People and Places
28/05/2020
When a memory inspires a novel

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Danielle Binks grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, and the idyllic location became her muse for her debut middle-grade novel, The Year the Maps Changed. As a writer, reviewer, agent, book blogger and youth literature advocate, she has her hands full. In 2017 she edited and contributed to Begin, End, Begin, an anthology of Australian young adult writing inspired by the #LoveOzYA movement. It won the ABIA Book of the Year for Older Children (ages 13+) and was shortlisted for the 2018 Gold Inky Awards. 

The Year the Maps Changed is a coming-of-age story set on the Peninsula and based on real events in Australia’s not-too-distant past. It follows Fred, who lost her mother when she was six and is being raised by her Pop and stepfather Luca. But with her Pop recovering from a fall and Luca’s girlfriend, Anika, having just moved in, Fred’s family life is a mess. To make matters worse, Fred discovers that Luca and Anika are having a baby. Then just as Fred’s world is spinning out of control, more than 400 Kosovar-Albanian refugees arrive during the night to be housed in the former Point Nepean Quarantine Station near her home. Their fate becomes entwined with Fred and her family, and everyone’s lives are changed. 

“This book took five years to research and write, but in many ways it’s been two decades in the making,” said Danielle. “In 1999 I was also in Year 6, the same as Fred in the book, and I do have only the vaguest memories of Operation Safe Haven – the biggest humanitarian exercise undertaken by the Australian Government when they welcomed some 6000 Kosovar refugees into ‘safe havens’ around the country, including the abandoned quarantine station.”

In The Year the Maps Changed, the refugees’ sudden arrival throws the entire community into a frenzy. There are some who wish to assist the refugees, while others resent them being there at all. This further stresses the refugees, whose ‘safe haven’ is inadequate for their needs, especially for the elderly, infirm, the children and the pregnant women.

The novel’s underlying message stresses the importance of children engaging in world events, and that expressing opinions and thinking for themselves is key to them becoming politically and socially minded. It’s a tender exploration of children growing up and understanding their place in the greater world. 

“The old writer’s advice is to write what you know; I didn’t do that exactly,” said Danielle. “I wrote instead what I wanted to know. I wanted to remember this time from the depths of my childhood, when the outside world came to my back door, it seemed. And in writing and researching, I found it to be a turning point in Australia’s policies and the blueprint for how our government and society still treats asylum seekers today – when we went from offering permanent resettlement to only temporary asylum.”

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