FREE POETRY (Janet Galbraith and Writing Through Fences)


Writing Through Fences is a group made up of writers and artists who are, or have been, detained in Australia’s immigration detention prisons, along with others who work to amplify and support those detained.

We first came across the Free Poetry Project when Eunice Andrada, poet and arts organiser, invited us to be a part of the project Free Voices/Free Poetry. The project sees words freed from the page and placed into public spaces. Our focus this year has been on the lead up to to the abandonment of the refugees and asylum seekers in Australia’s gulag in Manus Province, PNG.

We are trying to highlight what is happening to these men by placing the words of poets and writers on Manus into the public arena.  Excerpts from poems have been projected at festivals, hung on banners outside businesses, placed in libraries and bookshops, stuck onto the signs of local politicians, and served as backdrops to spoken word events.  We are asking poets, writers and artists who are free in Australia to support poets and writers who are detained by participating in this project.

Over the past five years I have come across  many people who were detained after fleeing their country of origin due to reading, writing and sharing poetry and literature. I am constantly amazed at how many have been forced to flee because of activities which most of us here take for granted, but which for them are deemed illegal and many times punishable by death.

— Janet Galbraith & Writing Through Fences
If you would like more information, visit the Free Poetry Facebook page or contact Writing Through Fences at


I didn’t run from my country to come
and destroy yours.
I came here to join you
Because we both want the same peace.

Maya (survivor)

They called us queue jumpers and now we are in the queue to be killed
Please tell us how many more lives
do you need from us?

Aziz (story-teller, messenger, advocate, detained on Manus for 4+ years)

Silence breaks its silence
Setting free it’s songs.
The shouts of sleepers
Releasing the voices of the voiceless
Screaming ‘Freedom! Freedom!’

Farhad (poet, musician, instrument maker, detained on Manus Island for 4.5 years)

Why is the world so quiet? Murtaza (student, ex-detainee)

Power is in the hands of wicked people.
They have made the world
an un-passable bridge.

Kazem (musician and writer, Manus)

sing and roar louder than a lion
and those who imprisoned you will realize
they can no longer dumb your voice.

Hani (writer, poet, student, teacher, ex-detainee)


We’re putting a brave face on so that no one sees how terribly frightened we are inside.

Imran (writer, detained on Manus for 4.5 years)


We all long for special smiles, tender hands and soft lips.
We all long for love…That opportunity has been stolen from us.

Wallid (writer, detained on Manus for 4.5 years)


The grizzled sky

As a teenage boy I remember when it was raining,
the moisture of soil smelt lovely…
But here, in the world of loneliness, the rain doesn’t smell.
I only become very old and must continue my life
under the grizzled sky…

Ali (writer, detained in limbo in Indonesia for 4.5 years)


We are not rocks for you to block the sea with.

Ghulam Mustafa (citizen reporter, indefinitely detained on Manus for 4.5 years)

I am a reality
You recognize me from my words
You never see myself and meet me
But I am a reality, I’m a real experience of pain.

Kaveh (poet, detained on Manus Island for 4.5 years)


Ah my friends…
Where is the freedom and flight?
They sign the migration of the swallow as ‘forbidden’,
surround the unordered sky with fences,
whip its wings.
Is this its only right?
When will the celebration of paper and words be?

Surena (poet, indefinitely detained on Manus Island for 4+ years)


I’m a writer and musician. I’ve been looking for freedom since I knew myself.

Thunder (musician and writer, detained on Manus for 4.5 years)

Oh Mom,
every night I weep and shed tears about those memories I had in your lap.
Your are my peace of mind and heaven is under your feet.
Every night I go through the nightmares caused to me by these tyrants.
Only your memories are keeping me alive.

Nazeer (poet, indefinitely detained on Manus for 4+ years)

An un-passable bridge

My guitar is my soul mate nowadays.
I don’t care for the world anymore.
I play my guitar with a heart full of sadness;
My eyes drizzle like rain.
My heart is absent minded.
It’s going to tell the secret words.
It has a heavy pain to reveal.
It is profoundly sad,
sad like someone who has lost his sweetheart.
It has many words to say
but there are no worthy people to talk to.
My restless heart wants to fly
to take a message to someone.
But what benefit is there when there is no way to fly?
My heart is exhausted from waiting and effort.
It’s breathless and alone.
It’s become weak.
It’s looking for a way to fly.
My heart with a hidden secret
and a world full of wounds in a jail
has no path to freedom.
It’s been condemned to a sorrowful separation.
I wish there was a kind person to give a chance to this prisoner,
give him a smile again as a gift.
Let him free from fetters and alienation.
What a pity that it’s all a dream!
My helpless heart has never seen bliss.
The jailer is bringing new chains to fasten.
This is a different prison.
Oh, banish the sorrow of my unblessed heart.

Kazem (musician and writer, Manus)

Writing Through Fences is a group of people who create, write or make art.  Most of the members are or have been incarcerated within Australia’s immigration detention regime.  A small group of non-refugee artists and writers resident in these lands are involved in collaborative, amplification and supportive roles.

Writing Through Fences aims to create a safe place in which writers and artists can explore their ideas, creativity, experiences and identities within, before and despite immigration detention.  We aim to open a place to re-member, a place to launch our work from, and to push aside walls that would attempt to contain or destroy us and our work.  We believe that creation is necessary to ward off the killing effects of destruction.

Writing Through Fences remembers that we are working, living, and imprisoned within the long colonial practices of division of country, of displacement and incarceration that is characteristic of Australia’s ongoing racist history. We remember that sovereignty has never been ceded.

We all have voices and assert that no one can give us a voice and no one can take our voice away. Our voices are ours and we do with them what we will.

To help Writing Through Fences publish more work coming out of Manus & Nauru, please donate at: Writing Through Fences, Bendigo Bank, BSB: 633108, Acc No: 152841052