Impressions of “The Roo” by Alan Baxter and why the novel deals with so much more than just a killer kangaroo

Imagine one day you wake up and suddenly people from your town start going missing one by one without any explanation. You find out that this is because of a monstrous kangaroo that has made it its task to destroy every living thing that comes along its way. Doesn’t matter if it’s men, women, or children. Once you face that creature it’s over for you. That monster will crush you, rip your body parts off, and impale you. Doesn’t sound too nice, does it? However, this is the reality for the small town of Morgan Creek in the Outback of Australia in Alan Baxter’s horror novel “The Roo”. The story was inspired by a news article about an Australian town being terrorized by a kangaroo attacking people and eating gardens which made its rounds on Twitter. Baxter saw the article and decided to just run with it. At first glance, “The Roo” seems to be just about killing, blood, and guts, but trust me, it’s not. This unserious text actually has a lot of seriousness hidden behind its violent plot. But more on that in a bit… first I would like to focus on how Baxter portrayed violence in “The Roo” before analyzing how the novel can be seen from an academic point of view.

Forms of Violence in “The Roo”

The truth is: I am not the biggest fan of horror novels and the sight of blood makes me go dizzy, so I was a bit scared of how I would react to “The Roo”.  However, the fact that the novel was very fast-paced and just outright bloody made my reading experience actually quite entertaining and funny. For the most part of the novel, violence is mainly portrayed by the roo brutally killing every living thing that comes its way. In his article “Violent Vibes”, Lucas Mattila defines the “over-the-top representations of violence” as one of the main characteristics of the slasher-horror narrative (65). Moreover, the misogynistic inclinations that can also be found in slasher-horror narratives appear at the end of the novel in the form of domestic abuse which is portrayed through the situation of Pauline. She wants her abusive husband Bill dead and therefore summons this monstrous roo. In the end, she sacrifices herself to stop the bloodbath by ordering Sheila to shoot her dead. Lucas Mattila sees this form of violence as “slow violence [which] enters the picture when it becomes apparent that domestic abuse frequently includes a multigenerational chain of abusers and victims that stretches back and is also expected to continue” (72).

What I found interesting to see was that for the most part, I was actually desensitized to the roo killing people. As it became a constant repetition, I was prepared for what was about to come next. However, I did not expect Pauline’s death and the reason behind the whole bloodbath at all, so I felt genuinely sorry for her. I think that to feel for the deaths of the characters, you must have an emotional connection to them, and for me, that was only the case with Pauline and maybe Scott and his daughter.

Seriousness in unserious texts

Because of the constant brutal killing, one might think that the only purpose of “The Roo” is to entertain and that it does not provide us with any profound meaning. However, every “unserious” text has the power to be discussed in an analytical and critical manner. I would now like to focus more in-depth on the topic of domestic abuse and toxic masculinity which plays a big role in the novel. Baxter put domestic abuse in contrast to the absurd killings of the roo, thus emphasizing domestic abuse and also calling out for action. Alan Baxter states in the afterword that “domestic violence is a massive problem everywhere in the world and especially in Australia. The links between domestic violence, particularly violence against women, and greater acts of domestic terrorism are well-established. DV and male suicide are particularly prevalent in country areas in Australia. Men, we need to be better. We need to feel our emotions, learn how to cry, how to ask for help, and how to look out for each other. We need to bring our sons up better than we are”. Considering this quote by Baxter, I really liked how he created strong female characters that turned out to be the ones solving this mystery (when most of the men are shown to be very misogynistic throughout the novel). While the men of the town try to fight the roo with violence, the women team up and search for the people they haven’t heard of for a while. This is how they find Pauline and with her also the source for all the violent killings. It is also Pauline, a woman, who is strong and brave enough to end this nightmare.


Surprisingly, “The Roo” was extremely entertaining to read despite the fact that it was quite hard to keep track of all the characters mentioned. I also loved that there was an actual answer to all my questions at the end (unlike with “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay). However, what really sets this novel apart from other horror novels, and is therefore a must-read, are the several strong messages hidden within its plot. 

