Celebrated writer, Behrouz Boochani, has been visiting Australia for the first time after spending years imprisoned in this nation’s notorious offshore detention centres for asylum seekers. It has been a bittersweet moment for his friends, some of whom have not seen him for a decade. Linda Rose with this personal reflection.
My partner Nemat is a close life long friend of Behrouz Boochani.
They are from Alisharwan, a tiny village, in Ilam province, Western Iran.
Being a refugee activist and journalist I too had followed Behrouz’s story, reported on his bold resistance, and in time even interviewed him for my radio show The Anarchy Show on 4ZZZ Brisbane.
For seven years I’ve also known Behrouz as my partner’s friend, one of the ‘boys’ from Alisharwan.
So when he came to Brisbane there was the excitement of meeting Behrouz Boochani: award-winning author, film maker, trouble maker, and journalist.
But coupled to that was also the excitement of meeting Behrouz, Nemat’s life long friend I’d heard so many stories about.
It’d been almost 10 years since they had seen each other.
Behrouz left Iran first and Nemat left 20 days later.
When Nemat set foot in so-called Australia and was processed in Darwin he did not know Behrouz’s fate, and imagined he was already onshore.
But as Behrouz recounts in his multi-award winning book, No Friend But The Mountains, his first voyage across the sea was cut short when the boat sunk.
He didn’t arrive until after the country of the fair go started sending all refugees who arrived by boat to offshore processing hell holes.
‘Behrouz was unlucky’, is what Nemat has said many times.
However Nemat also knows the horrors of indefinite detention, ‘onshore’, including Christmas Island almost 3500 km from the mainland.
Behrouz managed to escape the chains of Operation Sovereign Borders and is a permanent resident of Aotearoa (so-called New Zealand).
Currently Nemat has a protection visa and is waiting indefinitely for a permanent visa, as promised by the Labor Party.
A promise by opposition leader Peter Dutton was that Behrouz would never set foot inside so-called Australia, but he was here over the last few months touring with his new book Freedom Only Freedom.
February 2nd was the much anticipated date Behrouz would be speaking in Brisbane.
I couldn’t fathom the emotions that would be felt by Nemat and his friends. After everything each one of them had been through, after so much time apart.
The night Behrouz spoke in Brisbane was a characteristically balmy Brisbane night, the Alisharwan boys and I walked from my house through nearby New Farm Park to The Powerhouse.
We picked up our tickets, walked to our seats and waited for Behrouz.
Nemat nudged my leg, ‘Behrouz’.
Behrouz Boochani award winning author, film maker, trouble maker, and journalist. And a ‘boy from Alisharwan’ walked into the theatre.
Throughout the event Nemat and I had water dripping on us occasionally, leaking, I assume, from the air conditioning pipes above.
Water leaking like sea water leaks into a shonky people smugglers boat, water leaking through the cracks that are starting to appear in Australia’s inhumane border protection policies, water like tears of joy from being reunited after 10 year forcibly separated from a dear friend.
At the Powerhouse Behrouz and Omid Tofighian spoke about themes surrounding refugees, so-called Australia’s offshore detention policy, the media and the related use of language within the wider debate.
When the discussion ended and as the audience was exiting the theatre we briefly met with Behrouz.
The reunion was cut short by Behrouz’s obligations as an author. He always emphasised in the media that he is here for work.
His writing hand must have been tired from signing books and his smile weary from interacting with an audience so happy to see him and welcome him to their country.
Meanwhile Nemat, Mehdi, Hafez and Kamron were waiting to reunite with their friend they hadn’t seen in over a decade.
They are also refugees and victims of Australia’s harsh border policies.
A hero who bore witness to torture: Behrouz Boochani pictured in 2018, one year before being finally released out of Australia’s offshore detention system after spending six long years without his freedom (Image: Wikipedia / Hoda Afshar / Supplied)
Once Behrouz decides it’s time to go we rush out the door.
I can’t understand a lot of what they were saying but there was a joy in the air they would have experienced little in the time they had been apart.
Behrouz was keen to escape and have some privacy after hours in the public eye and everyone walked briskly.
Walking down the ramp towards New Farm Park I see an animal lying on the ground.
‘Oh no’ I said to myself.
I stop, peering in the dim light to determine what manner of creature lay before me.
A mammal with a tail.
I realised it was a rat. Convulsing and suffering terribly.
I couldn’t leave it in pain, I picked it up by the tail to move it but it convulsed and fell to the ground.
The rat was ‘badbakht‘, meaning hopeless in Kurdish.
I was very distressed and already emotional from the events of the evening.
‘Nemat we have to do something about this rat.’
How many other people leaving Behrouz’s sold out show had walked past this sorrowful creature?
In the circumstances -without any transport, a kilometre from my house – euthanasia seemed the best option.
Ethical euthanasia is meant to be carried out in a precise manner.
Massive instant brain trauma is the preferred method.
Nemat didn’t hear me so I called to Behrouz who I’d only just met in person.
‘Behrouz you have to kill the rat, it’s suffering, you have to kill it.’
Ok so I was a bit disappointed that Behrouz didn’t immediately rise to the task at hand, but, he had been working for many hours, not even had dinner and was rushing into the anonymity afforded by the dark park.
Mehdi came back to help me out.
Shortly after this the rat died, it had probably eaten from one of the bait stations distributed around The Powerhouse.
Rat baits contain anticoagulants and other poisons which cause difficulty breathing, weakness, vomiting, bleeding gums, and seizures.
I rushed after the Kurds, entering New Farm Park the city’s skyline huge compared to Alisharwan’s but tiny compared to Tehran where Nemat and Behrouz had lived together.
Walking behind Behrouz I shivered despite the heat as I heard the haunting screams of curlews.
The call of the Bush Stone Curlew has close associations with death in Aboriginal culture.
I had an epiphany.
‘That rat was a victim of colonisation,’ I said, and seemingly in slow motion Behrouz walked two steps then turned to and looked at me.
He got what I was saying and nodded.
Hafez said, “You mean because it was brought here from somewhere else, it’s not from here?”
“Yes, exactly,” I said.
Colonisation brought the Black Rat – scientifically named Rattus rattus – to so-called Australia and they suffer because of it.
As a species they thrive, but individually they suffer an excruciating death from poisons (and other means used to eradicate them).
Non-human animals are also victims of colonisation.
I have been thinking about this incident a lot.
When you meet someone that is as intelligent and well known as Behrouz, and also, someone who is close friends with your partner you want to make a good impression.
Within two or maybe just one minute of being with Behrouz I am yelling about a sick rat and asking him to kill it.
I felt a bit like a crazy rat lady until I connected what had been discussed inside The Powerhouse to this poor suffering rat outside,
There’s another connection rats have with these events and that is Rattus Detentus.
In 2016, on Manus Island, nearby the horrors to which Behrouz and countless others were experiencing and witnessing, a large new species of rat was discovered.
Its existence whispered about for a few decades, the international team of scientists who finally found it after 30 years of searching included Australian Tim Flannery.
It was Flannery who suggested naming the species “Detentus”, in reference to the use of Manus Island as an offshore processing centre.
Rattus Detentus is also a victim of colonisation, the species is under threat from land clearing, feral cats, and disease spread by introduced rat species.
Feature Image: Behrouz Boochani walking with friends in Brisbane (Photo: Linda Rose)