We were there to campaign for the humane treatment of asylum seekers who are coming to Australia in boats.
The speakers at this large gathering were clear and precise as they called on our government to show compassion to the men, women and children who are fleeing from their countries to escape persecution and life-threatening discrimination. Young people were dominant among the crowd, along with family groups and very young children.
Called on to chant “Say it loud, say it clear…Refugees are welcome here”, the crowd responded with gusto.
We were then invited to march from the assembly place to a building some distance away, where the Labor Party was holding a meeting.
I did not join with the demonstrators as they walked briskly, chanting, “Say it loud. Say it clear….”. Instead I sat in the sun outside a shopping complex, while Dawn and Peter marched with the crowd.
I enjoyed watching the people passing by.
When doing so, I observed a young lady sitting on a seat a short distance away. Her face was mask-like as she sat motionless. Minutes passed before I glanced at her again.
When doing so this time I was disturbed to notice that she appeared to be crying.
To be certain , I allowed time to pass before I decided to act.
When it was clear that she was indeed crying, I walked slowly across to where she was sitting and quietly enquired if she was well.
Although she was obviously distressed , she explained that she was suffering withdrawal symptoms due to the lack of her usual medications which could not be obtained from a mental health facility over the weekend, adding that two days ago, she lost her purse which contained $600.
Hearing this, I enquired if she would like me to sit next to her and talk with her. It was then that her face lightened and she stopped crying.
By way of introducing myself I told her how I had returned to Canberra to live closer to my daughter and granddaughter after my wife had died – ending a happy marriage of almost 55 years.
Upon hearing this, the young lady showed sympathy and concern. Later in our conversation when I asked if she had someone to meet her here, she explained that this was the case…
We had been talking for about five minutes when Dawn arrived to join me. I then introduced Dawn to the young lady who stated that her name was Melissa. Standing up to leave with Dawn, I wished Melissa, who now was smiling, my best wishes.
She responded by repeatedly thanking me for approaching and talking to her.
Later, while sitting with Peter and Dawn in a nearby coffee shop, I kept thinking about people like Melissa. In a way they are like refugees in their own country as they struggle to overcome drug addiction or a mental disorder.
Should not the Bells be Tolling for them as well as for the boat people?.
So when we chant, “Say it loud and say it clear”, let us also include people like Melissa.
– Keith McEwan, CLA member, July 2013