Thursday, 18 April 2024  
How many of the 1500 asylum seeker lives lost at sea since 2001 could have been saved?
Zahra (6), Fatima (7) and Eman (9) - the daughters of Sondos Ismail and Ahmed Alzalimi -  three of the 146 children who lost their lives when the vessel that has become known as SIEVX foundered in international waters en route to Christmas Island on 19 October 2001.
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Liam Gerner very generously recorded a live version of his song 'Small Wooden Boat' for this website to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the sinking of SIEVX:

The evolution of this song shows how deeply the SIEVX issue has effected many Australians. It has put down roots and become a permanent part of the national psyche.

Here is what Liam told us about the history of the song and how he came to write it:

'I wrote 'Small Wooden Boat (SIEVX)' when I was 18. I read a Phillip Adams article in the Weekend Australian about the SIEVX disaster. It was about six months or a year on from the disaster and Adams was saying how very few people were talking about the tragedy. Adams wrote of a refugee man letting go of his wife and baby in the sea to rescue his daughter; in the end they all died except for the daughter. I was aghast and wrote the song in a quick spurt in Mt Barker South Australia.

The news media made no great sentimental episode of the disaster, as they most certainly would have if it had been a crashed Qantas flight of young Australians off to find a new and better life in Europe, rather than a boat load of refugees on their way to a better life in Australia. That was a dark period in Australia for me. All was booming economically, my school pals all wanted to be stock brokers. But where were our heads and hearts at with our immigration policy? I was just out of high school and so shocked how an island essentially could consciously make a decision to not help a sinking boat. It haunted me. Some of my respect for our leaders and our attitude as a country sunk with SIEVX.

Also around that time I read David Marr and Marian Wilkinson's Dark Victory about the Tampa issue and how the major political parties were using the 'fear of other' for political gain. Well that was an eye opener. I had also met an Iranian family at a BBQ in Adelaide who had paid $US11,000 each to come to Australia seeking asylum. They were locked up in prison for 4 years in the desert on arrival. Father, mother, son of 21 and daughter of 16. They were only let out due to depression, on those bridging Visas, the ones where the family is placed in a house with no resources at all, no food or money and no permission to work. Small Community charity groups gave them cans of food each week. The kids were not able to study for any longer than 3 months. The father was a wealthy jeweller, the 21 year old son a professional handball player, locked up for 4 years, can you imagine? They were still waiting for that redheaded Immigration woman under Howard to decide if they were refugees. Well she eventually said they were and god knows if they stayed in Australia in the end. They certainly said to me that they didn't know if they wanted to stay in a country that did that sort of thing. If we knew Iran was locking our children up in desert prisons for 4 years, would we want to stay? Basically, all I'm saying is that it was a culmination of factors to do with immigration in Australia at that time.

I wrote the song and went to Europe.

I love Australia and Australians and I always will. After all I am one! I love the innocence and the good humour and the beautiful country and the isolation. But don't lets get all arrogant and Texanesque about our borders and culture. I have spent the past 8 years living and touring in Europe and now the US and its good to see how differences in countries and cultures and regions, in traditions and technologies, policies and policing, can positively grind down in a good way and stretch us as people and countries for the better.

It was one of the most magical moments of my life to play this song with my musical pals and friend Lucky Oceans at Womadelaide when i was 19.'

~ Liam Gerner, 22 October 2011

Liam Gerner is a 28 year old Australian singer songwriter. In recent years he has been based and toured relentlessly around the UK, Europe and USA. Liam has just completed a year and a half of touring Europe and the USA with Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses and in Pnau. He has also toured with Paul Weller, Jason Isbell, Alanis Morisette, Drive By truckers, and Paolo Nutini. He is based in Topanga Canyon, California where he writes and performs.


Liam Gerner 'All We've Done' album - 2011 available on iTunes 

Liam Gerner 'Small Wooden Boat - SIEVX' on iTunes
(Editor's note: This 2008 London version is haunting and beautiful. Please consider purchasing)

Liam Gerner iTunes 'Live London Sessions EP' - 2008 ( 6983) | ©Copyright Marg Hutton ~ / 2002-2014