The 60 Best Books Set in Australia

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This list of the best Australian books runs the spectrum from wacky history to institutionalized racism to ’80’s wastelands. It has thieves, hunky priests, imaginary schoolmates, Aboriginal culture, POWs and gumshoes. But this wide range of books aren’t a surprise because there’s such a strong literary culture in Australia.

Melbourne itself is a UNESCO designated City of Literature. Australia hosts several major literary prizes, such as the Stella and the Miles Franklin awards. In addition, this collection of books set in Australia is littered with Booker prize winners and a Pulitzer.

Australia’s quality level of literature and nonfiction works is very high and curating a list of (only) 60 books was no small task. I could have stocked a healthy list simply from classic Australian literature or mysteries and thrillers. But as a recovering bookseller and someone who reads across genre, I wanted this list of Australian books to include modern edgy works as well as the classics.

Books set in Australia with six book covers

“Nobody has the last word”, By Brenda Walker and inscribed into the reading room of the Melbourne City Library.

This article is long and while you could read all of these 60 Australian books, perhaps you have a job or some kids to take care of? If so, you can use this handy table of contents to skip to your preferred genres. Or just scroll the whole thing and find some delightful surprises.

(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)

Table of Contents

Australian Novels: Family Dramas, Dark Relationships and Betrayal
Historical Fiction: Long Skirts, Convicts and Gold
Light Contemporary Fiction: Chick Lit and Dirty Doofy Dudes
Best Australian Books for Mystery & Crime Lovers
Speculative Books Set in Australia: Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Dystopia
Novels Set in the Australian Outback
Non-Fiction Australian Memoirs & History Books

(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)

Australian Novels: Family Dramas, Dark Relationships and Coming of Age

Some of the best Australian novels feature families, but that doesn’t mean that they are happy or prosperous. These novels are stuffed full of difficult family relationships, hardship, addiction and coming of age (the hard way).

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

This novel follows the religious, industrious Lamb family and the boozing fractious Pickleses family. “Hailed as a classic, Tim Winton’s masterful family saga is both a paean to working-class Australians and an unflinching examination of the human heart’s capacity for sorrow, joy, and endless gradations in between.”

“Life was something you didn’t argue with, because when it came down to it, whether you barracked for God or nothing at all, life was all there was. And death.” – Tim Windon, Cloudstreet

Taboo: A Novel, Kim Scott

The “taboo” of the title is the site of a 100 year old massacre of native Noongar people that occurred when they attempted to retrieve a women who had been stolen from their community. The present day owner of the farm is hoping to cleanse the moral stain of the massacre and he invites the Noongar to visit.

The book touches on themes of language, lore and self-discovery for the protagonist, Tilly Coolman.

Voss, Patrick White

“In 1973, Australian writer Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature.’ Set in nineteenth-century Australia, Voss is White’s best-known book, a sweeping novel about a secret passion between the explorer Voss and the young orphan Laura.”

A Long Way from Home, Peter Carey

I’ve been slowly and steadily working my way through Carey’s canon, but there’s nothing slow or steady about this book. Irene Bobs, her husband Titch and their quiz-show failure of a neighbor Willy, take off on a madcap car race circumnavigating Australia. As they race around the continent, you get glimpses into the maddening nature of Irene and Titch’s marriage and witness Willy’s jump start into a new life. Carey propels you out the gate with his opening line:

“For a girl to defeat one father is a challenge, but there were two standing between me and what I wanted, which was—not to fiddle-faddle– a lovely little fellow named Titch Bobs.”, – Irene Bobs, A Long Way from Home

Too Much Lip, Melissa Lucashenko

Pop is dying and and Kerry is on the run with a stolen Harley. She reluctantly heads to the family homestead to hide out. Between her alcoholic brother, disapproving mother and reclusive nephew, it just might fall upon Kerry to hold the family together while a big secret threatens to explode all over them.

This book was the winner of the Miles Franklin award in 2019 and it’s a great choice if you are looking to double-dip your diverse reads as it features a queer, aboriginal main character.

The Yield, Tara Winch

Winch has also created a Franklin award winning novel featuring Aboriginal culture and land grab issues. In this novel, August Gondiwindi, returns to her home town of Massacre Plains after the death of her grandfather. His passion project was to save the Wurakjuri language and he had been working on a dictionary. But the dictionary is no where to be found. Meanwhile her widowed grandmother is being forced to pack up their home to make way for a huge mine.

The book is an intimate story about family, loss, and holding onto heritage and identity.

