The Engineering of Detentional Landscapes: Australia's Asylum Seeker Island Prisons

Document Type

Book Chapter




Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Psychology and Social Science




Hudson-Rodd, N. (2011). The engineering of detentional landscapes: Australia's asylum seeker island prisons. In S.D. Brunn (Ed.), Engineering Earth: The impacts of megaengineering projects (pp. 1723-1748). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.


This chapter focuses on the uniquely harsh treatment for those who arrive in Australia by boats seeking asylum. Australia has transformed the physical, legal, and social landscapes of its own territory and that of other countries. This pragmatic approach has denied human dignity and respect for human freedoms. The government radically engineered the social landscape through introduction of a raft of laws which deny the human rights of asylum seekers. Most dramatically the physical borders of Australia were altered by excising over 4,000 islands from Australia’s asylum regime under the Migration Act of 1958. All “unauthorized arrivals” on excised Australian islands, or intercepted in the waters around these islands, are denied mainland access for visa application process and review. Australia is the only developed nation which practices mandatory detention of all children, women, and men seeking asylum. Physical engineering of the landscape to achieve these state goals includes the design, construction, and private operation of extra-territorial island prisons specifically for asylum seekers. Guided by Robert Sack’s geography of the “real and the good,” this research is a study of the engineering of detentional landscapes, a destructive limitation on human varieties of life.

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