Having lived on the farm right next to the Northam army barracks since 1934, Eric Fox has seen a lot of people use the camp (and his farm) over the years.
“The army used the farm extensively [in the early years of World War Two] as an extension of their training ground”, Fox told Green Left Weekly.
“Later in the war, when the Italian prisoners of war were there, they weren’t very solidly interned — they walked over the farm as well. That didn’t worry us. They didn’t bother us.
“The next big wave of migrants came [in the post-war years] with the displaced East Europeans whose countries had been destroyed during the war.
“I’ve had a lot of contact with them, as I mentioned at the [Northam town hall] meeting, because I have all my life been associated with the boy scout movement. We formed a scout group [at the camp] and I formed a close contact with the kids from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania [and other countries].
“The attitude of the people in Northam, particularly in the early stages, was fear or worry. I am impressed with the similarity of the fears with this new thing compared to 60 years ago.
“My thinking is that if we just accept what the newspapers are saying, then we’d have the whole of Northam in a panic.”
Fox said the government should have consulted the local authorities and community before announcing the detention centre. He said locals are beginning to “settle down” about the idea of refugees in the barracks.
“There is not enough thought given to the other side of the thing — the human side of it — the fact that [asylum seekers] are people — people who want to come to Australia.
“We’ve always reckoned this offshore processing is wrong. It is inhuman. We’re very pleased they’re shifting them to the mainland.”