Insights into Australia: a book list

An American genea-mate asked me for recommendations of fictional books set in Australia as a way of getting to know a bit more about Australia, and I guess her people. This is my list of possible options though of course one could go on adding books indefinitely. Also a lot depends on whether the focus is to be modern life, or a story in an historical setting, as well as personal style preferences.

Mary Durack: Kings in Grass Castles (An older story, largely fact, though not entirely accurate in places due to family bias. A good yarn telling the story of an Irish family in the 1850s+. They became a family dynasty in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.)

Bill Bryson: Down Under (may be called In a Sunburned Country , or possibly Walkabout, in the US). Hilarious essays on Australia. I could really relate to some of his comments on Darwin.

Alex Miller: Journey to the Stone Country or Landscape of Farewell (I particularly liked the latter of these two books.)

Kate Grenville: The Secret River (a fictional story, based on some historical fact, about life north of Sydney in the early days). Issues of convicts, colonisation, and relationships with Indigenous people.

Ruth Park: A Poor Man’s Orange and Harp in the South (oldies but goodies)

Sally Morgan: My Place  (an indigenous life story)

Sally Dingo: Dingo, the Story of our Mob (a biography of Ernie Dingo, a well-known Indigenous actor.

Tom (Thomas) Keneally: A River Town (long time since I’ve read this one but I enjoyed it enough to keep on my shelves. Set in New South Wales.)

Henry Lawson:  various short stories and poetry, about the old days in Australia

Hilary Lindsay: The Washerwoman’s Dream (set in Queensland late 1880s+)

Tim Winton: Dirt Music (a modern story set in Western Australia). Not one of my favourite books, didn’t like the ending, but I admired the fact that he started again from scratch with hundreds of pages written.

Neville Shute: A Town like Alice (includes WW2 theme and Northern Territory).

Addendum: David Forrest’s The Last Blue Sea (about the Australians’ war in Papua New Guinea, WWII)

David Malouf, Peter Carey, Thea Astley, Janette Turner Hospital (short stories) are all other authors who would provide a more modern insight into Australia today.

I have used LibraryThing to link these book titles to reviews which may help find out more about each book, and see which appeals. Everyone’s taste is quite different in books. I’m not sure how difficult these books will be to access from bookshops or libraries in the States, but at a quick glance many are available as Kindle e-books.

What recommendations would other Australian geneabloggers want to add to this list? Please do add suggestions in the comments. I’m looking forward to seeing some different perspectives and reminders of ones I’m bound to have forgotten.

39 thoughts on “Insights into Australia: a book list

  1. I would also recommend “Sarah Thornhill” by Kate Grenville. This is a sequel to” A
    Secret River”, but is a story in its own right. As a new migrant I really enjoyed
    anything by David Malouf, but especially “Johnno ” and “Harlands Half Acre.”
    Both of these are about Brisbane in the 40s and 50s..


    1. hi Monica. Great suggestions, thanks! It’s good to have an immigrant’s perspective because it’s hard to see your own country with fresh eyes. I should read Malouf given the place and era should be very familiar to me. I really enjoyed Sarah Thornhill once I got into it, but found the dialogue a bit of a deterrent in the beginning.


    1. Thanks Prue, I’d forgotten that one from my daughters’ school days. Which reminds me of “Looking for Alibrandi” by Melina Marchetta which is a good 20th century immigrant’s cultural story.


    1. Thanks Fi, good suggestions. I need to do some re-reading and some new reading. I’m so pleased people are offering their suggestions as it gives different readers’ perspectives. I have a blind spot about the Kelly gang, and not a Carey fan, so suspect this one won’t make my own list;-) Maybe an oldie, Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms?


      1. Thanks to all of you for your suggestions. I will be looking these up and gradually working my way through. Every once in awhile I realize there is a whole area in the world I don’t really know anything about. Always seems a shame because who knows what I am missing?


      2. You’re welcome Kristin. You’re not alone in gaps in knowledge -we all have stuff we don’t know about. And just think now we will have to go off and do some reading too 😉


  2. It’s great to have a list for me to look forward to exploring! I’ve just read ‘The Secret River’ (as you know) and highly recommend it, as well as Grenville’s ‘The Lieutenant’.


