The Queue: a tale of two diaries.

 

Day 1

Jakarta

Gathered my precious self: clothes, my wife and a withering child. Found some waste paper destined to be my diary. The sun beats down and the dirt is an unkind friend. Have not washed in days; lice are my comrades, my religious soul mates. The boat is waiting ­ a coffin perhaps, but a coffin for escape. Dignity is always found in pursuing the lost. I am not yet lost; Allah will hold me, guiding me to his kingdom.

To die on this skeleton of a boat at sea, to find that death had given me what life never had: truth. I am about to faint, but holding the pen and Fatima tight. My child weeps as every one in search of future does. I am in search of a phantom.

 

Kirribilli House, Sydney

Struggled to get out of bed. Tripped over my pink sofa, a nuisance. Cost: a thousand dollars excluding consumption tax. The tasks for the day: eradicating history, reinventing the wheel and reshaping conservatism. Breakfast: mash, sausage and egg ­ no rice please.

Put on tie, dark, expressionless. Tell wife to stop badgering me about the brown colours in the house. They are good enough and she knows that. No heritage colours: green is evil, trees and all. Pink here and brown kitsch there: just my cup of Anglo-tea.

Read paper. Those refugees again: must remember to remind them of the queue. No jumping ­ only kangaroos do that ­ or is it wallabies? Must emphasize a belief in justice ­ for the few.

Walk out of door to work. The car is available: thirty thousand dollars plus consumer tax. Thankfully, promise of a fall in car prices with the GST never resulted. Sophism has again triumphed.

 

Day 5

Canberra Office

Must tell R. to increase emphasis on the wildlife shows to discourage refugees. (Do they watch National Geographic?) If they jump the immigration queue, a crocodile is waiting at the other end. If the crocodile does not get you then the rest of the wildlife will. The maternal outback is cruel. Never have been there though: the refugees need not know.

 

East Timor Sea

Weather rough. Some almost fell into the bowels of the sea. The sailors who are our gods are not kind. They mutter oaths and curse the weather.

Clothes rotting. Faeces accumulated on the ship. I take comfort in my family: we are all one rug, one life. Dear God save us.

 

Day 10

The sea

Journey is warm. Sweat immense. Little on board but a soul called anguish. Some say they cannot breathe. Crammed into destiny, we shall die within each other's illusions of a better life. I dream so that others may have a better future, but will that be my child's hope?

 

Canberra Office

Those terrorists are potentially landing near Christmas Island, threatening Australia's territorial sea. Troops must be deployed. Our national sovereignty risks being impugned. Watch their mobile phones. Be careful of foreign diseases. I have been advised that they may also buy Versace and wear perfume. Where they might get it never occurred to me: the shifty Arab need not only trade in camels.

 

Day 11

The sea

The birds circle our ship and the sun blinds. Toasted by the sun. My skin gradually frays. The food is running out and I seek the corners of a dream to sleep in comfort. My wife struggles to keep awake but her sores repel sleep. Death is knocking and grinning. Does it have teeth? I can barely see. Faint.

Then commotion. The boat is sinking. Arms flayed about. Our hosts and pilots desert us, escaping in their rafts. The choppy waves threatened to drown us in a scum of foam. Gathered a raft together. Lost most food.

 

Canberra Office

Sent out the SAS to intercept the boats. Elite troops are necessary for this delicate operation. People on leaky boats in search of an island are always dangerous. Received a memo from defence minister. The threat is being quarantined. Australia, body and soul, will be protected. Common pretexts needed: nation state, sovereignty and the Crown's power to protect borders from foreign incursions.

An advisor remarked that it is ironic that Australia was settled by the unfree. Now the unfree seek freedom here. Don't understand him. The ironical detail escapes me: besides my family were free settlers. If we were free in the first place why should we sympathise with the unfree? No connection: in any case they eat curry and I do not, an anomaly beyond resolution.

Nice meal: chips, steak and three veg.

 

Day 12

The sea

A day at sea: raft sails precariously. The uninterrupted horizon is broken by the presence of a vessel. The dot grows. It is heading for us.

Later today, the vessel picked us up. Noble sailors of the Tampa, we revere you. Some relief from the sea, though there is little food on board.

 

Canberra Office

Heard about those Scandinavian bleeding hearts. They are a party to this illegal act. There was much criticism in the press that Australia is not respecting UN law. I asked Downer for help: what is the UN? Still waiting for an answer. Better still, must ask President Bush about the relevance of international humanitarian law.

 

Day 13

Near Christmas Island

Compact, dense, the cargo of humanity is struggling to live. Allah is with us, but even he needs a rest. The Norwegians do their best. Now the time has come for me to yield to the wounds of famine. Some are threatening suicide: they will be lucky.