The Place on Dalhousie, Melina Marchetta

Rosie Gennaro meets Jimmie after walking away from Sydney and the house her father built on Dalhousie. She returns to Dalhousie, pregnant and short on options, to share the home with her reluctant step-mother.

Other popular books by Marchetta include Saving Francesca (a precursor to Dalhousie) and Looking for Alibrandi (a coming of age tale).

Guilt is a burden. So forgive yourself for the mistakes” – Melina Marchetta

The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton

“A tale that begins in England and travels across the many miles to Australia, comes home again to England to undo over a hundred years of secrets”. When Cassandra’s grandmother Nell dies, she inherits a book of dark and intriguing fairy tales and a mysterious family tale that sends her searching for her grandmother’s history.

The Sisters’ Song, Louise Allan

This book delivers a strong emotional pull as you follow Ida and Nora, two sisters living in Tasmania. When their father dies, they move in with their grandmother where Nora’s musical talent is encouraged and Ida takes on a career as a nanny. Their lives fork as they enter adulthood but they reconnect when Nora’s life and dreams have fallen into a heap.

A Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman

This book is an “… incredibly moving novel about what happens when good people make bad decisions. The story takes place in the town of Point Partageuse, Australia during the 1920s. The story begins when a lighthouse keeper and his wife find a life boat containing a live baby (and dead man) on the shore of their isolated island.

Through a mixture of misplaced intentions and unsupported superstition they decide to raise the child as their own — deciding not to inform the authorities of the child’s existence”.

And that decision has some very tragic consequences.

A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Tolz

Along a similar vein as A Confederacy of Dunces, this Australian novel also features odd protagonists offering meditations on the absurdity of modern life. In Fraction, Jasper Dean reflects upon a life with his crackpot, certifiably paranoid father. Martin drags his son through a series of wacky schemes and unexpected twists from Australia to Paris to Thailand.

“…she gave me a look that deftly combined tenderness with revulsion. To this day, the memory of that look still visits me like a Jehovah’s Witness: uninvited and tireless” –Steve Tolz

Candy, Luke Davies

Candy is a love story, a horror story and an adventure. Our narrator falls in love with Candy, a beautiful aspiring actress. They then introduce a third wheel into their relationship– heroin. While they remain in love, but their lives perform a slowly burning downward spiral as they get more and more out of control. “A beautifully written train wreck.”

Praise, Andrew McGahan

In Brisbane in the ’90s, it was easier to be on the dole than get a job, and heroin was better known than ecstasy. Praise is not your basic love story between two rebellious teenagers, but rather, it’s about their feeling of uncertainty and depression regarding the future.

“… a seminal piece of Australian grunge fiction.”

Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton

I hesitated including yet another 80’s/90’s book featuring crooked family members and heroin. What on earth was going on in Australia during that time? However, it’s worth meeting our Eli as he struggles to follow his heart and learns how to do what it takes to become a good man.

“…hugging Dad back feels like the good thing to do and my hope is to grow into a good man, so I do it.” –Eli Bell

Bodies of Light, Jennifer Down

Maggie’s mother died when she was young and her father ended up in jail. After spending a childhood in the worst kind of foster care, a tragic event forces her to reinvented herself. She ultimately attended university and moved out of Australia.

She’s built a good life for herself, but even then, when things start looking good, they seem to go bad.

Like the book A Little Life, Bodies of Light is dark, and it doesn’t pull any of the punches.

12 Apostles in Australia, sea stacks and cliff

Historical Fiction: Long Skirts, Convicts and Gold

These books on Australian history cover the goldfields, to convict life, to the horrors of WWII.

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, Henry Handel Richardson

While initially content with his wife Mary, Richard Mahony ultimately becomes restless. He goes from the gold fields in Ballarat, to the rest of Australia and abroad, shattering their security and ultimately plunging them into poverty. Richardson (who was a women, writing with a male nom de plume) captured Richard’s endless searching with “…the inevitability of a Greek tragedy”.

The Harp in the South, Ruth Park

This Australian classic, captures the essence of Sydney’s hard life as lived by the Darcy family in the mid 1900’s. Despite their hardscrabble existence among the grog shops, brothels and boarding houses, they managed to find a lot of love amongst the mess and slum in Surry Hills.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan

“The novel is about…life, death, despair, loneliness, love, connection, redemption, poetry. It’s a grim work, centered on the experiences of the Australian prisoners of war who were used as slave labor in the construction of the Thailand-Burma railway during World War II”.

The protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, is haunted by a love affair with this uncle’s wife and he battles to save the lives of his fellow POWs. This is yet another Booker prize winner by the author of The Sound of One Hand Clapping and Gould’s Book of Fish.

The Secret River, Kate Grenville

In 1806, Thomas Thornhill, an illiterate Englishman steals a load of wood, and for punishment he and his wife are deported to Australia. He realizes that in order to make a life for his family, he must forcibly take the land from the people who came before him.

“A haunting, captivating, atmospheric, well-written saga of two worlds colliding in an uncompromising wilderness around the Hawkerville river near Perth, Australia.” Grenville won the Commonwealth prize for this book and she is also the author of The Lieutenant, which is also historical fiction.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Thomas Keneally

This book is based upon true events and features Blacksmith, a half-Ango and half-Aboriginal, who feels out of place in both cultures. He attempts to assimilate by marrying a white woman and entering white society. But the racist culture conspires against him. Driven by hopelessness, rage, and despair, Jimmie commits a series of savage and terrible acts of vengeance.

Keneally is best known for Schlinder’s List, for which he won the Booker Prize, but he was also shortlisted for Jimmie Blacksmith.

True Story of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey

Follow Ned Kelly’s wild ride around Victoria, Australia as he robs banks and steals the hearts of his fellow countrymen. Carey tells the story from Kelly’s own point of view and it’s stuffed full of the colorful characters and colloquialisms. Carey is my favorite Australian author and he’s a genius at propelling the stories from the very first line.

“I lost my own father at 12 yr of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences. My dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word of what I write but this history is for you and will contain no lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.” — Ned Kelley.

Preservation, Jock Serong

In 1797, a fishing boat picks up three shipwrecked survivors on a beach, all of whom are injured and distressed. They’ve walked for hundreds of miles, losing fourteen companions along the way. Lieutenant Joshua Grayling is tasked with investigating what happened but as he digs through their evasive story he uncovers a far more harrowing account than originally thought.

The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough

This sweeping epic follows three generations of the Cleary family as they live their lives on a sheep station in Drogheda. The central characters are Meggie (the only Cleary daughter) and her handsome, ambitious priest, Ralph de Bricassart. The book is a sprawling soap opera in a hauntingly beautiful setting.

All Our Shimmering Skies, Trent Dalton

The book starts out in Darwin during WWII, at a time when it’s being bombed by Japanese fighters. The book features 12 year-old Molly, a gravedigger, who goes on a quest to lift her family’s curse. She sets out with her shovel “Bert”, and would-be actress Greta to seek out Aboriginal Longcoat Bob. And along the way, they hook up with a widowed Japanese pilot.

The book is ostensibly about the journey. But it’s also about the landscape of the Northern Territories. And about how gifts come from the sky. And the repercussions of war. And magical realism. And crocodiles.

Carpentaria, Alexis Wright

In this Aboriginal epic, Wright gives voice to Australia’s native population, their myths and oral traditions. It’s a magically realistic swirl of the tropical north featuring a culture clash between the Aboriginal and white populations. It was the unambiguous winner of the Miles Franklin award in 2017.

Light Contemporary Fiction: Romance, Chick Lit and Doofy Dudes

Look, sometimes you just need to keep it light. These Australian novels do just that with the right touch of melodrama and goofy characters.

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

The TV show may have been filmed on California’s Big Sur coastline, but the book is totally Sydney. On the surface, Big Little Lies is about a group of parents whose kids are entering kindergarten. But underneath, you’ll find layer after dark layer of marital issues, past trauma, abuse…and little lies…all of which blows up during Trivia Night at the local school.

The Dressmaker, Rosalie Ham

After twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town that she was banished from as a child. She’s there to tend to her somewhat crazy mother, who is also a town outcast. Satirical, dark and gothic.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

In this book club favorite, Simsion’s Don Tillman, a brilliant but socially awkward professor of genetics is determined to find himself a wife. Don’s Aspergers and Rosie’s free spirited nature make them an unlikely pair. “It’s a fun, quirky and erudite love story. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and unexpectedly touching.”

Read it for book club and use our Rosie Project discussion guide to get the conversation started. And if you’ve already read it, he’s got two others in the series. We also have other book guides featuring social awkward or neurodiverse characters, including: The Maid and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

Amelia Westlake Was Never Here, Erin Gough

“If you’re looking for a smart YA contemporary featuring calculated plans to denounce sexist, misogynistic, homophobic and overall discriminatory behaviors at an elite private school as well as a slow-burn romance between the two female leads, this is the book for you”.

