A Boat Called the Janga 1i - Christmas Island


‘The borders cannot stay closed’: Christmas Islanders’ response to asylum seekers

Childrens toys are left at a memorial on the top of a rocky cliff. Leaves grow around and over the toys. A large wave crashes at the base of the cliff.

[imagecaption] Children’s Memorial, made by children from Christmas Island, ABC Background Briefing, 2011. Photo: Wendy Carlisle. [/imagecaption]

‘When we studied geography, our teachers never showed us Christmas Island … If we look at a world map, Christmas Island is hiding in the map.’

17 year old Hazara refugee


Christmas Island is a racially ambiguous space: in but not of Australia, it is situated on a racial, political and geographical fault line (Pugliese 2009).  Until the 1950s, Christmas Islanders, descendants of Malay and Chinese indentured workers brought to the island, lived on the other side of the Australian border. Ownership of the territory was transferred to Australia by the British ahead of their approaching withdrawal from Singapore. From the outset, then, Christmas Island was an anomaly in White Australia, marking a racial and geographical divide from the space of Asia. This status was underlined when it became one of the first territories to be excised from the Australian migration map.

It is no coincidence that Christmas Island is also the scene of recent Australian crises of the border, such as Captain Arne Rinnan’s bold act of sailing the Tampa into Flying Fish Cove in 2001 in defiance of a prohibition by the Australian government. The Islanders’ reception of asylum seekers has always been more empathetic than that of the majority on the mainland.  The night before the navy shipped the Tampa asylum seekers out of Australian waters, thus initiating the Pacific Solution, the Christmas Islanders farewelled them with an outburst of fireworks in a defiant show of support (Jameson, 2003: 13).

As the Janga broke up, Christmas Islanders made tireless efforts to help the people struggling in the water.

‘For a short time, a stranger became a loved one’

Chris Su, Christmas Island Liaison Officer on the rescue efforts mounted by islanders to save those aboard the Janga (Briskman and Dimasi 2011, 61)


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