Before Their Ship Arrived

My father’s mother’s parents came here on a boat
They came from a land of kings and queens,
but on the wrong side of the moat
My father’s father’s parents came here on one, too
They didn’t want to leave Austria, but it was the thing for Jews to do
I don’t know your story but I bet it’s more or less the same
What kind of war or famine was on when your family came
Before their ship arrived

Did your folks come here to discover and explore
Or were they refugees running from the war
Did they cross the freezing mountains to make it to the sea
All the while wishing that they never had to flee
Were they marched across the jungles with chains around their feet
Nearly dying of exhaustion in the desert heat
Before their ship arrived

Did they make a life here or were they kidnapped and detained
Held for years in limbo as their optimism waned
Were they turned down for asylum and told they shouldn’t lie
Then sent off to be tortured, sent back home to die
Did they get to move here, create their lives anew
Or are they held on Christmas Island asking what on Earth they can do
Before their ship arrived

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“Before Their Ship Arrived” originally appeared on the Bandcamp album, Spies Are Reading My Blog, 2013.

Like the US, Canada and other countries, Australia for centuries had a “whites only” immigration policy. While they do allow people of color to immigrate to the country in limited numbers these days, Australia is still an institutionally racist, xenophobic country. In recent years both of the main parties have seemingly been in a race to prove that they are more xenophobic and racist than the other party. Under governments led by both parties, Australia has carried out a reprehensible and patently illegal (under international law, whatever that is) series of policies that have involved indefinite detention of children and adults, without giving them any recourse to appeal for asylum, as is their right under international law. Most of these so-called “victims of human smuggling” or whatever the catch phrase is these days, are, in actuality, war refugees from places like Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

As with other settler countries such as the US, the great irony here is that Australia is a nation of immigrants and refugees itself, who all came there illegally in the first place. By which I do not mean that many of them had a criminal record in the UK (many committed crimes of poverty in England or Ireland before being forcibly deported to Australia) — I mean that they were all, wittingly or not, participating in the forced colonization of someone else’s country in the first place. Which, of course, in many non-xenophobe circles in Australia, is something many people are keenly aware of. Along with the horrors of Australia’s immigration policies, which are actively opposed by many throughout the country. Though unfortunately those people don’t include the leadership of the two ruling parties… (Sound familiar?)