It was a Saturday night community event and could have been in any small Australian town. A fund-raiser was being held for the Thai floods victims and proceedings began with local boys and girls playing short classical pieces on an electric piano. The room was colourful with red tablecloths and a predominantly Chinese, Thai and Malay audience, with a smattering of white Anglos.

This was Christmas Island in November and I was there to visit the large detention centre run by British multinational Serco and the Immigration Department. With a population of about 1500, situated three-and-a-half hours from Perth and serviced by only one airline, Virgin, as an Australian satellite, the island should be a tourist Mecca. Warm weather, Buddhist temples on the coast, palm trees, beautiful vistas across the Indian Ocean, lush rainforests, coconuts falling from trees and unique birds all contribute to a tropical oasis.