Worldbuilding: The Australian YA Dystopia

This post started life on Tumblr, in response to the following conversation:


The Great Unanswered Question:

What the hell happens to every country on the planet that isn’t the US in YA dystopias


We’re just getting on with our lives. And mocking. So much mocking.


“Hey, Bazza, Panem’s 75th Hunger Games are on.”

“Seriously? Again? Why haven’t we invaded them and imposed democracy yet?”

“‘Cos I’m still waiting for my download of the 74th Hunger Games to finish.  Fucking fibre to the node.”

And that would have been the end of it, except that, still chuckling at my own joke, I went and had a shower.

You know what happens in showers, right?

IDEAS.  Unless you’re deliberately showering in the hopes of brain stimulation.  Then your brain just laughs at you, and you sadly realise you’re doing nothing but wasting water.

I got thinking about what an Australian YA dystopia — well, really any Australian dystopia — would look like, and how it would work.  Not that I’m treading new ground — remember my rant about The Sea and Summer? — but it’s not like America lets the existence of a couple of iconic dystopias stand in the way of publishing and filming more.

From Tumblr:

Apropos my last post, because this is something I think about a lot, especially since I saw Catching Fire last week, and am now re-reading The Hunger Games.  And, dammit, I get sad that we don’t have a YA dystopia with an emotionally stunted iconic heroine played by Shari Sebbens and brooding and handsome hero played by Jordan Rodrigues of our own!

So the thing about Australia is, we’re roughly the same size as the United States, but much more sparsely populated.  So in the event of some kind of technological cataclysm, such as a nuclear electromagnetic pulse coupled with radical climate change, we’re less likely to wind up with a totalitarian one-party state than a series of isolated communities that occasionally fight over resources.  Some of those isolated communities might be totalitarian one-party states, though, if you’re into that sort of thing.

For example, Perth is separated from the rest of Australia by a GIANT DESERT, and Western Australia is a vast state in its own right, so that would be the first to separate.  (Nightsiders by Sue Isle is a collection of novellas set in a dystopian Perth.)  I’ve never actually been to WA, but it was the last state to join up when we were federating.  (At one stage, “Australia” was going to be the eastern and central states, plus New Zealand.  Ah, good times.)  WA also has, to a considerable extent, its own isolated legal system, not to mention a lively secessionist movement.  How well it would do on its own is debateable, but if we assume a system where the Federal Government and Constitution no longer function, I reckon WA would be the first state to go full independence/Mad Max style leather-clad anarchy.

Tasmania would go next, because it’s an island, and I shall refrain from making cannibal jokes out of consideration for … you know.  We would also shed Darwin, which is closer to South East Asia than it is to other Australian cities.

Likewise, far north Queensland would probably be cementing its close geographic ties to the Torres Strait and New Guinea — in the coastal regions, at least.  Further inland, you’d probably have your isolated homesteaders, the kind of people who already think they’re living in the End Times and prove it by voting for Bob Katter.  Queensland, as people like to point out whenever the issue of daylight savings is raised, is basically several states smushed together anyway.  I expect my mum will end up in Clive Palmer’s People’s Republic.

…Come to think of it, there’s a lot of mineral wealth in WA and QLD, not to mention uranium in the Northern Territory, but how much of that is of use to those states if large-scale international trade has collapsed remains to be seen.  But it certainly brings them closer to self-sufficiency than, say, Canberra.

Then you have your larger state capitals, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.  They’re all within driving distance, albeit a couple of days’ drive, so I can see that they wouldn’t be entirely isolated.  But how much power the Federal Government has in those circumstances is debateable.  (I mean, the Constitution gives a lot more power to the States than the Federal Government, but Federalism developed along with the technological resources for faster communication and travel.)

ANYWAY, what you end up with are several separate communities, not hugely trusting of one another.  (Even now, you can see the old rivalries in the scrum that develops around GST revenue and Federal funding.)  Stack on a few generations, let this develop as the status quo, let technology re-develop but keep in mind the effects of climate change, and what do you have?  A totalitarian state?  A laissez faire corporatocracy?  Anarchy?  All this and everything in between, depending on where you are?

Not to mention all the nations around us would dealing with their own problems, many of them small island states being swallowed up by the rising oceans.  ”SCARY FORNERS INVADING HONEST, WHITE AUSTRALIA” is one of those right-wing tropes I prefer to avoid, but there comes a point where you’re wondering why they’re not knocking on the door.

Again, this comes back to those odd US dystopias where the rest of the world apparently doesn’t exist.  Certainly in The Hunger Games, Panem includes Canada, but what’s meant to have happened to the rest of North America is a mystery.  But that’s set so far in the future that no one — well, not Katniss, whose education has mostly involved coal and revolution — has any particular understanding or memory of the United States as a thing that existed.

Australia doesn’t get to be an isolated dystopia, because, much as some politicians would like to think otherwise, we’re not an isolated nation.  The lines might wind up drawn differently, but we don’t get to stand alone.

Some local dystopia for you:

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina is the first in a YA trilogy (I think) about young people with special abilities in a future, dystopian Australia.  It’s also one of the few works of science fiction by an Indigenous author — oh, look, she’s a guest of honour at Continuum next year, plug, plug, plug. I actually didn’t finish the first book, because it wasn’t what I was in the mood for at the time, but I couldn’t actually say whether it’s good or bad or in between.

Karen Healey’s When We Wake isn’t precisely a dystopia — its future Australia is pretty great, provided you don’t care about refugees, or incredibly powerful militaries, and what not.  In short, it’s very much like the present day — quite fantastic, as long as you don’t look at things too closely.

(Karen responded to my Tumblr post and described When We Wake as a pre-dystopia, which I think is great.)

An anti-rec: The Rosie Black Chronicles by Lara Morgan.  I can’t remember if this is actually dystopian, or just plain old sci-fi.  I was too busy facepalming at the terrible writing and general racism to pay attention.

2 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: The Australian YA Dystopia

  1. Pingback: Proudly presenting the 68th Down Under Feminists Carnival! | Ideologically Impure

  2. Hi Liz,

    I agree largely with your post, particularly about the odd nature of U.S. dystopias being seemingly isolated, with little regard for the rest of the world. The dystopia I am writing is explicitly written from a global perspective; we’ll see.(American living in Perth)

    Bryce Touchstone

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