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.