A year on from Australia’s deadliest shipwreck since 1890, we revisited our editorial from December 2010, written, as our opening line states, as they were “still pulling bodies from the water”, as pieces of SIEV 221 splintered across the rocks of Christmas Island.

We ran the footage, and we wrote:

“Didn’t everyone pause when they saw this footage?

Didn’t everyone save a thought, a thought that went to those people, to the cliffs, to the residents of Christmas Island standing on the shore watching on, scrambling over the rocks to pull people out, to the detainees in their beds who heard the story filtered back, to the people assigned to dealing with this chaos, to the doctors tending the wounded, to the rescue crews willing the seas to calm, to the politicians grappling to find the right response, and back again to the boat smashing against the cliff?

Watch the footage again. Or for the first time, if you haven’t.

It’s a hard ask, because it’s utterly horrible.

It’s much easier to toss off a line about a certain side of politics, your previous statement on the subject, a superior position, to register your disgust, or point to a piece of policy. It’s easy to talk about how wrong someone else is, even while details are still coming to hand, even while we’re still piecing together the full story. It’s easier to keep talking over the top of each other.

That way we don’t have to admit that no one has all the answers.”

If only more of us would ask the questions. As Peter Chambers writes in Crikey today, “… what’s striking about SIEV 221 is that it seems to have left no mark on the national imagination. We are not dealing with repression and guilt; there is no trauma.”

Here’s a question: why?


Every Thursday, Crikey editor Sophie Black and Crikey‘s Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane will talk the week’s events in the national capital. Visit the podcast page on our website (or via iTunes) at 4pm AEST to download or stream.

Peter Fray

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