An illegal history of journeys to Australia

Ruth Balint, Julie Kalman
Buy Book

** Runner-up, Frank Broeze Memorial Maritime History Book Prize 2023 **

‘Louis was an agent of conspiracy, a “people trafficker”, helping the captive and the helpless negotiate a precarious avenue to freedom. He was, I believe, genuinely on our side and, to this day, remains a hero for me.’ — Les Murray, sports commentator and ‘Soccer King’

People smugglers are the pariahs of the modern world. There is no other trade so demonised and, yet at the same time, so useful to contemporary Australian politics. But beyond the rhetoric lies a rich history that reaches beyond the maritime borders of our island continent and has a longer lineage than the recent refugee movements of the twenty-first century. Smuggled recounts the journeys to Australia of refugees and their smugglers since the Second World War — from Jews escaping the Holocaust, Eastern Europeans slipping through the Iron Curtain, ‘boat people’ fleeing the Vietnam War to refugees escaping unthinkable violence in the Middle East and Africa.

Based on original research and revealing personal interviews, Smuggled marks the first attempt to detach the term ‘people smuggler’ from its pejorative connotations, and provides a compelling insight into a defining yet unexplored part of Australia’s history.

In focusing on unexpected voyages and voices, this book provides a counter-narrative to the often-xenophobic rhetoric that has typified Australian responses to asylum seekers and ‘illegal immigrants’. The authors empathetically evince the diverse motivations for flight from homelands, plus the many pathways that brought unauthorised arrivals to our shores. They do not romanticise these experiences, nor do they shirk from noting illicit behaviours on the road to refuge. This is a humane and timely work, as the world opens up from a traumatic pandemic and faces new prospects of political and climate upheaval.’

Judges comments, Frank Broeze Memorial Maritime History Book Prize 2023

Smuggled is a pioneering work in Australian immigration history. The history of illegal journeys is a topic rarely discussed let alone researched in any depth. The powerful stories recounted in this compelling book about people smuggling write a new chapter in the history of displacement through the extraordinary experiences of courage, survival and resilience. It is inspiring research which transforms our understanding of the history of migration to Australia through an evocative new lens.’

Professor Joy Damousi, Australian Catholic University

Smuggled is an enthralling book. Each chapter is a short story of a separate and unique journey to safety; dangerous, desperate and daring. Each story adds to our understanding of a smuggler as a person who is often so much more than an unscrupulous criminal. They are frequently skilled facilitators, brave guides and caring escorts. They range from diplomats to simple villagers. It may suit some politicians to colour smugglers as money hungry crooks, but without their help, the refugees in this book, and most refugees in general, would never have made it to Australia to build worthwhile lives. Smuggled is a new, important way to tell our migration history, and is a fascinating read.’

Andrew and Renata Kaldor, Advisory Committee, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law

A combination of engaging stories and astute analysis, Smuggled is a timely corrective to the simplistic portrayal of people smugglers as evil scum. Some smugglers may be heroes and some may be villains, but to blame them for the suffering of refugees is to deflect from more important concerns, including the oppression that drives people from their homes and the border controls that force them onto dangerous routes.’

Peter Mares, The Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership

...a powerful book that shows both the richness of human interconnection, and the uncertainty, the potential for catastrophe, that faces the person who is compelled to hand their future over to the hands of the smuggler, the oceans, the government.'

Jordana Silverstein, Australian Historical Studies

The authors, with astute analysis and through the deeply personal lived experience of those fleeing persecution, traverse the historical and political landscape of Australia’s migrant history...Smuggled, is a timely and riveting read. A book for all interested in the human stories of people smugglers and those that seek them out.'

Linda Telai, Law Institute Journal

Contributor Bio

Ruth Balint is an associate professor of history at the University of New South Wales. She teaches and writes about forced migration, family and refugees in the twentieth century. Her family were refugees from Europe before and after the Second World War. Her latest book, Destination Elsewhere: Displaced Persons and their Quest to Leave Europe after 1945, is published by Cornell University Press.

Julie Kalman is an associate professor of history at Monash University. She writes about the history of French Jews, after the French Revolution and also following the Second World War. She is the child of migrants from Europe, and she has researched and published on topics related to her own history, including the history of migration to Australia, and the Eurovision Song Contest.

More books by author