Abraham Lincoln once said “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice”. Lincoln of course is a historic figure and a great man of the sort we don’t seem to find anymore in this world.
It would seem strange that as an Australian photojournalist that I would open this particular blog with a quote from a man who is legendary for uniting America and freeing Afro-American slaves… but yesterday when I was shooting for my upcoming exhibition on a day known in Australia as Harmony Day… I met an Afghani man who was a refugee to Australia and in the course of our discussion he said to me….
“America is a great country, wealthy and sophisticated and they thrive because they are American”
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant until I woke up this morning to the news that Australian politicians had held a bipartisan early morning candle light vigil for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two young Australian men who are in imminent danger of having their bodies ripped to pieces by a firing squad in an enactment of their punishment and sentence for smuggling drugs through Indonesia…The Death Penalty.
My colleague, friend, my sister in many ways and one of the most important teachers I have ever had….Sociologist and photojournalist Barbara McGrady…often asks me this…
“What do you define as Australian… You know what does “Being Australian” mean to you?”
Barbara is not Australian. She is a Goomeroi Murri Yinah. Her people have lived on this continent for more than 60,000 years in an uninterrupted flow from one generation to the next. She belongs here. But now, even though my people never really understood this continent nor why they washed up on this shore, so do I.
While my families antecedents can only be traced back to the late 1800’s and Barb’s family go back 60,000 plus years and on so many levels our understanding of this world differs.. after this morning I feel like I can finally answer her question. What is “Being Australian”…
We are many things but maybe it is what we are not that really answers Barbara’s question. Australians are not a race. We aren’t a colour. We aren’t a sporting team. We aren’t academics. We aren’t without fault. We haven’t been on this continent for long. We win some we lose some.
But we aren’t without compassion and we aren’t without mercy.
“Being Australian” is based on so much given to us by Barbara’s people. Our world renown “dry” sense of humour. Our love of sports. Our ability to fight one on one. Our love of this landscape. Our connection to one another.
While two of our “own” are sitting in isolation cells in an Indonesian prison awaiting execution the finer points of “being Australian” are making themselves known. We do not believe in the Death Penalty. We do believe in redemption. We know it is possible because we are a small country and most of us probably have some sort of personal story about Indonesia, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.
But “Being Australian” means that we are connected to Andrew and Myuran in an indefinable way. We know them because they are Australian. They, like us, are a whole lot of things but some of that defies description. But we know we aren’t monsters.
As Myuran and Andrew sit in those cells, we all feel the horror of what it would be like to contemplate our own deaths. To replay in our heads over and over why we made our choices. How simple it was for us to make these mistakes. And how hard we had tried to be better people because we were given that chance to make a reparation for those mistakes. And how much we care about the people we call friend.
While His Excellency, The President Of Indonesia Joko Widodo must know by now how esteemed the work of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has been in Kerobokan Prison in Bali, perhaps he doesn’t know much about being Australian.
We were unimpressed by the show of military might when Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were transferred to Nusakambangan or the “Death Island” because we know that another of the ten “Death Row” prisoners was transported in a single van. We know that we weren’t going to drop bomb’s or stage a protest during the transportation because we know that Chan and Sukumaran violated Indonesian Sovereign law and we will not interfere with that process.
But we also know that each and every one of us feel the torment of the Chan and Sukumaran families, the pain of all their friends and associates. The pain of the people left behind in Kerobokan Prison asking what point is rehabilitation when it simply leads you to a horrific end.
We know because we are that indefinable thing.. We are Australians… and Myuran and Andrew are our people…
And as a people, we plead to His Excellency President of Indonesia Joko Widodo to grant Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan Clemency…We plead because we know that each and everyone of us, like Myu and Andrew, are redeemable..
Todays photo is of a baby at the vigil for Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan held at Toongabbie 26th March, 2015.