Mark Isaac

Mark Isaacs

Bachelor of Arts in Communications (Writing and Cultural Studies) and Bachelor of Arts in International Studies (2012)

Writer and Community Worker

UTS Community Alumni Award 2017

Mark Isaacs admits his early motivation to write about social issues was ideological. And while he notes that many young people want to save the world but give up because the ‘work’ of advocating change is hard, Mark has persevered, by learning to view political change as a work-in-progress – a series of drafts and edits.

“My passion for altruism came from my parents, who worked in hospitals, helping people in some way every day. I chose writing because for me, the way to restore compassion and empathy in the world is through art. It’s rarely through politics.”

Associate Professor Debra Adelaide, UTS creative writing lecturer, had warned Mark that getting a book published was not a simple matter of handing in a story. He needed to do many more drafts so his work stood up to scrutiny, and he would have to develop the discipline required to maintain a career as an independent writer.

“I chose writing because for me the way to restore compassion and empathy in the world is through art. It’s rarely through politics.”

Dr Rosie Scott, who sadly passed away this year, was another of Mark’s creative writing lecturers and a fellow social justice campaigner. She had urged him to go where the real stories are.

“Rosie told me that if you want to learn about stuff, don’t just read. Go out and do it.”

Mark took himself into conflict zones in Mexico, Myanmar and Afghanistan, and to detention centres at Villawood and Nauru, and wrote about his observations and experiences.

At great risk of personal persecution, he was among the first to publicly shatter the veil of secrecy around Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres, giving his eyewitness account into the climate of fear and suicidal despair for the detainees within.

Mark’s explosive 2014 book The Undesirables: Inside Nauru is a personal account of his experiences working for the Salvation Army in the Nauru detention centre. It revealed the everyday human stories, fear and tragedies for the people inside the centre to an Australian public largely conditioned to perceive asylum seekers as ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘illegals’. His follow up book Nauru Burning gives an insight into the conditions that led to the riot and fire that destroyed much of the centre in 2013, and the story of the detainees’ fight to prove their innocence, and the workers who tried to help them.

Mark was subsequently commissioned by the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education to travel to Afghanistan and document the plight of returned refugees. His experiences have featured in a wide range of international publications, including Foreign Policy, The Guardian, New Matilda, New Internationalist, World Policy Journal, VICE and Pacific Standard.

Mark’s next project is a book about a community of youth he lived with in Afghanistan, to be published in 2018.

“These young people want a nonviolent, green and equitable world. They’re not naïve in their goals – they don’t think they’ll all be achieved in their lifetime – but they’re building the foundations for a better future for Afghanistan. They’re teaching other street kids to read and write; they’re growing gardens.”

“This is a country that’s been at war for 40 years. What these people are trying to achieve is remarkable, and now they just want to support themselves.”

2017 Alumni Awards Mark Isaacs


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