Image for TT Tasmanian of the Year Award 2013

Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support (TASS)!!!

TASS has harnassed the powerful generosity and compassion that exists within so many Tasmanians and through this has made a real difference to hundreds of asylum seekers who have found themselves in the Pontville Detention Centre. TASS volunteers have provided a flicker of hope and humanity in the lives of people in the midst of some of their darkest days, enduring indefinite incarceration whilst fearing for their loved ones.

*Picture: Founder of TASS, Emily Conolan accepts the award from Founder of Tassie Times, Lindsay Tuffin.

This award was sponsored by Artery HERE:

TASS believes that:

Asylum Seekers have broken no law by choosing to flee their homeland for a safe country. They deserve our welcome and support.

Tasmanians have the capacity to be open-minded, warm, and thoughtful in their response to those seeking asylum. Our community will benefit from positive relationships with asylum seekers.

A brief history… Excerpt from the story of the Pontville Detention Centre and Brighton’s refugee history: Brighton’s Open Hand

Meanwhile, and as quick off the mark as Abetz, Hobart teacher Emily Conolan had an idea. ‘Before I could find a good reason not to do it, I went home, told the Mercury and put up a website. That way I’d made it public so I couldn’t stop myself,’ Conolan explained. That day she founded Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support (TASS). The Mercury rang her straight back wanting to know how many members the group had, and requested a photo. At this stage Conolan was the only member, but she quickly got hold of ten interested friends and neighbours. The Mercury took the photo on a Thursday night, and by the time they ran the article on the following Monday there were more than 200 members.

Conolan was shocked by the personal attacks aimed at her, mostly through comments on the Mercury’s website. She was too frightened to go to the public meeting in Pontville and is glad she didn’t. But Tasmanians have a habit of being cold at a distance and warm up close, and by the time the first detainees arrived in Pontville the more extreme voices had faded, and apart from the many locals who’d gained employment or business, or those directly involved with the centre, it would have gone relatively unnoticed to many.

Thanks to TASS, detainees in Pontville received regular visits from local Tasmanians, they shared food, conversation, played games and basically escaped desperation for an hour or two. These encounters were a little reminder that some strangers care – the gentle glow of humanity. Other detention centres, such as Curtin in Western Australia, receive few visitors due to their remoteness. Many detainees told their visitors that Pontville was a much happier place for them than the other centres, mostly due to the community visits.

TASS provided cross-cultural awareness training for visitors, talks and advice from a wide range of experts and a support network. Clarissa Adriel, President of Occupational Opportunities for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (OOFRAS), combined with Conolan to provide astute leadership and organisation for the Tasmanians who came together to support those in detention. Not only did TASS go on to facilitate around 100 community visits a week during the six months the centre was in operation, but its representatives Conolan and Adriel informed the public debate with some of the most sensible and sensitive comment. Indeed many TASS members also provided positive counterpoint to the venomous and vitriolic commentary in the media.

From the TASS website:

Who are we?

Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support is a grassroots network of people who are interested in welcoming asylum seekers to Tasmania.  We represent Tasmanians from all walks of life, and believe that humane treatment of asylum seekers is both an ethical and legal responsibility of our government and our community.

What do we do?

We run friendship and recreational programs for asylum seekers, both inside and outside of detention.

We run a ‘buddy program’ where a detainee who has requested a visitor can be matched with a Tasmanian buddy who visits them regularly.

We help to facilitate workshops inside Pontville Detention Centre in subjects such as art, gardening, and maths.

We support our volunteers through regular training sessions, monthly meetings, optional counselling sessions, and group visits to Pontville Detention Centre.

Testimonies for TASS:

“It has been a fascinating journey to document the evolution of TASS whilst filming Mary Meets Mohammad. Audiences across Australia, have been inspired by the generous hearts of Emily, Clarissa and the TASS members.  Their positive actions embracing friendships, support and cross cultural understanding with the world’s most vulnerable people, role models an example, our nation could follow.”

Heather Kirkpatrick
Director / Producer Mary Meets Mohammad

...For myself and on behalf of the men I have worked with over the past 5 months, I also would like to add to the thanks and appreciation that the volunteers at Pontville have so deservedly earned. The conditions that instigate the journeys these men undergo and then the enormously difficult situation they find themselves in upon arrival in Australia magnifies the suffering, loss and pain that they have undergone. The care, compassion, support and simple human to human heartfelt touch they receive from the volunteers has been an incredibly important and valued salve to that very same suffering. I cannot adequately recount the gratitude and respect the men have communicated to me daily about what it has meant to them to connect with people who care for them and more importantly, with them. That you have done what you have done has aided me in my work with being able to encourage the possibility of hope, humanity and decency in the world. You have beautifully demonstrated those things by simply being yourselves. Thank you so much; you may never know how much your time, love and openness has meant to these people.
Best wishes,

Geoff Dugan, Torture and Trauma Counsellor

Want to learn more about TASS or volunteer? Visit their website HERE:

And a big thank you to Artery for sponsoring this award. Visit their website HERE:

• Lindsay Tuffin:

This is our fifth Tasmanian Times Tasmanian of the Year Award. The first was to Dr Alison Bleaney ( Alison, you beauty! ), Then Dr Frank Nicklason ( CAUGHT! Frank, you’re a champ! ), Then John Lawrence ( Has politics failed us? ). And last year the TT Tasmanian of the Year was Bob McMahon ( One night in Rosevears ).

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