For a man who spoke little English until a few years ago, Behrouz Boochani has an astonishing hold on an audience.
He was the star speaker at the Eureka Centre for an event organised by the Rural Australians for Refugees this week - and he wasn't even there.
Still confined to Manus Island, his prison home since 2013, he arrived instead via Skype link, an empty white plastic chair symbolising his physical absence. When he flickered onto the big screen, the crowd broke into spontaneous applause.
It is still unbelievable that a liberal democracy like Australia has done this to innocent peopleBehrouz Boochani
His Jesus-like features were projected in cinematic close-up: bearded, long-haired, years of struggle etched onto his 35-year-old face.
His English remains accented but the words are fluent now, softly spoken but searing.
"It is still unbelievable that a liberal democracy like Australia has done this to innocent people," he told a transfixed audience during a 45-minute interview.
"We have been struggling against this barbaric system for years and years.
"How is the government able to justify this?"
Still on Manus Island, but no longer in a detention centre, Mr Boochani is able to use his words freely these days, unlike the dark days when he fled Iran as a young journalist. Threatened with imprisonment for his pro-Kurdish writing, he sought the sanctuary of Australia's liberal democracy and a chance to write without persecution.
Except the boat he took from Indonesia was intercepted and his voice was brutally silenced. As months and years passed, he began to be heard again beyond the shores of the tropical island where he was trapped. Firstly through his journalism; his reporting background helped the outside world grasp the bleak reality behind the perimeter fences of the Manus Island detention centre.
But now his voice is louder still for the lines he tapped out in Farsi on a clandestine mobile phone in the most trying of circumstances. Harrowing but lyrical words that were translated and turned into his first book, No Friend But the Mountains.
I try to create to some beauty, because beauty helps you survive and keep your dignity in a place like ManusBehrouz Boochani
That work has taken the Australian literary world by storm, and with a much wider release, its audience will only grow. He won this year's Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, with judges describing the book as "a cry of resistance" and he found himself catapulted him into the role of chief spokesperson for the Manus and Nauru refugees.
Mr Boochani hoped his writing would have an impact but the prizes were unexpected. For him, the act of writing was an escape from a grim reality.
"Sometimes you find some beauty to survive," he said. "In the book you can see I wrote it in a poetic way... I try to create to some beauty, because beauty helps you survive and keep your dignity in a place like Manus."
His way of coping was just one among many. He is at pains to stress the many other individual tales since he began his desperate journey by boat from Indonesia.
"My journey is only an example. It is only one of the hundreds of stories. There are hundreds of people on Manus Island. We are people with different stories and culture."
"In Western culture, when they look at the refugees, they don't recognise that the refugee community is a community like other communities."
If Mr Boochani's writing was a way of coping, he was also aware of the potential power of words. "My writing and work is an act of resistance," he said.
He made a deliberate choice, he said, to switch from journalism to a more literary form, mixing vivid descriptions with poetry.
"I wanted to write a book, not in a [journalistic] language, not in an academic way - I wanted to write a book in literary language, which I think has this potential to challenge the system.
"What was important for me is that readers, they feel that are living with us, living with the characters.
"For years, the media published many stories about Manus Island and Nauru. I think still people don't know how the system is working, how life is inside the prison. In the book I tried to do this. My main aim is that the readers feel and imagine they are living with us to understand the system, to understand the life."
"Literature is life, literature is life."
My main aim is that the readers feel and imagine they are living with us to understand the system, to understand the lifeBehrouz Boochani, journalist and author
Through his skill as a writer, he knows his voice is louder and more powerful than before - a book that is likely to resonate across the years. More people now see the refugees of Nauru and Manus islands with a more human face: a potent weapon against a ruling class that has often emphasised their otherness.
He is appearing - again via video link - at book festivals, universities and advocacy groups like the one that organised the evening at the Eureka Centre.
He seems on a tight, almost campaign-like schedule, where he will be projected larger than life to people around the country, his words more amplified than he ever must thought possible when he languished in solitary confinement
He is acutely conscious that elections are imminent in Australia, and he wants to place the Nauru and Manus Island refugees' experience as an essential issue.
"[This is] election time so I would like to talk more about politics," he said.
"Manus Prison system has a deep connection with Australia. These days the politicians, talk in the way that we are not in existence."
"But still we are here. They ignore us, completely ignore us but still we are here, so they cannot ignore us any more."
Many Australian people are tired of this policy and they [are] traumatised. I know that many people are tired and they want to make changeBehrouz Boochani
"My view is that the prime minister and politicians such as him [..] have created violence and hate for years and years.
"Many Australian people are tired of this policy and they [are] traumatised. I know that many people are tired and they want to make change."
"Keeping people in Manus and Nauru has a big impact on society.
"Don't vote for politicians who are supporting this barbaric policy."
And shortly after those words, the interview was over.
His hand stretched across the camera, the screen flickered off and the Eureka Centre theatre felt as empty as the white plastic chair.
- No Friend But The Mountains: Writing from Manus Island (Picador, paperback $22.99), is now available from bookstores. See also his documentary 'Chauka, please tell us the time' on Vimeo (rental $8).
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