Pendlebury Wicks stumbled upon the ruins of Inverbrackie detention centre and found what it represents, and what it offers, completely unacceptable.
I stumbled upon my introduction to Australia’s immigration system by complete accident. I was visiting my relations who live in the arid, verdant, sticky blanket that makes up the Adelaide Hills, and there it sat: a detention centre. A brown-red ribbon of humble government housing that reminded me of my youth, the bones of a long dead neighbourhood drying under the sub 40-degree heat.
“Why are those houses empty?” I asked my mum.
“Inverbrackie, you know, the detention centre,” she returned.
For those who didn’t know, as I hadn’t, the Inverbrackie complex housed 400-odd asylum seekers until the site was shuttered in 2014. A site that may be revived as an option to fill the eleventh hour Abbott pledge to house 10,000 Syrian refugees.
What made it stark for me, was stepping through the shadows of our immigration policy in the light. I’ve heard, read, argued and thought on it, but there was nothing tangible to place it in my mind. Horribly, I treated the oncoming Australians as a larger problem. A number. A problem that needed solving, but one that had no face nor subjective vibe.
Upon seeing the ghost of Inverbrackie, I felt awkward. A pang of shame ran up my arms as my fingers gripped an unassuming looped fence, which threw shadowed bars against the dry, dusted floor.
My mind wandered as I arrived at a question.
How would I feel if this was my first real sight of this fantastically lucky country I’ve risked everything to see?
The first thing that struck me was the implied imprisonment. Nothing overt. Nothing shouted. It is a detention centre, painted with the promise of freedom, just the other side of the fence – the one you could climb over. Or was it? Outside the steel ring that ran around the waist of the complex, there was Australia. But it wasn’t Australia. There was a lack of opportunity, just a postcard image that alluded toward it.
While Inverbrackie is not Nauru or Manus, the location has a similar amount of exclusion. The site is located on a twisting lonely road, notable for being close to nothing save for the Woodside Army Barracks, which sits at the next postal address. Beyond that, a five-kilometer walk into the nearest town, for which you’d presumably have no use for. Within the fence, there seemed to be an extreme lack of anything. The odd picnic table sparsely freckled the bare vista.
As a comparison, the rubbled tortured streets of Damascus are a world away from the calmness of Inverbrackie. It’s a nil-sum equation. You’d always choose Inverbrackie. But therein lies the problem. Asylum seekers don’t have the luxury of choosing the location. The obvious point is that we do. We can improve the location. Changing the system is well above my pay grade, but I humbly know this. I would never want any child to experience Inverbrackie, which I’d imagine is preferable to Manus or Nauru.