In mid-March I had a phone call from someone whose voice I did not recognise, telling me that my friend, someone we had named our son after, Jerry in London, had died of a Coronavirus infection on 3 May.
We had lived in the same house in Leeds. He was a bit older than me, had been studying accountancy in Leeds Polytechnic. He was 68 when he died.
There is a book called African Laughter. That title always reminds me of Jerry. Laughter was never far away. He was from a place called Ikeja in Lagos, Nigeria. I read somewhere, I think in a book called African Blues, that Ikeja was a suburb of Lagos that dates from the oil boom of the 1970s. There is so much I could and should have asked Jerry about his life in Africa.
One thing I wished we had talked about was the role of SHELL, who my father had worked for, in Nigeria. SHELL had been mining oil in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, since the year before I was born, since 1957.
To say that SHELL had made a mess of this land of the Ogoni people, and helped to corrupt Nigerian politics, would be an understatement. It is widely believed that SHELL influence played a part in the death of Ogoni leader, Ken Saro Wiwa, in 1984.
Suddenly the virus seemed very real to me. Australia has mostly ‘dodged the bullet’ when it comes to this modern plague. I think this comes from closing the borders.
The US did the same, but only closing its border with Mexico (as Caligula in Washington slandered Mexicans in his typically toxic and racist way). In the same way, he closed the borders to people coming from China.
One thing you can say about COVID-19 is, it isn’t racist. So when people entered the US via New York from Europe, they brought the virus with them.
The people crowded into Australia’s refugee prisons, such as Villawood, where over 400 people live, sleeping over six to a room, could easily catch the virus.
It could go through that place, and the other refugee prisons round Australia, like wildfire. We must demand the end of these disgraceful places used to lock up innocent people who should be protected under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
That is the one that Australia signed in 1954. That is the one that was not in force when my father arrived as a refugee in New Zealand-Aotearoa in 1940, but he was treated more than decently, with his friend, John Offenberger, also from Vienna.
The last two things… Bravo to Farhad Bandesh, who has appeared on a recent ‘Q and A’ on the ABC, from the Mantra Hotel lock-up in Melbourne.
He was then punished for that. He has been locked up for being a refugee for six years. He was punished by SERCO for his temerity in making it known that the guards and the hostage-prisoners certainly were not observing COVID-19 precautions. How could they, sleeping up to nine to a room?
Lives are being destroyed. Australia’s democracy is being destroyed by secret prisons.
We need human rights protection. First of all we need an Australian public, you and me, awakened to the dangers of Australia’s secret prisons.
We meet every Friday at 4.30pm at the Sydney Town Hall steps. with physical distancing. We protest peacefully and responsibly against the racist scapegoating of refugees, now being held by the Australian state as hostages.
Please join us, or just come and say hello.
We want the Sydney City Council to advertise the fact that Sydney City has been a ‘Refugee Welcome Zone’ since 2005. Mayor Clover Moore herself told me this.
You are welcome to phone me on 0451 509 232. We have to win on this one, if we value what democracy that there is in Australia.