Deathscapes Symposium and Website Launch in Sydney


On 16 February 2019 a one-day symposium was held at The Settlement in Sydney to launch the Deathscapes website. The program included a line-up of leading artists, academics and activists from across Australia

The deaths of Indigenous people in custody and the deaths of refugees at the border and in detention centres are connected by shared colonial histories, and by structures of sovereignty. Across the settler states of Australia, Canada and the U.S–as well as in the UK and the EU as their places of origin–the Deathscapes project analyses and documents the deaths of racialised groups in prisons, police cells and in on-shore and offshore detention camps.

Visual Minute of the Deathscapes Symposium by Anton Pulvirenti.


Craig Madden representing his father, Uncle Charles ‘Chicka’ Madden, welcomed attendees to Gadigal Country.

honouring elders

Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese introduced the project and paid tribute to the elders whose work to end deaths in custody had inspired them: Bandjulung author, Aunty Ruby Langford Ginibi, Noongar activists, Uncle Ben Cuimermara Taylor and  Aunty Helen Corbett, and, especially Wiradjuri activist Uncle Ray Jackson, an early partner on the research, who did not live to see its completion.

Uncle Ray Jackson’s daughters, Carolyne and Francine Jackson, spoke in remembrance of their father.


The Symposium began by remembering the people at the heart of this project: those who die in custody. Carolyne and Francine Jackson, daughters of the late Uncle Ray Jackson, and Dr Hannah McGlade joined Deathscapes team members (Michelle Bui, Pilar Kasat, Ayman Qwaider, Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese) on stage. In turn they read out the names or initials of nearly fifty Indigenous people and refugees who died in custody over the three years of the project.

PANEL 1: REsponses to the deathscapes site

The opening panel, chaired by EAB member Professor Chris Cunneen, asked each panelist firstly to respond to the aspects of the Deathscapes site they found most significant, and secondly to discuss how the site meshed with their work in their own disciplines.

The first speaker was Dr. Safdar Ahmed who highlighted the site’s focus on the politics of representation and the multidimensionality of refugee stories. He drew attention to the creative resistance practices adopted by people held at the Villawood detention centre and the function of art works included on the site. 

The second speaker, Professor Bronwyn Carlson spoke on trauma, the experiences of Aboriginal women in custody and racism in the so-called justice system. She highlighted how Aboriginal people are systematically removed from the land through mass incarceration.

In response to the second question, Professor Carlson reflected on how the site is an important resource for her students in Indigenous Studies. She spoke on the value of social media as a platform to disseminate information and allow Indigenous people to speak back to the absence of their stories in the mainstream media.

Dr. Maria Giannacopoulos referred to the use of the site in teaching Criminology and helping to articulate what the law doesn’t say. She spoke on teaching students about the ways in which racialised populations are targeted for punishment and criminalised.

She then spoke on how the Deathscapes site relates to her work examining how colonial laws and legal systems are implicated in producing violence against racialised populations and the concept of sovereign debt.

Dr. Hannah McGlade spoke on the site as a peoples’ record of stories and art. She reflected on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and her personal experiences of contact with police and family and community members being taken into custody. She highlighted the case Ms Dhu and that of an Aboriginal woman who is currently serving a 12 year sentence of imprisonment for self-defense in a domestic violence case.

In response to the second question she reflected on how the site intersects with her work in the field of human rights law and the potential for the site to be used as a body of evidence and tool for accountability at the United Nations.


Behrouz Boochani is a globally recognised Kurdish writer, journalist, scholar, cultural advocate, filmmaker and human rights defender currently incarcerated by the Australian government on Manus Island. He recorded this video message for the Symposium with the assistance of his translator Omid Tofighian. He also provided an accompanying statement that was introduced and read on his behalf by Deathscapes researcher, Michelle Bui.


Dr Nicole Watson, a member of the EAB, chaired the keynote session, presented by Ryan Presley, an artist centrally concerned with questions of sovereignty and violence. The address noted points of connection between Ryan’s highly acclaimed Blood Money series and the Deathscapes project.

Video Forthcoming.


The Symposium closed with a brief statement and powerful poetry reading by Alison Whittaker.

Heartfelt thanks to Marisa Sposaro from 3CR Melbourne who recorded the first sessions of the symposium which were aired on the ‘Doin’ Time’ program.

Marisa Sposaro, The Settlement, Gadigal Country, 2019. Photo: Charandev Singh.


For more materials from the launch see @Deathscapes Symposium and Website Launch Twitter Moments.

selected media stories

‘Custody deaths in WA, Manus Island spark global “Deathscapes” project’, Sydney Morning Herald, by Emma Young

Deathscapes: mapping Indigenous, refugee and migrant deaths in custody’, SBS, by Bertrand Tungandame

‘Mapping Deaths in Custody to Dismantle Carceral Logic’, Overland, by Jordy Silverstein

‘Deathscapes project is ready to end deaths in custody’ Koori Mail February 13, 2019

special thanks from the deathscapes team to:

Co Nguyen and the staff at The Settlement for their assistance with the venue.

Dr Lara Palombo, Stephen James Houston and the Giannacopoulos family for their unstinting help and support on the day.

Flyer image credits (left to right):

Aunty Carol Roe outside Perth Coroner’s Court, Whadjuk Noongar Country (Perth), 2015. Photo: Charandev Singh. 19 July painting by woman detained on Nauru, 2017. Darren Turner, a member of the Gunditjmara nation, marching at the ‘SOS Manus Prison – End the Siege #SanctionAustralia’ Protest, Naarm, 2017. Photo: Charandev Singh. 

Villawood Fence, Refugee Art Project Surviving Detention Series, Villawood NSW. Artist: ‘J’. Welcome to Aboriginal Land Passport Ceremony, The Settlement, Gadigal Country (Sydney), 2012. Photo: Charandev Singh. Peaceful protests, Manus Island camp, Lombrum, November 2017. Photos published on the @ManusAlert Telegram Channel. 

Banner in memory of David Dungay, Gadigal Country (Sydney), 2018. Artwork by Simone Pash. Hands off Aboriginal kids protest, Naarm (Melbourne), 2016. Photo: Charandev Singh. Terror Island Wish You Were Here. Artwork: Ryan Presley. 

Black Lives Matter / Say Their Names Protest, Whadjuk Nyoongar Country (Perth), 2016. Photo: Marziya Mohammedali. Protest on Nauru, 2016. Some people who arrived on LEL boat were sent to Nauru, while others remained on Christmas Island and were eventually released into the Australian community, 2016. Artwork: Yousef, 10 year old child detained by Australia on Nauru. 

We acknowledge that this event took place on the land of the Gadigal people and we pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.


Please Read

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.