Byron to Brisbane: the travelling trio for child refugees
CHILDREN trapped on a desolate island in heat, humidity and dust with little education and at risk of abuse is not an image that equates well with Christmas.
Australian government reports for November 2016 showed 44 children seeking asylum as refugees were living in a regional processing centre on the pacific island of Nauru after being evicted from Australia when their parents/guardians brought them to the country by boat.
"We're talking about children being three-and-a-half to four years in detention,” said Peter Walker, who walked nearly 170 kilometres from Byron Bay to Brisbane in the lead-up to Christmas 2016 to increase awareness of the children's plight.
"There are packs of wild dogs on Nauru and ill sentiment in the community.
"It's no good just blaming politicians because they're our politicians.
"We can argue about 150 different nuances but we are stealing the innocence from innocent children.”
Mr Walker described himself as a pilgrim who had walked for "peace and freedom” in New Zealand, Fiji and India as well as in Australia before a perceived "dissonance” between the way Australians wanted their children treated compared to the way asylum-seeker children were treated on Nauru prompted him to be more specific.
"I wore a red mask for the entire journey,” he said, "to demonstrate the silence we force upon children in detention and also our silence about it, Australia's silence”.
"Children are being bought a lot of things at Christmas [while children on Nauru] are not given any way of communicating their plight.”
Mr Walker travelled without speaking for two weeks and used a small whiteboard to communicate with his companion, Scott Collins, and other supporters.
"We left it to chance to find out where we'd sleep each day,” he said.
"Strangers took us in, a caravan park halfway between the Gold Coast and Brisbane gave us free accommodation.
"In Helensvale [an activist] caught up with us and... activated some local groups in Brisbane to meet us.”
Mr Collins said he hadn't known much about children in detention before joining Mr Walker and people who knew him well were surprised by his decision.
"I haven't done any exercise in twenty years, my girlfriend thought I'd be suffering,” he said.
"The first five days were the hardest - there were times towards the end of the day when I thought my hip would fall off.
"There were no rules, Peter basically said come for an hour or come for the whole thing.
"I was for the children being free and I'm for them being treated properly.”
Iri Vallianos drove her converted ambulance full of supplies for the walkers from Lismore to Brisbane as a show of support.
"I know what it's like to move from another country due to poverty and war etc,” she said, "I understand their position”.
"Most of the days I would go get food and set up camp and prepare meals in the van.
"They would leave around 11 in the morning and I would meet them midway around two for a break before they kept travelling.
"I was tired driving in my van in the heat, I couldn't understand how they could withstand the heat walking.
"I'd try to find something light and some pillows for them to rest, they looked just exhausted.”
Ms Vallianos said she wore a t-shirt for the journey printed with the slogan #BringThemHere that sparked conversation with strangers along the way.
"A lot of people had some awareness, others would ignore me completely, look at the t-shirt and walk away,” she said.
The travelling trio formed a closed bond on the summer journey and despite Mr Walker's vow of silence, reported discussion with hosts and temporary fellow pilgrims each night as lively and insightful.
"We wrote a song called Bring Them Here and turned up in Brisbane where we spoke to about 100 people,” said Mr Walker.
Mr Collins said while he was a practised musician, it was Mr Walker's first time performing for a crowd - let alone after two week's silence.
"There was quite a crowd, all different professions,” said Ms Vallianos.
"This isn't the end,” said Mr Walker, "it will continue to build until the children are taken out- at least the children for goodness sake.”