Siev X memorial unveiled – temporarily

I travelled to Canberra earlier than usual today so I could attend a ceremony to mark the 5th anniversary of the sinking of the SIEV X, and the unveiling of the design for a memorial on the banks of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin.

There were well over one thousand people there, including Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Australia, former Governor–General Sir William Deane, the Chief Minister of the ACT Jon Stanhope, some representatives of local churches including Anglican Bishop George Browning, as well as federal MPs Peter Andren, Kate Lundy and Christine Milne.

You can read more details about the memorial and its design by clicking here. It involves a painted pole representing each of the 353 victims of the sinking, including shorter poles for the 146 children. The poles were laid out in a curving pattern down the slopes of Weston Park towards the Lake. There was a loop in the middle which made out the rough shape and size of the original boat.

The overall design of the memorial was conceived by Mitchell Donaldson, a school student from Brisbane. Hundreds of poles have been painted by people from schools, churches and community groups around the country. I even noticed one there from St Columban’s College, which is my old school (albeit moved to different location these days). I was a tiny bit surprised, as I couldn’t imagine being involved in a project like this when I went there, but I guess that was 25 years ago – (they even let girls attend the school now!)

The intention was to leave all the poles standing in Weston Park for a few weeks so that many of the people involved in the project could see what the memorial would look like, but this was blocked by the National Capital Authority – apparently anything in place for more than a day is a ‘permanent structure’ to them. Given the regular efforts by the federal government and their ideological soulmates to cover up details about this tragedy and generally downplay and dismiss it at every chance, I find it hard to believe this isn’t another example of it.

The Australian Capital Territory has a strange form of ‘self-government’. The Chief Minister can support and approve of a memorial being built in a Park on the shores of the City’s Lake, yet he has no control over an unelected Authority saying it’s not allowed to happen for at least another five years. I can understand the need for some planning controls over the Parliament House precincts, but this location is well away from there.

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  1. Once again, we see the Left exploiting human tragedy for the sake of a cynical political stunt.

    If the Howard Government’s doctrine to prevent illegal immigration had been in place earlier, these deaths would not have occurred.

  2. Thanks Zhasper – don’t kjnow why it keeps doing that. should be fixed now.

    I presume EP is just throwing incendiary devices around for sport, so I won’t bother refuting his absurd slur (especially seeing I’ve done it more than once before).

    This national memorial, will one day be permanently in place, even if it takes 10 years. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes, and there are far too many people who are determined this tragedy won’t be forgotten, however much the Howard government might want it to be.

  3. Another off-hand dismissal of a dissenter Andrew?

    Well here’s another for you… there was no conspiracy, the sievx conspiraphiles should get a life and personally I can see no reason for there to be any kind of memorial here.

  4. Geoff

    I’ve just come from an event attended by a man who lost 14 family members, including his wife and 3 children, in the SIEV X sinking. I’ll pass on your kind suggestion that he “should get a life”.

    As for your view that there is “no reason for there to be any kind of memorial here” – memorials are, not surprisingly, about remembering. Many people think that a tragedy of this magnitude, with such a direct linkage to Australia, should not be forgotten. Personally, I can’t see why anyone would think that it should just be forgotten – even more so if people believe the tragedy was something which Australia had no control over or involvement in.

    As for my ‘dismissal of dissenters’, people can dissent all they like (on my blog anyway), but I’d prefer it if they used facts. Occasionally I think it is desirable to correct incorrect assertions, but it becomes tiresome for both myself and regular readers to have to repeatedly correct the same falsehoods.

  5. So Andrew does he believe there was some sort of government conspiracy to kill or let die those on the Sievx?

    If not… then you know as well as I do “get a life” is not in reference to him. But you may tell him if you like.

    As for dissent, well we know how much of it you allow, and how you react to it. If you think there is no truth in what EP said it just shows how far from the truth you are these days.

  6. The death of 300 odd perople, in this way, irrespectvie of how or by whose hand is a tragedy. I don’t have a problem with a memorial.

    Not sure why it should be in Canberra – suspect this will casue the reaction already seen. In otehr words the memory side and the political objective are somehwat blurred.

  7. Another off-hand dismissal of a dissenter Geoff? It’s very easy to see how you react to dissent, but the fact that you’re given such latitude here shows how much I allow it.

    And I’ll tolerate no dissent on that …..

  8. so will we be waiting for 10 years for the Steve Irwin memorial then? Or does the NCA do mates rates?

  9. Considering the fact that the people who died were not Australians, nor did they die in Australian waters, and indeed none of them ever visited Australia at any time in their lives — it seems quite irrational to demand that a monument for them be buuilt in Australia.

    In Canberra of all places — a city thousands of kilometres from the nearest point to the tragedy.

    Irrational, that is, unless the whole idea is a cynical political stunt — which would make Canberra an appropriate location, as Australia’s political capital and the home to so many other grandstanding events.

  10. I totally agree with EP… do we have memorials for every accident that happens in the world? Do we have ones for the ferry disasters of a few years ago?

