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By 2353NM

Charles Dickens wrote a book called Oliver Twist. It is undoubtedly a classic. The book has been the subject of numerous reviews, movies and is frequently a subject for study in English Literature classes. Perhaps the best known section of the book is where young Oliver asks the Master of the Workhouse for ‘more’.

The poor, disabled and incapable who were unfortunate enough to live in what is now the United Kingdom from the 1700s to the early 1900s were housed in Workhouses if they had no other means of financial support. While there were noble aspirations and alleged concern for the inhabitants of the system, the reality was usually different. This link presents some stories of the inhabitants of the Workhouse system and while yes, they all survived, none of the stories are happy.

SBSTV recently broadcast an episode of the UK version of Who do you think you are which featured Brian Blessed – an English actor. Those familiar with the series know that the ‘personalities’ who appear on each show choose to trace a particular branch of their family tree, and with the help of historians, try to piece together the key events in particular ancestor’s lives. In Blessed’s case, he discovered, in the words of the UK Telegraph review a ‘real life Oliver Twist’. In the program, the historians:

. . . located his great-great-great-grandfather, Barnabus Blessed, as a relatively wealthy bookbinder in early 1800s London, before making a disastrous move to Portsmouth.

Recorded as a pauper and father of four, he and his wife both died in their early 40s, leaving their children as orphans.

As paupers, the four children were expelled from the parish just three days later and sent back to London, where the St Martin’s in the Fields parish were legally bound to care for them.

They entered the workhouse, where they were split up and housed in separate wards.

Martha, aged 14, is described as “an idiot”, suggesting she suffered learning difficulties. She died a week after entering the workhouse. Elizabeth, her 22-month-old sister, died shortly afterwards.

Six-year-old Jabez was moved to a different infant poorhouse, while his eight-year-old brother Charles remained in the workhouse alone.

Jabez was Blessed’s ancestor and lead a comparatively long and seemingly prosperous life.

Jennifer Worth is probably best known to Australians as a character in the television series Call the Midwife shown on ABCTV. The series is based on the books written by Worth based on her experiences in post World War 2 London – in the area now known as Docklands. Worth has written a number of books, one of which, Shadows of the Workhouse, is reviewed in this 2008 UK Daily Mail article. It tells the story of Jane who Worth met while working at Nonnatus House in the 1950s. Jane was highly intelligent and well-read, but her dithering nervousness disqualified her from all but simple jobs. Worth describes the actions of those who were supposed to be caring for Jane in the Workhouse as the reason for her nervousness. Jane lived in a Workhouse from the time she was a newborn.

The Daily Mail review of Jennifer Worth’s book finishes with an historical footnote:

The workhouses were officially closed in 1930. But since there was nowhere else to house thousands of institutionalised people who could not be expected to adjust to the outside world, they continued under other names well into the second half of the 20th century.

Inmates were allowed out; creature comforts were provided and families were kept together. But they continued to be run as institutions, by masters and officers whose attitudes were often set still in the 1900s.

Not all the children reared there suffered the mental and physical torments of Jane. But there are men and women alive in Britain today who will never forget the workhouses.

On the weekend, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten commented that he couldn’t believe Australia was that inept that we couldn’t find homes for the thousands of people we have sentenced to imprisonment on Manus Island and Nauru.

Before you get excited and celebrate because he’s seen the light and will overturn our draconian and senseless illegal (in Papua New Guinea anyway) imprisonment of humans out of sight and out of mind – he hasn’t. Shorten is claiming that, if he becomes Prime Minister on July 2, he will send the ‘soon to be’ Minister for Immigration to Geneva the next day to plan with UNHCR where to send the refugees who Australia has dumped off shore to live permanently.

Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist as a protest of the conditions and practices of the Workhouse system in the UK, which confined people to specifically built ‘institutions’ where staff who were in theory employed to care and assist those who lived there to develop the skills needed to live a ‘useful’ life. The reality was that those who lived there were abused, ill treated and locked away and forgotten.

Offshore detention centres were developed to house those claiming refugee status while their claims were processed. The staff employed by Australian Government contractors are supposed to ensure that those who live there are cared for while their claims are assessed and processed in a timely manner by the Australian Government.

