On the Java Ridge

On the Java Ridge
By Jock Serong

I would highly recommend this book to any Australian – it’s a fast-paced and gripping page turner, but more importantly it’s a compelling story that highlights a controversial political issue. Regardless of which side you’re on when it comes to Australia’s border control and refugee policies, this novel by local author Jock Serong will make you stop and think.

The early part of the novel switches between three plot-lines, which become more entwined as the story progresses. Firstly, there’s Cassius Calvert, the Australian minister for “Border Integrity”, who has rushed through a tough new refugee policy in the days leading up to a federal election. Cassius confirms at a press conference that Australia will be outsourcing the protection of its northern borders to a private company, Core Resolve. He is vague when questioned about the exact details of this arrangement.

Then, there’s a boat-load of refugees fleeing war-torn countries, including 9-year-old Afghani Roya and her heavily pregnant mother. Roya’s father and brother have been abducted by the Taliban and their fate remains unknown, but Roya fears the worst. Their final crossing from Indonesia to Australia takes place in a crowded boat called the Takalar that is skippered by a furtive Iraqi.

There’s also a second boat in the same waters, skippered by Australian Isi Natali. However, instead of refugees, the passengers on board are thrill-seeking Aussies who have paid up for a surfing trip out to remote Indonesian islands.

A storm is brewing, both literally and figuratively, as the paths of both boats cross in the waters surrounding a small Indonesian island. And as events unfold, and the clock ticks towards Saturday’s federal election, Cassius comes under increasing pressure from both sides of the refugee debate.

This is a story of cover-ups, misrepresentation, resilience and the way we react under pressure – but most of all, it gives a human face to the refugee crisis and shines the spotlight on the apathetic views of many Australians.