their children as protection as they scrambled to get over the razor wire.

The conversation left a bitter aftertaste. It is worth recording, however, because it offers an insight into the way some people, including some detention centre guards, think about asylum seekers – people who have not committed a crime, but who have come here seeking protection. There is no doubt that our friend was speaking from his own experience, and that the experience of violence and unrest at immigration detention centres was frightening and challenging. But his comments reveal an underlying set of assumptions. All Arabs, according to him, can be reduced to a simple, lesser category of person.

It is this way of thinking that became central to Australia’s political life when it was said – inaccurately – that asylum seekers threw their children overboard and that because of what this action revealed about those people, that they ought not to come to this country. The government’s political message at the time was that such people, because they were somehow different from ourselves, did not feel the same depth of love and attachment for their children that we feel for ours. It was an insidious political message, elevating a sort of racism to the centre of Australian political life. Tomorrow we go the waters near where that very incident was said to have occurred.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 11: Pimba


The third day wasted on the trailer. Got a call from Simon that he had bought a new trailer. He sent the message through that he was due to arrive back in Pimba at 3.30. The plan was to get Will to do the welding in the early afternoon, then we will head west. Will is at work this morning and working again tomorrow. The window is this afternoon. It was all going to plan. Then got another call from Simon. He’s been held up by and won’t be back until 6.30. I went up to check with Will that he can do the job in the dark, but he’s not home. If he can’t we’re stuck again. The likelihood that we will make it to Perth for our Christmas Island flights on Friday morning seems increasingly remote. If we get Will on the job this evening, we have some pretty serious distances to put behind us over the next few days.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Day 10: Woomera/Pimba

The trailer looks like it is about to die. In the daylight, it looks like it has nothing left to it. Bits of metal that were once welded together have now come apart. The whole left rear of the thing is sagging and bouncing. Where once there was metal, there is now, in the best places, rust, and in the worst, nothing.

We crawled out of our camp site nursing the sorry thing behind us. We did some filming at the old Woomera detention centre. It has now been closed for years, but it still feels like a place you want to steer clear of. In its time, it was a site of trauma, violence, riots, unrest, protest and destruction…..I couldn’t get out of the detention centre precinct quick enough. A crow called and the nothingness of the place felt surreal.

We headed for the Woomera township to get some advice on the trailer. It was looking worse by the minute. Finally, we hooked up with the local mechanic in Pimba – the highway town 8km from Woomera. Graeme took one look at the thing, laughed, and ever so eloquently said that its time was over. There was no point doing any repairs on it. We needed a new trailer.
Over to Spuds Roadhouse to set up camp in the dust at the bottom of the car park. Simon took off for Adelaide where he will buy a trailer tomorrow. He will then come back to Pimba where we will get another guy, Will, to weld the racks from the old trailer onto the new one.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day 9: Port Augusta – Woomera

Arrived early in Port Augusta central. As I mentioned above, I’ve spent a bit of time in Port Augusta over the past few years during visits to the Baxter detention centre. My time here has always felt weighty – the usual routine was to spend the morning with asylum seekers at the detention centre, race in to town for lunch, spend the afternoon at the detention centre before a quick dinner and, when possible, an evening visit to the detention centre. This usually went on for two or three or four days, punctuated by nights alone in a motel. I always found it exhausting and wondered how some of the local people maintained such a commitment to visit detainees at Baxter every week or more.

But paddling into the little harbour brought at different perspective: it was really quite beautiful: yachts floating gently on the water, massive timber poles of the docks, the small sandy beach with a children’s playground beyond it.

After an hour or so drying out our gear, my family arrived with the car and trailer. Nadine, Tenzin and Annie will be with us for the next five weeks as support crew – and hopefully to have a bit of fun too. It took us hours to pack the trailer. And yes, it – the trailer – looks terrible. I have decided not to look at it too often – merely looking at it makes me sick to the stomach. I’m not sure how far it will get us now. I have a vision of us stranded in the desert with four 5 meter-long kayaks on an irreparable trailer. It is not a happy image!

By the time we set off for Woomera, it was approaching dusk. The evening sky in these parts are nothing short of stunning. Blue-white turns to yellow to pink and then red. We drove through Woomera and camped just out of town.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Days 6 - 8: Paddling in SA

Days 6-8: Port Pirie – Port Augusta

The first serious paddle for the project. And it has been truly magnificent. The Spencer Gulf has been kind to us. Although this is not the excised zone, it was good to get on the water. We had been told that the wind can pick up in the Gulf and when it does, it sets off a nasty chop. But apart from an hour-long northerly just before lunch on Thursday, the conditions were perfect. I was interviewed on the water by ABC Radio North and West on the third morning of the paddle and the day was beaming. On the final leg, we passed the power station on the outskirts of Port Augusta just as the sky turned pink and red and the water was a mirror (see above).

