Rim Jezan, interviewee
Rim Jezan is a former asylum seeker from Iran. Brought up in the minority religion of Mandaeans, Rim had to hide her religion at her Islamic school for her own protection. At 11 years old, Rim stood up to her teachers against the pressure to convert to Islam and was subsequently kidnapped.
In 2001, Rim’s family fled to Malaysia the day after she was rescued from her captors. Rim’s family made the journey by boat to Australia as asylum seekers, via Singapore and Indonesia, and ended up in Villawood Detention Centre, where she spent three years of her childhood. She attended nearby Chester Hill High School whilst in detention.
After she graduated from high school, Rim undertook paralegal studies and worked for a Sydney law firm. She now has a law degree through the University of Western Sydney. She is involved in the growing Mandaean community in Sydney, which has a church in Liverpool.
Louise Whelan, oral historian and photographer
Photographer and oral historian Louise Whelan has been documenting Sydney’s diverse communities for the past 8 years.
A single mother of four primary school–aged children, Whelan left her job in property valuation to pursue her passion for photography. Her interest and passion for understanding the lives of others drew her to an ongoing project to document multicultural Australia with a focus on new settlers. Whelan’s vibrant photographs capture Sydney’s recently arrived migrants from countries across the world.
Listen to more stories in this series
Interview transcript (1 of 1)
Okay. I'll just say something first.
This is Louise Whelan interviewing Rim Jezan in Sydney,
in the office at Play Fair Migration Agency
in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
It's 30 May 2014 at about 5:30 in the afternoon.
Rim is a former asylum seeker who is an Iranian Mandaean.
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed
for the State Library's Refugee And Migration Stories.
No worries. Thank you for asking me.
Good. So are we good to begin?
Can you just start with your full name and when you were born?
Yes. My full name is Rim Jezan,
and my date of birth, 31 August 1988. I was born in Iran.
Okay, so can you tell me
if you can think of what are your earliest memories?
Probably school. Again, church. Friends, grandparents, cousins, uncles.
So tell me a bit about where you grew up
and how many in your family.
Okay. Well, it's five people in my family.
I've got an older brother and a younger sister
with my mother and father.
We grew up in -
I was born in Ahvaz,
and my parents travelled to Kuwait when I was around two months old.
They went back to Iran when I was three.
From then, we were living very close to Karun River in Iran,
where the Mandaean Church is, in Ahvaz.
So it was basically like a two-minute walk to the church.
I was raised as a Mandaean.
I was raised with all the cultures and all the beliefs that my parents had,
which I started adapting myself.
There were classes, Mandaean classes, which we used to go to.
So, we were raised basically completely as a Mandaean.
At school, however, we had to try and cover up our religion.
We had to try and pretend to be Muslims, just so that -
just so we're not in any kind of risk with the Muslims,
and also the Muslim teachers.
How did you do that? How did you go?
It was basically the Friday - for instance, the Friday morning prayers.
so we would try and pretend that we were praying with them,
but don't say anything - just do the actions,
just do sit down, stand up, and do whatever they do.
Or, we used to -
once we started getting our periods, it was basically,
"We've got our periods and we can't participate,"
because Muslims won't let you do it.
What did that feel like?
What age were you when that was happening?
I was around 11,
so it was basically hearing it from other girls saying,
"I can't pray, I can't pray."
So we started following. My cousin was in my class,
and one of the other girls was living in the same village,
so we started using the same excuse.
It was basically the same excuse every Friday,
so the teachers started questioning it.
Right. How did it feel to have to pretend that?
Can you remember how you felt about that at that age?
It's very difficult, and it's like lying to yourself.
I know that, once, my cousin just said,
"Why don't we just repeat what they say?"
I'm like, "No, we can't.
We were raised - we can't repeat what they say.
If we repeat what they say, we've changed our religion."
So it was really difficult, and it was more difficult because
there were not many people in school who were the same religion.
It was basically three girls against the whole world at school.
Teachers thought that we were the same religion.
Everyone thought that we were.
What about dress? Did you have to dress -
We had to dress the same school uniform,
so it was basically the school uniform that we had to dress.
Outside school, because we were still young, my parents didn't pressure us to -
or didn't even tell us to wear a scarf.
But after a while, when I used to go shopping with my mum -
I was nine or ten, and my mum was like,
"I think you've got to put a scarf on,
because you've been looked at differently."
Even though that was really difficult for my parents to do,
to put a scarf on their daughter,
it had to be done.
Tell me about the Mandaean religion.
What is that and how do you practise it?
Okay, so Mandaean religion is a very small minority.
You can't convert into the Mandaean religion,
you have to be born as a Mandaean.
If you get married to someone outside the religion,
you can't return back to the religion.
So it's a very strict religion. However, there is a lot of changes at the moment.
People are accepting other people.
But you can't convert into the religion, so even accepting it,
it's accepting the other person, it's not converting into the religion.
So it's a very strict religion.
We do have prayers.
Basically, if you want to clean your soul, you can go down and get baptised,
and ask forgiveness for whatever reason.
We do get baptised 40 days after we are born, so as a baby,
and when we get married as well,
so the marriage ceremony is a bit different,
which still includes a baptism as well.
Can you remember practising the religion when you were young, at home?
Yes, I do.
I did get baptised, as my parents did, when I was 40 days old.
I did get baptised again when I was around eight.
I do remember then getting baptised when I was around eight.
It was very nice.
However, we had to keep very quiet, with mainly repeating what the priests say,
because we couldn't let the Muslims hear what we were saying.
There were people that have been arrested at the Karun River,
where they do the Mandaean baptism in Iran.
So that was another reason
why we had to always keep quiet with what we do,
keep quiet with the religion that we follow.
Again, there are a lot of people that have named their children a Muslim name,
just to cover themselves up.
Would they have two names or just the one?
They usually have two names. We do have a religious name as well,
so they usually will refer to them as their religious name at home,
and their birth certificates will have a different name.
Is there any significance about where you're baptised?
No. It's basically at the river.
In Iran and Iraq, there's usually the two rivers that they get baptised in.
So would you ever be baptised in a church?
No, no. It's basically getting baptised at the river, yeah.
Right. The church in Iran, was that hidden, or was that -
The church in Iran - it wasn't hidden, but it looked like a house.
It did not have any sign. It had - it looked nothing like a church,
so you were basically walking into a house.
For classes, for instance, when we used to have them on the Friday,
which is the weekend in Iran,
we used to have to knock the door and we used to get someone to open the door.
So it's basically a house that you're going into.
Right. You said you went to school, you were educated.
Tell me a bit about it.
I went to primary school, finished primary school,
and I was heading to high school. I did study high school for one semester.
That's when we had to leave Iran, because problems started arising.
The problems were not when we were in primary school
and trying to interact with them.
