Tuesday, 11 June 2013

There were two deaths

announced by name in yesterday's papers. One was on page three of our national newspaper. The other was tucked away in the international news pages of our state newspaper. There were also further reports about yet more drownings of asylum seekers.
I imagine that the Australian government, while saying all the expected things, breathed a sigh of relief at the death of Christopher Pearson. They would have all but ignored the death of Iain Banks. After all, he was "only a writer" as someone put it to me. Only? 
The last deaths, the drowning of more boat arrivals will have added yet more fuel to the asylum seeker "debate".
Christopher Pearson was a literary man. He was a columnist for the Australian. He could be as witty as he could be serious. He wrote well. He made no secret of his conservative leanings or his Catholicism. Even when people disliked what he had to say most respected him. He could be the voice of quiet reason in a noisy debate - and that sometimes made him unpopular. He will be a loss to journalism and political writing - something even one of his arch enemies was prepared to acknowledge.
Iain Banks was not "only a writer". He was an author of some amazing books like "The Crow Road" and "The Steep Ascent to Garbadale". His politics were as far to the left as Pearson's were to the right but I believe they once met, agreed to disagree, and respected one another.  Banks will be an enormous loss to literature in general and Scottish literature in particular. He will also be a loss to the movement for greater Scottish independence and to the "collective conscience" - those writers well enough known to influence public opinion through their creative works.
Both men died too early. Modern medicine could not save them.
The death of the boat arrivals is something entirely different. It is something which could have been avoided and should have been avoided. 
There are widely varying opinions on what can and should be done about boat arrivals. What is very clear however is that the current Australian government policies encourage rather than deter people from attempting to come to Australia in this way.
Some people argue that all those who endeavour to come to Australia this way are desperate refugees. Others say they are not.
Some ask why people do not come by more acceptable routes and seek asylum when they arrive. Others say they cannot do this and are coming by the only means they can.
What people believe is shaped very much by their personal beliefs and by newspaper reports. It is rarely shaped by first hand knowledge, access to official reports and interviews.
Unlike Christopher Pearson and Iain Banks the names of those who drowned this time will not appear in the paper. We will never know who was lost or what we might have lost in their passing. Their families may never know they have gone. They may suspect it but will never be able to prove it. They may prefer to go on believing that the high-spirited young man in trouble with the law at home has arrived safely at made a go of it here. 
Whatever they believe it matters to them and it should matter to us too. 

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