The beginning & the dreaming

'float the boat' with Mark Brett, Keith Dyer & Marita Munro at The Premises Cafe in Parkville

It was raining heavily just as I arrived at Whitley College for the forum ‘Hospitality to Asylum Seekers and Church-State Relations.' I had to carry the boat (a large model replica of the boat my father and sister and I escaped Vietnam on) in the rain, from the car park to the front door. I placed the boat on its stand near the entrance, hoping that as people enter, the boat itself invites guests to come on board to a different kind of conversation. 

That evening, driving home with the boat, my eyes were filled with tears. What I had heard and learned at the forum troubles me greatly. Jessie Taylor spoke about the injustice policies towards refugees, Major Geoff Webb and Ben Clapton about the dire situation on Manus Island, and Prof. Mark Brett reflect on the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger and for churches to critique government policies.

‘What can little people do?’ was a question that led Gerard Hughes to walk from England to Jerusalem in search of peace at a time where there was a global conversation about nuclear defense. What can little me do? A conviction grew in me that what was needed was a symbolic act that captures the imagination of the people and engages in a more positive conversation.

As I took the boat out of the car, when I got home, I had a moment of inspiration. What if I put wheels to this boat and pull it to Canberra, to give it to parliament as a Christmas gift, to say thank you for the welcome and hospitality that my family and I have received. That night I couldn’t sleep, the anticipation of this long walk towards the capital.

 The following day, I couldn’t wait to ‘float the boat’ with Mark Brett of this idea. Mark invited Keith Dyer along with us to the Premises café after lunch to float the boat further.   

Mark and Keith were very enthusiastic about the idea and were coming up with lots of other ideas to make the walk effective: meeting indigenous elders, have ‘thank You’ painted on the boat, connecting with Canberra Baptist, raising funds for Baptcare… Marita Munro also joined in the conversation and participated in the brainstorming session at the Café. 

Within a week, the idea became a project in full operation. Sivonne Binks from Whitley designed a logo and came up with the project name ‘Gift of Refuge’. Michaela and Katrina initially volunteer to share the role of project manager. Keith started writing advent reflections to go on the website which I had set up that week, Liz Braid gave permission to use her artwork ‘welcome’. But as the managers started mapping out the route and enquired about permits, they had to break the news to me that it was not going to be possible to get the permits in time for me to walk to Canberra by Christmas… 


"And I wish you all the best for your future lives in this country, yourselves and your children, that in Australia your best hopes and aspiration for the future will be realised." MALCOLM FRASER, PRIME MINISTER 1975-1983:

"If we listen closely enough to the stories of others, an alternative story will emerge which will allow for the transformation to take place." Brueggemann?

"…nobody can change stories unless an alternative story is made richly available with great artistry, love, and boldness." Brueggemann?