Today it’s reported that a new detention center, to house asylum seekers, is planned for construction at Singleton, in the Hunter Valley.
It’s to be built on available Commonwealth land. Very little imagination is needed to guess that it will be located on or near the site of the army’s old 3TB which housed thousands of conscripts and others during the heyday of National Service in the sixties and seventies.
There’s a mad piece of symmetry about this, embedded in political expediency, national neurosis, and frantic dog-whistling.
Back in the days of conscription in peacetime to fight Vietnamese in Vietnam, the bogey was Communism. This was a very successful menace-de-jour in that, with the aid of the DLP, it helped keep the Coalition in power until reality finally dawned in the late sixties, leading to the withdrawal of Australian forces in 1972.
That war, and all its horror and misery, was elegantly symbolized by the stark rows of drab huts that housed thousands of young Australians over the years.
Are the huts still there? The diggers aren’t. Those who survived are now old men. They carry the honour and scars of service, keeping the former to themselves and sharing the latter with partners and family.
Now the bogey is boat people.
The Coalition has very successfully used the boat people as the menace-de-jour since Tampa, and it has worked for them. To its eternal shame, Labor has cottoned on to the same expediency, and trashed a proud and noble tradition in the process.
That last factor has destroyed the perfect symmetry. At least Labor stuck to its guns back during the sixties and seventies.
We can look forward perhaps to a new species of political collateral inhabiting those old huts. No longer twenty year olds – but still humanity to be bought and sold in the interests of political expediency.
I wonder about the inter-generational scars that will endure for this new cohort of cynically marginalized people.