Exhibition advocates SIEV-X memorialABC online
Friday, 2 September 2005. 15:23 (AEST)Friday, 2 September 2005. 15:23 (ACST)Friday, 2 September 2005. 16:23 (AEDT)Friday, 2 September 2005. 13:23 (AWST)
A lobby group is using a travelling exhibition to push for a permanent memorial to remember those who died when the SIEV-X sunk en route to Australia from Indonesia, drowning 353 asylum seekers, many of them children.
The SIEV-X National Memorial Project is a travelling exhibition that uses artwork of schoolchildren from around Australia.
The exhibition is supported by groups including Rural Australians for Refugees and the Uniting Church and will next month move to Canberra.
Tasmanian artist Beth Gibbings is among those pushing for a permanent memorial on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.
"It's one of the largest maritime peacetime disasters in our time but in many senses a lot of people in Australia don't necessarily know how to come to terms with the SIEV-X," she said.
"It doesn't fit into our normal idea. We're used to the idea of the fallen soldier and we may not yet know how to deal with refugees.
"How do we remember those people who drowned coming here and maybe there is still some discomfort with that still."
Gibbings says the response to the exhibition has often been overwhelming.
"It's incredibly emotional," she said.
"We found that when people come to the exhibition that they stay for hours, they just read every word, it's very symbolic.
"The students have really responded to the event and put their hearts out on paper, paintings.
"[A] sculpture that came from some primary school students in Adelaide had a mirror of Australia and it was sort of saying reflect on what it would be like if it were you who were a refugee."
The coordinators of the project want to make it a permanent exhibition on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.
That has not impressed the former RSL national president Major-General Peter Phillips.
He says the proposal is likely to attract strong opposition from groups such as the RSL.
"It certainly shouldn't rank alongside the memorials that are already around Lake Burley Griffin - it would be totally out of place [among] what is essentially Australian memorials.
"SIEV-X is a great tragedy but it involved foreign nationals in a foreign country.
"To think that that would be put alongside the HMAS Canberra memorial for example and the other memorials that are there, I just think is inappropriate."
National Capital Authority spokeswoman Anna Jackson says it is responsible for overseeing any decisions on the issues and that specific criteria must be met if the exhibition is to become permanent.
"Some of the criteria includes things like the monument must have cultural significance to the nation and it needs to exemplify Australia's unique heritage and background," she said.
"It then goes to the bipartisan committee of federal parliamentarians chaired by the Prime Minister."
Ms Gibbings says the memorial does meet requirements of being important to Australia's heritage.
"These people were reaching out for the Australian dream," she said.
"One of the survivors was talking about the children and the dreams they had about coming to Australia and what sort of life of life they would have.
"She encouraged them to have big dreams and she watched those children drown around her, and that's the story of Australians all over - yes, we have our dreams for being here in this country and they had theirs, but they didn't get here."