When I was about 5 years old my aunt took me to visit her step sister at Christmas time.
It was a couple of years after the Second World War had ended. Food, money and goods of all kinds were in short supply and it was a time of ‘make do and mend’ for most ordinary people.
I was amazed when we entered the house to find carpets on the floors, a real Christmas tree, bowls of fruits and nuts and lots of presents under the tree all wrapped up in fancy paper. A fire burned brightly in the parlour fireplace, during the day time! The lady gave me an orange which I wasn’t sure what to do with as I hadn’t seen one before so I put it in my Auntie’s handbag to show my mum when I got home.
Then, most wonderful of all the Lady gave me a present. I unwrapped it to find a toy sewing machine. I was speechless! My grandma and mum had sewing machines and as I played with this wonderful present I was really excited to think that now I would be able to make things on my very own machine all by myself!
When it was time to go I carefully put the machine back into its box . My auntie said, ”What do you say to the lady?”
”Thank you very much for the present and merry Christmas” I whispered as I hugged the wonderful gift to me.
The lady laughed, snatched the box from me and said, ’You can’t take it home. You don’t think I would give this to you.”
I was stunned and looked at my Auntie. I’m not sure what happened next. I remember a lot of shouting and my Auntie grabbing my hand and rushing me down the steps and back to my grandma’s house where I was staying for the holidays. I remember everyone being very angry and upset. I couldn’t understand what had happened. What had I done wrong? I had been given this lovely present and then the lady took it away again. She had spoken to me in a nasty voice which made me feel that I wasn’t good enough to deserve such a present.
Why would anyone want to treat a child like that? I can still remember the hurt, the bewilderment and the feeling of somehow not being good enough to this day.
So, how must the refugees feel who have endured, hardship, danger and loss of family to try and make a better life for themselves and their children?
Having been shown the life they might have in Australia they are then told, after months and sometimes years in detention that they cannot have a life here after all.
They are not wanted, not good enough. What did they do wrong?
I still remember what that feels like, although it was one small incident which happened over 60 years ago.
It was my understanding that ‘boat people’ were detained until
- there was no risk of disease being carried into the country
- there was no risk of importing a terrorist.
- they were found to be who they said they were.
How long does that take?
We don’t get millions of refugees trying to get into this country, we have ‘turned back the boats’ .
How long must they wait in limbo before they can be allowed to continue their lives again?
What effect does this have on their children?
They have been offered a gift only to find it has been snatched away again.
I understand how that feels. Can you?
written by Beryl Hall