Mary Anne Radmacher wrote, “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
Have you ever looked at the moon from a different angle? I don’t mean looking at it upside down as you might have done as a child, through your legs or hanging from the monkey bars.
I mean, have you ever looked at the moon and it looked upside down?
I know the moon is round and that there really is no up or down side to a circle, but I’m talking about a quarter moon or a crescent moon. Have you ever seen a crescent moon where the crescent just doesn’t seem to be in the right place? That’s how it seemed to me when I lived and worked on Nauru.
Nauru, the Pleasant Island, is a tiny island nation just 23 km around, lying in the Pacific Ocean 30km south of the equator and some 2800km north-west of Australia. It is a typical tropical island – palm trees, warm blue seas, smiling locals and cheap food. It also houses one of Australia’s off-shore detention centres, and it was here that I worked, off and on, for 15 months.
In the months after I returned to Australia permanently I realised that inside me I had built wall. This wall was not to keep things out, nor to keep things in. it was merely a wall constructed from all the events, people, memories, impressions and emotions that made up my time working in off-shore processing in Nauru.
I didn’t just have to recognise the existence of the wall – I had to do something with it. And that something was to honour it – honour the people, events, emotions and impressions that made up the life-changing time that Nauru was for me. I needed to reframe how I thought about my time in off-shore processing. I felt I had to give my memories wings, give them flight – not to fly away, but to be free, no longer confined to the wall.
A significant part of the freeing process was to take the actual wall I had drawn – each brick containing a word or phrase that referred to a person an event, an emotion, an impression – and to cut it up. Each separate brick then became part of a dragonfly’s body – a symbol of transformation – my memories being transformed from a wall into a freedom-loving dragonfly.
And the second part of this freeing my memories was to write this memoir. To do so I had to come face-to-face with my memories. For some of them it was quite painful – like surgically cutting into my soul. But the more I did this, the further I went in the process, the freer and lighter I became. And the memories were given flight, they had their own place in my life.
They were no longer trapped in a wall, just part of a collective whole. By examining them individually, by committing them to “paper” I validated each of them. And like the people they represented that are hidden off-shore, and like the experiences that are secreted behind “operational matters” my memories are now free. They are no longer a burden to carry. They are now a joy in my life.
No-one can fully understand what Nauru meant to me, but I can share what I can. And in the sharing I do honour to all that the wall represents, and also set it free, give it flight.
I have seen the moon, if not quite on the other side of the world, but certainly a long way from home. Doing so has enabled me to assess my place in the world and to discover that not only is the world bigger than I expected it is also much smaller. No matter whether big or small, no country can any longer claim to be an island unto itself.
Welcome to my Nauru.