    I just think it’s a stupid idea. Hell we don’t even have one for 9/11 and Australians died in that.

    Honestly get a grip.

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  12. My understanding is EP that there is already memorials in the northern most point on Christmas Island and one in Tasmania the southern most point.
    BTW the memorial in the northern most point was erected with the assistance of Austrlralian Naval crew.

  13. Thursday, 10 February 2000 SENATE—Legislation L&C 205

    Senator McKIERNAN—I am talking particularly about the boat people. They are the
    people who arrive on our shores – mainly on Ashmore Islands – and who put their hands up
    and say, ‘Find me, find me! Take me in.’ They do not use these exact words, but they want to
    be found. These are not people who are escaping the scrutiny of our Coast Watch people.

    Senator Vanstone—Senator, I cannot resist! Perhaps you could tell Mr Beazley that so he
    does not keep raving on about this silly idea that we need a Coast Guard to locate the people.
    You at least realise that they want to be found; it would be helpful if your party realised that
    as well.

    After they read this little exchange between the senators, Andrew I think you were there, perhaps the gentlemen would like to note that 7 survivors of this horror came to Australia, that 6 of them are now permanent residents, at least 1 has married an Australian citizen, another couple who lost three girls have two Australian babies.

    Hundreds of people in Australia today who were from Iraq and Afghanistan and had families on that boat are Australian citizens.

    Ergo, in light of Vanstone’s statements in 2000, the government always knew the people were not being smuggled and wanted to be found.

    It was changing the system that caused the death.

    I find the callous disregard for these people just as abominable as the callous disregard for the crimes committed against Iraqis by AWB and by our government against the entire country.

  14. Why is there a memorial in Tasmania? That makes even less sense than having one in Canberra. And why do we need three memorials for an event that had very little to do with Australia?

    This whole thing reeks of a political agenda. I wonder if there will still be any pressure for a memorial after Howard leaves government? There was no pressure on Keating or Hawjke to apologise for a “stolen generation”. These sorts of things are politically motivated manipulations of emotion, targeted at the current government.

  15. I am glad that we are remembering the tragic death of the mainly women and children, who died because they were trying to rejoin their families, – all of them trying to live their lives in a peaceful country.
    Whether there was any conspiracy involved in their deaths or not, it is still sad that they did drown on their way to our country.
    May their souls rest in peace and may the survivors and the families of the dead find peace also.

  16. Yes it’s sad, tragic in fact. You can remember or commemorate it all you like, on a personal level. But Australia doesn’t have to, and it doesn’t have to create a memorial.

  17. You realise that Queen Victoria was not Australian, nor did she ever visit Australia at any time in her life?

  18. But Queen Victoria was nevertheless the sovereign of Australia during her reign, and the vast majority of Australians regarded her as such.

    As for the non-Australians who died while attempting to invade our shores, they did so in complete defiance of the wishes of the majority of Australians.

  19. I’d like to see a memorial to the Vietnamese boat people – given how much these people have contributed to Australian society. At the ceremony, Gough Whitlam should apologise on behalf of the Labor Party for describing these traumatised refugees of communism at the time as “f—–g Vietnamese Balts” who weren’t wanted in this country. He should also apologise for being a Killing Fields denialist vis-a-vis Cambodia. If Gough’s cactus by then, Kim Beazley should be the one to apologise – especially appropriate in light of his own anti-Asian race-baiting. Other leading figures of the Australian left should also attend the ceremony and apologise for supporting or denying the region’s communist holocaust.

  20. Yes, I agree it would be good to better acknowledge the Vietnamese. Perhaps it might prompt more current day Liberal MPs to remember their own good record in this regard and remind themselves that boat people aren’t “invaders” and have a good record of contributing strongly to their new homeland. It might even give them cause to wonder why they now support laws that would have seen those people locked up for years and some of them forced back to face persecution, while even those who were able to stay would have had their effective settlement here hindered and delayed.

    The facts behind asylum seeking haven’t changed, just our laws and the attitudes of the major political parties. It’s true that the past record of the Liberals is in general better than Labor’s in many aspects of asylum seeker and immigration policy – but that certainly doesn’t hold true now, despite the racist undertones being exploited by some in the ALP and Unions whilst pointing out genuine problems with 457 visas.

    I can recall being at a function in 2005 marking 30 years since the arrival of the first Vietnamese boat people and having to listen to Liberal Party MPs laud the fantastic contribution that Vietnamese refugees had made to Australia and how welcoming we had been to them – at the very same time as Vietnamese refugees who had arrived by boat in 2003 were sitting locked up in detention on Christmas Island and were being pressured to return to face persecution. Not to mention that a person who had helped some of his family to escape that persecution was in jail in perth after being convicted of people smuggling, even though there was no financial gain involved at all (indeed there was financial loss).

