You Are Welcome in Australia By Catherine McLean
In early February, a graphic novel authorised by the Rudd government (See here: http://www. customs.gov.au/site/Translations/English-m.asp) suddenly received a rush of media attention. Part of the controversial “No Way. They Will Not Make Australia Home” campaign, the 18-page graphic novel was first published on the Customs and Border Protection website last November. The publication seems to be aimed at the Hazara people–an Afghan ethnic minority who are among the most persecuted people in the world. It depicts a young man detained in an offshore detention center. He is clearly distressed.
When the graphic novel gained media attention, many people were shocked. One of these people was Kate Iselin. Iselin is the editor of The Vanity Project–an online publication that aims to mix fashion with feminism.
At first glance, given Iselin’s métier is clothing design, volunteering to publish a graphic novel about asylum seekers seems unlikely. In fact, this is her first ever activism project. However, Iselin has always felt very passionate about asylum seekers arriving by boat. “I’m always the person that’s like ‘Sign this petition guys!”, Iselin told AM-UNITY. “When I read that comic book, it really affected me. It really, really upset me to read,” she added. Iselin felt that the original graphic novel was insensitive. “Instead of showing people basically fleeing torture and war and really terrible situations, [the main character] was just sick of his job,” said Iselin. “That’s not why people come to Australia. They have really serious and legitimate reasons why they need to leave the country.” A few days after the publication reached media attention, Iselin read a friend’s tweet that jokingly read “Imagine if we made our own comic book for asylum seekers.” “I sort of had a light bulb moment,” said Iselin. “I was like ‘Yeah, I could do that.” She contacted her friend and expressed her interest in actually making a graphic
novel for asylum seekers. Though surprised by her interest, he gave her the go ahead. She immediately started a pledge on Pozible to cover the production costs. Upon pledging a selected amount, people receive a soft or hard copy of the comic book, along with some other goodies. Iselin’s project received $500 in pledges in the first hour. She immediately put together a basic storyboard and contacted the Perth-based artist Cal Art who agreed to do the art for the publication. Like the original comic released by the government, it will be primarily picture based with little to no text. “I think it’s that medium that is so effective,” said Iselin. “No words, no paragraphs of this or that. Just illustrations. Everyone understands illustrations.” Though the plot of the graphic novel has not yet been finalised, she hopes the graphic novel, titled “You Are Welcome in Australia” will put a positive spin on Australian people for newly settled asylum seekers. “The over-arching theme of the book should be community,” explained Iselin. “I want to provide something that makes [newly settled refugees] smile and makes them feel a little bit more at home.” Her title is a stark contrast to the original government slogan, “No Way. They Will Not Make Australia Home.” Iselin is concerned that the original 38
graphic novel is fuelling racism in Australia. “It worries me that it’s a bit like last year when the Rudd government was campaigning for re-election and they had those ads in the newspaper. But those ads were for us. I sort of feel like this comic might be for us too.” She was referring to the controversial “You won’t be settled in Australia” ad campaign that ran in many major domestic newspapers during the leading up to the last election. The campaign cost the Australian public an estimated $3 million. In response to this, Iselin aims to also promote tolerance and diversity in “You Are Welcome in Australia.” “If there’s one person out there who’s sitting on the fence and not really sure which way to lean… if I can change one person’s opinion then this will all be 100 times worth it,” explained Iselin. Iselin also expressed how important it is to educate younger generations about issues of tolerance and understanding. “Perhaps kids will see it, they will read it and understand. Maybe we can have a new generation of people who are slightly more accepting.” “If I can make a difference to one person’s life and how they are treated in Australia then that’s more than I could ever dream of,” she said. Any profits made will be donated to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, one of Iselin’s favourite organisations.
This edition of AM-UNITY Magazine sees a focus on Refugee/Asylum Seeker Rights, Afghan Women’s Rights and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgende...