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An Australia Reading List

Australian writing came into its own in the 1890s, when a strong nationalistic movement leading up to eventual Federation in 1901 produced writers like Henry Lawson and balladeer "Banjo" Paterson, who romanticized the bush and glorified the mateship ethos, while outstanding women writers, like Miles Franklin and Barbara Baynton, gave a feminine slant to the bush tale and set a trend for a strong female authorship. In the twentieth century Australian novelists in particular have come to be recognized in the international arena, with Patrick White awarded a Nobel Prize in 1973 and Peter Carey taking the Booker Prize in 1987.
Under the progressive Whitlam Labor Government in the 1970s, the Australia Council was established and its Literature Board struck out strongly to nurture new writing through Writers' Grants; these days Australian writing is flourishing, with a dedicated Australian readership. Although many of its most loved authors have not been heard of overseas, you'll be surprised at the range of home-grown literature available in Australian bookshops, though be prepared to pay more than you would at home.
We've given the publishers of each book, where available, in Britain (UK), the United States (US), and where there's no British or US publisher, in Australia (Aus). Obviously most of these Australian-interest books are more widely available in Australia.

 

Travel and General

Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines.
(Picador UK, Aus; Penguin US). Fictional account of an exploration into Aboriginal nomadism that turns out to be one of the clearest accounts of this complex subject. A must.
 

Linda Christmas, The Ribbon and the Ragged Square.
(Penguin UK, US, Aus). Pushy English journalist's travels and observations around the "ragged square of Australia" in the Eighties.

Robyn Davidson, Tracks.
(Vintage UK; Pantheon US). Heroic tale of a 27-year-old woman's obsessive journey through western deserts from Alice Springs to Shark Bay with four camels and a dog.
 

Barry Humphries, More Please.
(Penguin UK). Autobiography of the face behind the many Australian caricatures.
 

Howard Jacobsen, In the Land of Oz.
(Penguin UK, Aus). Jacobsen focuses his cutting and ultimately tiresome wit on Australian society.
 

Clive James, Unreliable Memoirs.
(Picador UK; Knopf US o/p). James recalls his childhood and early years in Sydney as a cub journalist.


P.J. Kavanagh, Finding Connections.
(Flamingo UK). Ironical roots reversal saga with the author searching out his Tasmanian-Irish origins.


Jan Morris, Sydney.
(Penguin UK, US; Random House US). Morris revises her former sour opinion in an insightful and informative account of Australia`s favourite city.

 

Society and Culture

Geoffrey Blairney, Triumph of the Nomads.
(Macmillan UK o/p; Overlock Press US). Fascinating account suggests Aboriginal people were masters and not victims of their environment. One of the best books on this subject.

 

John Bryson, Evil Angels.
(Penguin UK o/p; Aus, Bantam US). The trial and witch hunt of Lindy Chamberlain, convicted of murdering the infant daughter which she maintained was carried off by a dingo. Account of a miscarriage of justice which delves into the grubbier regions of Australian psyche and the law.

 

Albert Facey, A Fortunate Life.
(Viking UK; Viking Penguin US o/p; Penguin Aus). Hugely popular autobiography of a battler; from a bush orphanage to Gallipoli, through the Depression, another war and beyond.

 

David Headon, North of the Ten Commandments.
(Hodder & Stoughton UK, Aus). Anthology of NT writings from all perspectives and sources - an excellent literary souvenir for anyone who falls for the charms of Australia's "one percent" territory.

 

Donald Horne, The Lucky Country.
(Angus & Robertson UK o/p; Angus & Robertson Aus). Although nearly thirty years old, this seminal analysis of Australian society has yet to be matched and is still often quoted. Contemporary sequel The Lucky Country Revisited
brings things up to date.

 

Pybus and Flanagan (eds) The Rest of the World is Watching: Tasmania and the Greens.
(Sun Aus). Poignant essays by prominent Green figures. Well-argued viewpoints on Tasmania's key Green issues and their importance on a global scale.

