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.