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The beloved countries are still crying

  • 23 August 2017


Seventy years ago Alan Paton wrote Cry the Beloved Country. His novel opened many Australians’ eyes to the wounded South Africa that lay behind its colonial surface. His elegiac conclusion was prescient of the two generations that followed.

'Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.'

What lay ahead was 50 years in which fear built fences between races, hammered laws into trenches to trap transgressors, locked freedom behind armour plate. Fear made people focus on the possessions they could lose and blinded them to the possibilities of the world in which they lived and the graciousness of the peoples with which they shared it. They lived encaged.      

The brave who had stood silent in the flaring sunset, tried to open the eyes of their people. Writers represented their world but it was not recognised. Critics denounced the injustice, and they were exiled. Thinkers proposed better policies and they were ignored.

Generous people were compassionate and they were mocked. Insurgents rose in protest and they were jailed. The darkness put out the light for longer than their lifespan. And yet they persisted.

This week is 103rd World Week of Migrants and Refugees (21-27 August). It focuses on refugee children around the world. In Australia, as elsewhere in the world, fear rules just as it did in South Africa.

We have sent ships to push them back, dumped them on remote islands, imprisoned and neglected them, shaped laws to beat them with, made compassion criminal, and caricatured their religions. And the fortress of fear keeps strengthening its battlements.

Over the last 40 years many Australians have visited, fed and clothed refugees, dreamed of a more welcoming society, proposed better policies, come together in marches, and collected alms. Year by year brief periods of sunshine have been followed by heavier storm.


"The treatment of refugees has become more brutal, their sufferings have grown and their protection under the rule of law has been shredded."


The treatment of