It was brought to my attention recently in the course of a conversation with a friend that John Berger, the Arts Writer who wrote Ways of Seeing, had written a novel. In it he had used a family tragedy concerning his daughter-in-law. This resulted in his son’s estrangement from him.
Although I am uncertain about the accuracy of this statement, it still gave me an insight into the negative reactions I might expect to the writing of an essay on the death of a relative. Many would agree that it is unacceptable to use one’s family’s tragedy in one’s writing; it shows little consideration. It shows insensitivity.
It is true that many great authors have translated tragic occurrences in their lives into works of fiction. As Truman Capote said, “That is all I have”. In doing so, the more skilful and creative writers of fiction have drawn deeper philosophical meaning from their experiences for the greater good.
I have no novelistic pretensions. The form I have chosen to use is non-fiction; because to create fiction out of something as personal as this would take time and skill, and whether that is appropriate or not is not for me to say. Anyone is allowed to register her thoughts concerning an occurrence -however private and difficult- if she chooses to, with discretion. But when a tragic event sends out sound waves which may resonate with others, then the personal becomes the political.
Because I believed that what happened to my nephew here in Australia in 2010 might have some future significance in Australia, I decided to write for a wider audience.
Mapping the Edges of the Night was first conceived with only my Malaysian family in mind. It outlined what happened in November 2010. I planned to write of the events exactly as they were reported to me; how I received the news and all that happened afterwards together with the information uncovered during the investigative process which followed. This was in order to give every member of my family in Malaysia the opportunity to ask us here in Australia the questions they might have wished to ask about this distant, unnatural and untimely death.
The research this required necessitated a request to view the Brief of Evidence which the Officer in Charge had sent on to the Coroner’s Court without the signatures of those of us who had been interviewed and whose words had contributed to the evidence.
In reading the Brief, however, two disturbing facts emerged: first, the suspicion that nothing we could have done would have stopped this death from occurring; and a second, more concerning suspicion that the events which led up to this death showed that in less unfavourable circumstances, it might have been prevented. More and more I became convinced that this tragic event need not have occurred; that the personal reasons for it, if there were any, must have been exacerbated by a certain degree of inhumanity.
And so I wanted a wider audience, in order to stimulate a discussion on the position of foreign students in Australia. Otherwise the writing of such an essay would be simply sensational and inappropriate.
In my opinion, it is the duty of every overseas student to know the requirements of the Australian Immigration Department and to be alert to the changes, if any, in Immigration policy during their time of study here. Furthermore, it is crucial that they be thoroughly briefed on the limitations of Student Visas. They have to be well-informed regarding the requirements of their courses, and they have to know where to get help when help is needed. Above all, they must have someone to appeal to who can help them in the difficulties they face alone in a foreign country.
Registrars in Colleges –especially Private Colleges should be engaged in advice and guidance rather than complaints to Immigration Authorities of a student’s non-compliance. This has occasionally resulted in the cancellation of visas, a drastic measure taken by the Immigration Authorities which has had devastating consequences for some foreign students.
If these requirements are ignored, then the recruitment and acceptance of Foreign Students into Australian Colleges amounts to no more than financial exploitation if not deceit. And in a Civil Society like Australia which honestly strives to maintain a good Human Rights record, this careless attitude is unacceptable.
Out of every tragic circumstance something good should emerge. I hope that this essay will stimulate some discussion on the subject of foreign students in Australia.