Follow Harriet and Will as they team up to expose the misdeeds of the swim coach, under the guise of the fictitious student, Amelia Westlake.

Beautiful Messy Love, Tess Woods

This contemporary romance follows four characters through their complicated and interconnected lives. Woods uses topical subjects like social media, terrorism and asylum seekers to keep the story line thoroughly modern.

Nick, a famous AFL player, falls for Anna, the Muslim daughter of Egyptian immigrant. Meanwhile, Nick’s sister Lily is struggling to finish her medical degree when she meets and immediately falls for Toby.

I Am the Messenger, Markus Zusak

This is a twisty and page-turning book by the author of The Book Thief (which is not a book on Australia, but it’s heart-breaker with a surprisingly sympathetic narrator, and worth a read).

Ed Kennedy is our main character here. He’s an underage cabdriver, who likes to hang with his dog but sucks at doing his taxes. After foiling a bank robbery, he begins receiving messages that steer him towards helping others, bringing his humanity along for the ride.

If you have read and loved The Book Thief, you should also check out our list of books that feature books in the storylines.

The Last Love Note, Emma Grey

Kate’s been widowed for two years. She’s juggling raising her son with her university fundraising job. She’s barely holding things together, but things are made a bit easier by her friends (who are encouraging her to start dating) her boss Hugh. Then Kate and Hugh get stranded for a weekend during a business trip to the west coast of Australia. The time away from her son and work pressures gives her the space to examine her life. Does she want things to continue as they are? Or is it time for change?

The book has both rom and com, but it also deals with grief. It’s a great choice for fans of JoJo Moyes.

Best Australian Books for Crime Lovers and Thrill Seekers

Down Under has some dark history and some of the best Australian books explore it with murder and mayhem. These contemporary mysteries and thrillers are well written, taut and worth reading in a comfy chair with some hot tea.

The Dry (Aaron Falk series #1), Jane Harper

It’s refreshing to find a main character in a mystery series who has enough issues to make him interesting but isn’t a total wreck. Harper’s Aaron Falk is such a man. In The Dry, he is back in his hometown attending the funeral of his best friend. The visit surfaces old suspicious of regarding Falk’s alleged involvement in a murder.

He reluctantly decides to investigate and lays bare a host of town secrets. Keep an eye on Harper, because she is turning out some solid Australian novels featuring mysterious Australian landscapes as a key character.

Actually- just clear your decks and read all of Jane Harper. These aren’t your cookie cutter police procedurals. All of her characters are complicated and mysteries at the center of her plots lay bare the human condition.

Bad Debts (Jack Irish #1), Peter Temple

Jack Irish is a fully formed gumshoe. He’s got all of the cred; dodgy and opportunistic, with a softer side as a recovering alcoholic, wood worker and footy fan. He brings Melbourne to life as he tries to figure out why his ex-client has turned up dead.

If you like Bad Debts, there are four more in the series to keep you busy.

Moonlight Downs (Emily Tempest #1), Adrian Hylands

“Emily Tempest, a feisty part-Aboriginal woman, who left home to get an education and has since traveled abroad. She returns to visit the Moonlight Downs ‘mob’, still uncertain if she belongs in the Aboriginal world or that of the ‘whitefellers’. Within hours of her arrival, an old friend is murdered and mutilated.”

The police suspect a rogue Aboriginal, and Emily tries to solve the mystery in an effort to help the community heal. There are two books in the series.

Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey

It’s 1965 and Western Australia is having a scorching hot summer. Bookish Charlie and the town outcast head out into the night, where they find a grisly discovery. The boys develop an unlikely friendship as they try to unravel the mysterious they encountered. But they also encounter small town prejudices, racism, hostility and even a sweet love story.

“The mood and atmosphere of the 1960s small-town Australian setting is perfectly realized—suspenseful, menacing, and claustrophobic—with issues of race and class boiling just below the surface.”

Scrublands (Martin Scarsden #1), Chris Hammer

Journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend thinking that he is simply covering the anniversary of a tragic mass shooting by the local priest. But the stories that he hears from the congregation don’t square with the accepted (and reported) version of the events. Hammer weaves together multiple story lines into a page turning, atmospheric crime read.

The Outback (DS Walker #1), Patricia Wolf

The synopsis for this book starts with “Two backpackers. One vast Outback.” What could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot it seems.

