Greder, Armin: Australia to Z.
Australia to Z
Allen & Unwin, 2016, pp32, 12.99 [pounds sterling]
978 1 74336 750 6
From the front cover to the final image, this is as unconventional an alphabet book as you are ever likely to encounter. It is powerful, angry and subversive and Australia does not appear in a good light. The defaced Blue Ensign, as the Australian flag is called, appears on the cover and within the book but it is black (with negative connotations) instead of blue, and being hoisted up the flagpole with great difficulty by a small person of colour wearing red (blood, suffering, heart...) and white, possibly suggestive of goodness. Robyn Sheahan-Bright, quoted on the back cover, hits the nail on the head by describing this book as disturbing and 'challenging perceptions of what it means to be Australian', including how the country might appear to people from other cultures.
The opening double page spread says it all with a lone Aborigine standing on a huge rock sighting a sailing ship drifting towards the continent. The facing page shows the silhouettes of Boat people huddled in a fragile craft alone on a dark, dark sea. There is a huge expanse of empty beige wash on both pages contrasted with Greder's trademark bleak charcoal drawing in the foreground. The book features dark imagery of brutality and death contrasted with indulgence and greed. The odd moment of humour is satirical rather than funny; for example Rupert Murdoch is depicted as a sort of monster with empty eye sockets. The final double spread which includes the lyrics of the national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, set against images of desolation: a polluting car and factory, Boat people looking despairing as they reach the sign, 'Go back, We're full'. At the bottom of the recto page which indicates the future, a native Australian looks mournfully at the reader. Greder is a brilliant illustrator, asking serious questions about nationhood, the environment and our obligations in a global world. Definitely not for little ones but perfect to get young (and old) adults thinking.