The problems started arising when I moved to high school
and I was the only Mandaean.
You were the only Mandaean within the high school?
Did people know that?
The teachers found out, yes. So that's when the problems started.
How did they find out?
Prayers. Then I had - and I've asked and I've said,
"Look, I'm not a Muslim, so I'm not going to pray."
I remember clearly, when I said it to my religious teacher and I said,
"I'm not going to pray, because I'm not Muslim."
She said, "No, you have to convert."
I said, "No, I can't convert. Why would I convert? I'm going to keep my religion,"
and she said, "No, you can't."
That's when the problems started arising,
the pressures of converting, the kidnap.
Who was kidnapped?
Do you want to talk about that?
I'd prefer not to.
Okay. Tell me, just going back a step if you don't mind,
just a bit about your parents. Were they educated?
Me and my parents have finished high school.
In Iran, it's difficult, going into university.
Again, it's because of religion.
I can give you a very simple example of that too, with my auntie,
who graduated with the top mark of the whole state.
She applied to go into medicine.
On the form, it says, "What's your religion?"
Mandaean wasn't part of it. If she was to mark any other thing,
she won't be able to get into the university.
She basically had to suck it up, as they say, sit down -
she got married within a year after, and that was her future.
Tell me how it felt to stand up to the teacher
and say that you were -
It was hard.
But after going through lying to myself all through primary school,
it had to be done.
I couldn't do it anymore.
I was getting older and older, and I said, "What's the point of lying?
I'm just going to tell them I don't want to pray."
That was a big mistake. My parents said, "Why did you open up your mouth?
Why did you have to tell them you're not Muslim?"
I'm like, I'm sick of it.
I don't want to pretend to be a Muslim when I'm not.
What age was that?
I was around 11.
Wow. That's pretty brave. Tell me, you said that caused some problems.
Well, that was when the problems started happening.
I used to be called into our office on a daily basis -
"So, did you think about it? Did you want to convert?
You do know that your religion is not going to protect you?
The Muslim religion will protect you.
We will get you a good husband who will protect you forever.
We will clear all your sin. Being Mandaean has a lot of problems."
Basically, that was all the talks,
and it was basically going through one ear and out of the other.
I used to go home,
tell my parents and my dad that we've got to do something about it.
I can't let it happen in - and similar problems started happening,
because my brother, who went to an all-boys school,
he had the same problem when they found out he was a Mandaean as well.
What did your parents do?
You said that they decided they had to do something.
My dad, first of all, thought, okay, we will change school,
we will go to another city in Iran.
Going to another city in Iran is not an option,
because they're all Muslim, all over the country.
Going to another school, same problem.
My dad said, "Okay, finish off this year, and then I will try and see if we can go
to a different country by the end of the year."
I couldn't get to the end of the year, because that was when I got kidnapped.
After a lot of problems, my parents found out where I was,
rescued me, and that was it;
we couldn't go back to Iran.
My dad got a ticket for the whole family to Malaysia the same night,
so the following day, we just fleed to Malaysia.
From there, he tried to get out of the country,
to try and get out of Malaysia with any kind of people that he met.
What year was that?
When you said your whole family, is that your immediate family? Yes.
That's correct - my brother, sister, and my parents.
Had your dad had any threats, or your parents,
to them personally as well?
Yes. My dad has always had the threat.
Being Mandaean, the only job that they really could work in Iran was jewellery,
because that's basically, to the Muslims,
that's the only thing that doesn't get dirty,
as they say, with you touching it.
Otherwise, if you're touching food, they can't eat the food.
The food is unclean now, because a Mandaean has touched it.
If you touch clothes, same story. It's exactly the same.
So you can't have anything in Iran, except for jewellery shops.
and so the rest of the community where you went to church,
were they having problems as -
They all had problems.
Again, it was basically the same with every kid at school.
It was to cover yourself.
It was not to mention that you are Mandaean.
It was just to stand up for your beliefs, but don't tell them.
Just keep quiet at all times.
Right. We'll just pause.
We just had a short break. We'll just maybe talk about -
you were saying you had to leave that night, or your father organised -
do you want to talk us through that?
Yes, sure. It was the day that they rescued me - got home,
and that night, my dad said,
"Just pick all the important things that belong to you."
Just your clothing basically, just so you can have them for the -
and I remember when my brother and my sister and I sat down,
and we were like, where are we going?
My sister was very young at that stage, and my dad was like,
"Just pick your belongings, we've got to leave."
My brother said, "I've got an exam tomorrow morning,"
and my dad's like, "I don't care, we're leaving."
He contacted his brother, who said to him,
"Look, I've been having the same problems.
Can I leave with you? Can I organise so that we can look after each other?
I will leave with you."
At that stage, my dad wasn't really well as well,
so he was in and out of hospital,
and the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with him.
His brother said, "I can't leave you alone, I've got to travel with you."
It was basically my uncle who bought the tickets for his family -
he's got three boys as well, so he bought tickets in the morning.
My dad said, "Don't tell anyone else."
He only told one of his brothers, and said,
"I'm going to leave everything the way it is,"
and asked my grandfather just to take care of everything
and sell all the belongings and send the money,
just because we were going to require all the money that we had.
It was that night that -
How did you - what were you thinking?
I don't know what we were thinking. We asked my dad, "Where are we going?"
My dad's like,
"We're going to somewhere that's going to be safe.
We're going to somewhere that no one is going to pressure you
about your religion.
No one is going to ask you why are you following another religion."
We were like, why?
Exactly the same questions were going through my cousin's mind.
My oldest cousin is five months younger than I am, so we are all the same age.
My brother is two years older,
who is the oldest between the children that were leaving.
When we got to Malaysia, we were asked what was the reason why
two families have arrived in Malaysia together,
and we looked tired -
What year was it?
2001, beginning of 2001. We all looked extremely tired.
I remember my little cousin saying, "We're here for a holiday."
All the authorities in Malaysia Airport were looking at us -
a holiday, two families looking that tired?
So basically, we stayed in Malaysia for a month.
So the Immigration let you in?
Yes, they did, they did. We stayed there for a month,
where my uncle and my father were trying to find a way to get out of there.
You only had a visa for a month, a valid visa for a month,
so the visa got cancelled in a month.
We had to leave Malaysia, so I remember going to Singapore for a night,
going back to Malaysia just so we can renew the visa.
That's when they met one of the people smugglers,
who was an Iranian in Malaysia,
and spoke to the people smugglers who said,
"It will be safe.
I will put you on a boat and we will send you to a very safe place."
That night, my dad and my uncle sat us down and said,
"Look, we're going to Australia."
Did you know about Australia before then?
No. I remember studying it in Geography,
saying it's an island, faraway island. Didn't know anything else about it.
