I Have Seen The Moon: Australia, Nauru and Refugees (Paperback version)

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.