Fitzroy Learning Network Speech March 2005

Clearly, I am standing before a room of great ladies, my mother’s one of them, Anne Horrigan-Dixon’s another, and I’ll talk about her soon.

But, before I can, there is a lady whose status was earned from a level of suffering that is beyond us to imagine, but I’m going to ask you to try.

This woman fled Iraq with her youngest son to join her husband in Australia, she boarded the ill-fated S.E.I.V. X (which means dully, suspected illegal entry vessel No. 10), she floated in the water supported by her life raft – the body of a dead woman, for 22 hours. She heard and saw the goodbyes of many of the 353 mostly women and children who drowned.

She was not rescued by Australians, but by fishermen. Sick, her skin in blisters, she and her son and 60 or so people took another two days to return to Indonesia, where she was again abandoned. Seven months later she was grudgingly granted a temporary visa by our government. She arrived and contracted breast cancer, now she battles bone cancer – Amal Basry is her name, it’s a simple name, it ought to be famous.

Amal believes she was saved in order that she represent her story and the story of the 353 that drowned, and that is why, Amal, you struggled to come here tonight. I asked you, Amal, because I knew that in this room you’ll meet women who would be pleased to befriend you, if they can in as many ways as there are women here. They’ll find you to be the surprising, warm and loving creature that you are, which will be their reward.

Which brings me to the formal love target of the evening, which for me is the Learning Network, its volunteers and Anne Horrigan-Dixon.

After four years of Activism or Advocacy, my preferred time, I do know EMC, RILC, the Refugee Council, the Hotham Mission, Sister Bridget Arthur, RAC, Rurals for Refugees, Adjust Australia, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, Spare Lawyers, the Uniting Church, Welcome House and my own Spare Rooms for Refugees etc.

Trust me please ….

  1. This group is not accountable to Federal funding or church bodies, for reasons that are very depressing, groups with those affiliations often take a very cautious or “policy” bound approach to their responsibilities.
  2. The Fitzroy Learning Network is not constrained that way, it has a quiet but respectable relationship with the State Government, through Richard Wynne and John Thwaites – highly useful, gives independence, they’ll teach English to whom they want to.
  3. There don’t seem to be any discernable politics here. There is no empire builder. There are no career or warpaths. Fitzroy Learning Network just responds to need, no matter what it is.
  4. Fitzroy Learning Network is misnamed, because it’s an aid organisation providing learning, teaching and crisis and life support.
  5. All of the Afghanis know this. All of the people who came from Nauru were met at the airport with flowers, all were found flats, beds, pillows, heaters, clothes, doctors, dentists and jobs by this organisation. No-one else.
  6. Fitzroy Learning Network doesn’t teach, it treats people beautifully. As if they matter.
  7. The parties

I’ve been to so many parties in my life. I love them. But I’ve never been to parties such as theirs. Their parties are loving, funny and profound. Everyone helps, the sun seems to shine. At each party you notice something or someone new, you see people transform, sometimes in a party, sometimes over time. But this place changes everyone. There was one party – when I opened the door and saw a pony – I thought I was imagining it. Magic is also supplied, or a hundred wrapped Christmas presents or a Santa, music or a belly dancer, it’s always fresh.

Sometimes parties of about 70 people have gone away for the weekend. Sometimes to Canberra to fit in a bit of lobbying. They can and do turn their hands to anything.

Now my subject turns to art, I am an artist. I know art when I see it.

Kam Yama Kam, was a semi-professional play, which used actors, writers, producers, directors, real life asylum seekers to tell the refugee story. The idea came from Anne and it was acclaimed.

The truth is that Fitzroy Learning Network’s strength is its wit and its art. This is an art that is always in process, it’s a teaching organisation, it’s an aid organisation but it does more, it builds and restores people, it fixes problems and mends minds, it’s a creative force, it’s Anne Horrigan-Dixon and it’s very beautiful.

Support it, visit it, love it, there is no other, there’s none like it.