Surprisingly, “The Roo” was extremely entertaining to read despite the fact that it was quite hard to keep track of all the characters mentioned. I also loved that there was an actual answer to all my questions at the end (unlike with “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay). However, what really sets this novel apart from other horror novels, and is therefore a must-read, are the several strong messages hidden within its plot. 

Impressions and Review of Safdar Ahmed’s Graphic Novel Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System

by Angela Agelopoulou

I decided to analyze Safdar Ahmed’s Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System for the class “Migration in Visual Narratives”, which deals with the migration journey portrayed in various types of visual narratives.


As I had already participated in a seminar that dealt with migration to Australia and the conditions in Australia’s detention centres, I was very interested to read Safdar Ahmed’s graphic novel. While the full graphic novel was published in 2021, a small part had already been published online as the webcomic Villawood: Notes from an immigration detention centre in 2015. I will make a close comparison between these two narratives in the following subpoint, however, I want to first summarize the plot of Still Alive briefly.  The graphic novel shows the stories and lives of refugees being kept in an immigration detention centre in Villawood, Sydney.  These people find themselves seeking asylum in Australia due to war and violence in their home countries. While it is the task of the Australian government to protect the refugees, the graphic novel shows the cruel reality of those needing protection: The refugees are faced with great challenges during their journey by boat but also upon arrival. All stories told in Still Alive are based on true events, as Ahmed ran art classes in Villawood and there met refugees willing to share their stories.


Even though I do have some knowledge about Australia’s detention centres, going through Still Alive was a very heartbreaking experience for me, as I felt deep sorrow while reading and seeing the stories of the refugees. I was overwhelmed by a sad and sickening feeling while going through both, the graphic novel and the webcomic. One thing I found especially shocking was the slogan of Serco, being “people are our business”. The slogan emphasizes that asylum seekers are not seen as human beings but as objects. Furthermore, it was also horrifying to read about the terrible treatment of the refugees (being physically and mentally abused and not being allowed to mourn their loved ones). The webcomic and the graphic novel do have some minor differences, for example, the graphic novel, unlike the webcomic, does not make use of colors, further emphasizing the hopelessness of the refugees. Moreover, the graphic novel has considerably more panels that are clustered together (emphasizing the feeling of being trapped) and uses a horror aesthetic, which should make it easier to talk about difficult topics, such as trauma. While these two narratives differ from one another, the effect they have on their readers stays the same: engaging with the graphic novel and the webcomic takes an emotional toll on the readers and shows the cruel reality of the world we are living in.

Art as a way of coping with trauma

The asylum seekers arriving in the detention centre knew that their migration journey would be long and dangerous. They knew that they decided to go on a journey, where they might be abused, experience loss, or even die. What they didn’t know was that their struggles would continue once arriving in the country that should keep them safe. The conditions in Australia’s detention centres are beyond cruel. The refugees are being controlled 24/7 and moving is heavily restricted. Detention centres resemble high-security prisons, where the guards abuse those detained for no reason. They are also the reason for self-harm, depression, and anxiety. Still Alive shows how the refugees deal with these feelings by drawing out their experiences, their situation, and also their migration journey. One refugee’s drawing for example shows a chessboard surrounded by barbed wire, while another shows a Taliban soldier holding four heads with the title of the drawing being “Death”. Especially in detention centres, where recordings are strictly prohibited, drawing is an effective way of expressing one’s feelings. Moreover, it is a way for the refugees to be in control and also to experience freedom. In the graphic novel, Ahmed describes the importance of art as followes: “Art and storytelling allow trauma to be visualized, externalized, and re-embedded in its context, which provides a greater feeling of safety and distance from it over time.” (22)


Still Alive by Safdar Ahmed gives a voice to the people who don’t often have one. The drawings and photographs portrayed in the graphic novel remind the readers of the lives being abused in Villawood, but also in other detention centres. It is a call to rise up and support the refugees and reject Australia’s detention centres that do not recognize the refugees’ lives.