If you head out to Hobart’s Elizabeth Street Mall you may come across them — a group of strong-willed and passionate grandmothers knitting for a cause.
For almost three years Tasmanian grandmothers, also known as Tassie Nannas, have been protesting against the Australian Government’s policy of offshore detention with their knitting needles.
In 2013, the Australian Government launched Operation Sovereign Borders to deal with desperate people fleeing conflict and persecution from getting on a boat and risking their lives at sea in an attempt to reach safety in Australia. Under that program, boats were intercepted and turned back or sent to one of two offshore detention camps on Manus or Nauru.
By February 2014, more than 1300 people were held on Manus Island and more than 1100 in the Nauru centre. By August 2014, there were 222 children in the Nauru centre. While many have been assessed as refugees, they are still unable to settle on the Australian mainland.
Once a week Tasmanian grandmothers make themselves comfortable at the local mall to protest against the policy and implore the Australian Government to free refugees, especially children, from detention.
It is a colourful but determined sit in.
“We’re a group of Tasmanian grandmothers who formed with the express intention of doing what we can to free children who are being held in detention by the Australian Government,” grandmother Pauline Shelley told Leon Compton on ABC Local Radio Tasmania on the day of their first protest in 2015.
Nanna Pauline started the group with her friend Trish Moran and others after writing letters to politicians went nowhere. Frustrated by the lack of response, they took to the streets with their knitting needles and yarn.
“They should be in the community with access to extended family, perhaps being taught how to knit by their grandmothers,” Pauline tells the ABC.
“They should not be imprisoned and certainly they shouldn’t be imprisoned by the actions of their parents in attempting to bring them to Australia.
“It’s just plain wrong to punish the children because of the actions of their parents and it’s also totally wrong and inhumane to keep children in detention centres.”
Almost three years later, the knitting group still meets once a week at the local Hobart Mall. Their stubborn knit-in has not only created some beautiful blankets, but it has also inspired other nannas in other parts of the state to take up their knitting needles for the cause.