Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: La Trobe University Press in conjunction with Black Inc.

A gripping account of the paths that led postwar Russian migrants to Australia – and what they found when they arrived.

More than 20,000 ethnic Russians migrated to Australia after the Second World War – yet we know very little about their experiences. Some came via China, others from refugee camps in Europe.

Many of the refugees who came from Europe preferred to keep a low profile in Australia, and some tried to 'pass' as Polish, West Ukrainian or Yugoslavian. They had good reason to do so: to the Soviet Union, Australia's resettling of Russians amounted to the theft of its citizens, and undercover agents were deployed to persuade them to repatriate. Australia regarded the newcomers with wary suspicion, even as it sought to build its population by opening its doors to immigrants.

Making use of newly discovered Russian-language archives and drawing on a lifetime's study of Soviet history and politics, acclaimed author Sheila Fitzpatrick examines the early years of a diverse Russian-Australian community and how Australian and Soviet intelligence agencies attempted to track and influence them. While anti-communist 'White' Russians dreamed a war of liberation would overthrow the Soviet regime, a dissident minority admired its achievements and thought of returning home. This is immigration history at its vivid, grounded best.

About the author


Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick is the multi-award-winning author of 'My Father's Daughter', 'Mischka's War', 'On Stalin's Team' and ''The Russian Revolution, among other titles. She is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.

Judges’ comments

This book tells the story of Russian migration from Europe and China to Australia in the aftermath of World War II. It delves into archives, recounts family histories and memoirs, draws on journals and newspapers, and uses fresh interviews. The result is a fascinating look into an overlooked period of Australian history as the new migrants looked for jobs, purchased houses, raised families, joined social clubs and the church, and (often) became Australian. Fitzpatrick, who has written extensively on the Soviet Union, and accesses archives around the world, uses individual lives to tell a larger story of Cold War fear, hostility, suspicion and everyday experiences. Some were prisoners of war and displaced persons, or Nazi collaborators, while others were anti-communists eager to flee the Soviet Union or China. These new migrants aroused the interest of Soviet diplomats who pressured them to return. Australian Security Intelligence Organisation also took an active interest in this emerging immigrant community. Fitzpatrick estimates that Russian migrants to Australia numbered around 25,000 between 1945 and 1960 yet their stories have too often been overlooked.