Research to reveal asylum seeker stories


Dr Vannessa Hearman aims to produce a book about the voyage of the Tasi Diak

Dr Vannessa Hearman aims to produce a book about the voyage of the Tasi Diak

The harrowing stories of the only group of Timorese asylum seekers to reach Australia by boat during the Indonesian occupation will come to light through an Asia Study Grant from the National Library of Australia.

Charles Darwin University lecturer in Indonesian Studies Dr Vannessa Hearman aims to produce a book about the voyage and Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, given the tensions over East Timor at that time.

“My project looks into a group of 18 Timorese asylum seekers who sailed the fishing boat, the Good Sea (Tasi Diak), from Indonesian-occupied East Timor to Darwin in 1995,” Dr Hearman said.

“This was the only boat during the entire history of Indonesian occupation of East Timor (1975-99) to have reached Australia.”

Dr Hearman said the arrival of the Tasi Diak and the Australian Government's reception of the asylum seekers threatened to jeopardise Australia’s cordial relationship with Indonesia.

“When they arrived the group was sent to Western Australia, where they were detained for seven weeks before being given bridging visas, leading to eight years in limbo living in Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne,” she said.

“Bridging visas did not allow the asylum seekers to work or study and had to be renewed every three months, so these people were very dependent on others within the community to try and start their new lives.”

Born in Indonesia, Dr Hearman moved to Melbourne with her family in 1984 when she was 11 years old. She became actively involved in human rights issues after attending a demonstration in response to the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili in which more than 250 Timorese people were killed.

It was through her concern for East Timor that she met her now partner Jose Da Costa, one of the asylum seekers who arrived on the Tasi Diak, and who has become a well-known actor and filmmaker.

Now living in Darwin with Jose, Dr Hearman said she hoped to tell the stories of these asylum seekers, most of whom were fleeing persecution and torture, and how they dealt with their situations.

“The library is a treasure trove of Australia's rich Asian collections,” she said. “I also hope to talk to members of the crew of the Tasi Diak and politicians including former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans about the political tensions.”

The Asia Study Grant scheme is for Asia researchers, who are citizens or residents of Australia, and who are conducting research on Asia. It supports their travel to the National Library of Australia to access the Asian collections. Dr Hearman will take up the grant in early July this year.

The project is also supported by a Northern Territory History Grant.

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