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TEN YEARS ON:
A LEAKY BOAT
What really happened on the freighter
MV Tampa? Perth film-maker Victoria Pitt
made a documentary to find out. She
shares the journey of Leaky Boat.
It’s hard to believe it’s ten years since the
Tampa sailed over the horizon and into our
history. Can it already be a decade since the
dramatic events triggered by the standoff on
the Norwegian ship?
How much has changed? Or how little? We
seem no closer to solving the puzzle of what
to do when leaky boats of asylum seekers
head for our shores.
With the issue cruelly back on the front
pages after the terrible events at Christmas
Island late last year, it’s an important time to
look back on what happened in 2001. That
was the moment, remembered with fondness
by some, and horror by others, when Australia
famously stopped the Tampa.
Rarely have we cynical, laid-back Australians
felt so passionately about our politics. Yet
we’ve rarely known so little about what was
happening. This was the goal of Leaky Boat –
to tell the story of what really happened.
Assembling the cast took the better part
of three years.
There were the usual careful negotiations
just to bring the likes of John Howard, Philip
Ruddock, Kim Beazley and Peter Reith to the
table. They were extraordinarily generous
with their time. I spent about seven hours with
John Howard before the long and thoughtful
interview he gave us on camera.
Bringing the Navy’s experience into
the frame took even longer. I spoke to
scores of sailors – from the bottom to the
top of the naval hierarchy. Their stories were
astonishing and frankly very confronting. The
careful effort to build trust with the sailors
more than paid off – some very basic home
truths about the whole issue of the boats are
told at last in this film.
And there were the refugees themselves.
We did a sweep of the country looking for the
people who were on those leaky boats. We
found an extraordinary group of young men
and women – tough, honest, and straight-
talking about why they got on the boats and
what happened to them. Most of them are
And then there was the final bunch in
our cast: us. The decision to stop the Tampa
and the boats that followed was one of the
most popular ever taken by any Australian
government. So its most fascinating lessons
are not just about John Howard or his
government, but about what we as a people
fear and want.
We set about a massive treasure hunt,
looking for the words written and spoken by
ordinary Australians at the time. From these
come a kind of Australian chorus that rises
throughout the film – with thoughts that are
familiar to us all.
Victoria and her crew take to the
pool to film underwater shots
for a scene in the documentary.
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