||Issue No. 133||26 April 2002|
The Struggle Continues
Interview: If The Commission Pleases
History: Protest and Celebrate
Unions: A Novel Approach
Industrial: Hare Tony, Hare Tony
International: Never Forget Jenin
Politics: Left Right Out In France
Health: Delivering A Public Health Revolution
Review: The Secret Life of U(nion)s
Poetry: May Day, May Day
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Gold Star Student
Time for a General Strike?
A Novel Approach
If CFMEU organiser Duncan McLaren was so inclined he could shoot through and set up a second hand bookshop that would put some competitors to shame. Thankfully, he's not, and kids in Australia's appalling detention centres will get some recognition of their humanity.
McLaren is colonising offices around the union's Lidcombe headquarters as books for refugee children flood in from all parts of NSW.
He's got all kinds - from Little Golden Books and Dr Seuss, through dictionaries and encyclopedias, to high school maths and science texts.
The best estimate is 10,000 and more are arriving daily.
McLaren, passionate about Australia's treatment of refugees, picked up the book baton from Sister Mary Keely of Bellingen-based Rural Australians for Refugees, about a month ago
He liked her idea and thought "hey, this is something practical I can do to counter the Government's policy of dehumanising these people.
"I mean, no matter what you think about detention centres, surely nobody thinks these kids have done anything wrong, that they, at least, deserve a chance.
"So I sent out the call."
Hitting the Email
McLaren, taking time out from EBA enquires, hit the email trail but had no idea that one particular correspondence would elicit such an overwhelming response.
An approach to the Teachers Federation brought an encouraging return so he tried an organisation called the Primary Principals Association of NSW and hit paydirt.
Carton apon carton of good quality, English-language books flooded in from as far away as Dubbo and Wagga Wagga. There were 10 cartons from a Marrickville Primary library clearout, alone.
And not just books. There are cartons of obsolete ruled pads as well as good quality toys and videos.
It's left him with mixed feelings.
"I've learned one thing," he admits, "be careful what you ask for because you might just get it."
The CFMEU is supportive but the logistical problems of collecting, sorting and distributing the books are all his.
Offices in Newcastle, Wollongong, Central Sydney and Lidcome are proving effective collection points but he still hasn't been able to send organisers to Wagga Wagga or Dubbo.
And, while Villawood won't be a problem, the cost of getting the goods to Port Hedland, Woomera and Curtin is shaping as a headache.
State secretary Andrew Ferguson has penned off a note to the Transport Workers Union asking for suggestions.
Over the next couple of weekends McLaren will lock himself away in the union office and go through all the donations, trying to work out what goes where.
He's promising "as much coffee as you can drink" to anyone who will go in and help with the exercise.
We're All refugees
Overwhelmingly though, he's elated by the response. "I just think it's great, that despite all the propoganda, Australians are willing to do something for these kids," he says.
"Personally, I'm Australian-born of Scottish extraction and my great-grandfather came here from Glasgow out of poverty.
"Most Australians are here because their ancestors were refugees of one sort of another. I can't believe we have a Government that will villify the latest group of refugees simply to hold onto power.
"They have been successful, so far, because they have been able to dehumanise these people, not least by sticking them out in the desert.
"I think providing kids with books and toys is one small way we can counter that. I mean, parents give their kids books to develop their humanity and, hopefully, we can build on that in the detention centres."
McLaren came face to face with the dehumanisation process when he answered an appeal from the Bellingen group for Australians to become penpals with people in the detention centres.
When the organisation asked for a list of detainees so it could match them with interested Aussies, DIMA sent back identifications in Alpha Numeric code, not a name to be seen.
Accordingly, McLaren addressed his first letter to EME 74 at Port Hedland.
"I just thought - this is shit," he said, "but that's the way it had to be done."
EME 74 turned out to be a man called Amir Bashtin and the pair have since exchanged several letters.
Tales from the inside convinced him books would be a practical way of bringing some normalcy to the children of these people.
Basically, camp sources say, the job's done. He's got his hands on more than enough for their purposes.
Unfazed, the CFMEU is organising for the overflow to be shipped to East Timor where shortages of books and writing materials are a serious problem for the fledgling state.
"I don't need any more. Basically, I'm inundated," McLaren says "but don't worry none of them will go to waste. Schools in East Timor can use as much as we can get."
Just as well really because it's right about then that the receptionist rings from downstairs - could he come down and pick up another two cartons of books that have just landed on her desk?
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