Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 18:54 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 18:54 | SYDNEY

Foreign invasion in Australian fiction


Sam Roggeveen


20 August 2009 15:08

Sixteen years after it was first published, I have just joined the millions of Australians who have been thoroughly gripped by John Marsden's Tomorrow, When the War Began. Ostensibly aimed at 'young adult' readers, this book and its sequels follows the adventures of a group of country teens fleeing from and then fighting a foreign army that has occupied parts of Australia.

When I wrote about Red Dawn a couple of weeks ago I had no idea there was such a similar Australian concept (there's even a film in the works). But that comparison is extremely superficial. There's no neo-fascist subtext in Marsden's book, just beautifully drawn characters with rich inner lives, a wonderful evocation of the Australian bush and a mature, challenging discussion of the moral dilemmas of war.

There's very little politics in the book. All we know is that Australia has been invaded and that, for the time being, the US is staying out of it. There's no hint as to the enemy, other than that they do not speak English and have conscript (sometimes female) soldiers.

I doubt foreign invasion is a common theme in modern Australian fiction. The only other novel I'm aware of in that category is Michael O'Connor's 'An Act of War', about an Indian military occupation of Australia's Cocos and Christmas Islands. It was published in 1990 on the back of Tom Clancy's success in the techno-thriller genre.

Or how about civil war in Australia? 'McCabe P.M.', by John Rowe, was published in 1972, and is about a rogue Country Party MP who stages a coup with the aid of the military and becomes Prime Minister. The novel ends with a military aid telling McCabe that South Australia and Western Australia have announced their intention to secede. Here's the final paragraph:

'The Chiefs of Staff are putting together a plan to fly in ready reaction troops to Adelaide and Perth.' McCabe was unconsciously fondling a brass shell case paperweight as he spoke. '93 Bomber Squadron's been alerted to stand by. I wonder if it just mightn't make sense to try some edge of city bombing to bluff them back to their senses...'