 

History and Politics

Michael Cannon, Who Killed the Koories?
(Heinemann Aus). Account of the violent 1840s in NSW as colonists and pioneers moving inland clashed with the Koories (Aborigines).
 

Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay.
(Faber & Faber UK; UCP US). Fascinating and original analysis of "discovery" as cultural imperialism and the metaphysics of exploration.
 

Manning Clarke, A Short History of Australia.
(Penguin Aus). Condensed version of leading historian`s multi-volumed tome focuses on dreary successions of political administrations over two centuries, concluding cynically in the "Age of Ruins".
 

Miriam Dixon, The Other Matilda.
(Penguin Aus). Scholarly analysis of women's invisible role in Australia's history.
 

Stephen Hawke, Noonkabah.
(Fremantle Arts Press Aus). Account by then Premier`s son of Labor`s double standards and Aboriginal peoples` resistance to oil exploration on their land near Fitzroy Crossing in the early Eighties.
 

Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore.
(Pan UK, Aus; Vintage US). Minutely detailed epic of the origins of transportation and the brutal beginnings of white Australia. Dense but accessible.
 

John Molony, The Penguin History of Australia.
(Penguin Aus). Less scholarly and more accessible and interesting account than Manning Clarke's (see above) obligatory text.
 

John Pilger, A Secret Country.
(Vintage UK; Knopf US). Australian-born Pilger challenges Australia's sunny self-image with accounts of dirty dealings: Aboriginal mistreatment, racist immigration policies, British nuclear experimentation, Vietnam and the cosy mateship among politicians and industrialists.
 

Cassandra Pybus, Community of Thieves.
(Minerva Aus). Fourth generation Tasmanian's deeply felt account of the near annihilation of Tasmania's Aboriginal people attempts to reconcile past and future.
 

Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier and The Law of the Land.
(Penguin Aus). Revisionist views of Aboriginal peoples' history claims that resistance to colonial invasion was considerable and organized.
 

Bill Rosser, Up Rode The Troopers: The Black Police in Queensland and Dreamtime Nightmares.
(UQP US, Aus). Two accounts of harsh methods used in nineteenth-century Queensland to "disperse" Aboriginal tribes. it suggests reasons why Aborigines were unable to mount widescale organized resistance.
 

Babette Smith, A Cargo of Women.
(NSW University Press US, Aus). Smith painstakingly traces the consequent lives of one ship's "cargo of women" transported to Sydney; eye-opening and sad.
 

Ann Summers, Damned Whores and God's Police.
(Penguin Aus). Stereotypical images of women in Australian society are explored in this ground-breaking reappraisal of Australian history from a feminist point of view.

 

Contemporary Fiction

Jessica Anderson, Tirra Lirra by the River.
(Penguin US, Aus). Richly evocative novel follows an old woman's recollection of her troubled life as she returns from Britain to her childhood home in Brisbane,

 

Thea Astley, It's Raining in Mango.
(Penguin Aus). Set in far northern Queensland, traces the history of one rambunctious family from the 1860s to the 1980s - unlike a conventional saga, each generation is a successive failure.

 

Murray Bail, Holden's Performance.
(Penguin Aus). Satirical story of an Adelaide bouncer's rise to become bodyguard to the Prime Minister and eventually US celebrities. Wonderful wide-ranging cultural references and caricatures.

 

Robert G Barratt, You Wouldn't be Seen Dead for Quids.
(Pan Aus). Fast and funny adventures of a brawny Queensland hic-turned-bouncer in Sydney's underworld; it perfectly evokes the Australian idiom.

 

Rosa Capiello, O Lucky Country.
(UQP Aus). Powerful novel of the migrant experience from a young woman's point of view, translated from Italian.

 

Peter Carey.
Anything by Booker prize-winning Carey is a treat but don't neglect his early collection of bizarre short stories The Fat Man in History (Faber & Faber UK; Vintage US; UQP Aus) or one of his best novels, Bliss (Faber & Faber UK; Harper & Collins US), a story - between fantasy and reality - of a Sydney ad executive who drops out to New Age NSW.

 

Brian Castro, Birds of Passage.
(Angus & Robertson UK, Aus). Tale of a young, blue-eyed Chinese Australian interwoven with that of his emigrant ancestor; a richly metaphoric tale about a search for identity.

 

Peter Corris, The Empty Beach.
(Unwin UK). Australia's answer to Raymond Chandler. Corris' hard-boiled novel is set in a glittering yet seedy Sydney where a soft-centred private eye investigates murder and exploitation in an old peoples' home.

 

Robert Drewe, The Savage Crows.
(Picador Aus). A writer sets out to discover the truth behind Tasmania's final solution.

 

Ron Edwards, The Wealthy Roo.
(Rams Skull Press Aus). Baffling in places but always entertaining, these are classics of the tall story genre. His milestone works The Australian Yarn and Fred's Crab have a wider range of stories and are presented as analyses of Australian yarn-spinning.

 

David Foster Moonlite.
(Penguin UK o/p; US; Aus). Amusing social satire set in the goldfields. An albino Scottish highlander meets his black counterpart and finds the world of Aboriginal people, like his Celtic society, in conflict with the materialistic nineteenth century.

 

Helen Garner, Monkey Grip.
(Penguin Aus). Classic Seventies tale of obsession, love and heroin in inner-city Melbourne.

 

Kate Grenville, Lillian's Story.
(Penguin Aus). Loosely based on the life of Bea Miles, the eccentric Sydney bag lady; funny and tragic, written in Grenville's usual poetic prose.

 

Elizabeth Jolley
Novels and short stories by this WA writer are always original and quirky, playing around with form but never losing their very black humour; try Woman in a Lampshade (Penguin UK; UQP Aus, short stories set around Perth, or Miss Peabody's Inheritance, a novel in the form of letters between a writer and her reader.

 

Rodney Hall, Kisses of the Enemy.
(Faber & Faber UK, US). Satirical analysis of power set in the near future. Under fat President Buchanan, puppet of a huge multinational, the Republic of Australia slips from British into American hands.

 

Barbara Hanrahan, The Scent of Eucalyptus.
(UQP Aus). First novel of the prolific writer who consistently pushed reality to the edge of fantasy in her work; it captures the time and place of Adelaide in the 1960s.

 

Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus.
(Penguin UK o/p, US). Images of the stars orbiting around and eclipsing each other are like the complex human relationships central to this story of two Australian sisters who emigrate to London in the 1950s.

 

Janette Turner, Hospital Charades.
(Virago UK; Bantam US). Modern bedtime stories recounted by the beautiful Charade to her ageing doctor, moving backwards and forwards through time and space - Boston, Toronto, Melbourne and a childhood in the rainforest of North Queensland.

 

David Ireland, City of Women.
(Penguin Aus). Set in Sydney, a futuristic city where there are no men. For more weird visions try Woman of the Future or Archimedes and the Seagull.

 

Susan Johnson Messages from Chaos.
(Harper & Row Aus). Occasionally hilarious first novel as a thoroughly modern young woman reflects on the ups and downs of her life after a ten-year affair with a married man is at an end.

 

Thomas Keneally, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.
(Penguin UK, US, Aus). Prize-winning novel delves deep into the psyche of an Aboriginal outlaw, tracing his inexorable descent into murder and crime. Sickening, brutal and compelling.

 

Angelo Loukakis, Vernacular Dreams.
(UQP Aus). Collection of short stories with the idiosyncratic characters all sharing a sense of isolation; poetic slices of life.

 

David Malouf is one of Australia's most important contemporary writers; poetic and original; try Twelve Edmundson Street. (Penguin UK, Aus), a boy's rites of passage in Brisbane, or Johnno.

