A Country Too Far

Edited by Rosie Scott and Tom Keneally
Penguin, $29.99, $17.99 e-book

Reviewed by Mark Goudkamp

A Country Too Far is a powerful and timely anthology that unleashes the creativity of 27 Australian fiction writers, essayists and poets on their dismay at successive governments’ treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

It is edited by Rosie Scott and Tom Keneally who in 2004 put together Another Country, a moving collection of writing by people detained by the Howard Government, which became a powerful tool for advocates.

Refugee supporters forced some policy changes around that time yet, as Rosie told the crowd at the book’s Fairfield launch, she felt compelled to pull together this book by the reversion to direct government demonisation of the powerless.

The diversity and quality of contributions to A Country Too Far are testament to the determination, resilience and breadth of the campaign for a more humanitarian approach to an issue that’s clearly not going away.

Recent months have seen the formation or re-formation of Doctors for Refugees, Secondary Students for Refugees and Unionists for Refugees.

In her introduction, Scott reveals some apprehension about approaching busy authors to write on a topic so “fraught”, but is inspired by the “communality of feeling and generosity among Australian writers” most of whom accept immediately.

The collection opens with a haunting tale by Rodney Hall of a father on night watch as the crowded asylum seeker boat he and his family are on founders.

Kim Scott’s past and future fantasy juxtaposes a group of early white settlers’ refusal of help from Aboriginal people with the prevention of Tiwi Islanders from helping asylum seekers.

Sue Wolfe and Geraldine Brooks both tell fascinating family histories that reveal their fathers lived in Australia as ‘illegals’ for decades.

Another highlight is “Lucky”, Kathryn Heyman’s futuristic dystopia where first, second and third generation migrants to Sydney are labelled ‘nobodies’ and forced out of the city, with some engaging smugglers to get out of the country.

The inclusion of excerpts from Robin de Crespigny’s The People Smuggler which shows that smugglers are often far from the ‘scum of the earth’ they are commonly portrayed and Anna Funder’s All That I Am add to the book, while Bella Vendarimi tells how she became a smuggler for an African couple locked up in a Spanish prison.

The editors make their own contributions — Scott via a short fiction piece revealing the heartlessness at the centre of the refugee determination, and Keneally a polemic highlighting the settlement of generations of refugees between the late 1940s and 1992 when mandatory detention was introduced.

A Country Too Far is a book for those already committed to the cause who need some respite from distressing media reports. However, with Christmas around the corner, it could make an ideal gift for a friend or relative with different views. It would also be an excellent resource for English teachers.

Mark Goudkamp teaches at Doonside Technology HS.