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Museum could acquire asylum seeker boat

The National Museum is considering acquiring an asylum seeker boat, similar to this one that arrived on Christmas Island in November.

The National Museum is considering acquiring an asylum seeker boat, similar to this one that arrived on Christmas Island in November. Photo: Sharon Tisdale

Canberra's National Museum of Australia is considering adding an Indian Ocean asylum seeker boat to its collection of artefacts.

An assistant curator has travelled to the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island and held talks with authorities there about the possibility of the museum acquiring a boat used to carry asylum seekers to Australia.

The museum already has a vessel, the Hong Hai, which was used to carry refugees from Vietnam to this country during the “boat people” era of the 1970s and 1980s and a spokesman for the institution told Fairfax Media that it was absolutely appropriate that asylum seeker issues should be represented at the museum.

Former National Museum senior conservator David Hallam with the Vietnamese refugee boat Hong Hai, already in the museum's collection. <i> File photo: Richard Briggs</i>

Former National Museum senior conservator David Hallam with the Vietnamese refugee boat Hong Hai, already in the museum's collection. File photo: Richard Briggs

Modern asylum seeker boats are usually dilapidated Indonesian, and more recently Sri Lankan, fishing boats and any acquisition could be further complicated by the routine destruction of people smugglers' boats by Australian authorities.

Asylum vessels are often towed into deep water by navy ships, or moved under their own steam, before Customs removes any fuel left on board and sets them alight.

Museum spokesman Dennis Grant said the idea of the acquisition was originally discussed in late 2012 by museum director Andrew Sayers and former ACT chief minster Jon Stanhope who is now Administrator of Christmas Island.

Mr Grant said the institution did not expect the proposed acquisition to be controversial.

“It [the asylum seeker issue] is part of our history and anyone visiting the National Museum of Australia will understand that our history is mired in controversy,” Mr Grant said.

The museum says the idea is in “its early days” but the curator, who recently returned from the island, is drafting a report on the viability of the acquisition after holding meetings there with Mr Stanhope and his staff.

“It would look at what is there, what is available, what the complications might be about quarantine issues for example,” Mr Grant said.

“We'd have to establish the legal status of these things, as in who owns this stuff.

“The report will raise a number of issues that would then be explored in much more detail and anything in relation to this would be done in consultation with the island authorities and the Department of Immigration.

“There may be other materials as well, what we call material culture, other objects like parts of boats.

“So the curator is establishing what is in the realms of possibility.”

The Hong Hai, a rickety Vietnamese fishing trawler, arrived in Darwin in 1978 carrying 35 asylum-seekers who had fled the communist regime in their homeland.

The vessel was acquired by the museum in its early days in 1983 and is in the institution's storage depot in the north Canberra suburb of Mitchell along with dozens of large-scale items in the collection.

7 comments

  • Perhaps a more appropriate place for the exhibition of an asylum seeker vessel would be the Immigration Museum in Melbourne or the local historical exhibition at Tai Jin House on Christmas Island.

    Commenter
    Adam Newstead
    Date and time
    January 17, 2013, 5:42PM
    • A place in the *National* museum of *Australia* is just as valid as those two places, all of Australia deals with immigration, it doesn't have to just be in a gallery named after immigration or the site of a major detention centre.

      Commenter
      Nirwanda
      Date and time
      January 17, 2013, 6:38PM
  • Why do we need the additional cost to tax/rate payers for one of these abominations to go on display to remind us of the influx of refugee's and how the illegal entrants arrived here..
    Simply walk out your front door, its that easy.

    Commenter
    OLD DOG
    Location
    ACT
    Date and time
    January 17, 2013, 7:16PM
    • I came here as an economic refugee in 1962 as a teenager with my family along with poms, irish, english and other scots and then filled the ship up in Naples

      Buggered if I know how we could float the Oriana in the lake

      How can we disparage people who will throw their last chance in the air to get here and try

      Neil

      Commenter
      brontehls
      Location
      Queanbeyan
      Date and time
      January 17, 2013, 9:08PM
      • The money being wasted on this nonsense should be used to provide pensioners with a rebate for electricity costs.

        Commenter
        BEMUSED
        Date and time
        January 18, 2013, 12:09AM
        • Bemused, "exactly"

          Commenter
          OLD DOG
          Location
          ACT
          Date and time
          January 18, 2013, 8:43AM
        • Bemused, here here. what a waste of money - I could think of a thousand better things to spend it on.

          I would like to see the Oriana in the lake though.

          Commenter
          westy
          Location
          ACT
          Date and time
          January 18, 2013, 1:50PM
      Comments are now closed
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