The undignified exit of Cornelia Rau

Monday 15 September 2008

Back in 2005, it was discovered that Cornelia Rau, a permanent resident of Australia, was unlawfully interred in the Baxter detention centre. Her story was splashed all over the papers at the time. It is a rather long story of how she came to be unlawfully detained at Baxter - you can read about it here - and not one that can be blamed on the system.

What can be blamed on the system is the way that she was treated upon her release. When it was discovered that Rau was at Baxter unlawfully, the story made big media news. She was transferred at night to a hospital in Port Augusta for committal under the Mental Health Act. Tonight I saw footage of her transferral. Footage of the one female and four male guards who entered her room while she was having a shower. The female guard opened the bathroom door and informed her that she was required to leave. Rau wanted to know why, but she wasn't told. Not then, and not when she was basically dragged out of the bathroom to a waiting gurney outside her room wearing just a pair of underpants. From there she was strapped down almost naked, covered by a blanket, and taken out of Baxter. The entire time nobody gave her an answer as to what was going on with her.

Baxter and Woomera detention centres were both privately run detention centres where inmates conducted the largest riot ever seen in Australia's detention facility history. They sewed their lips together in protest, went on hunger strikes, tried to hang themselves. Poorly trained and inappropriately selected guards entered into a hellish environment where the groupspeak held that detainees were to be referred to as unlawful non citizens. An environment where the batons guards used were referred to as 'black Panadol', references made to to 'gas and bash' approaches of dealing with people who were often already traumatised before they reached these shores and fell into piles of governmental red tape that took years to processing their claims. In the meantime, they were treated like prisoners. And the guards themselves were traumatised. Some guards tried to take their own lives afterwards. Many remain deeply scarred.

One guard was employed when she was a 20 year old woman with three children who had just come out of a violent relationship and had mental health issues of her own. She had a bowl of hot curry thrown into her face by an unlawful non-citizen. She required an operation to insert plastic tubes into her eyes to function as tear ducts, as the ones that came with her eyes were now ruined.

described the results of the Australian government's decision to privatise its detention centre facilities to a for profit company:
There in lies the great beauty of the for profit organization. Divorced from ethical relationship to people, it mutates into a free wheeling force of violence that only serves one god. And in the service of that impersonal god, ordinary people, the beloved of God, are ripped to shreds and left as trembling shadows in its wake.
God help all of those people. God help all of us when rationalising, sequestering, and refusing to take responisibility is an integral part of the system we live in. No one is to blame anymore it seems.

(However, Rau was later paid compensation by the government to the tune of $2.6 million. Which is more than the unlawful non citizens will ever see. And which is no justice at all. But I don't think the system speaks in language of justice, just the monetary language of compensation.

Greater vision yields the following, however:

I think authentic God experience gives you another place to stand, another identity, and the courage to stand outside of the world.

Authentic God experience liberates you from the domination system, liberates you from needing everything to be perfect or right, and liberates you to be who you really are—naked and poor.

And until you can stand in what Jesus called the kingdom of God, a different kingdom, you will almost always be completely subservient to the world.

Richard Rohr


  1. Nice one...

    The footage of Cornelia Rau was disturbing to say the least...

    Standing outside the world while living in it.. there in lies the great tension:)

  2. Sorry to cut in on your wave, dude :)

    But I was taking notes while I was watching this, dammit! :)

  3. Yeah ... I watched the show too an ... being an exprison officer (8 years) it brought back a lot of memories mostly dealing with dehumanisation for both crim and screw.

  4. Mork - 8 years, wow. It is so dehumanising, isn't it. So why do you think that is? I am interested in our concepts of imprisonment. What exactly is it for? It's for punishment, yes, and it's for protection of society. But is that the endof it? People complain about prisons costing the taxpayer, and complain about prisoners being on holidays in prison because they have acess to books and the internet, or whatever. What do you think?

    I have about four posts brewing about imprisonment. Just trying to mull it all over in my head, you know :O)

  5. I ahve also done about 8 units in a B (arts) - Justice Studies - Criminology, theories of crime, crimininal law, etc.

    It costs $55,000 a year to for one max crim over here, I reckon the money could indeed be better spent than on our bullshit feel good programs that produce no lasting results. NONE!!!

  6. I left a comment but Blogger ate it before it could publish it. I hate that. So what was it about the feelgood programs that were bullshit? Were they just stop gap types of measures? Is there anything you saw in your time there that you thought would make a difference, if the system was allowed to be infiltrated?

  7. I am very ashamed of us as Australians and how we have treated the most desperate of our fellow man. They didnt spend thier lifes savings to get on a boat and nearly die becasue thier home lands were fantastic wonderful places to live! I must make God weep the way we treat each other

  8. Lou - no, exactly. I agree. On the train this morning there was this woman who was obviously having some sort of psychotic episode, yelling at people who weren't there, yelling at people who were, and I was just looking around at the people who were laughing at her and thinking, "You bastards are more pathetic than she is." It really aggravated me. Of course, I suppose a lot of that laughter was tittery fearful laughter (she was pretty verbally abusive this woman, calling people c*^ts etc but still ...)

    God must have very red eyes :)


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