What would you take if you had to escape your home because your life was threatened by ethnic and religious violence? After Essy*, an ethnic Hazara man in Afghanistan, was savagely assaulted in 2010 he crammed everything he could into this small daypack and fled, eventually making the dangerous boat crossing from Indonesia to Christmas Island.
As Shi’a Muslims, Hazara faced entrenched societal and institutional discrimination, then indiscriminate violence by Taliban rulers and, later, insurgents. Like many of his community Essy lost loved family members to violence and disappearance over many years. Fortunate to survive his assault, Essy realised that he had no safe future in his homeland and fled to seek asylum in Australia.
Essy spent two years in immigration detention centres in northern Australia and Pontville, Tasmania, before being released with a bridging visa in 2012. Having made Tasmanian friends while at Pontville he decided to stay in Hobart and build a life while pursuing his plea for protection which was granted in 2016.
Now a much-loved citizen of Hobart, Essy has made numerous friends here. He has spent countless hours giving driving lessons to newly arrived refugees and teaching them about life in Tasmania. He is also a popular disc jockey, providing music at community events and weddings, and loves nothing better than riding his mountain bike, bushwalking, catching music concerts and playing soccer.
Now permitted to work, Essy works in construction and is saving to buy a house. Although the bad dreams never disappear, he prizes the safety, friendship and freedom he has found in Tasmania, the opportunity to make a new life and contribute to his new country.
Essy is among the latest wave of immigrants and refugees who have made Tasmania home since British colonists first arrived in 1803. European Displaced Persons transformed the state after World War 2 while subsequent refugees escaping conflict and persecution in their home countries have enriched Tasmania. These include Eastern Europeans in the 1950s and 1960s, Vietnamese and Hmong refugees in the 1970s and early 1980s, Chileans in the 1980s and African, Afghani and Middle Eastern refugees in the 21st century. Some have arrived in Australia by boat, others by plane. All seek to live free of fear.
* to protect Essy’s family, only his nickname is used here.