  21. Post 13 said “Ergo, in light of Vanstone’s statements in 2000, the government always knew the people were not being “smuggled and wanted to be found”

    Unfortuantely Marilyn the two things are not mutually exclusive – so thre is not point to the argument posited.

    We have a memorial for our cat in the backyard – for entirely approiaet familial reasons. Most country town have memoriasl for thos elost in the two wars for the same reasons – that is a link to the location.

    We have national memorials in Canberra for the same reasons – that is a common link across the nation.

    Aer there any memoriasl in their countries of birth for these people?

    It is not abominable at all for poeple to express a view that this tragedy should have an approrpiaet memorial for people to grieve, remeber, whatever one wishes.

    In fact Kay has already pointed out there already exist two memorials – thats fine.

    What none of you apologists have been able to answer (honestly that is) is what is the objective of this memorial? and thereby how does this action stack up agiasnt the establsihed connection between memorials, and grieving and place.

    Thsi is becasue this action has got very little to do with grieving and everythign to do with keeping an agenda on the boil.

    Thast fine and thats everyone’s right in a democracy – just say so.

  22. >>Perhaps it might prompt more current day Liberal MPs to remember their own good record in this regard and remind themselves that boat people aren’t “invaders” and have a good record of contributing strongly to their new homeland.

    Well said Andrew. We definately need an independant investigation into the Siev X tragedy. I reckon the reason you get so many trolls on this thread is because some influential Right-Wingers are worried about the facts being revealed.

    A memorial is the least we can do for those poor families & survivors. Good for you for heading down there. Shows yer a man of integrity. The light will eventually shine thru the fog.

  23. So I was being facetious re Queen Victoria.

    But how do you know the majority of Australians wanted to turn away those refugees?

    Surely you can’t argue that Howard’s re-election is evidence as well all know that people who vote for a party do not automatically support each and every one of their policies.

  24. Thank you so much for this detailed account of the SIEV X Memorial project. The photo with the “3 poles” is from our groups – Great Lakes RAR (outer poles with the artists,Bob Birch and Sieglinde Battley) and St Clare’s High School, Taree, (middle pole with the teacher, Lyndall Laurie. There were 11 ofus at the Memorial, including two students from St Clare’s. You have presented this so well, Andrew. Thank you again. Marty Morrison

  25. Thank you Marty

    CL, I think it would be very good and powerful if Labor apologised for that – perhaps they are waiting for Gough to die first. I also think it would be good if both Labor and Liberal apologies to the most recent boatload of Vietnamese refugees who were locked up unnecessarily on Christmas Island for two years, and the two men who were wrongly jailed for being so-called ‘people smugglers’ simply for helping them escape persecution from the current communist regime. don’t you agree?

  26. The fact that I reckon memorials for the sievx tragedy should be like ‘pubs on corners in Brocken Hill’, that is, wherever one should/could be erected ‘, will probably not go down too well with EP.

    One on the northermost point and southernmost point would be well complimented with one in the ‘guts’ of this country at Canberra.

    It would serve as a ‘Murphy’s Law’ reminder that ‘what can go wrong will go wrong’ when they (of all political persuasions) support without due thought, Bills with servere flow on repercussions (aka Temporary Protection Visas)

    Since this thread has strayed into the Vietnamese boatpeople saga/controversy I have to add my experiences at the first Sievx memeorial on CI.

    An Australian Citizen with an impeccable standing in the community and the highest of Australian security clearances who was a former Viet refugee turned up on the day. This bloke told me he was there because his brother had drowned on their escape (sooo long ago) and he was lucky…they had been able to pluck his body out of the water and bury him. Somewhere to grieve was good for him.

    A stark reminder of the Sievx tragedy in the form of a memorial in our capital will do good for all those concerned………ad only they know who they are…at this point in time.

  27. Kaye, that is a ridiculous proposition. You want to fill every town in our country with memorials to a rather minor event, on the world scale, that had very little to do with Australia.

    The purpose behind your idea is made obvious in your third paragrapg — it’s all about politics and trying to influence what Bills are passed. Isn’t it amazing how Australian legislation can cause people in totally unrelated countries to do voluntarily do things which result in their deaths?

    You want all Australians to assume a false guilt for the consequences of choices made by foreigners. This proposed memorial is not only a political stunt, it’s a calculated insult to all Australians.

  28. But how do you know the majority of Australians wanted to turn away those refugees?

    Because an opinion poll at the time of the Tampa controversy found that 77% of Australians supported the government’s policy on illegal immigrants.

  29. sorry iv read all the posts but i have to agree with E.P.
    You want all Australians to assume a false guilt for the consequences of choices made by foreigners. This proposed memorial is not only a political stunt, it’s a calculated insult to all Australians.

  30. Kaye said: “one in the ‘guts’ of this country at Canberra.”

    Given Australai’s shape its not an exact science, and generally accepted usage fo the term guts measn the middle. Then the memorial should be located in a town called Finke – about 147 km east of the Stuart highway, just over the SA border in the NT.

    But hang on we never really meant the guts did we

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