Nobel prize-winning novelist JM Coetzee is the new poster boy for
Australian immigration. He’s the latest person to feature in a
nationwide campaign to put a face to citizenship (see below).

But Coetzee is also notoriously media shy. Which makes you wonder how he ended up fronting a government campaign.

Though he was very keen to become an Australian citizen, apparently Coetzee was not so keen to take part in a public induction
ceremony. However, when he learnt that it was non-negotiable, his migration
agent contacted the Immigration Department to suggest that he swear his
oath at the Adelaide Writers’ Week where he was already appearing in March this year.

Quicker than you can say PR opportunity, the department agreed. In
fact, given that someone has to confer immigration, they reasoned, why not get the
minister herself to do it?

Coetzee was “quite chuffed” at the idea of the media attending this
event, says Sandi Logan, National Communications Manager at DIMIA, and
the opportunity to use the “strength of his commitment” to become an
Australian citizen as an encouragement to others.

But Coetzee might not always prove so compliant if his novels are any
guide. And as he himself once said: “I am not a herald of
community or anything else. I am someone who has intimations of freedom
(as every chained prisoner has) and constructs representations of
people slipping their chains and turning their faces to the light.”

It will be interesting to see what he makes of Australia from the inside.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey