Books

Michael Mohammed Ahmad (ed.)
After Australia

“The distance between / what is / and what will be / is less than you think …” So says a snippet from Ambelin Kwaymullina’s poem “Message from the Ngurra Palya”, one of 12 contributions to After Australia, an anthology edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad. It’s a neat summation of the book’s speculative remit: the aim of After Australia is to offer prospective futures of this country by Indigenous writers and writers of colour, including Karen Wyld, Michelle Law, Roanna Gonsalves and Khalid Warsame. How the past and the present affect or compromise the future is explored here in provocative and sometimes surprising ways.

With the date of imaginative play set somewhere around 2050, there is short fiction, memoir and poetry with distinct dystopian tones. Many pieces offer an Australia beset by climate change disasters – humidity, unseasonal bushfires, floods – while systemic racism is also seen to stretch indefinitely into the horizon. Claire G. Coleman’s narrator is stuck in a concentration camp, declared stateless and stripped of citizenship due to a new law that allows “people of bad character to be ostracised” and thereby effectively exiled. Zoya Patel writes from safety in this First World country while anxious about Fijian relatives trapped in detention and seeking asylum here. Then, as now, Australia is reluctant to accommodate the needs of those desperate for sanctuary. Then there’s Omar Sakr’s strangely prophetic though topsy-turvy tale, “White Flu”. It’s about a pandemic, but one that seems to affect only people of European or Anglo descent. In this world, far-right extremists believe a white genocide is under way (the hashtag of the day is #WhiteLivesMatter) and Mexico is trying to finish Trump’s failed wall, no doubt to keep out the disease-carrying whites. Elsewhere in the anthology, a Congolese man is detained on suspicion of stuffing a 55-inch TV in his backpack, the Sydney Opera House is boarded up, and seagulls have adapted to the climate by coating dried mud on their wings to protect against UV rays.

Despite the catastrophic imaginings, there are some hopeful strains in this songbook: Kwaymullina’s vision, for instance, is of a spaceship led by an Indigenous Elder. And why not? As Lena Nahlous says in the afterword, “The future is a palimpsest. It is a place where the past and present provide context, but do not dictate the path.”

Thuy On

Affirm, 288pp, $24.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 1, 2020 as "Michael Mohammed Ahmad (ed.), After Australia".

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Reviewer: Thuy On