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Graham Akhurst

2024 Children's Book Council of Australia Notable Book of the Year for Older Readers

Aurealis Awards Finalist 2024

Jono, a city-born Indigenous teenager is trying to figure out who he really is. Life in Brisbane hasn’t exactly made him feel connected to his Country or community. Luckily, he’s got his best friend, Jenny, who has been by his side through their hectic days at St Lucia Private.

After graduating, Jono and Jenny score gigs at the Aboriginal Performing Arts Centre and an incredible opportunity comes knocking—interning with a documentary crew. Their mission? To promote a big government mining project in the wild western Queensland desert. The catch? The details are sketchy, and the land is rumoured to be sacred. But who cares? Jono is stoked just to be part of something meaningful. Plus, he gets to be the lead presenter!

Life takes a turn when they land in Gambari, a tiny rural town far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Suddenly, Jono’s intuition becomes his best guide. He’s haunted by an eerie omen of death, battling suffocating panic attacks, and even experiencing visions of Wudun—a malevolent spirit from the Dreaming. What’s the real story behind the gas mining venture? Are the documentary crew hiding something from Jono? And could Wudun be a messenger from the land, fighting back against the invasion?

Borderland is a heart-pounding horror gothic that follows Jono on an epic quest to find himself in the face of unbelievable challenges. Graham Akhurst, the brilliant mind behind this coming-of-age gem, is a Fulbright scholar from the Kokomini of Northern Queensland. Brace yourself for a fresh, mind-bending tale exploring Indigenous identity, the impact of colonization, and what happens when you take a stand.

 "A hell of a debut novel from a writer at once daring, insightful and heartfelt" – Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief

Teaching notes available. Click here to download.

Praise for Borderland

A hell of a debut novel from a writer at once daring, insightful and heartfelt.

—MARKUS ZUSAK, author of The Book Thief

“Joining the likes of Jessica Johns’ Bad Cree is Borderland... this atmospheric YA horror steeped in Indigenous identity and culture.”

The Sydney Morning Herald

“Rite-of-passage stories don’t come much more authentic than this first novel.”

—ANN PACKER, The NZ Listener


 "Graham Akhurst's debut novel, Borderland deals with issues confronting young First Nations people. The central characters in the story, Jono and Jenny, embark on a journey, discovering their true selves, their shared heart and Country within a contemporary Australian landscape."

—TONY BIRCH, Australian Book Review

“Graham Akhurst’s Indigenous Bildungsroman Borderland is a novel that has stuck with me since I first encountered it in an early draft. Its story has an infectious verve, even as it speaks to areas of experience – particularly those of urban Indigenous young men – that have not quite had the attention they deserve.”

—TONY HUGHES-D’AETH, Australian Book Review

“Graham Akhurst doesn't shy away from the complexity of Indigenous identity or the generational effects of colonisation... Indigenous voices are a necessity in literature for all ages, and Borderland is a great addition for young adult readers and fans of Gary Lonesborough and Jared Thomas.”

—ANNELIESE GATES, Books + Publishing


“A fresh perspective on First Nations YA... hugely enjoyable and gripping... There is a lot to unpack in this gothic horror/eco-cautionary tale that makes it a real standout from other YA First Nations literature... The writing is tight and crisp, with a terrific sense of timing, and rising action that will grip young readers from the start.”

—LOSANG ZOPA, Kids Book Review

“Akhurst weaves together elements of coming of age, the supernatural, Indigenous identity and industrial land use incredibly deftly, and although you never feel “safe” reading Borderland, you certainly know you’re in the hands of a talented writer.”


“A powerful debut that signals a talented writer with great potential.”


“A fast-paced, complex, sometimes thrilling account of ancient cultures encountering modern business ruthlessness, young identities in transition, and a contemporary Australia itself uncertain of its fundamental identity and priorities. This novel offers a new, strong voice in Indigenous fiction. I look forward to more compelling and thoughtful fiction from Graham Akhurst.”