Gillian Mears, The Mint Lawn.
(Allen & Unwin Aus). Award-winning first novel by a young writer, set in a perfectly captured northern New South Wales country town; a love triangle develops into a belated rite of passage.

 

Frank Moorhouse, Room Service and Other Stories.
(Penguin Aus). Collection of Moorhouse's best short stories.

 

Patrick White
Considered dense and symbolic - even visionary - White's novels can be heavy going but try and plough through The Tree of Man (Penguin UK, US, Aus), Voss, A Fringe of Leaves or The Twyborn Affair, a contemporary exploration of ambiguous sexuality.

 

Tim Winton, Cloudstreet.
(Picador UK; Graywolf US; Penguin Aus). Wonderful, faintly magical saga about the mixed fortunes of two families who end up sharing a house in post-war Perth.

 

Australian Classics

Barbara Baynton, Bush Studies.
(Angus & Robertson Aus). A collection of bush stories from the female perspective.

 

Ralph Bolderwood, Robbery Under Arms.
(Currency Press Aus). Story of Captain Starlight, a notorious bushranger and rustler around the Queensland borders.

 

Marcus Clarke, For the Term of his Natural Life.
(Penguin UK; Harper Collins US; Angus & Robertson Aus). Written in 1870 in somewhat overblown prose, this romantic tragedy is based on actual events in Tasmania's once notorious prison settlements.

 

Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land.
(Angus & Robertson UK, Aus). Historical novel retells the beginnings of Australia - a classic favourite.

 

Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career.
(Virago UK; Harper Collins US; Angus & Robertson Aus). Novel about a spirited young girl in turn-of-the- century Victoria who refuses to conform.

 

May Gibbs, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.
(Angus & Robertson Aus). The adventures of two little creatures who live inside gumnuts.

 

Xavier Herbert, Capricornia.
(Angus & Robertson UK, Aus). Indignant and allegorical saga of the brutal and haphazard settlement of the land of Capricornia (tropical NT thinly disguised).

 

George Johnston, My Brother Jack.
(Angus & Robertson UK, Aus). First in a disturbing trilogy recalls the lives of two brothers in Melbourne's suburbia as their disillusioned parents return from WWII.

 

Henry Lawson, The Best of Henry Lawson.
(Angus & Robertson Aus). Ballads and poems from one of Australia's best-loved chroniclers. Superior to "Banjo Paterson" (see below), with whom he is loosely compared.

 

Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding.
(Angus & Robertson Aus). Whimsical tale of some very strange men and their grumpy, flavour-changing and endless pudding.

 

Ronald McKie, The Mango Tree.
(Penguin Aus). Gentle account of boyhood and first love in tropical Queensland.

 

A. B. "Banjo" Paterson, Collected Verse.
(Angus & Robertson UK, Aus; Harper Collins US). Australia`s most famous bush poet, author of Waltzing Matilda and The Man from Snowy River, helped romanticize the bush's mystique.

 

Henry Handel Richardson, The Getting of Wisdom.
(Virago UK; Trafalgar US). A girl's experience of a snobby girls' boarding school in Victoria.

 

Christina Stead, For Love Alone.
(Virago UK; Harvest US o/p; Penguin Aus). Poor but artistic girl from a large Sydney family scrounges and saves to head for London and love.

 

Randolph Stowe, The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea.
(Penguin Aus). Endearing tale of a young boy growing up in rural WA during WWII.

 

Anthologies

Mary Lord (ed), Best Australian Short Stories.
(Penguin Aus). 130 years of short story writing, from Henry Lawson to Helen Garner. Ideal interstate bus companion.

 

Dale Spender (ed), The Penguin Anthology of Australian Women's Writing.
(Penguin UK, US, Aus). Brick-sized book with all the best of Australian women's writing from Elizabeth Macarthur to Germaine Greer.

 

John Tranter and Philip Mead, The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry.
(Penguin Aus). Poetry has a popular and active appeal down under. An anthology of this century`s best.