  3. I see Playing Beattie Bow (loved it when I was a kid) has been mentioned, and Robbery Under Arms. You could add For the Term of his Natural Life by Marcus Clarke if interested in Tasmania/convicts. It’s available free on google books.


    1. Thanks Shelley! The Term of his Natural Life is a good one to add re convicts. I read it when I was a teenager but not since. Thanks for tip-off re google books.


  4. Thanks Pauline. A great list and suggestions from others. Harp in the South and Secret River are favourites, and I would love to find time to read some of the others – one day. 🙂


  5. Hi all. Unsurprisingly, Pauleen and I have had a fine time talking about book lists
    Thomas Keneally’s “Bring Larks and Heroes” is excellent on convicts in Tasmania. He’s also done brilliant histories of the American Civil War and of the Irish Famine. For a hugely enjoyable read which probably won’t tell you much about contemporary Australia, try Norman Lindsay’s “The Magic Pudding.”


  6. I wanted to respond yesterday, but time simply ran out!

    There is a series of books by an author called Aaron Fletcher. He has written a series that follows the same characters. I can not give more details as I have not read them yet, but you can read about them here – There is a few posts, but Marg’s blog is searchable so all posts can be read!

    Also, I have come across a list here –

    There is also Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes and Floating Brothel by Sian Rees which is about convicts transported to Botany Bay.

    I may, in order to cope with the list have to resort to a spreadsheet!


    1. Hi Julie, I know exactly what you mean about time :-). I often read blogs at night on the ipad and sometimes it’s just too fiddly to reply then and there. I’ll have a look at the Aaron Fletcher series. Thanks also for the second list.

      I had forgotten all about Fatal Shore, but not Floating Brothel. The request had been in the context of fiction to reveal more about Oz so I didn’t add many of the books on my shelves.

      If you, anyone else, wants to see what non-fiction Aussie reading I have, just join up on LibraryThing (no cost) and you can ask to add me. Simplest way really.

      Know what you mean about the spreadsheet…I’m going to print this post off and take it with me to the library so I can borrow some of the ones I haven’t read in years.


      1. Cut and pasted the book titles into a Google Doc & keep adding to it!

        Aaron Fletcher is an odd one. I became aware of the series from reading Marg’s blog. I managed to locate all the books except the middle one and then thought I had had success when it arrived from eBay. Then realised that the book was in fact a completely separate series based on New Zealand! A Google search reveals virtually nothing of the author. Possibly another author writing under a different name with a different genre?


  7. I meant to mention about my rather aged copy of A Town like Alice by Neville Shute. I bought my rather read copy from a wonderful second hand bookshop in Guildford, long since closed. I still have my copy and once, was so engrossed that I boarded a train and left my luggage on the platform. Sadly, I never recovered the luggage, but do still have my copy of Alice and view it a bit like an old friend. I read this book at least once a year and of course saw the film with Brian Brown. Really I have too many books to read that I have not read, but Alice and I go way back and I think it may be time for a re-read.


    1. What a wonderful story Julie. I was rather dismayed by the lost luggage so I’m glad you still have your friendship with Alice at least. I haven’t read it in decades so I think I might have to do it. Thought it might be a possibility for your library challenge. That and “We of the Never Never” which I didn’t list as both are within my range here.


  8. On my bookshelves is a copy of Remember Me by Lesley Pearce. A fictional novel based upon real facts of a woman from Cornwall who steals a scarf and is sentence to death. She was transported to Australia.

    In the Acknowledgements it lists:

    To Brave every danger by Judith Cook
    The First Twelve Years by Peter Taylor
    Orphans of History by Robert Holden
    Boswell’s Presumptuous Task by Adam Sisman
    Dr Johnson’s London by Lisa Picard (this is about London in the 18th C)


  9. Finally made a list and ready to start. I’m going to go with a Kindle book as I just finished reading my first complete book on my Kindle.


    1. Excellent Kristin…look forward to hearing what you think of the books (formally or informally). I hope there’s something in there that appeals to you.


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