One of the things I find most interesting about Australia’s immigration history is how political events and uprisings on the other side of the world can have a flow-on effect and shape our own history. Take for example the October Revolution in Russia, which occurred 100 years ago today on 7 November 1917 (or 25 October in the old Julian calendar) and would lead to the exodus of the refugees known as White Russians or white émigrés.
With all the rain in Sydney recently, you could be forgiven for forgetting what blue sky looks like. But for the Lu family, who arrived in Australia in 1977 on the Vietnamese refugee boat Tu Do, the colour sky blue is forever etched in their memories as the colour of freedom.
After the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, South Vietnamese businessman Tan Thanh Lu pooled resources with friends and built a fishing boat, Tu Do (meaning Freedom), to escape Communist Vietnam. Mr Lu painted the boat sky blue to blend into the ocean and to evade authorities and the notorious Thai pirates who preyed on boat people. Continue reading
An Estonian woman remembers what it was like being 13. In 1991, Mall Juske described what she saw 42 years earlier on board SS Cyrenia, rolling into the harbour at Fremantle. It was a bright and sunny Sunday as she ‘took a stroll in the town’. She saw a wedding celebration at a church and recalled ‘all those fruits’, milk bars and shops full of handbags. All this must have stood in stark contrast to the young girl and her family’s previous experiences and four-year wait to come to Australia. Continue reading
It is hard to believe that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Tampa crisis of August 2001 – a defining moment in Australia’s maritime and immigration history. To acknowledge the anniversary we are displaying a life jacket and lifebuoy that were on board the Norwegian cargo ship when its crew rescued 433 asylum seekers from their stricken fishing boat, Palapa 1, in the Indian Ocean.
The life jacket and lifebuoy were part of the standard safety equipment on Tampa. It is not known whether they were used by the asylum seekers. Regardless they represent the tension between international obligations for safety of life at sea (SOLAS) and Australia’s domestic policy on refugees and asylum seekers. At the time of the rescue Tampa had a crew of 27 and was not licensed to carry more than 50 people. Despite this it shifted course to help the asylum seekers, who were mainly from Afghanistan.
Under pressure from some of the desperate asylum seekers Tampa’s Captain, Arne Rinnan, headed for the offshore Australian territory of Christmas Island. Tampa was denied permission to enter Australian waters. When some passengers became unconscious Captain Rinnan issued a mayday signal and sailed toward Christmas Island. Tampa was boarded by Australian special forces who ordered the ship to turn around.
Following an intense political stand-off the asylum seekers were transferred to HMAS Manoora. They were taken to the Pacific island of Nauru as part of Australia’s Pacific Solution, and also New Zealand, where most were later granted asylum. The Pacific Solution aimed to prevent refugees from reaching Australian territory, where they could legally claim asylum, to detain them in cooperating foreign countries while their status was assessed. A small number of asylum seekers from Tampa were eventually granted refugee status and resettled in Australia.
The Tampa crisis sparked fervent political and public debate about refugees, border protection and safety of life at sea, which continues to this day. The Tampa life jacket and lifebuoy, evocative symbols of this debate, will be on display in the museum’s New Acquisitions Case until the end of September.
Curator, Post-Federation Immigration