I went for a run today, and I ended up running further than I had planned. I had set the time on my phone and I had a feeling when I was about halfway through, that I was going to end my run much further from home than I had expected. The trouble was that I knew that I’d be tired and I wouldn’t be able to run all the way home–which was quite a way. But there wasn’t a choice, of course. How else was I going to get home?! I’d run as far as I could, and then I’d walk.
And it made me think about the times when you just have to keep going, even though you want to stop, for whatever reason. There is a lot you can put off… the washing up, or homework, or a blog post(!), but some things you really can’t, and it is a rather singular feeling, when you realise that you just have to see something through. I remember this sensation very clearly during childbirth. I had to see it through. There was no going back, and no stopping. Only onwards, until the end.
The walk also brought to mind the film Rabbit Proof Fence, which tells the true story of three young Indigenous Australian girls who are taken from their community in north-Western Australia to a ‘native settlement’ just north of Perth (much further south). To get home to their own community, the children walk 2400 km, following the rabbit proof fence.
That’s a really long way, isn’t it? And I can only imagine that at some point–or many points–they must have thought, ‘gee, it’d be nice to stop.’ But it was either go back to the settlement, or see their families and their home again. I certainly know which I would have chosen, and like them, I’m sure that would have been enough to motivate me to continue.
For most of us, we rarely have to make choices like this. My walk today meant I was away longer than I’d planned, but if I’d really been in trouble, I’d have been able to call home on my phone, or failing that, if things were really dire, there were three different friends’ houses on my route where I could dropped in, to ask for a lift. Mine wasn’t a walk to freedom or for life and death.
I suppose that’s why it’s so hard for us to imagine why you’d take risks to get back to your homeland, or why you’d run away from it if it were too dangerous. There are so many times we can just walk away, give up, do something else, cut our losses. But for people who are losing their homes–meaning their actual homes are no longer there–or for people who only want to get back to them, there’s no real choice. They have to see it through. Especially when they’ve made the choice to go down that road.
This week, the detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, where Australia sends refugees seeking asylum in Australia, was ruled illegal by the PNG Supreme Court. And this week has seen the death of a refugee who set himself alight at another Australian detention centre on Nauru, amid reports of other attempted suicides.
Going back is not an option for people in this situation. They cannot give up, they cannot do something else. They have lost everything, including hope. It’s only onwards, until the end. I feel such a depth of sadness that that end is death, and not a better life, which they were seeking, and had every right to find. It seems so hard to believe that this is the best our rich, developed nation can do. And I’m so disappointed that only weeks before an election, we’re still unlikely to see much change in policy towards refugees and asylum seekers, from either of the major parties. Perhaps what disappoints me most is the lack of public outcry which allows these policies to continue. Cynical that I am, I don’t see this changing very soon. I suppose we are comfortable with our own safety nets, and our ability to be able to change our minds or give up on whatever seems difficult. We know nothing of walking, walking, walking, so far from home.