Dark Victory, by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson

In the months leading up to the Australian federal election in 2001, refugees were flooding our shores in record numbers. Men, women and children from countries including Afghanistan and Iraq were fleeing their own troubled countries and spending their savings on trying to reach Australia in barely seaworthy Indonesian boats.

With Australia’s detention centres coming close to capacity and public outrage growing over these ‘queue jumpers’, the Howard governement had a problem. They needed to stop the flow, to send a message to the world that Australia was not an easy target for illegal immigration, and to prove to the Australian public that the government was heeding their concerns.

Dark Victory is the tale of the measures taken in those weeks to keep the immigrants out and to win over the Australian public. The book gives an account of the Tampa crisis, including the behind the scenes manouvering to ensure the people rescued by the crew of the Norwegian shipping vessel did not land in Australia. It tells the story of the children overboard, a scandal which will become a part of Australia’s political history. It gives a detailed account of the loss of life in the sinking of the SIEV X. With accounts from the navy and asylum seekers present at these events, Dark Victory shows the suffering of asylum seekers as they become pawns in the political minefield of illegal immigration.

As well as being the story of the fate of these boat people, this is also an expose of the failures of multiple organisations – not only the Howard government, but also the Opposition, the military, the judiciary and the press – to provide leadership and humanity in these troubled events. It also acknowledges, however, the popularity of the military blockade which stemmed the flood.

This is not an uplifting book – Australian readers will squirm as they learn of the events of these weeks and the attitudes that allowed them to happen. They will question their own attitudes and actions at that time and both prior and since.

Dark Victory is chilling but vital reading.

Dark Victory, by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson
Allen and Unwin, 2003.

Not Nits, by Lucy Treloar

Gus loves insects. He has a whole shelf full of bugs in jars – he feeds them, gives them names and adores them. When anyone accidentally kills or releases one he is devastated.

So, when Gus find a whole colony of bugs living in his hair, he thinks it’s pretty cool. No way is he going to let Mum kill them with nit shampoo. That would be cruel. But just as Gus is determined to save the nits, Mum is determined to beat them. This is a battle of wills that can have only one winner.

Not Nits is a hilarious story about insects and parents. A Red level Tadpole title from Koala Books, this junior novel is suitable for children aged seven and up, but will appeal to older children too, especially those with reading difficulties requiring easier reads.

Not Nits, by Lucy Treloar, illustrated by John Yahyeh
Koala Books, 2003

Dragon Quest, by Allan Baillie

Hey, you! Yes, you with the book
Come on! You’ll be a hero, a great warrior, an epic knight…

Through forests inhabited by dark witches, where Dragon Fighters are trapped in trees, along the whispering abyss and over the hills where lurks a double-headed troll, the reader joins the narrator on a quest to find the Last Dragon.

With text by Allan Baillie and illustrations by Wayne Harris, DragonQuest is filled with intrigue, excitement and humour, as the narrator, a slightly bumbling Knight, guides the reader towards Glass Mountain, where he will fight the last dragon. But there is a final surprise for both reader and Knight at journey’s end.

This is a picture book which will appeal to children aged 4 and over, able to intrigue much older readers as they seek out the mythical creatures on each page. An excellent introduction to the fantasy genre.

DragonQuest, by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Wayne Harris
Scholastic, 1996

Daughters of Nazareth, by Patricia Hughes

For the first seven years of her life Patricia Hughes lived with her sick but loving father and her alcoholic mother. Three days before her seventh birthday her life changed forever. Her father went back to hopsital and her mother abandoned her – leaving the police to deliver her to Nazareth House, a Catholic Orphanage.

For the next eight years Patricia lived in the ophanage, cared for by seemingly loveless nuns, intermittently placed in foster care with often abusive carers. When she was fifteen she decided she’d had enough and ran away from her foster paernts to start life on her own.

Although she never stopped wondering about her parents, it wasn’t until 1997 that she began to learn more about her family. Out of the blue she received a phone call from a woman claiming to be her sister. This was just the start of a series of extraordinary discoveries about their joint and separate pasts and about the family neither woman knew they had.

Daughters of Nazareth is a moving and intirguing tale of a search for family and understanding. Patricia Hughes is inspirational in her ability to move on and to accept. Her story, although recounting events which could be seen as tragic, is overwhelmingly positive.

A moving read.

Daughters of Nazareth, by Patricia Hughes
Pan Macmillan 2002

Grave of the Roti Men, by Geoff Havel

Aaron can’t wait to get to Indonesia. He’s going to spend a whole month staying with his dad.

At first the holiday seems perfect. Playing on the beach, spending time with his dad, and making new friends. But then things start to change. First Aaron gets sick, then Dad’s new girlfriend turns up. When Aaron’s new friend, Husni, has to leave to go to work on a fishing boat, Aaron has an idea. He stows away on the boat, ready for a bit of adventure.

Aaron soon learns that sometimes adventures can have just a little too much excitement. Being on the boat when a cyclone strikes is not fun, leaving Aaron wondering if he’ll ever see his parents again.

Grave of the Roti Men combines adventure and excitement with an exploration of themes including responsibility, dealing with family break up, and understanding other cultures. Author Geoff Havel shows his versatility as a writer with a departure from some of the light-heartedness of his earlier works.

Grave of the Roti Men, for ages 10- 12 is suitable for private reading and for classroom sharing.

Grave of the Roti Men, by Geoff Havel
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003