During a recent Lock the Gate tour of the Hunter Valley, we heard the stories from some of the communities threatened by mining. They said how each time that they had a victory in court, the rules would be changed, until the company had a win. They spoke of how companies applied unbearable pressure on residents. They told of the lies uttered by coal companies and the government, the total unconcern with health and well-being.
I remarked to a fellow passenger how this was similar to what happens in refugee advocacy – that all too often, victory makes things worse. He replied that there is another similarity: both involve the forced relocation of people. The desolate mining villages in the Hunter are a testimony to that.
Chauka: please tell us the time is the film derived from mobile phone footage sent by Kurdish-Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani, from Manus Island immigration detention to filmmaker Arash Kamali Sarvestani. The footage included many violent scenes, but Sarvestani chose to portray the implicit violence, a power that is perhaps best illustrated by the banal.
Commentator Katherine Gillespie writes that the film “focuses on the long and restless hours spent watching Manusian children play by the beach on the other side of the detention centre fence. Pacing security guards. Shots of lush green palm trees and a gentle ocean. The strange surreal sense of being trapped in paradise. Birds singing”.
The Chauka is a bird native to Manus Island. The government-funded radio station is called The Chauka’s Voice. It uses a recording of the Chauka call in a jingle that starts proudly: “The Chauka’s voice is happy to spread the news and announcements.”
But its screeching each morning is terrifying for the refugees. It’s one of those ironies that is so nauseatingly common in fighting for justice. The solitary confinement unit where asylum seekers were sent for punishment, where they were beaten by the guards, was called Chauka.
The Manusians were promised progress when PNG and Australia signed the deal to build a detention centre in 2013. Four years later, Manusian Michelle Rooney was driven to exclaim in an article about asylum seekers there that “there is not one ancestral custom in which men are fenced like pigs to be exchanged”. Rooney wrote “Inhumane treatment is the hallmark of the Australian offshore detention centres”.
Sarvestani could have included details in his examples of inhumanity, including the murder of Reza Berati, but he says that his not his job. His job is to make a movies that raise questions in peoples' minds. No doubt people will want to know details, but even these will lead to a fundamental question. Will we stand by and sacrifice everything, in exchange for political gain?
Rooney says “my naive and happy childhood memories co-exist with the brutality of the Manus detention centre”. That is true for all of us. And it seems wherever we look, we have turned a dark corner.
A recent Herald editorial stated a universal truth: that when governments lose sight of people, “its decisions can have extraordinary impacts on people’s lives ... [and]... people will fight back”.
That is what we need to do now.
Chauka, please tell us the time will screen at 6pm on Saturday at Newcastle Tower cinemas. Funds raised from the film go to phone cards for asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.
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