Recipient of the 2004 R.E.Ross Trust Award
Catherine and Robert Harrow are an upper middle class couple living in Canberra, Australia. Catherine is a surgeon, Robert a high level public servant working for the Department of Immigration. They appear successful and comfortable yet they live their private life in anguish because they cannot conceive a child. Their pain is exacerbated because two years earlier Catherine fell pregnant but decided to terminate against her own instincts, convinced the child would be severely mentally handicapped, and afraid she would lack the compassion to be a loving mother. Catherine is convinced her subsequent barrenness is a result of this decision. Her desperation to conceive again, and prove herself capable of compassion has turned her and Robert’s love-making into a destructive ritual of self-mutilation – one they mistakenly believe can lead to fertility.
Into this volatile situation arrivesAli Hadji, an Iraqi refugee recently released from an Australian detention centre on a temporary visa. Ali also wears scars of torture both external and internal. Fleeing the oppressive Sunni regime he has illegally crossed the ocean to secure a new life for his family back in Iraq, only to have his companion son die on the journey. Ali has taken up employment within Catherine’s hospital as a cleaner. Here he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Catherine’s terminally ill mother Margaret Winter,an unwilling patient under her daughter’s care.
When Ali receives news he is to be deported back to Iraq within days, Margaret is determined to help him stay. Catherine sees Ali and his suffering as the ultimate symbol of fertility and willingly puts pressure upon Robert. Robert though faces a dilemma of his own as he becomes responsible for a container ship – carrying ninety Asylum seekers – headed to Australia. In its path, a storm which threatens the lives of all those stowed away.