Getting My Dignity Back: A report into Behind the Wire

A report by  Dr Sarah StrauvenDr Jordana Silverstein and Associate Professor Karen Block.

Behind the Wire, an award-winning oral history project founded in 2014, documented through different media – including a website, book, podcast and exhibition – the stories of the people and children who were detained by the Australian government after seeking asylum in Australia.

Launched on Thursday 27 April at an event hosted by Melbourne Social Equity Institute and the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness, the report explores a study in which researchers from the University of Melbourne interviewed ten people who participated in the Behind the Wire project. Of the ten participants, five had participated in the project whilst they were in immigration detention, five after they had been released.

Through this study the authors sought to:

  • understand how people conceptualise and understand their experiences of participation in Behind the Wire
  • understand the social, cultural and political implications of such narratorial projects; and
  • help provide a model for undertaking similar projects in the future.

The findings suggest that Behind the Wire had a profound impact on most of those interviewed. It enabled them to share their story with the broader public, and to make sense for themselves of what they had been through.

Key themes were that participation represented a way of resisting ‘the system’; through processes described as meaningful and empowering; and resulted in important, impactful and durable records of peoples’ experiences. As such, the project successfully provided an account of multiple histories, a space for self-expression, connection and personal growth, and a way for people to politically intervene and express their support and solidarity.

Behind the Wire is at once a political project and a work of art.

Download the report