A HUNDRED people are huddled in Warrnambool’s Mozart Hall listening to indigenous elder Uncle Lenny Clarke.
At the back of the hall children pick at fairy floss while the adults listen quietly.
“We’ve suffered for the last two hundred years and we don’t want to see it happen any further,” Mr Clarke says from the stage.
The elder doesn’t see much difference between the displacement of Aboriginal people over more than two centuries and the situation facing refugees now seeking asylum in Australia.
“As soon as they get on a boat we slam the door,” Mr Clarke says.
He was one of many speakers and musicians at a gathering yesterday afternoon to raise awareness of the plight of refugees.
Event organiser Michelle Uriarau isn’t fazed by the challenge of doing that in a conservative electorate, where there’s no doubt many who support the government’s policies.
“You just carry on. At the end of the day we can only raise the truth of what our government is doing,” Ms Uriarua said.
Rural Australians for Refugees is hoping to establish itself in Warrnambool, holding its first event over the weekend. Similar groups in the past have folded.
“We’re fairly new,” Ms Uriarau said. “We’re raising funds for two causes — one is Scarves for Hope, which is an initiative run out of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, and the other cause is Friends of Refugees, which is a Melbourne-run cause.”
Mr Clarke says offshore processing is a “national shame in the making”.
“A generation from now people will look back and they will be so disappointed at what has happened,” he said.
“The Aboriginal people think it is very disappointing what is happening to people from overseas. They’re welcome to our country.
“We’ve suffered and we know what it’s like. Whether they’re queue jumpers or not they still have human rights.”