Australia’s most important book?

July 5, 2009 at 11:03 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m a fiction reader, so my most chilling “experience” of historical trauma is through books such as “The Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis, and “The China Coin” by Allan Bailie.

Yesterday’s book was far more horrifying, because it was historical fiction set right now, and in Australia – and the atrocities detailed are both preventable, and still happening. (I believe comedian Ahn Do has written an autobiographical book on his own family’s journey, which will probably be read by more people – and no-one can claim he’s being implausible, since he was there.)

MORRIS GLEITZMAN

Boy Overboard

Girl Underground

These books are very funny and action-packed, with boy/girl-next door characters that every kid will relate to. Boy Overboard has some extremely scary scenes, while the second book’s emotional core comes through letters (which strike hard, because Gleitzman is a world-class writer).

I love Australia, and – like anyone who’s travelled elsewhere in the world – I am proud of belonging here. A huge chunk of my mind still struggles with the concept that we – the good guys – are putting refugees in jail. YES, some are rich (rich people can still be killed for having the wrong religion). YES, many are delusional about how great Australia is (is making Australia worse really the best way to combat this?). YES, many don’t talk English more gooder enough (shockingly, not everyone who’s desperate is educated). YES, there are millions of others who would come here if they could (and I’m sure that OUR kids are more important than THEIR kids).

An Indian aquaintance of mine was held for three months because he’d screwed up his paperwork. (And of course he wasn’t told how long it would be – which is particularly worrying, since he had serious anger issues before he went in.) 

One of my best friends (from Kenya) was deported with two weeks’ notice because, despite driving herself to top every other recorded score on a (required) computer skills course, and despite being brilliant, beautiful, and compassionate (with perfect English and an ambition to join the UN), she also screwed up her paperwork. When someone that smart can’t make sense of the system, something is wrong.

Another close friend of mine married an Indonesian, and had to struggle for over two years (usually separated) to get permission for her to live here. This one’s the happy one, because eight years later, they and their kid are loving life.

Yes, children are held in “detention” centres. Yes, our system is stacked against ANYONE who tries to come here (apparently, conducting a gay relationship in the detention centre does NOT prove that someone is really gay enough to be in danger in their criminally homophobic home country). Yes, this is really happening here – not in the wacky US of A – here.

The only moment in either book that didn’t ring true was the bit where the general public of Australia stands up and says, “Hey, no! Holding refugee children in jail is wrong.” Of all the things that happen in the book, that’s the only bit that hasn’t happened – and still isn’t happening. At that point I almost threw the book across the room, because I was so upset.

Rating: PG (very scary scenes) – G for Girl Overboard

Recommendation: 8 and up, definitely including adults – kids will laugh; adults will cry.

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