Sunday 10 November 2013


Refuge by Jackie French (Angus and Robertson)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 9780732296179
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Australia is a country built upon migration and ‘Refuge’ is a moving story which reflects our history and treatment of those who migrated to Australia from predominantly countries experiencing conflict.

Faris and his grandmother Jadda are travelling on a boat carrying people seeking asylum, when the boat sinks unexpectedly. Faris wakes in the Australia he has always dreamed of and we fleetingly believe that he and Jadda are safe. Faris has a comfy bed and a computer, the smell of breakfast wafts from the kitchen.

When their pet koala scratches at the door and is fed chicken, we realize something is not quite right and begin to understand that Faris has not arrived in Australia after all.

He leaves the house and  meets a group of children on a nearby beach. The children each come from a different time and place and everyday play the same ball game, each leaving the beach at the end of the day, returning to their ‘homes’. All except Mudarra, an indigenous boy, who is the only child destined to remain on the beach.

We learn of each child’s history and how they came to land in Australia – in ‘Refuge’ as they call the beach and come to understand that Refuge is just a transit stop. When each is ready, they must walk through a doorway on the beach, returning to the journey previously begun before landing on ‘Refuge’, even though they may not survive.

As Faris begins to understand this fact and accepts that he too, must pass through the doorway, we learn more of each child’s story, as Susannah reveals each name to Faris in a book she keeps. The list contains 25 names and we only learn more of each character’s fate at the end of the book, in the author’s notes.

This book would certainly suit upper primary aged children, but it is a story which is low on action after the sinking of the boat and only picks up again towards halfway. The second half of the book, as we learn more about the children and building towards the decision to leave, keeps the reader more interested. We also see Faris reunited with his father and the difficulties they both face in adjusting to their new life in Australia.

It is indeed a timely book, given the current political discussion, change of asylum seeker policy and media attention. It will raise important questions and hopefully awareness within children surrounding the reasons behind asylum seeker boats. It’s themes of belonging and displacement will also be extremely useful as a book to be discussed within the classroom, particularly focusing on each character and the conflict they have left behind. As each character’s history gently unfolds, we learn much more of their cultural conditions, enabling an awareness and understanding of their need to flee. It is an imaginatively written, thoughtful book  and shows that many migrants have come by boat, each making their own contribution to our history, each overcoming adversity through perseverance.

Thorough Teacher’s Notes can also be found at

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