In the year my uncle Liam turned sixteen he spent twelve months in youth lock-up after being convicted of a break and enter on a newsagency. The shop was run by a Mr Quigley, who had been to war in New Guinea. Although he never spoke a word about it, Quigley returned home traumatised by the experience. He’d wake in the night screaming with uncontrollable rage, which would rouse his wife sleeping beside him. Quigley would lash out and strike her as she attempted to calm him. It was common to see Mrs Quigley walking the streets with blackened eyes and bloodied scratches on her face.
Solidarity is not passive. It’s not as easy as calling yourself an ally and wearing a safety pin on your lapel so other people will know you’re a Good Person.
Solidarity is standing up to the racist guy on the train who hassles the woman in a headscarf.
One thing writers love is hanging shit on other writers. Lord Byron mocked John Keats’ ‘piss-a-bed poetry’. Baudelaire called Voltaire ‘the king of nincompoops’. William Faulkner sniffed that Ernest Hemingway ‘has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary’ – to which Papa retorted, ‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?’
For me, invisibility has always been a desirable state. I suspect this desire is one of the reasons I was attracted to writing from an early age: it was a way I could assert myself without being seen. Or, perhaps, my early desire to write reinforced my own conviction of invisibility. It seemed miraculous that words I thought and wrote down could communicate even in my absence. It still does.
We remain locked out of the camps as assuredly as refugees are locked in. We don’t know the full extent of the horrors but the leaked reports should leave us in no doubt. This is our Belsen. On Manus Island paid homage to this terrible chapter in Australian history with grave dignity.