It's in a place that they have kangaroos and they have koalas,
and I had another uncle who is here, who came here years ago.
His children were all raised and born here.
He used to send us little gifts, as koala bags.
That's the only thing that we knew about Australia.
So you knew someone that was here?
Yes. My dad's brother was here at that time.
But that wasn't the intention of coming here,
because there was family here.
It was basically trying to get out of the country.
That night, my uncle and my father said, "We're going to go on a boat.
It's going to be a boat trip.
It is going to be very difficult, but we promise you,
in a year's time,
we will have the best life you could ever wish for."
Basically, the next morning, we had to go to Indonesia.
From Indonesia, we stayed there for a couple of weeks.
From Indonesia, we were -
Where did you stay when you were there?
We stayed in Bali for a month. Then we were taken to another island.
Is this with the people smuggler?
No. The people smuggler said,
"You have got to travel and wait for our call.
Once we contact you, then that's when you actually get out
and go to this other island, where we will ship you at 4 in the morning
and put you on the boats." So we stayed there for a month.
Were you getting this detail from your parents?
That was the details from my parents, yes.
Yes, they were telling you everything that was happening?
Yes. So we went to this other island called -
I can't remember the name, started with an M.
Martin, or - I can't remember the name.
We got to the other island, didn't need to stay in a hotel -
the people smuggler said,
"I will take you to one of the houses around that area,
and you've got to stay there starting from midnight,
and then we'll come and talk to you."
So it was the house that the people smugglers have -
- and other people were there?
A lot of other people were there as well.
From - there's a lot of Iranians, a lot of Iraqis, a lot of Afghans.
We got there, and my parents said, "Don't talk Persian."
Because we were raised with knowing Arabic and Persian,
they said, "Talk Arabic."
Just because Iranians, if they find out you're not Muslim,
again problems will start.
Just talk Arabic,
and just pretend to be a Christian Arab rather than a Mandaean Arab.
Did you feel threatened at all when you were there?
When we were on the boat, we were scared the whole time. So -
Right. Scared of other people, or scared of -
Scared of other people. We don't know who they were.
We were all on the same boat, don't know who they were,
have never met them, don't know what they could do,
don't know if they could throw someone off the boat.
It's very scary.
I do know that everyone else on the boat
felt the same way about everyone else around them as well.
It's a scary moment.
I remember having -
there were babies a month old on the boat with their parents.
It's not an easy journey.
Do you know how much it cost for your father to do it?
Now that my dad tries to convert it,
he says that it was probably around $15,000 for the whole family.
It was a fair bit of money 14 years ago.
Yes, and was he - he probably had his money with you, or was -
He had a jewellery shop in Iran, so he did get -
my grandfather actually sold all the jewellery in the store
and sent the money to him.
That was the money that we basically used
when we were in Malaysia and Bali as well.
What was it like in Malaysia?
Malaysia was nice.
Malaysia was nice,
but we had an obstacle when we were in Malaysia as well.
When we got on the plane to go to Malaysia,
my father got sick again on the plane.
Now, they found out - when we got to Australia,
we found out that he had kidney problems and liver problems,
and his liver was producing blood, so it was throwing blood within his body.
So he was really sick.
He was very sick.
When we were in Malaysia, the doctor said, "Where are you going?"
That was the time we didn't know where we were going,
and we said, "We're just here on a holiday."
They said to my uncle, "When are you going back to Iran?"
My uncle said, "We'll go back to Iran in a month or two, don't know yet."
He said, "Once he goes back, he needs very serious treatment.
I don't even consider him going on the plane.
He needs extremely good treatment,
otherwise this is going to get too serious and he will pass away."
Did you know about that?
We knew about the situation,
but we didn't know that it was that serious.
My dad stayed in the hospital for almost a week and a half
when we were in Malaysia.
He got a lot better, so he came out, and that was when my mum said to him,
"Look, why don't we just go back to Iran? Whatever happens, happens."
He was like, "No, I can't go back to Iran. I can't put my kids through that risk.
I just wish that my parents did the same thing
and didn't keep me in that country, because what has happened is out of line.
I can't send them back."
If you had have stayed, what would have happened to you -
even another month or six months?
No, if you would have stayed in Iran longer.
In Iran, I don't know.
I probably wouldn't have gone back to school. There was no point.
I couldn't go back to school after what happened.
It was then when my dad said to my mother,
"Even if I do pass away, you've got to take the kids.
You can't. You've got to finish the journey."
He just said, "Stick to my brother,
and he will find a way to put all the families
so both the families are going to be safe. But you've got to stick to everyone."
My mum, being really -
being a female, cried and told my brother and I what was happening.
It was very difficult for her, and she said, "I can't do anything."
So you knew how unwell he was?
We knew how unwell he was.
Were you -
what were you feeling at this stage? Were you -
We didn't know where we were going.
By the time we found out where we were going, my uncle said,
I can't, how can I put you on a boat and how can I take you with me,
knowing that you are this unwell?"
My dad's like, "Look, Amwar, I can handle it.
I will take it on, because I have to.
Not only for my family, for your family as well.
If I go back, you won't go on a boat.
You will - we will go together, we will do it together."
So we went on the boat. We -
Can you talk me through where you were,
and actually getting on the boat and what it was like?
It was around 4 in the morning.
How old were you, too?
I was around 11. I was 12 by then.
It was around 4 in the morning when the people smuggler came to us
and said that, group by group, they were taking us.
My dad was so strong at that time,
he actually helped everyone get on the boat,
and he was the last one to get on the boat.
He got on the boat, we all got on the boat.
It was night, scary,
so we had to get on a small boat to get closer to the bigger boat,
and from there, to jump on the other boat
with a torch in a few people's hands who were on the little boat.
Could you swim?
No. I still don't know how to swim.
They put us on the boat and then everyone jumped in.
The people smuggler had to collect his money,
and he was on the smaller boat, so he just left.
He put everyone else, and he just left.
What was he telling you about what the boat was like
and where you were going?
He said it's perfect, there's food in there,
it's a luxury boat, it's nothing, no problems, it's a new boat,
you're going to a country where, once you get there, you just give them -
just tell them the reason why you left your country;
that's it, you'll be safe.
He said, "At no time mention my name,
because otherwise I won't be able to help other people."
So, you do what you're said,
because you believe the person who is taking you to another country
was telling you the truth.
It was then when we got on the boat, and we were on the boat for nine days.
Nine days on the small boat.
What did the boat look like? Can you describe it?
There was around 130 or 140 people on a very small boat.
The boat would probably be - I would say, if I am trying -
it would probably be around five metres long, probably three or five.
Very small boat for that many people.
It was two levels, so it was downstairs and upstairs.
But every single person on the boat was seasick the whole time.
You were coming from Indonesia, yes?