An interruption around 2.00 p.m. occurs. In the blurred distance, a small dinghy-like boat heading out. Australian knights. I remember the lessons of the crusaders: but these crusaders have come to save us. They will anoint us with food and welcome.

The valiant knights disappoint. They have guns, weapons and fear in the eyes. Even hatred. I am waiting for kind words. They parcel us up, neat wrapping, and afford medical treatment to the needy. Some food. We are told to wait. Some will refuse to go. An island of coconuts and beaches awaits us, one knight tells us. Another snarls, "Did you know that Australia is a fatal shore?"

A fatal boat or a fatal shore ­ but please let me die on land. Some choose the sea, drowning in their permanent home of water.

 

Canberra Office

In light of the attacks on the U.S., Citadel of Freedom, it is concluded that a link must be made between the refugee and the terrorist. They eat the same food, come from the same country, ergo they are one and the same. Most have dirty beards in any case and the veiled women must have something to hide. This powerful logic will come in handy. Must sign a few more dispatches: more money to private schools (opportunities for the Australian public), more Australians for Afghanistan (must check the map soon to find out where it is). Pen used: two hundred dollars (with consumption tax this time).

4.30 p.m.

Nothing blinds quite like race. I refuse to let a social vision intrude on my short-term pleasures. Politics is the vocation of short sightedness. A ruler with vision is a nuisance: too many variables, too many distracting "ifs". Divide the nation; distract the nation.

A commentator has been assuming my voice in the papers: "I apologise for our cultural vandalism." I actually do not. The vandal is not in us but outside us. Island states have the privilege of keeping vermin on the outer.

Order new suits, up market range. Redecorate the interior of Kirribilli house with poodle paintings. Manet looks good beside fake gold vases and colonial pictures.

 

Day 18

Nauru

The army of Australia's disease police inspects us. Destination Nauru, we are told: guano island, "shit heap", remarks a soldier. We were taken further away from Terra Australis. My family now waits for eternity to stop. The sun, the sand, the cabins constructed piecemeal. I hear tales: terrorists will come on leaky boats and words like "illegal" refugees. Why does the land of freedom speak in another tongue? I imagine myself outlawed. Can a human identity be outlawed? It can before a queue. Before the queue the human is no better than the disease: to be quarantined and excised.

 

Canberra Office

A jewel fell into my lap. The refugees have revealed themselves ­ not even their veils can hide brutality. They have thrown their children into the water in order to live. We must not show our gun: do not let justice arm itself. No fear there: justice is blind. Must remember to write, 'We do not want people of that type in this country.' Australia, land with a history of convict and ruffian, needs better types. Starvation is no justification for salvation.

The point is to tempt the Australian people with images: the evil beard, assault rifle and the dangerous leaky boat.

 

Day 23

A Sydney Hotel

Election day. The race card as menace and saviour has been useful: it prevented a Bill of Rights in 1898 (my god Isaac Isaacs knew where to put the Chinks); It has saved my political being. At one polling booth the voters were pleasant: one claimed that a vote for private schools was a vote for equal opportunity. I almost giggled. Another fine specimen shook my hand vigorously. "Honest John, keep those terrorists out." Key point: I redesigned the race genie: no narrow eyes or small spectacles this time (explains the failure of 1988). Now the enemy is different: brown, turbaned, and Islamic with the sceptre of a burning New York in the background.

I gazed lovingly at the black-white placards of my statement: "We, and only we, shall decide who comes into this country." I felt the rumbles of history in the pungent words: the memory of an Anglo-Saxon tribe drinking before the same God and liturgy. Imagine the turban in an Australian pub? This service expressly forbids admission to camel riders and nomadic Bedouin. Allah is exclusive and so are we.

I thanked the nation. There is no irony in this: a multicultural nation has sought one culture. Immigrants in the past went through a queue (I hope I never have to prove it). Refugees require the same legal arrangement. Neat.

 

Nauru

I absorb myself in my family, now condemned to smell guano and sweat in makeshift shacks. My hands, coarse from wind and the salt sea, sweat on my wife's. I hold my child with my other, caressing the vulnerable jet-black hair. We are complicit in making destiny our own. I am almost out of paper, the scrawl trailing off into the empty spaces of the untouched white. Oh mighty queue, a phantom without eyes or arms: will you let us jump your invisible divide?


 

 
     

 

 

 "The Queue: A Tale of Two Diaries" © 2002 by Binoy Kampmark
 
     
 

 Original Graphic, "Shaken" © 2002 by Jim Davis Rosenthal
 

 

     
 

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