‘The Day Australians Became Refugees’: Exposing the faultlines 8c - ‘Australia isn’t meant to look like this’


‘Australia isn’t meant to look like this’

This painting depicts current and former Australian politicians in a small boat in the water, all wearing orange lift-jackets and holding their children in their arms. At the front, Prime Minister Scott Morrison holds his two daughters. At the back left Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton carries a limp child over his shoulder and to his right, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull carries a small, scared child in his arms. The viewer looks down on the group who look exhausted and scared.

[imagecaption] ‘Still painting and still putting politicians instead of refugees, to show they could be like us – Dutton, Morrison, Turnbull’, Oil on canvas, 2019. Artwork: Abbas Alaboudi. [/imagecaption]


Some viewers of the bushfire coverage couldn’t reconcile the images of evacuation by boat with the ordinary Australians caught in these traumatic circumstances. One declared: ‘My heart is in pieces. Australia isn’t meant to look like this.’ Another tweet, showing a boat load of white Australians, exclaimed: ‘We never thought we’d see the day Australians became refugees.’ Australia, in this settler imaginary, was scripted as well beyond the locus inscribed by disaster, suffering and forced flight experienced by millions of people around the world.

The bush fire catastrophe violently breached Australia’s insular imaginary and shattered the settler image of the nation as one quarantined from the horrors relegated to some abject elsewhere which could not, by definition, be Australia. This settler imaginary is firmly grounded in whitewashing the long history of war, trauma and displacement experienced over two centuries by Australia’s Indigenous people who have also described themselves as refugees in their own country.


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