The problem of unauthorised boat arrivals on the north coast of Australia shows no sign of going away any time soon, despite all the good will – and more particularly the bad will – of politicians and the public.
Yet the subject of a permeable frontier in the north is hardly new. The poor Indonesian fishermen who today transport cargoes of desperate people to our shores are the 21st century descendents of the poor fishermen who sailed south to the lands they called Marege [Arnhem Land] and Kayu Jawa [Kimberley] in the 18th and 19th centuries to harvest shark fin and sea slugs [bêche de mer or trepang] for the Chinese market. The sailing season is similar, with most boats arriving before and after the summer cyclone season – though one difference is that, in these days of diesel motors, they are no longer dependent on the monsoons to propel their boats.
The other difference is that once, these visitors were enthusiastically welcomed by the British settlers in northern Australia. Continue reading