Radio personality Meshel Laurie will join ex-AFL player Peter 'Spida' Everitt for SBS’s Go Back To Where You Came From Live. Both will be sent to a warzone, the exact location of which cannot yet be disclosed, as Australia watches on in real time over three nights, 2–4 October.
I spoke with both Meshel and Spida as they were ready to go overseas to what was, to them, an unknown destination considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world. Meshel was packing as we spoke. "I wonder what do you even pack for this," I asked.
"You and me both, mate," she said with a mild lilt in her voice.
Meshel and Spida are set to embark on a trip that they will never forget - it was understandable that when we spoke, Go Back To Where You Came From Live weighed heavily on each of their minds:
Are you nervous?
Meshel: Well, I wasn’t until a couple of days ago. Now, absolutely, yes. Very nervous. That’s why I keep on packing and unpacking, packing and unpacking.
Spida: I am both nervous and excited. I’m actually really looking forward to it. We don’t know where we’re going or exactly what we’re doing. So, that side of things makes you a little nervous. But, I think at the same time I don’t mind surprises. I can’t do any research or know anything about it. Everything I do, I’ll learn from scratch.
What do you do to prepare before you head off?
Meshel: I’m keeping busy. Luckily I have a thousand things to do. Getting the kids organised, getting the house organised, getting myself organised. Little bits of work. Getting podcasts recorded and ready for while I am away. Keeping busy. Keeping my mind off it.
Spida: Look, not a lot. [Laughs]. It sounds really silly. Last week we went and stayed with a refugee family. It was great to get an insight into a refugee family living here in Australia. I don’t know a lot about… I see what I see in the news and read in the papers. People have their opinions. I’m not an expert on refugees at all. That’s why I want to do this. I don’t know a lot about it. I actually don’t think 80% of Australians know a lot about it. They only believe what they see and what they read. To be able to have an actual opinion because you have the education behind it, I can’t think of anything better.
Your friends and family. Are they nervous about you participating in this?
Meshel: Some are. I have twins - they’re nearly nine. My son is like ‘meh, whatever’. But my daughter is very nervous. She keeps saying ‘I don’t want you to go mum. I’m worried about you’.
Spida: My wife is hating it because she doesn’t know where I am going. She’s a control freak and wants to know everything. She’s very nervous. So’s my young fella. We’ve talked to everybody who has seen the ad. They all look at you blankly to start with and then sit there after they’ve digested it and they say “You know what, this will be an amazing experience.”
What sort of expectations do you think you’ll get out of the experience?
Meshel: I think I will be glad I did this for the rest of my life. My attitude to these things is if these people have to live through them, the least I can do is to bare witness to them and be able to talk about them with knowledge. For the rest of my life I’ll be able to say: “I saw it and I was there. This is what was actually happening”. So many people talk about this stuff and don’t know. I have been one of them. We just pick whatever proves our point or makes us feel better about our perspective. I just want to go and know.
Spida: “They said it will change your life. I don’t think it will change my life - just the way I look at a couple of things. We did a couple of training courses around certain situations when you are in these areas. They said if what you see doesn’t affect you, you’re not human. That has stayed with me the last couple of weeks. With that, I’m pretty nervous because I don’t know what I’m going to see.
Do you think the experience will change your attitudes?
Meshel: No. [Laughs] I would be shocked. No, I don’t think so....
That said, having to think about it to this extent, because it’s really easy to say “We have to take care of refugees!”, but having to think about it, when you have to talk about it, I’ve had to clarify my position for myself and for other people. Because then people say to you “What are you saying? You just want to open the borders for everybody?” and I have to ask “What am I saying?”
I understand that Australia is a pretty unique and pristine environment. It’s precious and I don’t want it ruined anymore than anyone else does. We need policies and strategies on how to do it. In a way the show has changed my attitude in that it has made me think seriously about what my attitude is. It’s not as simple as it was a couple of months ago where it was “Just be kind to people. Can’t we just help people?” Everybody would like to do that, but how? How do we do it?
What traits do you have that will prove beneficial with the show?
Meshel: I think I am capable of thinking through the issues. I am passionate, a humanitarian, and I care about people. But, I think I’m able to see both sides and think logically. I can bring logic to the equation, which sometimes gets lost on both sides. On one side you have people saying “They throw their babies in the ocean”. That doesn’t make sense, does it? And then on the other side, closing our borders to the whole world doesn’t make sense either.
Spida: I’m just an Aussie who loves his beer, loves his sport, loves his country, has an opinion on everything even though it’s not educated. If I end up being a big teddy bear, I end up being a big teddy bear over there. You don’t know how you’ll react or how you’re going to be.
Was the fact it is a live broadcast a drawcard for you to get involved?
Meshel: Definitely. I don’t know why. It does excite me when I first heard about it. It’s funny, but live is my comfort zone. The two weeks before it are going to be hardcore, but at least I get to do that at the end. At least I can get into my own zone at the end of it and be me.
Spida: When they’ve done series before they record it and cut it up however they want. But we will be there live, expressing our feelings and what we’ve been able to learn and think. The live element is something unique and drew me to it.
Do you have to go through security training before you go?
Meshel: I’m doing it on Friday. Everyone already did it on the weekend, but I had a sinus and ear infection and I couldn’t fly to Sydney.
Spida: The training has been around the education. Not fitness-wise, it’s more about in case something does happen. We’re going to areas that are unsecured, war zones, refugee camps, could be on boats. Stuff happens very quickly in these areas. Obviously they’ll try and have our safety as number one, but things turn quickly. That was an eye-opener.
Go Back To Where You Came From Live airs over three consecutive nights, 2-4 October, 8.30pm, LIVE on SBS and streaming live on SBS On Demand.
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