politics

The lawyer who went away for work and came back changed for ever.

Maurice Blackburn
Thanks to our brand partner, Maurice Blackburn

What were you like when you were 10 years old?

Think back.

Were you mud-sliding with your friends? Riding bikes, discovering boys, and playing netball? Were you going to sleepovers where there was little sleep at all?

This is a story about another 10-year-old girl who couldn’t sleep, either.

Who couldn’t eat.

Who couldn’t get out of bed.

And whose only correspondence with her mother was a note bearing the words no mother should ever have to read:

“I want to die.”

Listen to her remarkable story, here:

When Maurice Blackburn human rights lawyer Katie Robertson went to Christmas Island for work, her mission was to remove any children from detention, and to stop any more Australian-born babies from ever seeing the inside of the walls there.

Nothing could have prepared her for the sadness and desperation she witnessed. But in the end, as she details on the Fighting For Fair podcast, it was the tiny, everyday moments that would be her undoing.

A child's drawing
A child's drawing

It was a small moment while interviewing a young father for a legal claim. His daughter was sick, his wife had tried to end her life by drinking cleaning fluid, and Ms Robertson asked if he had any more questions.

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“Yes,” he said. “When can I cook my daughter an egg?”

“I have this recurring dream,” he said.

“I’m in a kitchen. It’s bright and it’s warm... I am standing at a stove and behind me my daughter and child are sitting at the kitchen table. I am making them breakfast and I am boiling my daughter an egg. Just like my father used to do for me when I was little...this is my dream”.

There is no sense of privacy on Christmas Island, everything is done in a crowded space, even simple things like cooking and eating with your family needs to be done in a large kitchen area with everyone else on the island.  

Christmas Island
Christmas Island detention centre

It was then Katie Robertson realised; it's the little things that make us human.

"It’s not just about the wall, the gates and the fences. It’s the ability for a child to learn to crawl on a soft clean surface. It’s the ability for that 10-year-old girl to play with her friends. To run around in a park and graze her knees when she falls of the monkey bars. And it’s ability for that father to cook his daughter an egg and eat with his family."

In a week where the New York Times told the world about the human rights violations towards our country's asylum seekers, called Immigration Minister Peter Dutton a "little Trump", and exposed an alarming rate of self-harm in detainees, Katie Robertson's story shows the human toll.

There are no more children on Christmas Island anymore.

But there are still, as of today, 49 children in Nauru.

And that means 98 parents who just want to cook breakfast for their kids.

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