Vale Myuran, Vale Andrew

May 6, 2015 - 1:14 pm 3 Comments

It has been one week since Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed and the horror and the grief has not diminished an iota—despite the devastating natural tragedy that befell those gentle, beautiful people in Nepal. (Those of us who have not trekked across the awesome Nepalese landscape may remember the Peace Pagoda at Brisbane’s Expo 88—which was the highlight of the whole assemblage of exotic offerings from the rest of the world for my children and myself. We sat in the upper storey of the pagoda sipping ice-cold orange juice from plastic bags sealed with a rubber band, admiring the ingenuity of the people who chatted and laughed with us and whose sweetness is still a strong memory after almost thirty years. When the Exposition ended, the Nepalese entrusted Queensland with their exquisitely carved wooden pagoda, which still graces Brisbane’s Southbank, reminding us of happier, more innocent times.)

Were they more innocent times, I wonder? No, not really. No analysis of any time past has shown itself to be innocent. They just seem, retrospectively, to be innocent times.

For now there is blood on all of our hands. Blood on the hands of a nation that trusted the Australian Federal Police to protect us. For while the AFP believed it was protecting us from drug dealers—and it was protecting us from this crime that we find abhorrent—it did not protect those young Australians who were perpetrating it. What the AFP thought expedient then in handing over the drug dealers to the Indonesian police now seems a tragedy of Greek or Shakespearean proportions. How badly we feel for Lee and Christine Rush, who informed the AFP about their son Scott, in an attempt to prevent him embarking on his Indonesian misadventure. They were apparently betrayed by the Feds for doing what they had hoped was the right thing because Scott was not detained at Brisbane airport as they had expected, but in Indonesia, in company with the other drug smugglers.

There are so many contradictions in this ten-year saga we have all just experienced. It was the media who first informed us about the arrest of nine Australians in Bali for attempting to smuggle over eight kilograms of heroin out of the country. Television news images of the plastic-wrapped heroin strapped to the bodies of the drug mules were horrifying. Then many of us put those images out of our minds. The fate of these people was  pretty much a foregone conclusion, regrettable, but. . . Those images of Myuran pushing angrily against his Indonesian captors reinforced the imagery of the ruthless drug dealer, out to make a profit at the expense of others’ lives. Then, nearly ten years later, a 4 Corners program introduced by our most loved and esteemed investigative journalist, Kerry O’Brien, showed a completely different person from the Myuran Sukumaran we had seen before. This was a calm, more mature young man whose demeanour was reassuringly gentle. He had been tutored by one of our official war artists, Ben Quilty—a man we also admire and trust—and was producing excellent art himself. Ben spoke of many of the good works that Myuran and Andrew had been doing in Kerobokan prison. They were not only reformed themselves, they were helping other prisoners to deal with their own individual nightmares of incarceration, helping them to aspire to and claim the potential of their own humanity. Here were two good young men. Surely they would not be put to death.

Rightly or wrongly, it has seemed to many Australians that President Widodo played a cat- and-mouse game of allowing us to hope that he would grant Andrew and Myuran clemency in not having them executed, and then, finally, cruelly, snatching that hope away. No doubt many of his own people feel the same way—for many Indonesian people are against the death penalty, including apparently the Jakarta Post newspaper and even members of the President’s own family. (How difficult has life become for them?) Cynics have suggested that had the two alleged ringleaders of the Bali 9 been executed soon after they were apprehended by the Indonesian police, no diplomatic tussling would have ensued and none of this brouhaha about the death penalty would have occurred, so in a weird way, the horribly drawn-out nature of this whole ordeal has brought with it its own peculiar form of grace. For however painful this ordeal has been for Myuran’s and Andrew’s families and friends, this sad episode in Indonesia’s and Australia’s histories has highlighted the fact that the two ringleaders of the Bali 9 were not just statistics, but men, flesh-and-blood human beings as capable of greatness as they were of the misdeeds that had them detained in a foreign country in the first place. It was with greatness and dignity that the two men died, and heartening in the way in which they comported themselves in prison once they had relinquished their criminal personae. Have two drug smugglers become heroes? That is for you to decide.

It has been posited that Australians, of lowly convict origins, love our criminals. (We even cite our Prime Minister as a type of low-level crim when referring to his budgie-smuggling). But this supposition is of course not even a truth beloved of liars, and too simplistic to be entertained by any sophisticated being. Perhaps for Australians instead, there is the melancholy acceptance of the flawed nature of the human—which we must extend to those countries who still support the death penalty instead of our anger and our hatred. Hatred of other people is not a quality of the enlightened. Let us learn from this saga that we must continually strive to exercise the best of our humanity, and never succumb to its worst.

These last few months have been an emotional see-saw for the supporters of Andrew and Myuran, but I believe something worthwhile can be retrieved from them. Firstly, we can recognise the admirable efforts of our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, intervening of behalf of the two young men, yet often hamstrung by the unbelievably insensitive  comments of her leader, not so much a “Mr Budgie-Smuggler” as a Mr Foot-in-Mouth. His most recent inane comment about the scholarship offered to Indonesian students from the Australian Catholic University is amazing when you consider he is someone who claims to be a Catholic himself. Perhaps, if he is a member of a Catholic community, his parish priest might have a quiet word with him. The other good thing is the offer of the scholarship by ACU.

The tragic demise of Andrew and Myuran tested my own humanity. Though I hate the illegal drug trade in any country and can empathise with that hatred in others, the horror of the death penalty and its enactment on two men I felt I had come to know through media portrayals of them, was visceral. I literally felt sick when I learned the fates of Myuran and Andrew— still feel sick and very sad. I believe that many others—Australians and Indonesians—feel the same.

Two images have burned themselves into my psyche. One is the look on Myuran’s face when he displayed an art diploma he’d earned from a Canberra institute of art: a bittersweet mingling of pride and regret based on the comprehension that here was recognition for something he’d done really well in his life, but an achievement that  had come too late. For I believe I saw in that expression, Myuran’s absolute knowledge of his fate— though I hoped desperately he was mistaken. The other image is the stunned expression on the face of Mrs Chan, Andrew’s  mother, as she was helped into a car at Sydney airport after the execution of her son. I believe these images to be indelible.

3 Responses to “Vale Myuran, Vale Andrew”

  1. John Ray Says:

    Delighted to come across your website
    I am not trying to get into your pants again but I would like to hear more about what you have been doing
    We seem to have a common interest in exposing corrupt justice


    John Ray

  2. Cheryl Says:

    Good news on both counts, John. Well, apart from having written two books about miscarriages of justice: “Brutal”—originally called “The ‘brook”— and “The Taint” (which you can download and read online), I have completed a Master of Philosophy degree at UQ and a Masters in Applied Linguistics at Monash. I also have three crime fictions and a Young Adult novel online which you can download and read.

    Pleased to see that you’ve taken up social justice issues yourself. Well done.

    Best wishes,

  3. Cheryl Says:

    Meant to say that all the books I mentioned in my reply to John (above) can be accessed by clicking on BOOKSHOP at the top of the page in the red menu bar.

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