Australian grandmothers are uniting together with one simple message to the federal government: release all refugee children from detention centres.
Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children (GADRC) is a growing movement of Australian grandmothers protesting against the government’s treatment of asylum seekers.
Dressed in purple outfits, scarves and sashes, the women are a prominent sight at rallies and public demonstrations.
The group formed in June 2014, when more than 70 grandmothers attended a meeting at St Andrew’s Uniting Church in Fairfield.
Many Uniting Church members are involved in the Grandmothers, including Margaret Oulton and Judith Hampton from Hampton Uniting Church. Ms Oulton became involved with the Grandmothers through Hampton’s justice and international mission group. Led by minster Rev Tim Angus, the group meets once every six weeks to discuss social justice issues.
A topic that concerned many congregation members was the indefinite detention of refugee children. Ms Oulton was a pre-school teacher for many years and believes detention centres are no place for children.
“A lot of people in our church are teachers. I think the issue of children in detention is closer to home for us,” Margaret said.
“We don’t see why these children should be restricted by the government from taking part in the same sort of opportunities our own children have.”
According to the most recent government statistics, 68 children are currently held in Nauru detention centre and 91 children in Australian detention centres.
“Our main goal is to get children out of detention, because some of them have been in there for more than two years. This is just an enormous amount of time. They’re the innocent party,” Margaret said.
While an increasing number of people are active in asylum seeker advocacy, sections of the Australian community remain opposed to refugees.
“To people who say ‘we don’t want these people in our country’, I think ‘well, it’s not really your country, it’s the original Australians’ country’,” Ms Oulton said.
“After all, we’re all migrants. The original owners of the land are the Aborigines.”
The Grandmothers movement continues to grow, with a new group launched in Sydney last year. Membership is not restricted to grandmothers. There are hundreds of participants affectionately called ‘FROGS’ – Friends of Grandmothers.
During December, more than 200 grandmothers and FROGS attended a Christmas Walk in the Melbourne CBD.
“They came from all over Victoria and were, as usual, dressed in purple. Most wore purple hats as it was a very hot day,” Ms Oulton said.
“Some of the grandmothers were joined by a small, but vocal, group of grandfathers, a number of whom were wearing new purple shirts.”
In addition to state-wide events like the Christmas Walk, local groups participate in public actions in their community. The Grandmothers groups are formed based on state electoral boundaries so that the grandmothers can keep in touch with their local politicians.
Ms Oulton is part of the Goldstein group, which covers the Beaumaris, Bentleigh, Brighton, Cheltenham and Sandringham areas. They have so far carried out demonstrations at Sandringham and Middle Brighton railway stations as well as the Middle Brighton Baths.
Their most recent public action took place outside Bentleigh railway station on 9 December. The women gathered at 7:30am to hand out leaflets to commuters on their way to work. They also held signs protesting against the detention of children and families.
The Goldstein Grandmothers recently wrote an impassioned letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, urging him to release all children from immigration detention.
“Prime Minister you, like us, are a grandparent. How can we rest while we know that children, just like our own grandchildren, are imprisoned under our watch?” the letter read.
“We note that you have stated that no child should be in detention. We hope you will match your words with deeds.”
The next state-wide action will be a bus trip to Canberra. If you are interested in joining a local Grandmothers group, contact firstname.lastname@example.org