Raleigh Public School students Lauren Sale, Elen Smyth and Jamara Imrie have been hard at work painting
Raleigh Public School students Lauren Sale, Elen Smyth and Jamara Imrie have been hard at work painting

MEMORIAL TO 353 LIVES LOST AT SEA



By MEL MARTIN

THE drowning death of 353 people on their way to Australia five years ago hardly created a ripple in Australia, and that's something a group of dedicated people are intent on changing.

"These people drowned at sea and there has been no burial for them," Beth Gibbings, of Bellingen, said.

"They were mostly children and women wanting to be with their fathers and husbands who were in Australia.

"There are people in Australia who have lost their closest relatives to the tragedy, and they have had no chance for a proper service."

In October 2001, a small 19-metre fishing boat ? the SievX ? set sail from Indonesia, crammed with more than 400 refugees.

After only one night in bad weather, it sank in international waters.

More than 100 people initially survived, and floated for 20 hours in the water, but rescue did not arrive.

Two large vessels reportedly came during the night, shining lights on the survivors, but then sailed away, and by the time fishermen found the refugees the next day, 146 children, 142 women and 65 men had died.

But now they will be remembered along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, with the SievX National Memorial Project about to become a reality.

Initiated in Bellingen by Steve Biddulph after he realised very few people actually knew of the event, the project has involved four years of work and hundreds of people.

On October 15, just days before the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, the SievX memorial will see volunteers erect 353 poles, each decorated by schoolchildren and other groups around the country, and each remembering one mother, child or father who died on the voyage.

"It's been a huge job, involving large mailouts to schools for the initial design of the memorial, co-ordinating the artwork, exhibiting in different places, and keeping in touch with the 200 groups and schools around the country who are now decorating the poles," project manager Ms Gibbings said.

And then, there is organising the ceremony, finding transport for the decorated poles to make it to Canberra, finding accommodation, and finding volunteers to erect the poles.

But on the day, there will be no sign of the frantic activity preceding it, with a simple ceremony including a speech from ACT Chief Minister John Stanhope.

Then all the poles will be erected at once, and survivors, families and all those attending will have a chance for a closer look at each artwork to remember the tragedy.

Unfortunately, for now, the words 'unknown mother', 'unknown child' or 'unknown father' will be printed on the plaques of many of the poles.

"We only have the names of some of the people who died, and we're trying to find more names," Ms Gibbings said.

"The Federal Government has a list of names, but they won't release it."

The SievX memorial will stay in place for three weeks, and the next challenge for Mr Biddulph, Ms Gibbings and the team is to lobby for the memorial to become a permanent fixture, and for the list of names to be released.

"It's about raising consciousness," Ms Gibbings said.

"It's for Australians to acknowledge these people were coming here to be part of our community, to say to them we remember you, we know about you, and we care."

n More volunteers are needed to help erect the poles in Canberra. Call Beth Gibbings on 0428 622 309. For more information visit www.sievx memorial.com



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