Grand­moth­ers Against De­ten­tion page

The lo­cal women fight­ing for the chil­dren on Nauru

Monthly Chronicle - - Front Page - Jenny Bar­lass

It’s a cold Mon­day morn­ing and we’d all rather be in­side with a warm­ing shot of caf­feine. But a bunch of women whose av­er­age age is prob­a­bly 70, choose to stand out in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures wav­ing plac­ards and call­ing out slo­gans.

Far from be­ing de­rided as a bunch of do-good­ing oldies, these women from Berowra and Hornsby Heights, Mt Co­lah, Pen­nant Hills and West Pen­nant Hills are fol­low­ing in a long line of pow­er­ful older women mak­ing their voices heard and chang­ing both at­ti­tudes and pub­lic pol­icy.

Think of the sil­ver-haired an­tiCruise Mis­sile war­riors who kept the Green­ham Com­mon women’s peace camp in the UK go­ing for two decades, or the pow­er­ful US fe­male peace ac­tivists in the six­ties who shaped the Viet­nam de­bate. And not for­get­ting the suf­fragettes, many who car­ried on fight­ing for the right to vote well into their 80s.

“We aim to be a thorn in the side of the gov­ern­ment,” says Gael Walker, a for­mer uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor, from the 20-strong Berowra branch of the Aus­tralian move­ment Grand­moth­ers Against De­ten­tion of Refugee Chil­dren (GADRC NSW). “Just be­cause we’re grand­moth­ers doesn’t make us in­vis­i­ble.”

The group, a smart, in­formed co­hort which in­cludes a re­tired teacher, psy­chol­o­gist and re­search pathol­o­gist, works in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with other GADRC groups across Aus­tralia to lobby politi­cians in Can­berra, hold monthly vig­ils at the QVB in Syd­ney in­volv­ing leaflet hand­ing out, con­ver­sa­tions with passers-by and slo­gan shout­ing, and they show films that demon­strate the ap­palling plight of de­tainees on Manus and Nauru.

“No-one has been ar­rested yet,” says Gaby Judd who started the lo­cal group. “We aim for a peace­ful protest. Most peo­ple don’t know what’s be­ing done to in­no­cent chil­dren on Nauru so we see it as a big part of what we’re do­ing, to let peo­ple know. If we’ve ed­u­cated peo­ple about what’s go­ing on, we’ve done our job.”

So what is go­ing on? On Nauru’s Off­shore Pro­cess­ing Cen­tre, Ro­hingya, Tamil, Syr­ian, Hazara, Iraqi and Ira­nian refugees flee­ing war-torn and bru­tal­ist regimes are be­ing held in camps while their refugee sta­tus is as­sessed. “They’ve said there are no more kids in de­ten­tion, but in fact around 36 are cur­rently still in camps and about 124 are in the com­mu­nity - in great dan­ger,” ex­plains Gaby.

It’s a liv­ing hell with re­ports that even in­side de­ten­tion cen­tres women would rather pee in their beds than go to the bath­room at night for fear of be­ing raped by a guard. There’s also al­leged abuse of chil­dren.

“Just be­cause we’re grand­moth­ers in our seven­ties doesn’t make us in­vis­i­ble”

Lo­cal grand­moth­ers (from left), Gael Walker, Martha Mol­li­son, Anni To­takatlian, Helen Es­mond, Jill Udy, Mar­garet Mc­Don­ald and group founder Gaby Judd at a protest.

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