From Indonesia to Darwin, yes. That was the route that they were taking.
Was there bags for people to vomit in, or was it like -
There were bags, but then by day three, there was no vomit bags.
It was basically, go and throw up in the sea.
Were you sick?
I was sick. I was seasick the whole time.
There was food, a little bit of food.
What was the food?
They were cooking - they were boiling some water,
so it was basically steamed water with a bit of tuna or a bit of canned food.
It was not bad, compared to being on the sea.
It was very reasonable.
Plenty of water, so they promised that and that was delivered.
By the time we got to Australia's water, we had to stand.
We had to park in Australian water for a couple of days,
until the Australian ship came and collected everyone from there.
When the Australian authorities got there,
they still questioned what was the reason why people were there.
Did you have any papers?
We had nothing. We had nothing.
I recall that they -
my dad gave the passport that we travelled with,
Iranian passport, to the people smuggler,
who basically put them in half and put them in the water in front of my dad.
When you got on, or -
When we got on the boat. Basically, we had nothing.
What - why? Did they tell you why they did that?
He said, "You don't need them anymore.
You are going to another country.
Once you get to that country and once you become a citizen of that country,
you will get a different passport.
You don't need to take your passport,
just in case they will send you back to your country."
That was what the people smuggler did, and -
What did you do for the nine days on the boat?
I can't imagine it.
Yeah. It was basically getting seasick.
It was extremely difficult.
Now that I hear about it, I just say, "Don't do it."
Just don't get on the boat.
Do whatever you can,
but don't let people go through that horrible few days of their life -
like, probably two weeks of your life.
Did you ever feel like that you were going to die,
when you were on the boat?
There was one instance where the weather was very bad,
where people were sitting on one edge of the boat,
and the boat was just swinging to one side.
I remember the captain yelling and screaming at people,
and asking people to get on two sides of the boat,
because the boat was literally going one-sided.
It was at night, and it was scary, and it was raining.
It was, again, one of those really horrible nights.
But, thanks God, everyone on the boat cooperated
and they all spread evenly all across the boat to keep it safe.
We actually had - that was the hardest night,
but we had a few other nights where it was raining weather,
stormy, very ugly weather, extremely cold, going through the ocean.
What about the other people on the boat? Did you -
We started talking to them eventually, because we were only -
again, my parents were the first ones to start talking to them.
They were all on the - were all there for the same reason.
We were all there because we were going to another country.
It was when we got to the Australian waters,
when we stayed for two days
and they came and picked us up on the Australian ship -
we got to Darwin,
we got picked up by a bus and taken into Airport Lodge at Darwin.
We were all sat down and were given sandwiches to eat,
and that was when my dad fainted in front of everyone.
From exhaustion, or -
From the same illness.
He was - at the first instance, what the security guard said was,
"He's faking it, he wants to run away."
He was taken to hospital, emergency, and the doctor said,
"No, he's not faking it, he's literally got blood in him."
They put him down,
started taking all the blood out from his body -
I remember when we went, and a few hours after,
there was six buckets of blood underneath his bed.
He must have been so sick on the trip.
It was. It was basically the trip.
The doctor said to us, when we were in Malaysia,
"You shouldn't have done it, you could have gone back,
he needs intensive treatment."
Do you mind just going back a step,
when you said that you had to wait in the waters until -
who came to you, when you -
It was an Australian ship. It was a lot bigger.
It wasn't a boat, it was a ship.
They had showers, they had proper bathrooms.
Was it navy, or -
It was navy. We were given -
What was that like, when they first approached you?
It was basically going up to the captain, asking the captain.
Then a few other men approached and said, "We are seeking protection in Australia."
They said, "That's fine."
They put us on the jet boats, group by group,
took us little by little to the bigger ship.
Once we get there, the food was a lot better -
had a lot of fluid, and they had showers.
We were given, like, ten minutes each,
to go into the showers with shampoo and soap to wash up,
because nine days of nothing -
that was probably one of the hardest bits.
Was it? Yeah.
Did you have any spare clothes with you or anything?
Yes, yes. We had a bit of spare clothes.
Basically, for the five people in the member of the family,
we had one bag,
and we did have spare clothes in that bag.
That was the only thing that we had with us when we got to the ship.
It was a lot easier for everyone, and -
Was anything officially done at that point with the navy?
Nothing was done. Nothing was done.
No, they just put you on the boat, and -
Yes, nothing was done.
Once we got to Darwin Airport Lodge, they took all the bags as well,
and put them away so you couldn't touch your bags as well.
Why did they do that?
They had to search them. The following day, they searched every bag.
How were you feeling at this stage?
When we were picked up by the Australian navy?
It was safer. It felt better,
knowing that they were people who knew what they were talking about.
Even though I didn't understand what they were saying,
but it just felt a lot better, because it was a bigger place.
A lot of people basically walked around making sure everyone was okay.
There was a shower,
so basically that just guarantees that, yes,
you are a little bit more safe than that little boat that you had before.
You had experienced people, experienced captains.
It was a lot better. It wasn't until we got to -
we were on that ship for probably another three days until we got to Darwin.
Were you being told anything by anyone at that stage?
You were just saying you couldn't understand everything,
so did you speak any English?
Nothing. No English at all.
Then when you got to Darwin, what happened?
When we got to Darwin, it was when we were sat down to take us -
so that they can take names of people that have arrived on there,
with an interpreter.
That was when, as I said,
my father just faints and interrupts all the work that was being done.
Again, that was the first assumption, was faking it. It was -
How did you and your mum react when that happened?
It was horrible. It was horrible.
We'll just pause for a minute.
Yes. So yes, basically, my dad was at the hospital for 18 days.
Ten of those days -
Darwin. Ten of those days, he was in a coma.
Once he woke up, he had lost so much oxygen in his blood -
in his brain, that he couldn't even remember travelling on the boat,
couldn't remember his children's names.
The only thing that he said -
his mother passed away years ago and he kept saying he wanted to see his mother.
Oh, dear. How did you and your mum react to that?
We just thought he's lost his mind completely.
That's when we were told that he's lost a lot of blood.
My uncle was with us at that stage.
"He's lost a lot of blood, so he can't remember anything.
But as time goes by, he will get better."
When he was in the hospital, where were you?
We were still at the Darwin Airport Lodge.
The people stayed with us around 10 days at the detention centre in Darwin.
Then everyone was taken away to Woomera,
except for my uncle's family and our family.
When my dad woke up and my uncle visited my dad,
that's when they said, "No, you've got to go to Woomera as well."
So they separated my uncle's family.
Tell us where that is.
Woomera is in -
I'm quite not sure where Woomera is located.
So it's a detention centre?
It's one of the detention centres that is actually closed at the moment.
