Tomorrow, When the War Began

Tomorrow, When the War Began is a YA novel (which became a series, which spawned a sequel trilogy) about a group of teens who are off camping in the bush when Australia gets invaded over a long weekend/show weekend, and what they have to do when they find themselves suddenly living in a warzone.

In 2010 it was adapted as a movie; it has just begun showing on ABC3 as a six part series, presumably just adapting the first book.

We’re gonna review ALL SIX EPISODES, with weekly updates. Starting here, where we discuss our complicated history with the world constructed in Tomorrow, racism, and the importance of fire safety.

As discussed previously (here and here, plus here and here at Stephanie’s other blog), we at No Award are not great fans of the Tomorrow series, and remain quite mystified as to why it gets a second bite of the adaptation cherry when there are so many better OzYA books out there.

But it’s Australian, and it’s speculative, so we figured we should give it a burl. Stephanie watched its ABC3 broadcast; Liz, who doesn’t do broadcast TV (‘cos she hasn’t plugged in her aerial and also doesn’t have a digital thingiewhosit), caught it on iView the night after.

Our reactions were … surprisingly mixed.

Text messages sent from Stephanie to Liz on Saturday night:

I don’t hate this

This is actually really well acted. Didn’t hit the first awkward dialogue until 35 mins in

Text message sent from Liz to Stephanie on Sunday night:

I can’t tell any of the white people apart. 

(I think I had the same problem with the book, which is why I quit.)

Oh yes, that’s our other point of divergence: Stephanie has read the book many times. Liz got halfway through it when she was thirteen or fourteen, then gave up because it was terrible.

An actual review type of thing

Stephanie, who has read the books and is engaged with the characters, mostly liked this first episode. Liz, who boredquit the first book when she was fourteen because she didn’t care about the characters and also couldn’t tell them apart, was … bored, didn’t care about the characters, and couldn’t really tell them apart.


(I … have a complicated relationship with John Marsden, in that I was always having to read his books for school, and found most of them either mildly irritating or shockingly triggery. I think he is terrible at writing teenage girls, and some of the tropes he engages with are actively harmful. So Much To Tell You is a whole book about a girl coming to the conclusion that her father’s domestic violence was her mother’s fault. Needless to say, I’m not a fan.)

Back to the review bit


Overall, I really enjoyed this. I felt it was unexpectedly well acted, there were more brown characters than in the books (Corrie is white in the books, and here is Indigenous, and her mum is Deborah Mailman, criminally underused). Watching Tomorrow is, by its very nature, a hate-watch for me, but suprisingly it was not a terrible watch.


I just found it boring. The acting was good, but the performers were saddled with an awful script, and the characters weren’t especially interesting. It took me a while to figure out that there was only one guy with long, blond hair, and even longer to come to terms with the fact that the Greek-Australian kid is named Homer. (That’s a bit like naming your Chinese-Australian character “Confucius”.)

I’ve seen snippets here and there of the 2010 movie, and found the characters there much more interesting and strongly contrasted. Possibly the writers are taking advantage of the longer running-time to allow themselves some slow burn.

I hope so, because at this point, it’s just predictable: the lead character is generic; the Asian-Australian character is musical and has parents with high expectations who embarrass him; the Greek-Australian character is a likeable boofhead; there’s a BFF with boy problems; there’s a girl who is both rich and sad; and there’s another white guy who’s … there.

Now, taking a whole bunch of tropes, cliches and stereotypes and dumping them in a completely different genre can be interesting, but this isn’t the most promising start. And all the cliches of a coming-of-age story are there: slo-mo, voiceover, musical montages of Happy Fun Times. We’ve seen this before, and there’s nothing new in this execution.

The final third of the episode, where the kids return to town and slowly realise their homes have been invaded and their families are prisoners of war, is somewhat more interesting. Less exciting than Neko Atsume and my quest to get a picture of every single cat being a loaf, but mildly entertaining.