DS Lucas Walker is on leave in his hometown when the two backpackers disappear. As an unofficial detective on the case, things are complicated by some organized crime in town, interference from the feds and an unbearable heat which adds pressure to find the tourists, stat!

The book veers from a stereotypical procedural as you get three POVs throughout the novel.

Homecoming, Kate Morton

This slow burn murder mystery set in Southern Australia takes place in a dual timeline. On Christmas Eve in 1959, a terrible murder takes place on the grounds of a large country house. And while it’s investigated, it’s never sufficiently resolved.

In the present timeline, investigative journalist Jess is called home from London because her beloved grandmother has taken a bad fall. Jess discovers a true crime account of the long ago murder and comes to realize that her family was involved– so she sets out to investigate.

Read it for book club and use our Homecoming discussion guide.

Speculative Books Set in Australia: Fantasy and Dystopic Realities

These books are set in Australia, but they manage to straddle a line between a gritty reality and fantasy. At least, I hope it’s fantasy, because there’s some seriously disturbing stuff going on in Australia’s speculative future.

Tomorrow When the War Begins, John Marsden

This is my kind of dystopian book: lots of action, plucky teenagers and plenty of food. Ellie and her friends return from a camping trip to find that their whole town has been mysteriously abducted. They have to decide whether to run, give up, or stand and fight.

“These teens aren’t dumbed down…they read complicated and brave and scared and falling apart all at the same time”. This book is part of a series, so if you like the first one, you’ve got 7 more coming.

Terra Nullius, Claire G. Coleman

Australia’s distant future looks a lot like its colonial past. In the hot, dusty landscape of Western Australia, the Settlers have taken over, relegating “The Natives” to, essentially, cattle status. Some of the self-righteous Settlers deploy terror and brutality, while others are just trying to make a life on the land.

“It was a land of bones he walked, a land of death and bones and pain. He had helped make it that way, had added bones to the soil. He was as guilty as any other. “ — Claire G. Coleman

Every Version of You, Grace Chan

The book is being marketed as “Never Let Me Go meets Black Mirror, with a dash of Murakami surrealism thrown in, this is speculative literary fiction at its best.”

It’s 2080 in Australia and life is increasingly lived inside the virtual world Gaia. But our protagonist, Tao-Yi, is more reluctant than most to spend all of her time immersed. Then the option becomes available to completely “upload” your consciousness into Gaia, and Tao-Yi is faced with the difficult choice of holding onto what she feels is her humanity vs. the risk of being left behind.. 

This Gaia a utopia? Is it a better way to live? Must Tao-Yi evolve? Read it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

Novels Set in the Australian Outback

The Outback is its own character in so many Australian books. It features heavily in these five books which range from romance to WWII history to coming of age.

The Shepherd’s Hut, Tim Winton

Winton’s latest masterpiece crafts the story of Jaxie Clackton, a rural youth who has been brutalized. He flees from the scene of his father’s violent death, into the Outback of Western Australia. Along the way, he meets a mysterious fellow exile and they come to rely upon one another while forming an unlikely friendship.

The book whipsaws between hope and danger and while reading it, I found myself rooting for Jaxie.

The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood

In this dystopic story, reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, two women wake up from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in the remote Outback. As they toil in the brutal sun at the abandoned outpost, they come to learn that they each have a connection to a sexual scandal with a powerful man.

It’s a challenging feminist parable with darkly realistic overtones. Winner of the 2016 Stella award.

The Spirits of the Ghan, Judy Nunn

As Australia charges into the new millennium, a century-old dream is about to be realized, with a railway link connecting Adelaide with the Top End. The completion of the mighty Ghan railway is hitting complications in Alice Springs and its up to Jessica Manning to negotiate with local Elders to smooth the way.

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

“Alternately hilarious and heartwarming, this beloved coming-of-age novel from the Australian Outback brings together unforgettable characters with clarity and truth, all told in a unique young woman’s voice.”

This is Jane Eyre meets Pride and Prejudice in the Australian bush.

A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute

Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman living in Malaysia, is captured by the invading Japanese and forced onto a brutal 7-month death March. She returns home intact but later decides to revisit the villagers who saved her life. While there, she learns something that sends her to a remote Australian outpost, requiring her to use all of the courage and determination at her disposal.

Dear Banjo (Daughters of the Outback #1), Sasha Wasley

Not everything in the Outback is about true grit and loneliness. In Dear Banjo, we meet Willow Paterson and Tom Forrest, who were once in love but who have drifted apart. When Willow returns to town to take over the family property, she reads the tattered pages of old letters from Tom and discovers what has remained hidden for ten years.