There are a number of claims where those who live in offshore centres are abused, ill-treated and locked away and forgotten by the majority of Australians. That people have been living in these conditions for years shows that the Australian Government is not processing claims in a timely manner.

Not much difference is there?

We transport refugees and asylum seekers around the Pacific at our will, don’t allow them to have meaningful employment, split up families, give no certainty to their lives and dehumanise by referring to people by numbers and codes rather than recognise their names and unique identities. If a country like New Zealand throws us a lifeline by offering to take some refugees, we refuse the offer out of spite because there is little documentation required should a person decide to relocate from one side of the Tasman Sea to the other.

All Prime Ministers back to Paul Keating are equally as culpable for the ill-treatment of people in a similar way to that which was outlawed in the UK in 1930. We as the Australian public allow this to occur – so we are also culpable. Australian offshore detention centres have been declared illegal in Papua New Guinea. If there was a working independent justice system in Nauru, there would in all probability be a similar decision made in that country. If Shorten feels the need to cut short potential Immigration Minister Marles victory celebrations – he should be sent to plan a quick transfer of all those held in detention systems to Australia and arrange some support so Papua New Guinea and Nauru would be able to transition to other forms of economic activity.

There are two lines in Australia’s national anthem that say:

For those who’ve come across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share

Perhaps the reason no one remembers this section is because it is in the second verse?

Currently the national anthem could be demonstrated as being false advertising, if you come across the seas we won’t necessarily share our boundless plains. Rather than add the customary * Terms and conditions apply as we would be required to do if we were advertising holidays, cars or electronic goods within Australia; Shorten could in one step remove Australia from the list of international pariahs and bring these people to Australia, process their claims within months and re-settle those that who qualify in this country. We should all be fed up with being citizens of a country that is in the same category as North Korea and various African ‘democratic’ republics because we flout international law and custom. Even Cuba doesn’t do that.

What do you think?

Will either party close the Workhouses?

Will either party stop this mutually assured destruction of our morals and eithics?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. kasch2014

    A simple solution – ask for volunteers to take in refugees into the community they live in, and fill spare rooms and give other support to assist with integration. That way the people who really care can give real support and perhaps the state / fed govs can assist with some initial financial support to make this possible – but not enough to encourage “private workhouses”.

  2. jimhaz

    Actually workhouses could be part of the solution.

    Force non-technical 457 visa using companies to take 2 long term refugees for every 10 visa holders. They will be returned after the work, but will have an income to make life better.

    Nauru is well behind other islands in this pacific area. Wiki says it gets 200 tourists per annum. Surely there are works that could be done to the Island to make it more palatable for tourists. For instance the creation of better runways, hotel facilities, ocean swimming areas.

    Employment gives hope and distracts people for continuous negative reflection on their condition.

  3. OldWomBat

    Italy is suffering far greater problems re the influx of refugees. Their approach has been to house refugees in unused or vacant accommodation such as empty hotels in ski areas etc., some places such as convents have taken refugees. While the government at all levels suffers from endemic corruption and nepotism there still remains a sense of obligation to whose in need of help. Sadly this sense of an obligation has disappeared from Australia.

  4. Adrianne Haddow

    “We’ve boundless plains to share” ….. and we do share them, with foreign investors, mining companies, CSG companies, agricultural industries.

    The fear of refugees has been whipped up to such intensity and loathing in the general population that I cannot believe it will ever change.
    Well executed propaganda fed to us over the years by John Howard, Phillip Ruddock, Tony Abbott and Rupert Murdoch. Their propaganda has worked well in this case. And given racism an added boost.

    The problem is most people perceive refugees as taking benefits from themselves personally, ‘my taxes’.
    And all the while, their taxes are paying to keep these asylum seekers, anyway.
    Just not where you can see them or hear them, and at an exorbitant cost paid to rogue governments, and companies who are political donors, but who pay minimal or no tax.

    At the same time, those foreign investors with whom we are willing to share our boundless plains, are taking away the mineral reserves contained in those plains, leaving a degraded, scarred landscape and the local communities who have come to rely on their employment opportunities with nothing. And they pay minimal or no tax while receiving subsidies from the government.

