I feel passionately about peace and social justice issues and try to reflect this in my writing and public speaking. So it will come as no surprise that since the publication of my first novel in April 2014 I’ve been giving talks to writing groups and others on ‘Social Issues in ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim.’
But talks and readings reach a limited audience, so today I’m taking the plunge and writing the first in a series of blogs to let existing and potential readers know why I embarked on a trilogy depicting the dystopian world of a future Australia. (Currently I’m editing the second book: ‘Pia and the Skyman.’)
The Australian government’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers appals me. GetUp, Avaaz and many other online commentaries help fuel my deep concerns about the direction this country is heading. From a country that welcomed scores of displaced people after the Second World War, I feel that Australia is becoming xenophobic, rejecting those that have fled what for most of us are unthinkable terrors. As a migrant myself, I tried to imagine how I’d have felt, if instead of paying ten pounds and travelling to Australia on an ocean liner, I’d been forced to flee my homeland, hand over my life’s savings to greedy people smugglers and risk my life by boarding a leaky overcrowded boat.
Then I thought about a different category of refugees, those that Australia can expect in the not so distant future. Low-lying Pacific islands are already under threat from accelerating climate change, so it’s more than likely there will soon be a flood of environmental refugees seeking a safe haven in this large, prosperous country with a small population. How will the Australian government react then, turning back the boats won’t be an option when there’s no homeland to return to?
I felt my option as a fiction writer was to draw on current conservative attitudes and policies to create a portrait of a future Australia that is, to my mind, entirely possible. The idea to divide the country into zones according to race of origin came from a thinly veiled proposal made by an ultra-conservative politician some years ago.
So I’ve set the novel in the most inhospitable area of twenty-fourth century Australia, the extremely hot, humid and disease-ridden Brown Zone (formerly known as Queensland) where Pacific environmental refugees were confined when they sought sanctuary in Australia following the drowning of their islands during the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries. The narrative centres on the lives of their descendants who continue to be treated as third-class citizens, fed incorrect versions of history by government-trained Storytellers and are led to believe they caused the inundation of their islands.
The following extract is from page 24:
‘We must continue to give thanks as our ancestors did following their own migration a hundred years later. They appreciated the immense generosity shown by the Australian government at a time when due to protracted inter-racial tension usually only White migrants were admitted. They accepted that as Pacific environmental refugees, they must live in a designated zone and be closely monitored.’ She (Sannah) paused as her training dictated, allowing the familiar rhetoric to pervade already malleable minds.’
The fictional characters living in my dystopian future, risk their lives to undermine an oppressive regime and hopefully effect change. Unlike Sannah and her friends, those of us living today in democratic countries, take for granted our freedom of speech and the right to agitate against inhumane practices – eg.
Refugee action groups around Australia have for many years campaigned for the rights of refugees seeking asylum and against mandatory detention. For me, the appalling detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru represent contemporary versions of Brown Zone prisons, where the detainees have no rights and no hope.
Let’s not forget that ‘fact’ can be stranger than ‘fiction’ and make certain the world I’ve created does not come to pass.