It's not in Darwin. I think it's near - closer to Adelaide.
It's closed at the moment,
because the standards in that detention centre is extremely bad.
They were taken there, so they were separated from us.
We just had an interruption, so we'll try and take up where we -
so yes, go on.
Yes. My uncle was taken to Woomera Detention Centre,
where all the other people from the same boat were taken.
It was basically my family, with my mother, my sister and my brother.
We were put in a hotel in Darwin until my dad was released.
We had two security guards, so it was basically a room.
Our hotel room was in the middle of two other people's,
two other security guards.
They were in -
At the same hotel.
- the security guards - had a room each next to you?
Yes, at the hotel. The security guards were extremely nice.
There's one of the security guards that has -
became a family friend through what we went through.
It was basically,
they were told to basically buy us food and take it to the room.
The security guards did not do that.
They are extremely nice people, who would take us down to the restaurant,
and would sit us down and say,
"No, we can't just give you food, we're going to sit you down in here."
One was an American,
it was one of the Native American women, who was extremely nice.
After what she went through with us, she went and became a migration agent,
because she thought the pressure that she received in there
with the instruction that she was getting
from the detention centre was horrible, and the department.
Did you have any feeling of, like -
We were safe with her.
We knew that we would feel - we were safe with her.
We had no English.
My brother had a dictionary from Iran, which was in Persian to English,
and it was a thick dictionary,
which probably has, like, almost a thousand pages.
My brother was carrying it around the whole - everywhere,
just so he can open up to the word that he wants
and could read it out to Joey, who was the security guard,
and say to her, "This is what I mean. This is what I mean."
He started writing sentences, and she started coming to our room,
sitting in there with us and just teaching us English.
Yes. We did meet her,
and she would take us three or four times to the hospital,
where the instruction from the department was,
"Once a day to go to the hospital and see their father."
My dad did have - after 18 days, he was released from detention.
By that time, he could remember our names.
He still couldn't remember that we'd travelled to Australia.
He couldn't remember the journey that we went through.
He couldn't remember the reason why we left.
He just could remember our names, and he still thought we were in Iran.
How was that for you? How did -
It was hard. My mum had to sit him down and say,
"No, we are not in Iran, we are in Australia."
I remember my dad saying, "Where is Australia?"
The day that he got released from the detention centre,
it was the day that he received a call from the Department of Immigration,
who said that, "We need to interview him in relation to his protection."
He has lost tonnes of oxygen in his brain,
could not remember his children's name,
let alone remember the reason why he came to Australia.
Was there any sort of medical report on his condition?
There was, but they weren't taking it into consideration.
"He's come here for protection, he's out of hospital,
so we've got to interview him."
He was interviewed via the phone with an Afghan interpreter -
it wasn't an Iranian interpreter, so the accent was completely different.
Mainly for someone who is out of the hospital, with that status,
and then Joey, who was the security guard, came to us and said,
"You guys are not going to Woomera, because of his condition.
He needs regular treatment at the hospital, so we are taking you to Sydney,
so we are taking you to Villawood Detention Centre."
We're like, "What about my uncle?
Can you bring my uncle to the same detention centre so that we're not -"
And his children?
And his children, so that we can be together.
"No, you can't, he's not immediate family."
It's just basically the immediate family will have to go there.
Where was your uncle?
My uncle was in Woomera Detention Centre.
Basically, we had to go through hell to try and get a number to contact my uncle
when we got there.
We did end up contacting him around four or five months
after we got to the detention centre.
Why was that so difficult?
Because we had no number. There's no Internet. There's no number.
Every time you go to someone and ask for a number, they won't give it to you.
It was basically waiting for Joey to get to the detention centre,
and she was working in Darwin, so it was basically -
she was only there once every six months.
So if it was our luck to see her, to go up to her and approach her and say,
"We need that number."
She was the one who actually got us the number
and said, "Call this number,
and you will be able to talk to him through that number."
Basically, it was talking to my uncle saying,
"Yes, we are safe, we are in this situation,"
and then we asked my uncle, "Have you given a case?"
My uncle said,
"Yes, I did get interviewed when I got to Woomera,
and I did tell them all of my problems."
Because we came together,
and because we were given a case around the same time,
they kind of took it as, the case was all together.
Because my dad lost so much oxygen, could not remember anything,
he said things that were bad for my uncle,
and my uncle said things that were bad for my dad.
Again, it was based on the oxygen that he's lost.
Medical report said that.
The department said,
"No, there's no consistency with your things."
Did you know about what was happening?
Were you aware of everything?
We had one of the -
Like you, yourself?
I wasn't that aware.
We were there - still didn't have that much English,
trying to learn a bit of English, had no education, had no schooling.
So it was basically, no, not really.
It was basically around three months after we were there when my -
In Villawood, when -
What was it like in Villawood? Like physically, what did it look like?
We had three rooms with one bathroom for my family.
So three rooms?
Three rooms together, and then there's, like, one room -
one door to close them all, so that environment wasn't that bad.
However, you could never take food from the main kitchen
or the main food room back to your own room.
So it was basically,
you have to eat at this set time and you have to come back to where you are.
My dad was not well, could not eat at the time you are supposed to eat.
He gets hungry at the middle of the night
because of the medication he was consuming - couldn't do it.
There was times when he said, "I will take an apple,
I couldn't eat my apple so I'll take it back with me."
He will be stopped, and take the apple from his hand
and chuck it in the bin.
The rules are, you can't take food back to your room,
you've got to eat it here.
What was the food like?
The food was different all the time.
Basically, they had steak sometimes, they had pasta, they had curry -
so it was all different food, they had chicken. So it was -
Was it different food to what you were used to?
What was that transition like?
For my parents, it was extremely difficult.
For us, it was a lot easier, because we were like,
"This tastes good, so we like it."
But for people who grew up with the same food that they loved for years,
it's a lot harder for them to accept the food and to like the food.
But then it was probably a couple of months after -
almost probably even a year after
when my mother went to one of the doctors and said,
"Look, it's not fair." We -
So you'd been in Villawood for a year now?
That was almost a year.
What were you being told about your case?
About our status?
It was basically a couple of months after we arrived there,
when there were a few Iranian guys there who said to my father,
"So, have you given a case?"
My dad's like, "What's a case?
I was interviewed when I first arrived. Isn't that what it's supposed to be?"
He's like, "No,
you've got to apply to the Immigration so they can put you on a roll,
and they can come in and interview with the Department officer."
My dad's like, "Really?"
So that's when my dad went to the Department office and said, are we -
Why hadn't that happened?
They don't do it automatically.
You've got to go and approach them, and we didn't know about it. It was then -
then we were told, "Yes, go in there and ask them."
We were given a migration agent who attended,
and my parents wrote the claim,
and the migration agent at the time said to my parents,
"Your stories are not the same."
