I suspect that many of you already know the story of Kisch.
He was – after all – one of our most famous illegal immigrants.
For those of you who don’t know much about him, he jumped ship in 1934 when the Australian Government refused him entry because he was “undesirable as an inhabitant of, or visitor to, the Commonwealth”. He broke his leg in the process, but he was handed over to the custody of the ship’s captain.
A court case led to his temporary release, ruling that the captain was illegally detaining him. Under the White Australia policy, the Immigration Act decreed that “Any person who when asked to do so by an officer fails to write out at dictation and sign in the presence of the officer a passage of fifty words in length in an European language directed by the officer”. Kisch was fluent in several European languages, including English, so it was only when they hit upon the idea of giving him the test in Scottish Gaelic that he was able to be excluded.
Again those pesky courts decided that this wasn’t within the meaning of the Act. (Probably something to do with the fact that the person administering the test would have also failed it.) Kisch was no longer an “illegal immigrant”.
Menzies had tried to argue that every civilized country had the right to determine who should or should not be allowed in. (Hey, why does that ring a bell??) And that Kisch was a revolutionary and therefore a threat.
But Kisch got in. And he got to speak. He got to deliver his “revolutionary” message, which included:
“I have had three adventurous months since I last saw you. I know the Police Court, the Quarter Sessions Court, the High Court with one judge and the High Court with five judges. But whenever the court let me go I was arrested again. I have learnt to speak English better. Perhaps I do not speak King’s English but it’s Kisch English anyhow. I did not come here to tell there is terrorism in Europe. I come here to tell you how to stop it. I have been an eye-witness. I was arrested the day the Reichstag was burnt down by Göring and his lieutenants. I saw my friend, Erich Mühsam, the poet, whose works I translated, made to walk naked, even in winter, and to lick up the spittle of his captors. All his limbs were broken gradually, and he died.”
Yes, Kisch was trying to warn about the dangers of Hitler. We couldn’t have that, so the Government again declared him an illegal immigrant. He was sentenced to three months hard labour and costs were awarded against him.
But a deal was struck. Kisch had spoken to more people and received more publicity than he imagined, so he agreed to the Government’s offer to remit his sentence and leave.
Now, I wonder if we’ll be learning about this in Christopher Pyne’s new history course. Actually, I can’t even find it in the old “left-wing” curriculum.
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