The SIEV X was a tiny fishing vessel traveling from Indonesia to Australia in 2001, carrying around four hundred people seeking asylum after fleeing from the warfare and persecution predominantly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many were women and children trying to enter Australia to join fathers and husbands already granted refugee status but not allowed to bring in family members because of new Australian laws on “Temporary Protection Visas.” Of these, 353 drowned when the boat sank in international waters. The conservative Australian government denied responsibility, using the event in an election campaign to play on fears about illegal entry and border defense in the Islamophobic climate in the aftermath of 9/11. Yet many everyday Australians eventually became involved in a collaborative design process to create a memorial to those asylum seekers. This article discusses the debates around memorials for those lost at sea, and particularly for those who might be portrayed as enemies or “illegal immigrants” whose coming threatens national borders. It identifies the conditions under which the campaign to commemorate those who died on the SIEV X moved from being a minority interest to become a cause so widely supported by Australians across the country that the memorial was eventually erected in the heart of the national capital.

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