Territory Stories

Alice Springs news



Alice Springs news


Alice Springs news; NewspaperNT




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This publication contains many links to external sites. These external sites may no longer be active.




Community newspspers; Australia, Central; Alice Springs (N.T.); Newspapers

Publisher name

Erwin Chlanda

Place of publication

Alice Springs


v. 9 issue 26

File type



Copyright. Made available by the publisher under licence.

Copyright owner

Erwin Chlanda



Parent handle


Citation address


Page content

WOOMERA 'HORROR' SPURS ALICE WOMAN INTO ACTION. Report by KIERAN FINNANE. An Alice Springs woman who says she spent a wonderfully happy childhood in Woomera, and two years ago, a nightmarish three months nursing at the Woomera Detention Centre, is setting up a local branch of ChilOut, a national organisation working to get children out of detention. Moira-Jane Conahan's family were British "10 pound" migrants to Australia 35 years ago. The family lived at Woomera for eight years. When she was employed as a nurse, in mid-2000, by ACM, the multinational corporation that runs the detention centre for the Australian government, she "felt excited about going back". She was not a political person. She knew nothing about mandatory detention of asylum seekers. She spent her first day wandering the streets, looking for her old house, now gone, recognising her grandparents' flat, going to the cinema that was once so familiar. "It was a high security town, everyone had a number which they had to quote to get in or out. "I remember Mum's, it was FOO56. "But that's where any similarity with the detainees ends. "We were so free and safe. We met wonderful people, many of whom are still part of my family's life today." In the glow of these memories, Moira-Jane started work. She says nothing could have prepared her for the shock. "As soon as I set foot in there I knew something was wrong. It was the look of the place, like a concentration camp, no place for little children. "There were massive lights that stayed on the whole night, depressing rows of huts where people lived, stinking toilet blocks. "Even that early in the piece, there were people trying to hurt themselves. That was after five months in detention. Some of those same people are still there! "They were completely isolated. They had no access then to any form of communication and had not been able to even let their families know that they were still alive. "The food was so bad that after two weeks I had to stop eating it. I had chronic stomach pain. "The catering was sub-contracted out. There were three or four staff members, the rest were detainees working like slaves for $40 a week no sick pay, holiday pay, workers' comp, or anything like that! "There were a couple of qualified interpreters who were constantly tied up with the Department of Immigration. "We nurses had to work with other English-speaking detainees as our interpreters. There were three of them, working for up to 90 hours a week each, sharing $80 between them. "No one as a caring person, capable of putting themselves in someone else's shoes, could be there and not speak out against the conditions. "It is so horribly wrong. These people came to this country with such high hopes, they promised their children a better life. If they were Afghani, they were promising their little girls that in Australia they would be able to go to school. "None of them could ever have dreamt that they would get here and be locked up in a miserable cage in the desert. "This will come back to haunt this country and I want to be able to look my children in the eye and say I did something." Moira-Jane left Woomera the day after the riot of August 2000, "a horror I never expected to see in my country". As she was preparing to leave, she watched in disbelief "shell-shocked families wandering out of the rubble" and, "as a loud roar shook the earth, an airforce bomber flew low over the camp, practising manouevres, terrifying those warshattered people". "I could have been anywhere, except Australia." Moira-Jane is working to launch ChilOut in Alice in the first week of September, to coincide with National Child Protection Week. She hopes the founder, Junie Ong, will be here to meet with Alice residents. Ms Ong started ChilOut in her loungeroom last August after she saw a Four Corners program about an Iraqui boy in detention. ChilOut now has over 1500 members in Sydney, and branches in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, London and USA. "They are ordinary people, mums and dads. Most of them have never been active before, like me.

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