I remember on my first tramp around Europe, back around 1980, standing on the foreshore at Brindisi, waiting for the ferry to take me across the Adriatic Sea to Greece. I was getting somewhat jaded by this time of the sights and unfamiliar languages of Europe and starting to hunger for those familiar places and voices that anchor one to a time and place with neither thought of threat nor alienation. I was getting homesick.
I remember feeling this way whilst standing near a bobbing boat with the smell of the sea in my nostrils and looking along the shoreline to another figure a fair way away standing, much like myself, looking like how I suppose I looked in that oh-so-familiar back-packers garb (though this was before the age of the backpacker … more like an amateur tourist) and he was turned, in kind, staring at me. And in that momentary hiatus of mute connection, I felt a melancholic wave of sadness sweep over me – a hunger for home – and I can’t help but think that the other fellow there on the Brindisi shore was experiencing exactly the same feeling as myself.
To so many of us, the comforting security of home is taken for granted. Even My mother, born and raised in the deepest, most poverty enriched days of the great depression, in makeshift tent after makeshift camp on the banks of the River Murray … up and down and into the mallee scrub and out, from ruin to hut, many times sans shoes, sans education, sans town-friendships … through it all, she said she never felt like she had no feeling of a homeland or what we consider a home. She always felt she “belonged” with the other itinerants and the district of the Riverland.
Proverb: “What the eye doesn’t see, The heart doesn’t grieve.”
Parable: “I laugh now when I think of it”. The old lady chuckled, “But I was young then, about fourteen, or sixteen, but I was a ‘young’ sixteen, you know? And I had gone to the millinery store in the town and bought a dress for the fair. The dress was pink floral with a blouse all in one and it had two pieces of material, like braces, with big buttons on the waistline and those two braces went over the shoulders down the back.”
“Ah, I was young then. Anyway at the fair there was the excitement of a merry-go-round and bucking horses and shearing contests and … and tug-of-war … an’ … an’ … horse races. You know, that sort of thing and everybody from the district and from beyond the bend of the river, and they’re dressed up to the nines, oh dear,ha! The big day of the year for us then, ha!”
“Well, there was this Aboriginal girl there about the same age as me and she had on exactly the same dress that I had. Exactly! And we ran up to each other and laughed and became great friends that day. She worked, like me, at another station on the Murray – cooking, cleaning, looking after the children that sort of thing. Anyway, we were great friends that day an’ we walked all around that fair together arm in arm, laughing and having great fun and we’d tell everyone we met that we were twins! Twins! You’d laugh now, but we didn’t even think of her being black and me white then..some people smiled or rolled their eyes and others threw their heads back and laughed and we just thought they were as happy as we were, ha!”
“Oh, a jolly good time we had that day. I can’t even remember her name now. Ah well … twins … twins!”
Minister Dutton’s slighting of the status of those refugees as they were taken away to America, was a low act, a mongrel comment that I wouldn’t consider worthy of an Australian citizen. A despicable slander from one so comfortably well off (thank you, people of Australia for endowing him with much wealth and the comfort of a home). But it is an all too familiar carp from many of the right-wing already basking in a wealth of contentment and a degree of luxury neither hard-earned, nor deserving, but at the same time casting aspersion and slander upon those less fortunate or driven by desperation to flee their own homes and try their fate to a cruel sea and unforgiving foreign countries.
What sort of people can gaze with cruel intent on those wracked and wrecked by responsibility for family while smashed on the rocks of a foreign land? How many of us as parents cringe in horror at sight or thought of our loved ones maimed or destroyed by events we cannot, through powerlessness or circumstance control? How many times have we turned our gaze from the television screen at news pictures of drowning refugees or that one little child washed up upon the beach in Turkey? I still shudder at the thought of the moment imagined of that child struggling alone in a tossing sea as he slowly lost hold on life. Ask not for whom the bell tolls …
But still, I am home, I am settled, I have carved out my “temple of seven pillars of comfort”. I have no threats upon my doorstep, no wild beasts howling at my fence-line, no marauding militants armed and dangerous seeking for opportunity to attack. No, I am safe (as can be expected), secure (as can be financially managed) and sound (as aged health will allow). I am one of the lucky people living in a fortunate land. But never, never am I so smugly insular and self-satisfied that I cannot feel the deepest sympathy for those who seek such a home … for those men, women and children in loose assembly drifting in a tide of callous disregard from this cruel and heartless right-wing demonic government.
Here is a piece by Richard Church, from the third volume of his biography:
By way of a prologue
SOONER or later we all turn homeward. A man who dies on foreign soil is judged to have had a sad end. To escape the possibility of such a fate, every human being is possessed by an instinctive urge to hurry home. I noticed this when I was a boy, working in the laboratory in the Custom House, beside Billingsgate Market. I walked over London Bridge twice a day, morning and evening, wedged in the solid phalanx of humanity moving into London City, and out of it again.
I noticed how that tide of trousered or skirted legs was sluggish in the morning, as it trickled towards offices and ware-houses; how it rushed like the Severn Bore into London Bridge Station after the day’s work, blown by a gale of furious purpose, the desire to get home.
I felt the impulse in my own blood. What was this urge, this primitive anxiety? Are men and women infected by some racial fear of the jungle, that drives them to seek the safety of the cave, even after several thousand years of the assurances of civilization ? I remember now, half a century since the routine of those years in the laboratory, more vividly than I remember all other moods and events, this eagerness to get home to my rooms on Denmark Hill. The urge often made me break into a jog-trot over London Bridge, risking my life by edging out of the crush from the pavement to the gutter. Sometimes, I even had the illusion of rising above the heads of the crowd, and gliding like a seagull, levitated by my own frenzy.
It was as though I were expecting a visitor, some fabulous person, a dream-spirit, or a lover …
Home indeed is where the heart is. Peace is also where a secure home is. And I would request us all and most particularly those in power of the desperate refugee, to acknowledge that the hunger of the heart for that elusive, secure “home” is a fire that burns fierce and undiminished in every human’s breast.