Global Bersih: Hear us, from the Australian capital

by Bersih Canberra

This is in Canberra, the capital of Australia. As compared to Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane, Canberra is relatively unknown to Malaysians.

The Malaysian community here is mostly made up by university students and very few diaspora.Let us share our very unique Bersih 4 story in Canberra with you in Malaysia.

We were scheduled to start at 3pm (1pm Malaysian time) and we were providing free transport to students because we fully understand travelling without car is so much less incentivised for students to attend, although the Parliament House is only about a 30-minute walk away from the main campus.

Our Bersih 4 Canberra committee was really upset when there was really few turned up for our free transport from the Australian National University (ANU) main campus to Parliament House (at most 30 only).

No words could describe how discouraged and down the entire committee was simply because we were expecting at least 50 to turn up. While everyone was on their phone following the live updates from our Bersih counterparts in Melbourne and Perth, sadly speaking, we had mixed feelings.

On one hand, we were glad that they had such a huge turnout – more than 5,000 in Melbourne and 2,000 in Sydney (photo) and on the other hand, Canberra is struggling to even have 50 to attend.

We just could not fathom. Why is it so hard for Canberra just to get even 50? I was the last to leave the pick-up point to meet our other team who were already at Parliament House.

The ten-minute drive was a full of questions journey: have we not done enough to make people come?” We started to make fun with one another. Probably this would the last time we woulkd be organising a Bersih rally…

However, when we arrived our venue with six fresh Domino pizzas, thinking of how we could finish these pizzas and drinks with only such a small group of people, things started to change.

And a surprise to us…

What we saw was totally surprising. There were actually more than 100 people who had turned up for our rally thefre and some people were still walking from the other side to merge into our crowd!!

Apparently, a lot of them did not want to burden us as students and therefore decided to travel by themselves. We, the Canberra Bersih organising team must share with all our friends how touched were to see kind souls like Uncle Lim in his 70s, who didn’t know there was a Bersih rally in Sydney, drove 3.5 hours with his wife to Canberra just to attend our rally.

We have friends (Diana) from Wagga Wagga, who travelled four hours just to meet us! And most importantly, we had a great turnout from students. Then, we received friends, who wished to remain anonymous, who sponsored 200 spring rolls and a sweet, lovely family who shared their homemade cookies and “ondek-ondek’ with us. It turned out to be a joyful picnic protest!

After we ended the rally, some working lads came up and said, “Where can I donate to all of you?”, ” Can I chip in the cost?”, ‘I want to donate”, etc.

We kindly rejected them simply because we did not expect there would be such a good turnout from working diaspora too. We normally do not take donations, for we and split the costs among us simply because our participants are mostly students and we do not not want to add any extra financial burden on them.

As compared to our friends, relatives and families who are suffering back home, the little money that we contributed here is the least that we can do to support our cause.

To our beloved Bersih Canberra volunteers, to our awesome brave and courageous Bersih Canberra participants; and to many of our unsung heroes who do not wish to be named – we would like to express our utmost gratitude to all of you.

Without you, Bersih 4 in Canberra would not have been so successful.

Finally, we would also like to respond to our the intention of Deputy Foreign Minister Minister Reezal Merican Naina Merican (photo) to identity all the overseas Bersih organisers and takje legal action against them: “Well, if that’s the case, so be it.”

We believe everyone will eventually be answerable to their maker of their doings. At the very least, we know that we have done nothing wrong. All we ask for are free and fair elections in Malaysia.

It was a great opportunity to have our demonstration in front of the symbolic Australian Parliament House because the building signifies the struggle of many of their generations and how much they have gone through in order to achieve and enjoy the freedom and democracy they have today.

A Philip Randolph was right: “Freedom is never given; it is won.”

Bersih 4 Canberra Organising Team.

This letter first appeared in Malaysiakini:

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