He may be a direct descendant of the family that created the first wave of boat people to Australia, but according to Dubbo Police, Prince Harry shouldn’t have to read about Australia’s cruel and inhumane immigration policies. At least not in the form of a protest banner in the main street of a country town. Chris Graham reports.
Dubbo is perhaps best known internationally for its world class open plains zoo. But yesterday, the eyes of the globe were on the iconic Australian country town for an entirely different reason… the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (also known as Harry and Meghan) as part of their ‘Royal Tour of Australia’ to support the Invictus Games (helpfully sponsored by major weapons manufacturers).
The newly wedded couple were in Dubbo to see first-hand the effects of the drought gripping large parts of NSW. That was somewhat spoilt by an untimely downpour, although in a few week’s time Dubbo and surrounds will likely be back where they started before the Brits brought the rain.
Even so, the wet didn’t dampen the spirits of Dubbo residents (from an official population of 39,000, an estimated 30,000 turned out for a community barbecue). That job, at least in the minds of Dubbo Police, was left to local resident Laura Volkofsky, who decided to mark the visit by reminding local residents the Royal Tour probably wasn’t going to extend to other parts of the Pacific… namely Manus Island and Nauru. You know, where we jail men, women and children seeking asylum. Indefinitely.
And that’s how Ms Volkofsky came to hang a protest banner from her apartment window in the main street of Dubbo, only to have local police arrive and ask her to take it down. Because, while it may still be legal in Australia to express a political opinion, the Royals shouldn’t have to read about it. Right?
Ms Volkofsky – who lives above a florist’s shop in Talbragar Street in the CBD – hung the ‘offending’ sign up on Tuesday night. It read, “ARE MANUS AND NAURU ON THE ROYAL ITINERARY? BLOOD ON OUR HANDS”. By Wednesday morning, local police were on the case.
“I was at work and [the florist]called to tell me the police were there, saying the banner needs to come down,” Ms Volkofsky told New Matilda. When she arrived, she found a lone female police officer trying to explain why a passive (and entirely legal) act of political protest had attracted the attention of Dubbo police.
“[The police officer] seemed almost reluctant. She was like, ‘Look, sorry, but the boss has said it’s got to come down. I said ‘OK, on what grounds does it have to come down?’. She said it wasn’t illegal, but that all that she could think of is that someone might get offended.
“I said, ‘Ok, so sorry, no-one has even been offended yet? Not that that’s a reason to take it down, but this is hypothetical at this point. [The officer replied], ‘No, the boss has just said it’s got to come down. It’s out of my hands.”
Ms Volkofsky said the police officer kept assuring her she didn’t have “an opinion either way”, adding “Trust me, I’m not involved in this politically”.
“It seems like a pretty clear sign that someone at the cop shop finds the issue to be controversial, and didn’t want to be turning heads on such a special day.”
Ms Volkofsky eventually conceded, and agreed to pull the protest banner down. And then she had second thoughts.
“The officer left, and then I chatted to a friend to clear my head about it. And then I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s not illegal, I would feel really silly if I took it down at this point, just because some cop is apparently concerned about someone in the public possibly being offended by it. So I resolved to leave it up, went back to work, and wondered if I might be tracked down by a cop who has found some actual reason to make me take it down.
“But that never eventuated. So it’s still up.”
As it was, the Royals arrived (late) and ate sausages with the 30,000 locals, before heading back to Sydney, apparently unscathed and unsullied by the reality of Australia’s cruel and inhumane immigration policies. Crisis averted.
For her part though, Ms Volkofsky remains defiant.
“I put the banner up because, obviously, it was a big occasion for Dubbo, being on the international stage. There would be a lot of media around and I felt like it was a moment where people would be forming an idea about Dubbo as a town,” Ms Volkofsky said.
“I’m not a huge fan [of the Royals]but Dubbo has really been suffering in the drought. If [the Royal visit]can really bring some hope to farmers, I don’t want to take away from that.
“I don’t expect the Duke and Duchess to have any involvement in [asylum seeker issues], it’s more about wanting to bring attention to it, and [to show]some solidarity with those suffering at the hands of our government.
“I’m a proud Dubbo resident. I’m happy about being here. I like my town, and I know there are people who care about this issue and feel voiceless and powerless in expressing that. I thought the banner might be one way of feeling like we have a voice in it all.”
And that’s what ultimately ended up happening.
“There were plenty of really positive responses from locals about the banner,” she said. “There were people who popped their head into the florist and people on the street who saw me getting a picture and were really supportive of it.”
Ms Volkofsky, who has grown up around the central and far west of NSW, said there was plenty of political activity in small and not-so-small NSW country towns, although it’s not always as visible.
“The activism in Dubbo is hard to gauge. There’s a lot of really good people here who care about things. You see people regularly engaged in things to do with coal seam gas, and Indigenous issues are at the forefront a lot of the time. There are some key local figures really involved in asylum seeker issues as well.
“But it doesn’t have the same feeling as like a city. It’s easier to stumble into groups of like-minded people in the city, whereas in the country you more often might feel like a minority. “But that’s just because it’s less seen, not because people don’t have a heart for the issues that are happening.”
As for the Dubbo police, Ms Volkofsky thinks they also have ‘a heart for the issues’, but at least one of them would rather not see it discussed in the community.
“I think some cops having an issue with the banner was them possibly conceding that what we’re doing on Manus and Nauru is wrong. It’s not just that they considered it ‘controversial’. I think it’s more that we all actually know it’s not okay.”
Dubbo police did not respond to requests for comment.
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