Even though the Spencer Gulf is a long way from the excised zone, I had been keen to paddle to Port Augusta because it is the location of the Baxter immigration detention centre – an important part of the story of Australia’s response to asylum seekers. Baxter had been purpose built as a high tech detention centre to house asylum seekers who had arrived without prior official authorisation. When the notoriously brutal Woomera detention centre was closed down, the asylum seekers remaining there were transferred to Baxter. They were joined by others from other remote detention centres. Despite being more modern, the Baxter centre did not ease the suffering of asylum seekers detained there. Men, women and children continued to suffer terribly in what is a high-tech prison.

I visited asylum seekers detained at Baxter on a number of occasions over my years as research associate at La Trobe. To visit, you first had to get onto the ‘visitor list’ of a particular detainee. Then you had to apply to visit at least 72 hours before visiting for permission from the detention centre authorities. Once there, you had to empty your pockets of coins, keys, mobile phones etc. and leave them in a locker. You were given a plastic bracelet with a number on it and then escorted to the front of the detention centre. There, the guard accompanying you pushed a button at the front gate. The guard was asked by central control to state their purpose. Central control then unlocked the gate. All the while, you were subjected to CCTV surveillance. You then walked down a caged corridor to the next door where the same procedure occurred again. This time, you entered a small room. Any food you were bringing to share with the people you were visiting was passed through an x-ray machine. You were then required to walk through an x-ray machine before being passed over by a metal-detecting ‘wand’. Having passed through this, you would wait for the guard to push the button at the next door, before being permitted by central control to exit and walk to the visitors section. The same process took place before you entered the ‘office’ of the visitors’ centre. Once inside, you were stamped on the hand with an ‘invisible’ stamp that could be viewed under a violet light. This meant that you could not trade places with detainees at the end of the visit: only people with a teddy-bear stamp (or whatever it was on that particular occasion) could leave the visitor centre through that exit. Suitably tagged and stamped, central control allowed you into a sort of airlock. When the door was locked behind you, the door in front would be unlocked so that you could walk into the visitors’ section. There, you waited while the people you were visiting went through whatever indignities they were subjected to before they were brought over to the visitors’ centre. Sometimes, this wait took an hour and a half or longer.

This level of control in order to visit people whose only ‘crime’ was to come to Australia in search of protection seems merely indicative of the control over the minutiae of the every day lives of asylum seekers in detention. Asylum seekers were subject to a behaviour control regime where, as if they were insane or criminals or children, they were rewarded or punished according to whether their behaviour was deemed appropriate to detention centre authorities. Punishment included being kept in isolation and subjected to constant surveillance in what was known as ‘management.’

When I conducted fieldwork with returned asylum seekers in Iran, I met one man who had been returned from Baxter to Tehran. This man explained to me that his life had become so tightly controlled in detention that he no longer was able to make decisions. The decision to leave Australia was eventually made for him and he was forcibly removed.

I hadn’t returned to Port Augusta or to Baxter for some years. Now, as the sun set in crimson and gold, the lights of the detention centre behind us came on. We will come back to Baxter in a day or two to see it close up.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Day 5: Excised on the Streets - Rundle Mall (Adelaide)

Days 4+5: Adelaide

My parents’ home feels like an under-resourced non-government organisation in the midst of a massive campaign. We’ve spread ourselves across every surface we can find: benches, tables and floor. Paddling stuff, computers, phones, papers. Press releases, merchandise, last minute arrangements. It feels like we are trying to cram too many tasks into too small a time frame.

On Tuesday evening we headed into the ABC studios in Adelaide for an interview with Peter Goers. The most entertaining part of it occurred after the interview was over. Peter raced us outside during the news break so that he could have a smoke. He drew heavily on his cigarette while frantically telling us the story of the South Australia’s Lieutenant Governor-Designate, Mr Hieu Van Le, who was himself a refugee, arriving in Australia from Vietnam in the late 1970s. Peter spoke of the different reception that Hieu Van Le and others received when they arrived as refugees compared to those who have sought our assistance since then.

On the way home from the studio we had what we hope is the only car trouble for the journey. We were engaged in some sensitive and highly important shopping for the success of EXCISED when our car, which I took charge of just a couple of days before we left Aireys and which looks great, broke down. As luck would have it, I hadn’t had time to join the RACV before we left. So I dipped my hand deeply into my pocket and joined the RAA on the spot. A few hundred dollars and a new battery later, we were on our way.

Read about Hieu Van Le’s story at


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Day 3: Warrnambool – Adelaide

We’re having trouble getting the EXCISED juggernaut moving. The Adelaide part of today day took a long time to come about. The day began with a photo shoot for the Warrnambool Standard which published an article about EXCISED in its next edition. But then we discovered that our trailer was beginning to fall apart. It had been generously lent us by the Fairhaven Surf Lifesaving Club, but years of sea water had begun to take its toll. As we loaded the kayaks onto the trailer after smiling for the camera in our best adventure gear, we discovered a crack that opened and closed as though it was talking as we rocked the trailer. We thought that we shouldn’t go on to Adelaide without having it looked at by expert eyes. Those we found in Wangoom. My old friend, Murray, blacksmith, welder, and all round fixer of things spent most of the day repairing the damage and teaching us how to grease and protect wheel bearings – the best insurance policy for the trailer, he told us. After he had kitted us out with an inverter so that we could charge up our electrical equipment, and Gage had fed us on ‘roo that Murray had shot, we hit the road to Adelaide, arriving there late in the evening.

