RMIT Gazette: An interview with Michael Green

Lauren Dymke  

Photography by Trong Nguyen and Gloria Tanuseputra

The RMIT Gazette is a dynamic daily newspaper produced, published and distributed around Melbourne during the Emerging Writers’ Festival. We’ll publish the Gazette’s top stories online during the festival.

Michael Green’s keynote speech at the Emerging Writers’ Festival’s opening night was not about him. This is a fact he’s keen to emphasise.

‘Aziz left some messages, so I just [said] a few things to introduce him. He’s the real star of the show’.

The man he’s talking about is Abdul Aziz Muhamat, an asylum seeker detained on Manus Island. Michael has been in contact with Aziz for a year-and-a-half. Because reception is poor on Manus, they can’t call on the phone. Instead they exchange near-daily voice messages via WhatsApp.

Michael’s original plan was to write a feature about Aziz. But soon after they began their correspondence, plans changed.

‘The first night that I spoke to him, he was so open and energetic and laughing a lot. Not long after that we were talking about making a radio show. The sound of his voice was just so immediate, in the way a written piece doesn’t quite capture’.

That’s how Aziz’s podcast, The Messenger, began.

The Messenger explores the recent history and complications of Australia’s asylum seeker policy, yet the story is not about politics. Above all, it is about Aziz’s voice.

Through the episodes, we get to know Aziz. He is a soccer enthusiast, a Muslim, an advocate for fellow detainees and a leader of his community. We learn how and why Aziz left Sudan. We hear his hopes for the future, his worries for his family. We hear about camaraderie in the compound alongside troubling events. We’re privy to the turn in his moods; sometimes he is optimistic, other times he is not. Most of all, we hear about Aziz the asylum seeker, taking back as much control as he can.

Before Michael met Aziz, he had been working for two years on a much bigger project called Behind the Wire, an oral and written history of people who have been detained by the Australian government. The purpose of the project was to give people agency to tell their story.

‘We use our skills as writers and editors to work with them, to craft the story that they want to tell. But our aim is to hand over the power of the interview to the people who have had that experience’.

In episode one Aziz says, ‘When you cry or when you scream, no one can hear you … I thought that it is a better idea for me to be the messenger … to be the voice of everyone in here’. Beyond the stiff speech of policy, beyond veiled rhetoric and the cacophony of voices, first and foremost we need to acknowledge Aziz’s voice. We need to hear more voices like his and listen to what they have to say.

Behind the Wire is a volunteer run oral history that helps people who have experienced migration detention tell their stories.

The Messenger is a Behind the Wire project produced by Michael Green, André Dao, Hannah Reich, Bec Fary with Jon Tjhia and Sophie Black and the team at the Wheeler centre. It can be found here.

Read more from the RMIT Gazette here.