While most of us wring our hands at our treatment of asylum seekers, one father has decided to do something about it, powering himself to enact change with his own two feet.
57-year-old Adam Richards and his Ned Thorn will soon have walked 1,500km to protest Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers, in an effort to bring awareness to the severe plight of those being held on Manus and Nauru. At the time of writing, there are around 2,000 still in mandatory offshore detention, living in conditions which the United Nations declared in 2015 were in violation of the International Convention Against Torture.
After walking almost 1,200km last year from Adelaide to Canberra, Adam and Ned set out again on the 24th of February this year, to walk from Sydney to Canberra. The Big Smoke spoke to Mr Richards, to explain why he was again hitting the road to wring change.
“What didn’t change was our government. Had something shifted that would have been fine, but to me, this is all about calling out… I despair of this government ever doing anything, but we have to call out to our fellow Australians. It’s only when little people stand up and say to their politicians ‘enough’s enough’, only then will something happen. Clearly, the politicians are getting too much political capital out of it, and the only reason this is being done is for votes, let’s face it.”
This walk is very personal for Adam, a “national disgrace” in his own words. As Adam says, he was shamed into doing something by his son Ned, who was 12 at the time.
“If I am able to walk the talk, there is no point telling a young man that it is the job of men to protect women and children, you can’t tell a young man that it’s our job to stand up for what’s right – I can’t say those things to him unless I am prepared to do something about it. That’s why I got involved in the first place, because I was so ashamed when he asked me what could be done, and I said ‘nothing’, and he gave me that look.”
Adam also spoke of a photo he recalls from a few years ago, a girl only about 8 years old, with a hand on her shoulder, who Adam imagines to be her father:
“She is staring through a cyclone fence as I recall it, but this girl is clearly in custody. I remembered thinking my god, if I was the man behind that hand, if I was the father, how much I would long and hope that someone would stand up for my child, because I wouldn’t be able to. They’ve been completely and economically disenfranchised and I would just hope that someone else would do for my daughter, something. I can’t not do something, that’s all there is to it.”
Considering that he’s walked around 1,500km in the summer heat, The Big Smoke asked Adam about the practicalities of the act itself, what did he think about and maintain motivation as he pounded out each kilometre, hour by hour, day by day?
“It’s a grind… sometimes it’s good, and when it started to rain for instance one day, we enjoyed it first for the first couple of hours, but 8 hours later we weren’t enjoying it so much, and when you’re cold you don’t enjoy it.”
According to Richards, you soon develop a “really interesting relationship” with gradients. Even a slight gradient “you inwardly groan at it”, and that he develops a real deep understanding of the actual surface and texture of the road:
“For instance, there’s a real difference between soft dirt and hard dirt, and walking on the roadside itself, I prefer to walk on the soft fine gravel off to one side. If the gravel is thick and stony it’s terrible to walk on because it hurts, you can feel it feel through the soles of your shoes, but if it’s fine gravel it’s almost as soft as walking on grass.”
Adam will arrive at the ACT/NSW border at the end of this week, and he is asking Canberra locals to walk with him and Ned the last few kilometres from the border into town. His walk will then culminate in a rally from Mint Oval in Deakin to Parliament House, which is expected to attract at least a few hundred people to protest with Adam. Those who can’t make it in person are encouraged to support Adam on social media, or donate to his fundraising campaign.
Given so little has changed politically since his walk 12 months ago, The Big Smoke asked Adam, if he would he walk a third time in another 12 months if things are still mostly the same then as now?
“Yes. If that’s what it will take, yes. I’ll keep calling this out, this issue, it is this generation’s ‘stolen generation’, and I will not have it ever said, when our kids look back and go ‘Mum and Dad, what did you do?’ I’ll never ever let it be said that we all just stood back and did nothing. The majority of people are against this, and the Government must get it right, they must stop it.”