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‘This is my retelling of a great man who lost everything to a silly colour believing.’1
Silly colour believings have had an enormous impact on so many lives, and in No Place Like Home young voices reveal the scars of these assaults. This anthology started life as a competition when Australians Against Racism encouraged young writers to submit stories of ‘refugee or Indigenous Australians, displaced peoples from recent times or from the distant past’.2 The resulting work captures almost forty young writers’ explorations of exile and survival and of the rebuilding of their concept of ‘home’. Collectively they have recounted ‘small journeys and unimaginably huge journeys’ on the road to belonging. Every voice builds a foundation for believing in the ‘importance and irreplaceable nature of each human life and experience’.3 This book follows Dark Dreams: Australian Refugee Stories by young writers aged 11-20 years in what is hoped will become a series. Displacement and concepts of home are recurrent themes in editor Sallis’ own work, including her recent Fire fire. Too confronting to be devoured at one sitting, these narratives should instead be reflected upon at regular intervals.
Each heart-rending story detains the reader with tales of persecution by authorities, exile, and the lengths the displaced will go to rediscover a sense of belonging. With the recent World Refugee Day and debates occurring over the Migration Act, this anthology is a timely reminder that displaced people are more than news items and more than the misinformation spread by comfortable citizens over their laden dinner tables. They are people among us, they may be us. Jasmina writes that ‘the footprints follow her in the same way that her experiences will throughout her life’.4 These stories reveal people who make a home in Australia with aspirations formed by their experiences.
Comfortable citizens mock, ‘If these people want to come on dodgey [sic] boats…’5 but are quietly challenged by harrowing personal narratives from Afghanistan, Lebanon, Vietnam, Germany, Iran, China, Sudan, East Timor and Australia. As these writers recount persecutions, rapes, concentration camp atrocities, bullying, bribes, family separations, bombs, landmines, screaming and beatings, there is belief throughout that they will survive; they will rebuild their lives in this paradise land.
Many Australians speak indignantly about the lack of humanity in other countries, but can they be so ignorant of this country’s history? No Place Like Home tells of the relocation of Aboriginal children, asylum seeking children imprisoned for months and returned soldiers snubbed. Sam writes ‘I left Iran with my family because we were persecuted for having a different religion’, and the reader must question — is Australia so different?6 Andri notes the ignorance he found, ‘The other students say that refugees have had it easy … they do not know what it is to starve’.7
After facing atrocities in their homeland, young people had their hopes dashed at Woomera Detention Centre. With despair Yusra writes, ‘We were in a prison… it was one of the most painful experiences of my life’.8 Various publications offer statistics of child detention in Australia. These real-life stories represent the people behind the parading statistics — the people to whom we must listen so as to try to understand the heartbreak, the confusion, the determination and hope. A Just Australia, discussing the infamous ‘Pacific Solution’, implores us to consider that ‘the more we seek to deter asylum seekers and refugees through harsh treatment, the more Australia comes to resemble the repressive nations from which they flee’.9 If more Australians could read this collection and absorb its meaning, more displaced people may find this country the paradise they expected.
Not all stories feature refugees. A simple story of exile is Nicholas Cooper’s The wheat fields: Michael Booker’s story where a boy is forced off his farm to attend boarding school. His quiet determination wins through as he returns to his beloved fields.10 The rhythmic language of the Aboriginal people’s stories gently questions behaviours and policies that displaced these people in their own land. An old digger proudly tells his story in A man in green, guiding readers to look beyond the legend to see the person within. In the face of disrespect on his return from New Guinea, Sergeant Upton still finds that ‘there’s no place like home’.11
Amelia Easton’s Eyes closed: Gashka’s story invites readers to open their eyes to Gashka’s experience. An orphaned Albanian girl separated from her sister and beaten by the matron found humanity in a refugee camp. Amelia recounts an innocent’s discourse to take the reader from hope to despair, journeying through betrayal and degradation. Her dispossessor is represented over and over throughout these stories; as the Taliban, Hitler, Hussein, the Khmer Rouge, unnamed soldiers, rebels and ordinary people. Gashka’s story builds with fierce strength; tracing her displacement to Italy and new life in Australia. Far from broken after her betrayal, Gashka works to regain her dignity and reclaim her life. Her story reveals a compassionate Australia (not shown too frequently in this collection) with visual symmetry; Gashka opens her eyes, no longer needing to hide.12
Australians Against Racism has produced another fine anthology of young people’s work. Future opportunities to contribute must be embraced so that more Australians can be exposed to fresh voices in this critical area. Such an illuminating collection should be read far and wide in this sunburnt country so that a little of its spirit may enhance the soil on which we grow; a viewpoint visually expressed in Abbas Mehran’s Aboriginal themed cover. As Irene Guo tells us, ‘Treasure your life … there are many people out there struggling to live on in hell’.13
1 FR Hann, ‘Hal Hart’s story’ in S Dechian, J Devereaux, H Millar & E Sallis, (eds), No Place Like Home: Australian stories by young writers aged 8-21 years, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA, 2005, p 8.
2 Australians Against Racism, Projects: 2004 ‘There is No Place Like Home’ schools competition, last updated 15 June 2005, viewed 20 June 2006, http://www.australiansagainstracism.org/code/projects.html
3 E Sallis, ‘Foreword’ in No Place Like Home, p 2.
4 J Kevrick, ‘Long road to happiness’, ibid, p 19.
5 Australians Against Racism, TV commercial: Negative responses, last updated 15 June 2005, viewed 20 June 2006, http://www.australiansagainstracism.org/code/tvc_response.html
6 Sam, ‘A bit of my life’ in No Place Like Home, p 27.
7 A Dao, ‘Vuot Bien — the search for freedom: Huong Thi Nguyen’s story’, ibid, p 61.
8 Yusra, ‘The unforgettable moments’, ibid, p 56.
9 A Just Australia, ‘Treatment of asylum seekers and refugees’ in Refugees and Asylum Seekers, The Spinney Press, Thirroul, NSW, p 22.
10 NJ Cooper, ‘The wheat fields: Michael Booker’s story’ in No Place Like Home, pp 104-6.
11 H Upton, ‘A man in green’, ibid, p 78.
12 A Easton, ‘Eyes closed: Gashka’s story’, ibid, pp131-34.
13 I Guo, ‘Injustice — when you can’t tell: Linda’s story’, ibid, p 18.