So here’s why I’ve read at least the first four books in this series many times: Lee was my contemporary, and he was Asian. There’s a reason why I’m 33 years old and I still ship Lee and Ellie. It’s because I was 12 when the first book came out, and Lee was living Asian in a sea of white and I was very into his experiences.

I actually live tweeted this, which you can find in its entirety on the intertwitters by clicking through on the twitter:

Now that I’m grown, I hate the books. They’re everything that was wrong with ’90s Australia, in that the series was written at the height of fear of a yellow peril invasion from Indonesia, when we had to deal with Pauline Hanson. For many of my Azn peers, it was a time of great racial stress.

So for there to be this whole series of books that are now compulsory in Oz Lit at school, the premise of which is ‘Asian melange invades Australia on public holiday,’ well.

Good news: it’s still an Asian melange. The Colonel is played by potentially racially ambiguous James Stewart; this one site says that Australia has been invaded by an “Asian Coalition,” OH GOOD. OH GOOD. Just what I always wanted.


Just on a worldbuilding level, how does that even work? Like, Asian countries right now are more concerned with dealing with each other than ganging up on Australia, however much the national ego might wish it were otherwise.

The novel was allegedly inspired by Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor — but that was in 1975. An unprovoked invasion of Australia is going to take a lot more work to justify, narratively speaking, than a few talking heads in the background.


Look, it’s just super unlikely. I can’t WAIT to find out if the reasons given is that the invading peoples need more room for their endless Azn populations, which I think was the reason given in the books. Because that sure isn’t a projection of Australian concerns that are literally…not how that situation would be resolved for an actual modern Asian nation.


Maybe it’ll turn out they’re pissed off at our navy’s accidental incursions on their space, and our continually dumping refugees on them. That would actually be a neat twist, and I’d probably end up liking it a tiny bit more if it were the case.


Finally: on fire. We both separately became quite enraged about the completely outrageous and thoughtless application of fire whilst the kids were camping.


This is meant to be late October or early November, right? How is it that not a single one of these fires has gotten out of control? Come to that, back at the camping bits, these supposed country kids were awfully cavalier about fire.


SURELY these fires were all ‘shopped in afterwards, because there would have been a total fire ban during filming.On the opens in Clunes, almost certainly, but down in the bush campsite FOR SURE.

Promote bushfire concerns and bushfire safety #2k16.


Those were definitely CGI sparklers, right? Or flares — I legit thought they were flares at first.

Handwritten notes Liz made as she watched:

  • Oh God, Lee’s parents are over-protective, worried about his music and give him prawn crackers from their restaurant. This feels like a cliche we’ve seen a million times. (Steph interjection: I super love the music Lee makes, I’m into it, gimme the soundtrack of inoffensive electronica)
  • (Liz says she’d be more into it if it wasn’t exactly like the music being made by Dylan in Ready for This.)
  • “I’m no boy scout” — disagree with Stephanie, this “yoof” dialogue is so bad
  • First scene with two girls alone together: they talk about boys.
  • Ohhhhhh, Corrie’s off to do voluntourism and Ellie’s chucking a sulk.
  • Why is there a slo-mo colour run/Holi rip off?
  • Maybe now they’re heading back to town, it will become interesting?
  • Really? Did we need a dead chook close-up?
  • “Something terrible has happened. Hasn’t it?” THIS SCRIPT IS SO BAD.
  • The car with “run” painted on it is cool, well done, show (Steph: ME TOO, LOVE IT)
  • Soooooooo, masked, faceless Asian invaders
  • Like, I knew it was the whole premise of the series, I just
  • You know
  • What a waste of Deborah Mailman!
  • “Did Lee’s mum just die?”
    “You know, it was really unclear.”
  • But seriously, in a series about Asians invading Australia, was the first onscreen death an Asian-Australian woman?
  • I don’t care about any of these people, but especially not Ellie

Further notes from Steph:

  • Ellie blows some shit up using a ride on lawnmower, this is what I signed up for
  • Does Our ABC have a stunt budget now?
  • There’s a newsreader featured in it with brown hair and I reckon that’s supposed to be someone specific