TOO LONG: Gabby Sutherland wants Nauru and Manus Island to be closed.
TOO LONG: Gabby Sutherland wants Nauru and Manus Island to be closed. John McCutcheon

Activist speaks out against 'endless horror' on Nauru

THE horrific images burnt into Gabby Sutherland's mind are enough to make any person sick to their stomach.

Children sowing their lips together with each stitch serving as a distinct memory of trauma.

She heard kids threaten to jump over balconies and witnessed small bodies slash themselves from absolute pain.

The youngest people whose sunken faces mirrored a lack of sleep told her of the tortured screams that kept them up at night.

Yet while living on the humid, "tiny island" of Nauru as an educator for refugees, Ms Sutherland said the greatest source of suffering for all was the palpable lack of freedom.

"The most horrifying thing is the indefinite detention," she said.

"I think there's something within us all that can cope with one or two events that really traumatise us.

"But I always think I'd rather have the absolute hell beaten out of me than to be locked up indefinitely."

The Noosa woman was exposed to the "endless horror" contained within the high security tents and barbed wire fences for 13 months.

Now an advocate for closing the camps on Nauru and Manus Island, Ms Sutherland has ripped off the gag she said was once tied by the government.

"We can speak out now," she said. And so she does just that.


CLOSE IT DOWN: Gabby Sutherland used to work on Nauru and due to the terrible conditions she wants the place closed down.
CLOSE IT DOWN: Gabby Sutherland used to work on Nauru as a teacher. John McCutcheon

Ms Sutherland said the "heartbreaking" conditions that festered on the island, the size of Melbourne Airport, were just one of the "many lies" she has set out to uncover.

"I did see things that were just so beyond ... you couldn't believe human beings would do that to each other," she said.

Yet the "environmental catastrophe" shouldn't have any person living on it in the first place, Ms Sutherland believes.

"80 per cent of the island has been strip mined, and consequently can't grow any food.

"So if the Australian taxpayer is paying for a family of four to be there for five years, it costs $10 million... and that's because we fly all of the food in, and the water.

"The taxpayer really pays for everything," she said.

One issue that pulses pain into Ms Sutherland's heart is that of the refugees who never had the chance to just be a kid.

"The government can theoretically say there are no children on Nauru, but some of these children arrived as unaccompanied minors where their parents had been killed.

"You said the children are off, but what about the children that have been there so long they're now adults?

"That's the inhumanity of the situation," she said.

Although solemn vigils and chanting words encourage Ms Sutherland to stay on the path of activism, she said the number of attendees weren't growing - but "the lies are".

"It's the same people who have been holding that candle up for six years, so it does make me feel really sad," she said.

"The government's lies put a blanket over or blow out the shining torch that we're all trying to light and people just turn their backs because it's too hard to learn the truth or work out who to believe."

Ms Sutherland believes there is only one solution to cease the case of indefinite detention.

"It is the media that we need to start digging a little bit deeper and being aware enough to challenge the lies the government has told," she said.

"Instead of shining a candle, we need to do something really massive and we need the media to support that."