  5. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Excellent 2353NM.

    You have spoken 100% for me and my disgust at the inhumane treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers and detainees.

    Shorten’s lack of leadership in not taking a humane stance right now stating a fresh Labor approach to providing asylum to displaced people, keeps a large cloud above his head. A VERY BAD LOOK, BILL!

    Furthermore, I find Marles to be an insulting choice for Minister for Immigration. Nobody is as cruel as Dutton the Zombie or Snotty Morrisscum, but Marles has already demonstrated his spinelessness and lack of autonomous vision to bring humanity back into the portfolio. Typical factional lackey protecting his political career.

  6. auntyuta

    ” . . . . we flout international law and custom . . . .”

    I do not understand why the majority of voters seem to go along with this.

  7. Athena

    “I do not understand why the majority of voters seem to go along with this.”

    I don’t either, auntyuta. I have some cousins who recently found me on Facebook and now we’re Facebook friends. Every day in my Facebook feed they’re posting anti-Muslim, anti-refugee, pro-Pauline Hanson garbage and I’m appalled. I wish I could divorce my family. It’s no wonder I seldom visit them.

  8. Charybds

    In the 1970s we found places for over 70,000 Vietnamese refugees (under PM Malcolm Fraser).
    We did not spend billions on foreign corporations to hide them from our consciences, they were integrated into the community.
    There is absolutely no reason why the vast majority of these people could not be more humanely and orders of magnitude more economically housed within the Australian community in the same fashion they were in the past.
    Detention is a very very sick joke on people who come asking for our help and protection.
    There is no excuse for the inhuman way they are currently being treated.

  9. kerri

    If a country like New Zealand throws us a lifeline by offering to take some refugees, we refuse the offer out of spite because there is little documentation required should a person decide to relocate from one side of the Tasman Sea to the other.

    Meaning we, in our superiority, also refuse to acknowledge the decisions of trans Tasman neighbour!
    A kick in the teeth for NZ from our twisted, paranoid government!

    Justification for taking refugees into our country could be for the purpose of re-skilling them to re-build their shattered nation when safe to return and do so! That is way more humanitarian than breking the people smugglers business model!

  10. kerri

    Adrianne Haddow
    I was commenting to my daughter earlier today that as many people were killed by a shonky wall collapsing in Carlton as were killed in the Lindt siege! And no one near the wall had a gun and one of the dead at the cafe was the alleged “terrorist” and the most shocking of the cafe deaths was due to “friendly fire”!
    As we head towards a double dissolution election based on the excuse of the unions holding back construction therefore requiring the re introduction of the ABCC,
    and as I pass the now 6 building sites in my very short street (not counting the 4 built just 3 years ago)
    and as we hear news today of yet another death from a wall collapse,
    one wonders if the unions are really doing their job?
    Maybe if the unions were allowed to do their job without the interference of a profit driven government we could get somewhere near to a democracy that is safe to live in?

  11. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I ‘confronted’ Steve Ciobo on talkback radio on ABC774 radio this evening on Raphael Epstein’s program stating that the LNP Degenerates talk a lot about the Transitional Economy but what about the Transitional Society?

    I accused him and the LNP of being heartless to asylum seekers and detainees rotting in the gulags on Manus and Nauru. Ofcourse, he went into the old LNP spiel about drownings at sea and how there’s no child in detention which I think is a lie.

    The LNP Degenerates and 1/2 of Labor need to be confronted over and over and over again about their abuse, disdain and negligence of asylum seekers and people in detention, so they get the strong message that there are many compassionate and engaged people out here, who happen to be voters too!

  12. Stephen Brailey

    You are entirely right to day that Australia is an absolute disgrace for the way we treat refugees. That both Labour and the LNP have the same policy makes me think that the coruption of democracy so obvious in the US is endemic to most Western democracies. So is Rupert Murdoch just a racist or does he see some advantages in him and his lackeys (employees and politicians) demonising refugees and typecasting those who resist this manifestation of racism as dangerous muddle headed lefties?!

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