He said to my dad, "You didn't say any of this before."
He's like, "Because I was not well."
So he was better at this stage?
He was a lot better at that stage.
He could remember that we'd travelled to Australia.
It was actually in our interest
when my dad didn't do the interview straightaway with the Department
when we first got to the detention centre and delayed it a bit,
because he did get a lot better by then.
He did give the proper case,
but it was always held back against what the first case was,
even though there was documentation to provide - to say, no, this was -
to take my mum's word, what she said.
"No. This is the main applicant of the claim,
so we're taking what he says."
Were the people that were hearing the claim
aware of what was happening to your community within Iran?
Yes, they were.
One of the first rejections that we received, the reason was,
'relocation to another city in your country'.
That you should have done that?
That you should have done.
At the moment, I work in an immigration firm and I've seen it -
relocation is not an issue with any claim at the moment.
If you come up with a relocation, you can go to the court
and just use that as a reason why you should be given another chance.
But at that stage, we were rejected based on that.
It was a waiting of another 15 months before another hearing.
The wait was extremely long at that stage.
What was daily life like for you? How old were you, and what was your -
So, it was the first 15 to 16 months that we were there,
there was no education.
There was one class with basically drawings, for little kids.
13, my brother - turning 13, my brother was 15 - we don't need that,
we need education, we need schools. So -
What did you do all day?
It was basically, in the room, go to that class for drawings,
and then play a bit of sport, and that's it, go back to your rooms.
That was when Joey, again, got involved, and said,
"These poor kids need school, take them to school
and bring them back to the detention centre daily."
So a few applications were made to the Minister.
Eventually, the Minister said, "Yes, that's fine. We will send them to school,
and they are as an experiment."
Was there other children in the detention centre?
No, not in Villawood.
Villawood usually was for people for overstays,
so basically there was no children there.
There was a lot of Chinese, a lot of Vietnamese,
a lot of other states clients.
A lot of younger females on their own were there.
There weren't children, school-aged children.
That was when it was -
it was 2012, July 2012, when we were told,
"We are using you as an experiment to see how it works.
We will send you to school,
and we will take you by van to school every single morning,
and we will take you back."
That was the happiest day of my parents' life. They were like,
"Yes, this is what they want, they need education, take them to school,
let them live a normal life."
So for two and a half years from then, it was basically going to school
and going back to the detention centre.
What school was it?
It was Chester Hill High School.
It was a school very close to Villawood Detention Centre.
The principal and all the teachers knew our situation.
We used to be taken by a different security guard daily.
The security guard will drive a bare-wired van.
So the van was all wired up like one of the criminal vans,
into the school, every single day,
and picked up by the same van every single day.
What was that like at school? Did people -
We had questions.
"Why are you getting dropped off by these people? Why is this, why is this?
Why is this?"
My brother came up to me and said -
my sister was at primary school at that stage, so she was at a different school.
The primary school said to them,
"You can't bring the van inside.
You will have to park it and walk her down.
You can't park it inside our school."
Was that because of what was happening to her?
Because of children.
Yes, yes, and because children will question it.
So the principal of that school refused for the van to be driven into the school
and said, "You've got to drive it, you've got to park it outside the school
and meet her outside, and you've got to walk her down.
Do not park it."
Did that happen with you as well?
No. With us, it was driven right to where our classrooms were.
What was it like, your first day at school there?
The school's questions were, "Why? Who is this person?
You guys don't look alike. Why is a blonde picking you up? Why is this?"
So my brother said,
"Why don't we just tell them that we live too far away,
and our parents are extremely rich and that they are putting us in a van
and sending us to school every day?" That was the story for a couple of months.
Then a few other people started questioning it;
really, how rich are your parents?
It was at one stage where I got very close to one of the girls,
and I said, "No, look, this is the situation."
From then, it was when I had school, the girl - she told her parents,
and her parents started visiting the family at the detention centre.
There were a lot of nice people that we met throughout the journey.
Was the school supportive of you? How -
The school was extremely supportive.
I remember that I did my Year 10 work experience
at Henry Davis Clarke Solicitors,
where it was arranged by a few of the school people.
When my brother had to do his Year 10 work experience,
he wasn't allowed to do it.
He had to do it at the school library. But he's older than me.
He did his work experience a year ahead of me.
When it was my turn, I was allowed to do it.
It was that same day that I went out and there was articles about my family,
and how I am going to Henry Davis Clarke, doing -
In the newspaper?
In the newspaper.
You'd seen that?
The Department got very angry.
Yes, and the Department got very angry, to say,
"How the hell did you put you in the media?" It's media.
We've been in the detention centre for three years
and you have done nothing for us.
Did things change after that?
No, things didn't change. Things stayed the same.
We did get released, three and a half years from
when we arrived to the detention centre.
It was a very long journey into the detention centre.
I do recall my dad always blaming himself, saying that,
"We did tell you it was a one-year journey, it did take three and a half years."
Did you see an end to it, or were you -
What were you thinking, when you were waiting all that time?
It was basically telling my dad, "What are we going to do?
Are we going to finish school and stay here?"
My dad's like, "I don't know. Basically, I don't know.
We are trying our best."
A lot of people started visiting the detention centre
and wanting to meet people, asylum seekers,
and we did meet a lot of nice people through there.
We basically had legal representation because of those people,
because they were -
So people had read it in the press and then come in? Yes.
So we've met them, and they helped a lot. It was basically -
as I said, it was basically the last letter that was written
to the Minister of Immigration was done for free,
and that was when we actually got out of the detention centre.
A legal letter?
A letter, yes, to the Minister of Immigration.
Was it from a legal -
Yes, it was. It was from a barrister.
That was the last letter that was written,
and that was when we got released. My uncle had to do the same.
My uncle was there for three years himself, in Woomera, so away from us.
We'd travelled together - away from us, again why?
Because of my dad's case,
because of what my dad said in his claim for refuge.
You know, it's a conversation that is in the press a lot
about children in a detention centre.
What effect did it have on you as a person, do you think?
When I first came out, I didn't know how to live.
How old were you, when you came out?
I was just turning 16 when I came out.
When I came out, I was - I didn't know what to think.
We had a multicultural flag ceremony in the same year that I came out,
and I was meant to give a speech at the school assembly.
I was told I can't, because I was still in the detention centre.
We got released the week before -
and they had to actually choose someone else to do the speech at the school,
and we were released a week prior to the school ceremony.
So, that was the happiest day for all the principal, and said,
"Ah, you know what? Stuff the other person, you are coming in,
you have got to do this speech." So I did the speech.
There were a few other people in the detention centre at the time
that I knew, so I said -
This same detention centre?
At the same detention centre. It was basically all the men and women
that we got to know when we were in the detention centre.