—KEVING BROPHY, Reading Time

“A tour de force. The moving portrait of a struggling young man who doesn’t know his ancestry recalls in some respects Melissa Lucashenko’s powerful second novel, Hard Yards. Akhurst is an adroit storyteller... Borderland is an assured and well-crafted book.”

—ANNE BREWSTER, Mascara Lit Review


Borderland is a solid start, both for our heroes’ journey and Akhurst’s fiction career.”

—JASON NAHRUNG, Ballarat Writers

“A pacy novel that hurtles the reader along Jono’s path into manhood... Borderland is a terrific read that opens the door to learning more about how culture and country exist for First Nations and their importance in both the past, but also the present and our future together.”

—ANDREW POPLE, 2Ser Final Draft

"Borderland is a story about the multiplicity of Indigenous identities and care for country and community, but also about family, self-knowledge and friendship (I found the depiction of Jenny and Jono’s bond particularly touching). That Akhurst — a Kokomini writer and former Fulbright scholar who now teaches Australian Indigenous studies and creative writing at the University of Technology Sydney — manages all of this in a slim novel of 230-odd pages, while also rendering his themes accessible and engaging for a young-adult readership, is testament to his skill. His knack for characterisation and ear for dialogue are particularly strong." 

—GEMMA NISBET, The West Australian

“A genre-bending tour-de-force... engaging and thrilling... brilliantly and viscerally described... Jono’s growth towards a clearer and stronger sense of self and his accessing a strength within him so far unknown is beautifully realised.  The reader is compelled to urge him on every step of the way. A wonderful book.”

Queensland Reviewers Collective

Akhurst’s novel feels fresh and energetic – its context, especially in the wake of the outcome of the Voice referendum, is urgent and timely. It is a familiar story but made for a contemporary time, with a plot and themes which will make it an ideal text for inclusion on secondary and tertiary curriculums alike. In its representation of the haunting spirit, Borderland engages with the legacy of the Australian Gothic... In its comedy, class consciousness, and reflections on the power of black history to Australia’s future, Borderland reads like a meeting of Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife, Vivienne Cleven’s Bitin’ Back, and Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda. Its open ending constitutes a breathless sense of hope and opportunity – for Jono, for First Nations Australians, and for emerging young adult literature.”


A terrifyingly good debut. Combining a modern-day exploration of race, identity, and self-discovery with a suspenseful undertone of Australian Gothic, this engaging novel grips you from start to finish...  Borderland is full of spirit, and questions our understanding of our selves, of people and communities and of our attitudes to the ongoing tension between industry and culture in this country... this tale runs deep into your heart if you let it.”


“An intense speculative eco-horror YA novel... Borderland is an interesting debut, and a contribution to the Australian gothic that will surely fuel a lot of conversations and commentary.”

Keeping Up With The Penguins


“A well-crafted, multilayered story that readily elicits engagement with its interesting protagonist.”



Borderland stays in your head.”

—JOY LAWN, Paperbark Words Blog

"Borderland is the perfect novel for a socially, politically, and environmentally switched on generation of teenagers. It deals with heavy themes such as identity, colonisation, racism and environmentalism in a way that is accessible and realistic for young people. It is a novel that is relevant for our time and for the concerns of this generation of young adults and adults alike."


"An eco-horror-gothic speculative novel written in a visceral first-person voice, leads us into unfamiliar territory. It’s a crazy ride into the realm of Indigenous identity, the impact of colonisation, and mind-bending imagination... a gripping read, a horror story strongly resonant of speculative fictional First Nations stories... the novel sweeps the reader along with family secrets about heritage emerging from the interactions between the city characters and the older First Nations people on their traditional Queensland homelands. It is a terrific read."

—JULIE JANSON, Australian Book Review


Book details
PRICE: $22.99 incl GST (paperback), $9.99 incl GSt (ebook)
FORMAT: B+ format paperback
DIMENSIONS: 210 (H) x 140 (W) mm
WEIGHT: 0.5 kg

CATEGORY: YA, Young Adult and Children's, Fiction, First Nations

ISBN: 978-1-76080-264-6 (paperback), 978-1-76080-266-0 (ebook)

PUBLISHED: 1 October 2023
TEACHING NOTES: available for download