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  • Galang: Disney Land of Refugee Camps #RefugeeCampSelfie

    So, I figured I should write about this now. Though I am still a little unsure about the place, as it is truly weird…

    Galang Island in the Riau Islands of Indonesia operated as a refugee camp between 1979 and 1996. It is estimated 250,000 refugees were processed through the camp during this period.

    I won’t write too much factually about Galang, as most of it can read online. See:

    Today the camp is quite a bizarre place. Despite being the most well preserved camp, it is also a local tourist attraction. It was quite an odd experience to visit the local cemetery, former housing, boats and hospitals, while witnessing the birth of #RefugeeCampSelfie. Particularly because I know people who lived here, people who were born here and people who struggled here.

    Back in 1980-81 Galang served as home for several of my family members who now reside in the States. They arrived after 31 days at sea on one of my father’s boats. I have heard secondhand that their plight became so desperate a decision to cannibalising one of the people who had perished on the journey was made. Fortunately they were rescued and sent to Indonesia shortly after making that decision.

    I appreciated Galang as a well-preserved site, but there was something about the well-manicured lawns, boat displays, Vietnamese pop music and tame monkeys that felt rather contrived and artificial. Particularly compared to the photos of the camp when it was operational.

    As a former refugee camp it was weird, as a tourist attraction it was beyond weird…

    I guess that the ubiquitous nature of the selfie means that it is pretty much a cultural virus. Though my understanding is that Anne Frank’s House, Auschwitz and the Killing Fields are ‘tourist attractions’, and that those places represent loss and tragedy on a mass scale, whereas this refugee camp represented survival and hope. 

    Ok so lets can the last bit…

    I did a Google search and came across this: as it turns out the selfie isn’t ubiquitous, it is a disease! I wonder if in two generations Aussie kids will go and take photos of themselves on Christmas Island, ‘you know where that boat thing happened’ or ‘giving a thumbs up in a selfie on Manus Island’, of course by then it will likely be a more annoying an inappropriate cultural trend!

    But then again is it any different from me posting photos of refugee camps as I visit them?

    I guess if I can @pthngo and #Article141 photos from the camp others can #refugeecampselfie and I shouldn’t be such a bitch about it…