What was your speech about?
It was basically about being in the detention centre,
multiculturalism, how Australia looks at it.
Can you remember the sentiments?
I can't. It's a long - it was done in 2004. I can't remember.
But I do remember, when I did the speech, I said to the principal,
"I am going to mention a few people's name in there."
She said, "Go ahead. You know what?
I'm going to invite some people from the Department
to come down and listen to it. You got released a week before it."
It was - it was actually very enjoyable, doing it, knowing that I was very -
I was free.
The school principal still had my picture up until my Year 12,
in her room with the speech.
So, it was very nice of her to keep it in there,
as a memory of what we went through.
Tell me about when you were released. What was it like?
When we got released,
we were given two hours to leave the detention centre,
to find someone to come and pick us up.
Just that quick?
That quick, two hours.
So, we did contact a few people from - that we did see in the detention centre,
and we knew really well.
You weren't hooked up with any support system or anything?
Nothing. But we were fortunate,
because we had a lot of people who used to visit the detention centre,
and we got to know them.
One of those people lived in Balgowlah, who is an older woman, lives on her own,
and used to visit the detention centre
once a week on a Thursday for three hours.
She would drive all the way down from Balgowlah to the detention centre
to spend a few hours with us. That was her -
"When you get released, you are coming to my place,
and you are going to stay with me for as long as possible,
until you just don't feel you want to stay with me anymore,
that's when you're leaving."
So we got released,
and we did stay with her for a couple of months.
What was that like?
It was very nice. It was very nice.
She would come home, and she would cook,
and she would - and my mum was like,
"No, no, I will cook Persian food."
So she will go out there and just go grocery shopping,
and just does the Persian food.
She took us to - like, that lady took us to Medicare,
took us to all the different places, just to get all the right documentation.
You weren't given any settlement support?
Nothing. We were given nothing when we got out.
Because we had a lot of other people that we met as well,
they all kind of became one - they became friends,
because they all used to visit at similar times, and they met each other.
It was basically, a few people would say,
"We will drop the kids to school this day,"
"I will drop them tomorrow," "I will pick them up,"
"I will pick them up."
You were still going back to -
To the same school, yes.
We finished at the same school as well, so that was a few months later.
My mum was like,
"No, it's too much travelling for everyone,"
and then we started catching the train - get the ferry and the train,
because we didn't want to trouble people, but it was just too much.
My parents were like,
"We're going to try and find a place closer to that area,
and rent a place closer."
Edrin, that lady, wasn't happy. She was like,
"You can't leave, you can't leave, I've got my family now." It was difficult.
We still visit her often. She comes over a lot as well.
But it was very - it was enjoyable to be free.
So the freedom that your dad spoke about,
and that you thought about - did you feel that?
Not at first.
Not after going through so much, as well. But now, yes. Yes, I do.
Again, working in this environment, working in an immigration firm again,
and looking at people that are going through probably worse
than what my family went through, it brings back memories.
It brings back memories of how I - at some stage,
I just had so much hatred for the government.
That hatred is somehow coming back,
because the government is not fixing its mistakes,
it's just making it worse and worse. They're looking at humans as -
they're looking at people that have arrived here to seek asylum as animals.
They're not looking at them as humans.
They're not considering them as humans, and that's what's sad about it,
is the fact that I was 11 and I went through hell
when my parents had to leave the country.
A lot of other families did the same.
A lot of the single men here at the moment do the same.
They leave the country, just so they can come here.
They don't want to put their family through hell. They say,
"We will come here, we will get our visa,
and we will apply for a family reunion."
That's taken off the list now. There is no -
So you think, are people that come on their own
doing that so they don't put their family at risk?
Through risk of travelling on a boat, yes.
You're mentioning where you're working now -
I know you haven't got a lot of time, but so you've finished school.
Then tell us about your studies and what you're doing now.
Okay. I finished school in 2006. Once I finished school, I wanted to study,
didn't want to study, didn't know what I wanted to do.
I did graduate with an 87 UAI so that was very high,
considering that I started school - I went back,
went into high school in Year 10, so I did really well.
And learning English.
I did get the highest mark in my school for Legal Studies, so it was -
I was very - it was really good. But then my parents were like,
"What do you want to do?"
I said, "I've always wanted to study law, but 87 isn't high enough for law.
I can't get into law."
My parents were like, "Just go do anything else,
just go do science or business at university."
I said, "No, I've got other plans in mind."
I went through and did paralegal studies at college,
finished paralegal studies in 2008, got a job at a law firm in Sydney,
worked there for four and a half years.
Then, when I was there, in 2010, I said,
"I'm ready. I think I'm going to enrol and study my law degree."
So I enrolled in 2010.
I am in my last year of law at the moment.
Where are you studying?
UWS, University of Western Sydney. It has been very long.
It's been ten years since we did get out of the detention centre.
So sometimes -
Do you think about it much?
Yes, I do. I do think about it,
only because my childhood was taken away.
My beginning of teenage life was taken away.
I don't know how I lived it, now that I think about it.
The amount of things that I have in my life at the moment,
I just think and say, how much time of my life was wasted?
Not only of my life, my parents' life - my mother, my brother, my sister.
As a teenager, when you think about the stuff that you missed out on
by being in detention, what are those things to you?
Making friends, making proper friends.
For instance, school holidays,
going out with your friends in school holidays, activities,
looking at the world the same way that they do.
When we came out, we had to try and catch up with life,
before you get older.
I do recall, when we were in the detention centre
and we used to have people visit us, people would look at me and say,
"You're acting like a 20-year-old,"
and I was only 15. That's what it was -
it was losing it, staying strong at that age.
Not only for yourself, but for the people surrounding you.
As an adult now, can you see that it kind of -
as you said, you acted like a 20-year-old.
Can you see that it made you grow up faster?
It does, it does. It has, as well -
for instance, as I said, I did get a job as a paralegal when I was 18.
When I walked in there,
the partner couldn't believe that I was actually an asylum seeker.
He got to know that a couple of months after, when I said,
"I've got an interview with Marie Claire magazine."
"What for? Are you doing any kind of beauty?"
I said, "No, no, no, it's not. It's to do with my past life."
I said - and he wanted to know more, and I said,
"No, no, I don't want to give you any more."
He's like, "I thought you were little when you got here."
I said, "No, I wasn't, I've only been released four years ago."
So, getting that job was - and then once the partners found out,
they were extremely supportive with everything.
They said that - basically, within a year when I was there,
I was a paralegal attending court, doing all of their court matters.
What sort of law was it?
It was a mixture of everything. It was basically a lot of litigation,
family law, criminal law, commercial, bit of immigration -
so, a bit of everything, and I did learn a lot in that place.
I did get into the HR management role plus the paralegal role
prior to coming to this place.
