siev x memorial

a pictorial report of the memorial held in Canberra

photo: Tim Whiteley

On October 19 2001, a small fishing vessel commonly referred to as SIEV X sank in Australian waters, drowning 353 of the people onboard who were seeking refuge from war-torn countries in the Middle East.

For four years, led by project founder Steve Biddulph, a growing number of people from many streams of belief and activism have been working together to construct a permanent memorial. Landscape architect Dr Sue Anne Ware from RMIT has been collaborating with the group to help develop the idea.

photo Tim Whiteley

Beginning with a national invitation to school students and an initial idea from Queensland schoolboy, Mitchell Donaldson, for 353 bars in the shape of a boat, the project evolved into a collaboration with students, community groups and activists all over Australia who inscribed a series of decorated white wooden poles with the names of the refugees in Arabic and sent them to Canberra.

At 2pm on October 15 in Weston Park on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, “to our amazement and gratitude, 300 poles arrived,” reports the organisers’ website (www.sievexmemorial.com), “along with 1400 people including Sir William and Lady Deane, ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, MPs and leaders of various churches, ambassadors… The line of poles was awesome to see laid out on the ground. It stretched for over 300 metres.

photo: Tim Whiteley

“Eventually it took 600 volunteers to stand up during the ceremony. We still don’t know where they all came from,” says project co-ordinator Beth Gibbings. “A drumbeat accompanied the procession down the hill. Then the poles were raised, amid tears and joy in the audience, the students and three men whose families who had died on the boat five years ago. The Kippax Uniting Church Tongan Choir sang a gospel song. Then the poles were gently laid on the grass.”

The idea was for the memorial to remain for three weeks but a late intervention by the National Capital Authority meant that the event was restricted to a single action on the day—a powerful action nevertheless, that stands strongly, as the organisers assert, as “a national symbol of conscience and caring, that every human life is precious, and a message of human unity that we won’t be divided by fear.” RT

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 9

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1 December 2006