Powerful sculpture to highlight plight of detained children

Diocesan director John Goonan believes a visit from The Cage will be an eye-opening experience for many.
Diocesan director John Goonan believes a visit from The Cage will be an eye-opening experience for many.

AN imposing, purpose-built wire cage is set to draw attention to a crucial, yet controversial, issue in Wagga next month.

The dramatic 5.5 metre by 2.5 metre sculpture has been highlighting the harrowing plight of children detained in Australia’s immigration detention facilities, and the proposed ‘resettlement’ of families on Papua New Guinea and Nauru, since June.

Coordinated by the Australian Coalition to End Immigration Detention of Children, the project seeks to increase public awareness about what is happening to children inside Australia’s immigration detention facilities and to highlight the issues and concerns human rights organisations hold for those interned.

The Cage, created by award-winning Agency of Sculpture, was first unveiled at a public action event in the heart of Sydney between June 11 and 15.

Inside the arresting ‘cage’ are dolls symbolising the children detained in detention centres.

Members of the public are asked to step into The Cage to "free a child" by removing a doll’s ID card, which also features a letter to Federal Members.

Catholic Mission Wagga Diocesan representative John Goonan is coordinating the sculpture's visit to the city, The Cage’s first foray into the country.

The Catholic Mission is one of seven organisations that comprise the Australian Coalition to End Immigration Detention of Children.

“The sculpture represents something that I am very passionate about,” he said.

“I have always been passionate about kids, their welfare and their rights.

“I was 43 years in the education system as a teacher, and in various other roles, and I have four kids of my own.

“The kids in these detention centres are no different to the kids in Wagga, and I get very choked up with I read about kids who are running around on hot ground, without shoes and shade and no education.

“Children in detention on Nauru and Christmas Island do not have adequate education or healthcare.

“Being locked up indefinitely anywhere damages mental health, effects a child’s development and their overall well-being. No other nation treats asylum seeker and refugee children in this way.”

John is thrilled with the response the impending visit on December 4 and 5 is generating through the community.

“We are already getting huge interest from the groups, organisations and individuals we have already approached,” he said.

“We would love to get 10,000 people come through but that’s probably a pie in the sky... Still, we may as well aim high.”

John believes the hard-hitting and emotive sculpture will be hard for members of the public to ignore and it is a proving a successful tool to engage with communities in a direct and positive manner.

“The idea behind the sculpture basically came because there was a need to do something about the issue and writing letters, and even Facebook, weren’t getting us anywhere,” he said.

‘The Cage, which John describes as resembling a large fishing net, will stand in the Wagga Council Chambers forecourt between 8am and 6pm on Thursday December 4 and 8am to 4pm on Friday December 5.

The Cage will also visit Leeton’s St Francis College on December 8 and Griffith’s Memorial Park on December 9 and 10.

The timely arrival of the sculpture follows on from author and humanitarian Mark Isaacs’ visit to the Riverina earlier this month.

Mark penned a haunting expose into the Nauru Detention Centre after spending 10 months working for the Salvation Army inside the offshore detention.

"The timing of the visit  follows on very well after Mark Isaacs’ visit which has had a noteworthy impact on the local community, particularly through the schools, including Griffith,” Amnesty International Wagga branch stalwart Gabrielle Robinson said.

“There is a growing concern in our communities about the treatment of asylum seekers with many people wishing to bring about change.”