But the work was just getting too much,
and I knew my passion was in immigration, so I had to leave it.
You always felt that?
That was one of my main reasons for going into law,
was basically working my way up to going into immigration
and working in that field.
Tell me what sort of work you're doing with immigration now.
At the moment, I look after a lot of clients
from Iranian clients and a lot of the Arab clients,
and I do take care of all the review matters, clients.
After they get rejected, they have the right for review,
which has actually been taken away from them from 31 March 2014.
But prior to that, the client would go to review.
Basically, I'd draft the submission with the migration agent for them,
send that through, communicate with them -
and with communication, it's not only about telling them where their rights are.
It's basically talking to them as a sister, or a friend,
because a lot of them need that.
They don't have that in here.
Sometimes talking through an interpreter is difficult for them.
I do try to talk to them in English, but I do get to the point and I say,
"No, I've got to go back to my own culture and my own language."
Why do you try to talk to them in English?
Because they need to learn the English language. It's better for them.
But then when I see them struggle, I go back and I say,
"Look, I do speak your language, and I will speak to you in my language."
I've had so many thanks from the clients.
Once they get the visa, they are over the moon,
and they will call and the only thing they say is,
"Oh, my God, I don't know what would have happened
if you did not work at that place."
How does that make you feel?
It makes me feel very good.
It makes me feel like I have achieved something.
It makes me feel like it's where I wanted to be
when I was in detention.
It's what I've given them.
That, it will give me that satisfaction of, yes, I am doing law,
and that's the only reason I am doing law, is so I can help people -
the people who need so much help,
the people who need to get out of the situation they're in,
and they don't know how.
Mainly with different language, different culture, different atmosphere -
and also, the government doesn't help.
The Department doesn't give them any rights.
The people that you're talking about,
are they within detention centre or in community?
Mainly in community on a bridging visa,
but they are boat arrivals. They are all asylum seekers.
Right. What about the difficult cases,
the ones that you don't get a good result? What's -
It's difficult, telling them that you haven't got a good result.
But you've got to stay strong for them.
You can't sit there and pity them for their loss of the case.
You've got to say, "It was one chance. You have blew that.
You probably didn't answer properly,
or the Member that you got or the interviewer that you got
was a difficult person.
But you have your other options. These are your other options.
If you stick by your word, go ahead, go and apply for this."
But there are cases which are extremely weak -
extremely weak, and you tell them.
You give them the honest truth, and say, "If you can go back, go back."
Voluntarily go home,
because there's no point in wasting your own time.
The Department isn't making it easier, so there's no point sticking around,
because if they don't want you around, they won't want you around -
they won't keep you in here.
Do they go back or do they stay?
There has been a lot of people that have gone back.
A lot of people have gone back.
Are they people that would be fearing for their life, or -
In the claim, they say it is.
But once I do go through the story, I doubt it.
Again, I have gone through the same thing,
and my dad had inconsistency in his claims.
So if someone else would have looked at my dad's claim,
would have said, "No, this guy is lying." But it's all the circumstances.
I have interviews with clients myself, where I will sit down with the client
and go through the Convention and say,
"This is the Convention, this is what it tells you."
"So this is what you need to follow," and the client will go around
and tell me that they couldn't get a job in their home country
and that's the reason why they've left.
Then you go back and you emphasise the reason why the risk -
a flight risk is more important than not getting a job,
because not getting a job is not the end of the world.
You get the clients who repeat themselves and say,
"No, but I couldn't get a job.
I applied to this place, I applied to this place."
That's when you know this isn't a claim; this isn't a fear of life.
Yes, so you have to explain that to them.
Do you want to talk a bit about the Mandaean community here? I can -
Yes, sure. So yes, the Mandaean community here is growing.
There is a lot of the Iranians and the Iraqis from Mandaean culture
that are here.
There is a Mandaean church in Liverpool, in Sydney, Liverpool,
which is growing rapidly.
The Mandaeans have a church, which they've got prayers on Sundays.
They do have a lot of people attending.
We do even have baptism, every Sunday morning.
That's another reason why church is at night -
it's because, before, the ceremony during the day,
and the ceremony will need to be done when the sun is still up.
It can't be done in afternoons.
When is it usually done?
It's usually done at 6 AM in the morning until, say,
4 o'clock, 3 o'clock, when the sun starts going down.
It's at Nepean River, Penrith Nepean River.
Can you explain what would happen on - during that?
On a baptism day?
A normal baptism day will be people who have gone down to clean their sin,
to ask for forgiveness. They will get baptised.
It's a lengthy procedure. It's not a five-minute baptism.
It's basically going into the river with the priest.
The priest will throw water on the person, then will come out and then
there will be other religious ceremonies done on that person as well.
It does take - if you do it on one regular person,
it will take you a good 45 minutes to do.
We do the same kind of baptism for the marriage,
where the baptism is two times baptism -
it's not the once baptism, and the ceremony, it's a lot longer.
The ceremony goes down to three hours each.
Right, and why is it in the Nepean River?
That's the only river -
that's the only place that has given us the permission to go down.
The reason for that is, they've got the stairs right down to the water,
which makes it easier for the priest,
and also anyone younger, older people, to walk down the stairs into the water.
What do they wear when they -
It's a religious white cloth, so it's basically pants and then an over-layer,
and there is a belt, which is made out of wool.
It's done by the religious females,
so it's basically the priest's wife who sews them.
There's a scarf that they've got to wear.
There is another little piece of white cloth around the neck that they've got to put on.
No shoes, can't have any underwear on,
you can't tie your hair with normal hair ties.
You have to tie it with something made out of the same cloth,
so it's got to be cotton as well, full white cotton. No makeup and barefoot.
What's the significance of all that, do you know?
I believe it's what John the Baptist wore when he got baptised,
and when he was baptising everyone.
So it's basically following the same route, and wearing the same clothes.
Right. When did the community first come to Australia, and how long?
I think it probably started coming just before 1980s,
so it has been a while.
There are a lot of people, a lot of families that arrived ages ago,
and kids that were born in here.
My cousins are a few of them
who are born in Australia and are raised in Australia,
and don't speak anything except for English.
When you were talking about the religion before,
that you have to be born into it,
would it be common for people to marry within the community?
Yes, that's correct. Yes.
Does that change at all? Do people marry outside?
Marry outside? A lot has started happening now.
A lot of the families will not accept their other person,
and expect them to break up and get married to someone within the religion.
But when you grow in a country like Australia,
you've got to accept that it's going to happen.
You can't - you don't know who you'll fall in love with,
and if you get married to them, you get married to them.
A lot of families are accepting it at the moment.
So is there anything else you wanted to talk about in relation to that?
Okay. Thank you so much for sharing all that with us.
[End of interview]