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MIKE READ

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Boundless Plains

This incredible photo series by Photo Imaging Graduate-in-Residence Mike Read examines the impact of the Australian Government’s ‘Stop the Boats’ policy on the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia, as they wait in limbo for passage to a new life.

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“This photo series, Boundless Plains (from the Australian national anthem line, ‘We’ve boundless plains to share’), came about after I wondered about the impact of the ‘Stop the Boats’ policy on asylum seekers.

The Indonesian mountain town of Cisarua was once a temporary stopping point for many asylum seekers waiting for people smugglers to take them on a boat to Australia; now many of them are stranded there.

This photo, At The End of the Rainbow, shows one of the homes where I stayed in the town, which was part of a compound housing men from Afghanistan. We shared meals, countless cups of tea, stories about our lives and numerous battles of the board game Ludo.

During one game with three young Afghan men, a player landed on my square and sent one of my pieces back to the beginning of the board. As he moved my piece he yelled “Scott Morrison (Australia’s former Minster for Immigration) says ‘No!’ You must go back!” before bursting into laughter.”

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“A group of concerned asylum seekers started a school in the town to ensure their children would be educated during the long wait for resettlement. This photo shows a boy who was elected the deputy head boy of the asylum seeker school. While it may look as though the girl in the photo is looking at him with admiration, she is actually his teacher – urging him back to class after recess.

As part of my appointment as RMIT’s Photo Imaging Graduate-in-Residence, this photo series has been exhibited at RMIT’s Design Hub and will eventually be made into a book.”

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“Sport was a big deal for many asylum seekers in Cisarua, particularly the young men who had little else but time and energy to burn. Cricket was king for those from Pakistan; however, nothing held sway like soccer. After the question, “When is the next election in Australia and who will win it?” was out of the way, I would be asked, “Who do you think is better – Ronaldo or Messi?”

These two boys, one each from Pakistan and Afghanistan, are close friends, neighbours, stars of their asylum seeker soccer team – and on the matter of Ronaldo versus Messi, bitter rivals. I walked into the room after the sound of their argument over the two players had died down and found them sitting together like this. Their bond was clear.”

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“The young man in this picture, Khadim Dai, was an important figure among asylum seekers in Cisarua. He was one of four co-founders of a school for asylum seeker children. A filmmaker and citizen journalist, his videos of life as a refugee in Indonesia have won awards and he has been featured in many newspapers across the globe. All while still a teenager.

I think any work about an important social issue such as this is created with a large element of hope that the work will have some sort of impact. There’s some great work done by photojournalists about asylum seekers, but I have found a lot of it reduces the people to victims and really makes it difficult for a viewer to have empathy rather than sympathy. I hope the work can add to the voice that tries to unite, rather than divide, in the national conversation about immigration.”

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“I took this photo when I first met Naeem. His brother had been kidnapped and father caught up in a terrorist attack in his native Pakistan. He fled to Indonesia and had just been confirmed as a refugee. Fourteen months later, Naeem was still waiting for a country to call his new home.

Boredom and loneliness are pervasive among asylum seekers and refugees as their lives are put on hold. They are away from family and friends, with limited financial resources and unable to work. For some, the bright tropical landscape of Cisarua acts as a sign of renewal and new beginnings; however, for others from more arid climates, it is a permanent reminder of their displacement and just how far they are from home.”

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“Two young Hazara men from Afghanistan take photos of each other among the lush green mountain landscape of West Java’s Bogor region to share with friends and family across the world on social media.

The most important thing I learned at RMIT was to do, to persist. Nothing comes to those who just sit back and wait for opportunity to come looking for them. There will be quiet periods, but you need to just keep putting yourself and your work out there and the doors will start to open.”

Mike Read completed a Diploma of Photo Imaging in 2010. He is the RMIT Photo Imaging Graduate-in-Residence for 2014 and 2015.