 

Aboriginal Peoples Writing

Faith Bandler, Welour, My Brother.
(Wild & Wooley Aus). Novel by a well-known black activist describes a boy's early life in Queensland, and the tensions of a racially mixed community.

 

Colin Johnston, Wildcat Falling.
(Angus & Robertson Aus). Story about an Aboriginal teen delinquent coming of age in the 1950s. Also, check out the intriguing Doctor Wooredy's Prescription, for Enduring the Ending of the World.

Ruby Langford, Don't Take Your Love to Town.
(Penguin Aus). Autobiography of a black woman's courage and humour in the face of tragedy and poverty suggests battling stoicism is a continental rather than colonial trait.

 

Sally Morgan, My Place.
(Virago UK; Arcade US; Fremantle Arts Press Aus). Widely acclaimed account of a woman`s discovery of her black roots.

 

Gare Nene, The Fringe Dwellers.
(UQP Aus). Story of an Aboriginal family on the edge of town and society.

 

Adele Pring, Women of the Centre.
(Pascoe Aus). Tales of women's lives from the central deserts.

 

Paddy Roe, Gularubuli.
(Fremantle Arts Press Aus). Stories from the West Kimberley.

 

Various, Paperbark.
(UQP Aus). Accessible introduction to Aboriginal writing, from legends to modern poetry and prose.

 

Kath Walker, My People.
(Jacaranda Wiley Aus). Collection of verse by an established campaigning poet.

 

Sam Watson, The Kadaitcha Sung.
(Penguin US, Aus). Brutal, fast-paced thriller; a modern parable of warring good and evil mixed with ancient sorcery.

 

Specialist and Wildlife Guides

Australians are passionate and active travellers, and in every regional centre you'll find local specialist guides to surfing, diving, cycling and numerous other activities: many of these are detailed in the text. There are few guides to Australia's wildlife designed for field use, though ANPWS shops often stock booklets on local flora and fauna. As any visit to a remainder bookshop will prove, coffee-table works are legion.

 

Jack Absalom, Safe Outback Travelling.
(Five Mile Press Aus). The Bible for outback driving and camping, full of sensible precautions and handy tips for preparation and repair.
 

The Australian Museum, Complete Book of Australian Mammals.
(Angus & Robertson UK, Aus). Excellent photographic record but far too heavy to cart around. Key Guide to Australian Mammals (Reed Aus) offers a more portable selection of colour illustrations.
 

Wally Caruana, Aboriginal Art.
(Thames and Hudson UK, US). Excellent illustrated paperback introduction to all styles of Aboriginal art.
 

Josephine Flood, The Riches of Ancient Australia.
(UQP Aus). Indispensable and lavish guide to Australia's most famous landforms and sites. Her Archeology of the Dreamtime (Collins) provides background and evidence on the development of Aboriginal society.
 

Clifford and Dawn Frith publish a range of meticulously photographed booklets on Australia's tropical wildlife from rainforest to the reef (Frith & Frith Aus); the set form a fine overview of the north's fauna.
 

The Great Barrier Reef.
(David & Charles UK, Readers Digest Aus). Complete rundown on the Reef, lucid and lavishly illustrated. Available in coffee-table format and a slighter, edited edition.
 

Leigh Hemmings, Bicycle Touring in Australia.
(Cordee UK; Mountaineer Books US). Detailed illustrated guide focuses on a region in each state/territory with gradient profiles and maps plus sections on packing and maintenance.
 

Oliver Mayo, The Wines of Australia.
(Faber & Faber UK, US). Good introduction to Australian wines and wine makers.
 

Slater, Field Guide to Australian Birds.
(Weldon Aus). Pocket-sized and easiest to use of the many available guides to Australian birds.
 

Mark Warren, Atlas of Australian Surfing.
(Angus & Robertson UK, Aus; Harper Collins US). Comprehensive guide to riding the best of Australia's waves .
 

Mary White, The Greening of Gondwana.
(Reed Aus). Classic work on the evolution of Australia's flora and geography.