The memorial to the people who died in the sinking of the SIEV X in 2001 has been erected again, for six weeks in Weston Park in Canberra.
The location iof the memorial is on a long finger of parkland fringed by the lake. Each person who died when the SIEV X went down is represented by a pole with artwork, a label of the name of the person, where known (AFP are still not releasing the names of some of the victims), and the name of the group who provided the artwork.
I went out there this morning with my wife who had been present and deeply moved on the previous occasion when this memorial had been erected.
To walk along the line of the poles up the hill from the lake's edge, reading the names on the memorial and responding to the artwork on each pole was a profoundly moving experience. I was reduced to tears.
The background of tall gums, the cheerful call of crimson rosellas and the imposing presence of Black Mountain provided a reflective and respectful setting to remember the deaths of these asylum seekers. Leaving aside the question as to whether political considerations made the difference between living or dying for the people on this boat (noting that the event took place in the run up to a Federal election in 2001 that gave us the Tampa and the 'children overboard' affair), something happened for me as I walked from pole to pole.
I was struck by the reality of each pole as an acknowledgement by Australians of shared humanity and a willingness to join in the act of grieving and of giving these people the dignity of being remembered, through the works of art that were carefully and lovingly prepared by children in schools,students in university colleges, by church communities and community groups families and neighbourhoods across the country.
In a world of abstractions for which we are called to struggle, democracy, australian values and of which we are called to be afraid such as terrorism, 'boat people" and given the overwhelming large numbers of people suffering from poverty, terror and violence, whether at the hands of non-state actors, or states, those officially authorised to kill, there was here a moment of naming and acknowledging the reality of individual human beings.
The quality of attention that was paid by the peopel who prepared these poles was astonishing in the diversity of style and the care paid to the paintings and mosaics.
One pole in particular caught the attention of both my wife and myself. Included in the painting was the following proverb:
"How do we know when it is dawn?
When we have enough light to recognise
in the face of a stranger ... that of our sister."
That proverb seems an appropriate summary of what the memorial was all about.
Those who designed this memorial and those who painted the poles had enough light to recognise, in a time of public and political darkness and moral confusion, that in the face of these strangers there were the faces of our brothers and sisters.