Honestly, I feel so passionately about this cause. I’m just grateful for the support the show has generated. Australians have been really open-minded about it. So many of the organisations that support refugees have had enquiries and donations as a result of the show. It’s only a small part of the battle, but the reason why all of us wanted to be involved, whatever we said our reasons were, was because we wanted to know more and we wanted the debate to go to a new level. I really believe the show has empowered a lot of people and given them an interest in seeking more information on refugees and just politics in general and I’m so grateful for that.
I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I believe the way to hold a constructive debate is to be open-minded to everybody’s opinion. I am diplomatic because I believe it’s important if you’re going to debate someone. It’s a value I was bought up with and I tried to uphold that.
Having said that, this cause is heartbreaking- the reality of it is horrific, and it evokes passion in everybody. Everyone on the panel has their own belief and opinions that make them upset and angry and so it was hard.
I can say I will not stand for racial or religious prejudice. I say everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and they certainly are, but if that gets in the way of constructive debate, we need to call people on it and then keep moving forward. There was some slinging of insults on occasion, but that was the circumstance – we weren’t in parliament, so we were allowed to. Sometimes, to get the truth out of people, you have to poke and prod. I stand by Catherine’s questioning of Peter and I think she’s a very intelligent and strong women and very aware of how to break barriers down.Angry said he returned a different person after your trip – has anyone else’s opinion wildly changed since the conclusion of the show?
I think that’s a question only they can answer, but personally I think we saw a monumental change in Angry. He has a very big heart, and I think his journey was extremely important. He made a very valid point on Insight when he said, ‘there’s no way that any of us could have the same opinion after this experience,’ and that’s so true. Now, whether everyone else conveys that, I am not going to pass judgement, because I think Australia saw that for themselves.Obviously you were heavily protected by SBS in places like Somalia, but there was always a chance things could go wrong – how did they prepare you for that?
We did Risk and Awareness training, which taught us things like, how you should react if a bomb goes off. They actually simulated explosions in training, and had snipers that we weren’t expecting come into the room to get us ready. It was at that moment that Michael actually summed up what we were all thinking, which was, “this just became real”.
Aside from that, even though we were part of a documentary, it was also our job to have our eyes open. I think Somalia was so much more dangerous than it seemed on TV – I mean the viewers didn’t get to see the little things, like cars that would come out of nowhere and just drive in front of us. We had a former member of the CIA with us and there were times when he would say, “Okay, please, no talking, I really have to concentrate at this point”. And we would sit there holding our breath.
And the day we were going back to the airport to leave, I remember hearing another journalist had just been killed. When we got to the airport it was surrounded by soldiers. There’s a classic image burnt into my brain which is the sound guy’s equipment on the ground with sniffer dogs surrounding it on the dusty road. We were all very aware that one wrong move meant we could have been kidnapped, or separated or arrested.
In those moments, any differences absolutely had to be put aside and we all took care of each other. My opinion of Michael’s opinions, simply are that I disagree. As far as Michael as a person goes, there were times when we really had to concentrate and he would say to me, ‘give me your bag, stand behind me.’ So he looked out for me in that sense. He also knew how to wind me up, but that was just part of what you didn’t see on camera.Can you describe what it was like being on the boat to Christmas Island?
There were two moments on this show when I felt the trapped sadness of the refugees. I will never forget being in that boat and seeing passports, clothing items and money floating in the water around me. It was a very strange feeling that went along with knowing how many people had died trying to make that journey. And the boat we were on was actually a lot bigger than the boats they usually use. I was horrendously sick on the journey and so were a lot of the others. I was petrified by the weather reports. And if you’re on a boat coming to Australia under those circumstances, you don’t get that weather report, so when that sea turns deadly, you don’t know it’s coming.
We were lucky enough to be able to be forewarned and turn around. So when we got to Christmas Island, we were so relieved not to be on that boat anymore. I’m not the best swimmer in the world, and I was looking at the water thinking, ‘most of the people that arrive here can’t swim’.You said several times on the show you felt the media was “driving” the negative public opinion of refugees. How can Australians become more educated on this issue?
I think we’re so lucky to live in the age of technology, where you can go online and find out the statistics yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go and study politics, but you can easily find out what’s happening in different parts of the world and what Australia is doing in those parts of the world. If you feel passionately and want to stand up and make a point, it’s not just about being a voice but being an active voice. Put into action what you feel and make it a cause for yourself. And that might be something like finding out what’s going on in Somalia for instance.
At the conclusion of the show I still felt like I needed to learn more and I still stand behind my comment about the media and about politicians.
I believe the way that I can take responsibility is by educating myself and no longer accepting what I am just fed, but finding out for myself and then putting into action what I believe is right. And I think that was the key message of ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’ – if you came away from this show believing that Australia is not doing enough and that those people genuinely need help, if that is now the opinion from your heart, then you must stand up, get an education and take action, because that is the only way we can break the cycle.
I’m not going to lie, I have been plagued by horrendous nightmares since I returned home, but what the show has done for me has really added fuel to the passion I feel for this cause.This experience has obviously profoundly changed your life in a lot of ways, so what’s next for you?
I have some projects in the pipeline, some of which will reveal themselves very soon! Right now it’s about finding a balance between my career and the causes I want to support. I want to keep working in the public eye simply for the fact that I can use it as a platform to help educate people on the important issues.
The refugee debate is a focus for me right now, and I think I’ve been good at balancing my career with the causes I support in the past. I’m excited about the fact I’m now able to do that. I don’t feel like I have to apologise for that anymore and nor do I have to walk into a room and be like, ‘listen I know I used to wear a bikini but I really have something else to say’. I’m grateful that Australia has given me the chance.