Moving Truths: Claire Capel-Stanley

The Moving Truths series showcases pieces of writing by Faculty of Arts students on the topic of Global Migration.

In 2019, the Faculty of Arts ran a writing competition related to ‘Hard Truths’, an exhibition of prize-winning photography from The New York Times. Students wrote creative and journalistic pieces responding to the following questions: 'What has your life experience and the experience of those around you taught you about global migration? What needs to change?' Moving Truths, a new online series, showcases student entries from the competition, alongside profiles of each student author. Explore Moving Truths to learn more about our global community and discover the powerful stories our students have to tell.

Five Quick Questions with Claire

Master of Journalism student Claire Capel-Stanley submitted a piece of writing called "Left Eye Blue, Right Eye Green" about her father's journey from Liverpool to Whyalla, South Australia. Get to know a bit more about Claire below, and scroll down to read her competition entry.

Author Claire Capel-Stanley is pictured

Where would you like to travel? "Anywhere at the moment! With the current restrictions, I am planning a lot of imaginary trips. But if there's one place I'd like to go, it's the Great Barrier Reef. I've never been."

Of the places you've lived, which is your favourite? "Melbourne. It's the best city in the world."

Who or what inspires you? "I'm inspired by people who keep on living regardless of how much the world seems to want to squash them. I'm inspired by people who insist on their value and their humanity, and who go out on a limb to protect the places and people they love."

What are you studying or working on right now? "I'm working on an essay about strangers based on some photographs I found on the ground outside my house."

How are you coping during the COVID-19 lockdown? "I'm coping okay. I'm drinking a lot of coffee to punctuate the day and trying to enjoy the enforced downtime and switch off the news from time to time. I'm getting to spend more time with my partner which has its benefits and drawbacks. Alone time is hard to come by at my house so I've been trying to get out for walks by myself when I can."

Thanks Claire!

"Left Eye Blue, Right Eye Green" by Claire Capel-Stanley

My dad carries a card the colour of bone in his wallet. It’s chipped around the edges. A gigantic crack down the middle splits the word “Australia” from “Commonwealth.” He’s fixed it up with tape.

My dad is one of around a million English migrants who began new lives in Australia in the post-war period. As a teenager, he left wet, miserable Liverpool for Whyalla, a South Australian town wedged in between red desert and the sea, wind-whipped and impossibly bright. Tacked onto the end of this wave of English migration, my dad and his family made the boldest move of their lives.

The migration card is proof of more than just that journey. It is proof of the system that greeted them on arrival. There is no photo on the card, but there is, in wonky typewritten font, a description of his face: “Colour of eyes: Left eye blue, Right eye green.”

My dad has heterochromia – two different coloured eyes. Somewhere, in the rush of immigrants of mainly similar colouring, some migration official had taken the time to look my dad in the eye and notice. That’s the reason this card is special. It’s not just about the migrating to a new country. It’s about a country that looked up and saw him.

That it was easy for Australia’s migration system to see a white English boy is unsurprising. Dad’s migration was the result of a specific policy to encourage white, predominantly British migration, which lingered until 1973 – two years after his arrival. As Benjamin T. Jones points out, it was not only a migration policy, but an ideology that pervaded everything from soap to fruit advertising. The message was that Australia was white. Everything in it was white. And white was superior.

While the official White Australia policy may be in the past, it still pervades our migration processes. In Australia’s offshore processing centres, asylum-seekers are known officially not by their names, but by numbers. This detail, a kernel from which so many human rights abuses have sprung, exposes the racism embedded in our system. Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a refugee from Western Sudan, who was in Australian immigration detention for six years, recently called this practice out as being one of the most dehumanising elements of the system.

Receiving an award for human rights defenders in Geneva, on a rare reprieve from detention, he said “We are known to the Australian government as a number. They have erased our names, stolen our identity and they give us only a number.” If a detainee uses their name instead of a number, essential services are denied.

In government, there are many euphemisms that disguise the racism of this practice. Processing and efficiency are among them. But there are currently only about 1,000 people in the immigration detention system according to the department – that’s only the size of a large high school.

Not so long ago, a million migrants flooded the country from elsewhere, and while they were processed, they were called by their names. They were seen, even down to the colour of their eyes. Treating today’s asylum-seekers differently, refusing them the same essential dignity, is indefensible.