Document Type

Book Chapter


Changes in the consciousness of a nation are generally gradual and imperceptible, only apparent with the benefit of hindsight. Occasionally, however, an event, or series of events, will occur that leave an immediate imprint on the national psyche, shaking its sense of identity, bringing to the surface previously unacknowledged tensions and anxieties. One such moment, I argue, came about in Australia in 2001, the repercussions of which are still powerfully felt throughout the political, social and cultural fabric of the nation. It started on 26 August, when a Norwegian freighter, MV Tampa, rescued 438 boat people, most of them from Afghanistan, off a sinking Indonesian vessel and headed towards the nearest Australian port on Christmas Island. The Australia government, under Prime Minister John Howard, refused to accept the asylum seekers onto Australian soil, and a stand-off ensued between, on the one hand, the ship's captain Arne Rinnan and its owners the Wilhelmsen Line, and on the other the Australian Navy and government officials. The dispute escalated into a diplomatic row which received widespread international attention, only resolved when Australia came up with the oddly named "Pacific Solution" which involved sending some of the asylum seekers to New Zealand and the rest to the small island state of Nauru for "processing."