Sydney’s western suburbs are always five degrees hotter than the rest of the city. With neither the relief of a coastline nor the rise of mountain peaks, this wide berth of land, known as the Cumberland Plains, is flat and featureless. We drive past rows and rows of squat houses. Sprinklers jet out water. Retirees wash their cars and young children squeal on clipped green front lawns in their nappies.
We are deep in Sydney suburbia. I am with a photographer friend and we have been driving in circles in a neighbourhood called Villawood under a blazing summer sun, with no air conditioning. We stop suddenly in the middle of Miowera Road. On one side are seventies style red brick houses. Cheeky garden gnomes hold out “Welcome Home” signs. School kids from nearby Chester Hill High run past us, chasing one another.
On the other side of the road is razor wire fencing. “No Entry” and “Commonwealth Property” signs are emblazoned across its shield. We’ve reached our destination.
Villawood Detention Centre is home to one of Australia’s darker policies of mandatory detention. Australia has faced international criticism for the inhumane “offshore processing” of asylum seekers on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus. The Cambodia Deal, signed late last year, marked one of the first times a developed country has signed an agreement with a developing nation for the resettlement of recognized refugees.