It’s not hard for Mark Goudkamp from the Refugee Action Coalition – formed in 2000 hot on the heels of unrest at the Woomera Detention Centre – to locate a low point in the two decades since the commencement of mandatory detention in Australia; the disheartening realisation that Howard had 76% voter support during the Tampa affair, or even the current volley of blame-mongering between Gillard and Abbott. But with ebbs come flows, and we’re hoping the upcoming Building Bridges Festival marks a change in the tides. That it’s also going to be a blistering night of music and performance goes without saying.
What does the name ‘building bridges’ signify? Firstly, we want to build bridges between asylum seekers and the general population so that people are less susceptible to believing the myths about refugees that are propagated by much of the media and many political leaders. In addition, it’s about strengthening connections between the plethora of people and organisations who are working towards the same goal — i.e. ending mandatory detention.
How did you go about putting the festival together? The Herd have been very supportive of refugee rights for many years. Also, Reg Mombassa of Dog Trumpet was part of Mental as Anything when they headlined a large Rock Against Racism we held back in 2002. [Iranian poet] Mohsen Soltani has been deeply connected with the refugee rights movement ever since his release from detention.
Mohsen was an asylum seeker held for four years in Port Hedland and Villawood. What can you tell us about his story? Mohsen fled Iran after blowing the whistle on corruption. Yet like others seeking asylum in Australia he was locked up. His way of dealing with his long term detention was to create many moving poems, some of which he now puts to music. You could understand some refugees wanting to forget about their experiences once they are released, but Mohsen is an advocate for people now in detention.
What do you hope people walk away from Building Bridges with? I hope that people will come away from the festival with the belief that if we fight together, it will be possible for us to transform government policy regarding asylum seekers. Keeping up the momentum for change is sometimes no easy task, and if the festival leads to more people contributing in whatever way they can to the refugee rights movement, Building Bridges will have achieved its goal. (AB)
May 18, The Standard, L3/383 Bourke St, Surry Hills, $20-30+BF, wearethestandard.com.au