One Two Three


Old Melb Gaol

LOCATION: Old Melbourne Gaol, 377 Russell Street, Melbourne

There is no question that life in 19th century Victoria could be fraught and challenging – for all people, but particularly for women, who were greatly outnumbered by men since European colonisation. The Old Melbourne Gaol is Victoria’s oldest surviving penal establishment. Both men and women were imprisoned here and, at times, up to twenty children also stayed here with parents or as prisoners in their own right. Inside, criminals were held alongside petty offenders, the homeless and the mentally ill, in austere and harsh conditions.

Aseel Tayah is a deeply political artist whose work, “One, Two, Three”, uses the Gaol as a locus for heartbreaking memory, and a call to the future. In Aseel’s purposeful, succinct work, we recognise that those who do not understand the past are condemned to repeat it. There is no easy dividing line between “us and them” in this future, only mothers who do not sleep and clouds that rain pain. Tourists may now visit this place for ghost tours and Ned Kelly memorabilia, but the legacy of fear and imprisonment endures.



One siege
Two homes
Three little dreams

At my far away home…

souls never felt peace…
hidden secrets …
surrounded hopes
with weapons and chains…

Clouds rain pain
To water fighting trees
Olives sing for freedom
Wanting to be released

At my far away home
Moms love to pray
They Pray to God
and there is so much to say…

Ya allah
Ya allah
Ya allah

One whispering voice
Two crying hearts
Three cuddling babies

The End of day comes…
she never thought it will

One table…
Two worried faces
Three tired looks
sleepy eyes…
one occupier..

In Palestine,

mothers never sleep,
Worried about thieves

Who never knock on the door..

No apology for theft
Never questioned
Or even sent to jail..

Just before surrender
Heavy eyelids finally submit
soldiers invade the silence..

Invade the smell of sleeping innocents
the purity of their dreams

Force lullabies to leave
hugging melodies with fear

Loud steps pound the floor
Evil feet that were here before…

One two three…soldiers…

Breaking the peaceful sleep
Ignoring the screaming
of the mournful door…

no permission
no compassion
no excuse…

Five six seven soldiers

cowards attack sanctity of home
as a military operation…
One more act
of inhuman occupation

Showing no mercy
Ignoring her pleas

one breath
two blinks

In my far away home

you always expect
your turn…
during a cuddle
before bed
singing a song of freedom
Or a full moon walk…

In Palestine…

Children warm prison cells
with their small hands
Holding their hopes in one
And their fear on in the other
Closing one eye for sleep
And the other filled with tears

In the occupier’s prison
There is
A Dark cell
A Black wall
red fingerprints
and angry fists

In their prison

There is one of ours

One scared little child
Two bleeding eyes
Three, four, thousands of broken hearts
hundreds of nights…
Away from the far away home

One two three…

One homeland
Two balconies
Three olive trees

Four thousand children laughing in the streets…
…so safe…
so close
To their own home

This work is a part of the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre collaboration, Silence Speaks, for Feminist Journeys, featured as a part of the 2020 Feminist Writers Festival.


Aseel Tayah

Author: Aseel Tayah

Aseel is an important voice in the Australian cultural landscape. As a Palestinian artist/activist, Aseel has been instrumental in using her cultural practice to shed light on the experiences of those living in war-torn countries and conditions. She is a fierce and compassionate advocate for humanity, and for humans to deal with each other with dignity, kindness and respect. Aseel is a prolific art maker, drawing diverse participants into her orbit through the courage of her convictions and the power of her stories. Aseel is a highly capable project manager, overseeing culturally complex and sensitive processes with care, intellect and rigour. Since arriving in Melbourne, Aseel has been an unstoppable force in the cultural landscape. She has created numerous new works such as Bukjeh and Lullabies Under the Stars, inviting communities into the experience of asylum seekers and refugees, through deeply personal and transformational multiart engagements. She has built partnerships with key cultural organisations such as Arts Centre Melbourne, Polyglot, Arts House, Arts Front and Multicultural Arts Victoria (to name only a few). She is a highly sought after speaker on the subject of cultural rights, and the role of the arts in building social cohesion and harmony. Her work demonstrates a criticality that is much needed in a predominantly white arts sector, towards cultural equity. Aseel shows an unparalleled commitment to her craft. She eats, sleeps and breathes community arts and cultural development practice as a life force, not only for her, but for the vulnerable communities she engages and supports. Aseel has incredible stamina for transformation, is undaunted by barriers, and prolific in making the case for a more diverse arts sector.

Your thoughts?