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SIEV-X

I went to that cd launch yesterday. It was pretty good, although a little awkward. I'm not really prepared psychologically for "family events" where little kids scamper and caterwaul and do faceplants into the concrete. Plus no alcohol, broad daylight and scout hall ambience all worked to keep me out of my comfort zone. But the music was good.

I was touched -- everyone who listened was touched -- by the carefully-read speech given by a middle-aged Iraqi woman, one of the few survivors of the SIEV-X tragedy. Though now living in desparate poverty, having been through an unimaginably traumatic experience, she expressed gratitude. She expressed gratitude, not specifically to the people in the room, not specifically to the Asylum Seeker's Resource Center. Just generally because circumstances meant that she was free, and some kind of near-normalcy was returning, I think. However temporarily.

At the gig I was reading some of the information boards about the SIEV-X tragedy; that is, the 19-metre wooden fishing boat carrying 397 asylum seekers that capsized off Christmas Island two years ago yesterday, leaving only 44 survivors. It occurred two weeks out from a federal election, and was misused by both sides for point-scoring. In particular, the Howard government diverted public attention away from it with extraordinary bravado (by attacking the Opposition for profiteering off the plight of these refugees). Like the boat itself, the tragedy that took the lives of 353 people sank beneath public consciousness with a terrible ease.

The boards were covered with short accounts of the survivors, who clung to debris and the corpses of their relatives for 22 hours before being rescued -- not by the Australian Navy hovering nearby, but by Javanese fishermen journeying way out beyond their normal hunting waters. Below the accounts were portraits of just a few of the 150 children who drowned beneath and around the boat. All were devastating to look at, but one in particular haunts me.

A young girl of about eight or nine, with a sombre but gentle expression and rosy cheeks, wearing a green and gold jumper embroidered with flowery script: "Bon Voyage, and don't forget the gift!"

Joseph | 20 Oct 2003

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