top of page

Orwell's Border

A year ago I did a medical test as part of applying for permanent residency.

I went for a Government-mandated chest x-ray, HIV test and "physical examination".

I weigh 84 kilograms, measure 183cm in shoes and I bleed profusely when pricked. I also laugh when tickled, die when poisoned, and seek revenge when wronged.

I'm from a country with expansive public health coverage and, at least in the 1980s, a near-100% vaccination rate so I didn't have to do the tuberculosis exam.

Having proven my identity in the anteroom beyond, I was directed into a room which was hidden from view by a large, electronic sliding door made of a misted glass.

The other candidates for this exam were each dressed, as I would shortly be, in a green smock, and were overwhelmingly from India and China, facing impassively toward each other, and rising dutifully as an automated voice called out their assigned, 3-digit numbers.

The lights were harsh, but faced down, casting a pall over the faces of the candidates, the heavy make-up of the attendant and the room, which was itself windowless, only admitting the thin, morning sun when the door slipped open to allow more of us in.

There was a never-ending supply. They didn't have much time. They administered the exams unceremoniously. I did not speak. They would not be in touch if there was nothing unusual.

The doctor asked me about my mental health. She didn't know what pre-exposure prophylaxis was. There were adhesive posters glued to the wall; scenes of nature, waves crashing against a lighthouse. In the windowless room, the colours looked dull. If the purpose was to soften the aesthetic, the effort seemed wasted.

It was like everything else in this process; shallow and arbitrary. They want to collect their data and decide. The people just work there. There we were, the new Australians in smocks, a little cowed and unsure, not locking eyes. The power of the state, overweening, curious; exercising its binary choice.

We were its servants as we paid, undressed and submitted.

bottom of page