Check out the Warrnambool Standard article at


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Day 2: Warrnambool

One of the most remarkable things about working on asylum seeker and refugee policy over the past decade and a half has been the incredible people I have had the privilege to meet. Such people have stood against inhumane policy and practice and the sort of exclusive nationalism from which these stem. On the banks of the Hopkins River, overlooking the inlet, we had lunch with just such people. Thanks, David and Lou. Their commitment to the dignity of asylum seekers was a reminder, if we needed it, of the purpose of this journey.

After lunch, it was the Warrnambool Surf Club (thanks to Jo for providing the venue) where local musicians, Owen Eleamor, Robbie Bundell, Oriel Glennan and Aniar (Don Stewart, Andrew Hallett, Jemma Belfrage and Airley Tate) entertained a small but enthusiastic crowd to mark the beginning of the EXCISED national tour. Thanks Owen for organising the event, to Maree for MCing and to Don for providing the gear.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Day 1: Aireys Inlet to Warrnambool

Getting started sometimes feels like the most difficult part of the journey. You’ve got to push hardest to get the momentum happening. And it was a big mass we were trying to get moving….or so it felt.

The plan was to paddle from Gully Beach in Aireys Inlet to Lorne and then to drive to Warrnambool. There was no need to do the paddle bit – the Surf Coast is not yet excised – but since EXCISED is about sea-kayaking, we thought it would be good to start the journey with a paddle.

Despite predictions of foul weather, the early morning sea looked good. The paddle was going to be possible. But the hours of packing and talking and coffee and last minute arrangements pushed launch-time back. By the time we got down to the beach, the weather predictions were proved right:

The wind it was howling and the seas were outrageous.
We cut through the surf…….then turned back again…
Apologies to Bob Dylan, Isis.

Not deterred by the foreboding skies and the hellish ocean, we bid our friends and family farewell and headed off beyond the break. It was big. Really big. And scary. Really scary. Not that we were scared, of course. We’re adventurers, after all. Aren’t we? So we braved the waves, balancing against the chopping water, as we turned our 5 meter vessels………. and headed back to the safety of the beach…..

The kayaks felt extremely heavy as we carried them back up the steps, loaded them on the trailer and headed back to the warmth of home.

A sense of anti-climax??? No. More a sense of relief. And an awareness that the next two and a half months will be unpredictable and that even the best-laid plans at times will have to be abandoned.

By the time we got to Warrnambool, having driven to Lorne, we had almost given a radio interview on Perth ABC, almost lost the load off the trailer, and spent most of the day fluffing around at Aireys Inlet. Friday the 13th. First day of the journey.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Welcome to the excised blog.

A welcome to the EXCISED JOURNALS

These are the records of EXCISED, a sea-kayaking and road odyssey around Australia and into the ‘excised zone’.

Join us – Simon Keenan, David Corlett and friends (some of whom may be Very Important and very familiar to observers of Australian politics!) – over the next two and a half months as we travel to the frontlines of Australia’s response to asylum seekers who arrive without official authorisation by boat.

Our journey will take us to the human implications of Australia’s little understood policy of excision. Excision is the basis for Australia’s ‘offshore processing’ regime – a regime that is immune from important checks and balances that help ensure that people who need protection actually get it. Excision means that asylum seekers cannot apply for protection within Australia and sets up a system that has led to Australia returning refugees to persecution and other serious human rights violations. Some have been killed. Every island across Australia’s north, some 5000 in total, has been ‘excised’ from Australia’s migration zone.

EXCISED will take us around the whole of the Australian mainland – from the Surf Coast in Victoria to South Australia (home to the Woomera and Baxter detention centres) and on to Perth; to the excised territories of Christmas Island and the Western Australian coast; across to the Northern Territory and to Melville Island (which has been excised, unexcised and excised again); and over to Queensland where Magnetic Island and the cultural icons that are the Whitsundays have also been cut out of the migration zone.

Come with us on this adventure: witness some of Australia’s most awe-inspiring coastline; meet some amazing (and maybe some not-so-amazing) people; hear stories that will put a smile on your face and others that will have you in tears. Share our story too, as we make this frantic 15,000 km journey in an effort to publicise the little understood policy of excision and its devastating human implications. It is a personal journey into the unknown as we learn not only about policy and practice, but also about ourselves as individuals and each other.

We hope that you will come back to the EXCISED journals and that you find them stimulating, moving, inspiring, fun and entertaining. Read the written word, listen to the audio recordings and watch footage captured from the surf to the street. And in all this, we hope that we might be able to explore how Australia might respond to some of the world’s most vulnerable people in a way that reveals our own and their full humanity.

Let us know what you think. Send us a message. Share your ideas and thoughts...we’re really keen that you might also come along for the journey!! And do tell your friends about the EXCISED odyssey.

Simon Keenan and David Corlett