Non-Fiction Australian Memoirs & History Books

These history books feature grit, determination and nature as key characters in Australia’s backstory. And the memoirs aren’t for the feint of heart. Each of the authors have experienced true adversity.

Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington

“Following an Australian government edict in 1931, black Aboriginal children and children of mixed marriages were gathered up by whites and taken to settlements to be assimilated. This extraordinary story of courage and faith is based on the actual experiences of three girls who fled from the repressive life of Moore River Native Settlement, following along the rabbit-proof fence back to their homelands”.

The Reef: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change, Iain McCalman

In this biographical exploration of Australia’s 1,400 mile reef, you’ll hear about twenty explorers, castaways, naturalists and environmentalists who have collectively shaped our ideas about the reef.

The Bush, Don Watson

In another geographical history, Watson shares with us Australia’s bush heritage. He looks at the roles of the indigenous peoples, convicts, settlers and migrants who have attempted to share space with the fora and the fauna.

“The prolonged solitary exposure to the bush that makes some people odd or crazy might in others bring the active and contemplative life into perfect harmony or grace.” — Don Watson

Ned Kelly, Peter Fitzsimons

As a companion to Peter Carey’s fictionalized account of Ned Kelly’s life (noted above), Fitzsimons attempts to piece together a credible accounting of Kelly’s life. Many historians disagree over whether or not he was a lawless thug or Robin Hood, and this epic read will give you the information to decide for yourself.

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Clare Wright

The battle at the Eureka Stockade is Australia’s independence story. And yet, most of the history books focus just on the dudes. Wright corrects that oversight with a look at the thousands of women who were working in the goldfields at the time of the rebellion. Winner of the Stella Prize in 2014.

True Girt: The Unauthorized History of Australia, David Hunt

The word “girt” is Australian slang for the past tense of gird, as in “gird your loins” and is rarely used…except for the Australian national anthem. In Hunt’s unconventional history of Australia, he breezily brings to light the country’s checkered past with colorful, corrupt characters.

“Australia was the place to be. Unless you were black. Or a woman. Or gay. Or suspected of being Irish. Or even worse, all of the above.” — David Hunt

The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding, Robert Hughes

The history of Australia’s birth, arising from England’s infamous convict transportation system. He covers the difficult conditions under which the prisoners worked off their sentences as well as the the Aboriginal extinction that came with the colonization of the land.

If you like these kinds of deep historical explorations, check out my list of books set in Spain. It includes a Hughes book about Barcelona and quite a few other historical novels set during the civil war and the Inquisition.

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, Behrouz Boochani

Omid Tofighian, translator

Boochani is a well-respected Kurdish journalist who, in 2013, fled from Iran to escape persecution. When his refugee boat capsized, he was indefinitely and illegally detained at the Australian detention center on Manus Island, where he remained until 2020. While the detention center closed in 2017, the prisoners remained for years after, fending for themselves on the island.

He painstakingly wrote this memoir using a smuggled cell phone and Whatsapp. This remarkable book won the Victorian Prize for Literature.

The Hate Race, Maxine Beneba Clarke

In the 80’s and 90’s, suburban, middle-class Australia meant one thing if you were White, and another thing entirely if you were Black. Clarke’s unflinching memoir explores the full range of racism that she experienced, from explicit hate through well-meaning (but just as damaging) ignorance.

“I learned to stay quiet. I learned that nobody much cared. I learned that it was probably my fault anyway, and that what they were doing to me was perfectly okay. This is how it alters us. This is how we change.” — Maxine Beneba Clarke

Talking to My Country, Stan Grant

In this missive to his countrymen, Grant writes passionately about what its like to grow up in Aboriginal Australia. By sharing the challenges he experienced growing up, he highlights the cultural inequities facing modern Australia and challenges his countrymen to do better.

Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback, Robyn Davidson

Davidson journeyed across 1,700 miles of intense Outback with only four camels and a dog for company. She says, “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”

Dang! You go girl!

We Come With This Place, Debra Dank

Dank has written an evocative memoir about the difficult relationship that Aboriginal people have with their political country. And the deep ties to the land and ancestors out in “the country”. The book is a series of nonlinear vignettes that feature both brutal history and heart warming anecdotes.

“Listen well when this country is telling you our story. Listen with your feet in the sand and your heart in your hands and give it over to this country.” – Debra Dank

A Fortunate Life, A.B. Facey

This humble memoir follows Facey from the time that he was two (and abandoned by his mother), through World Wars I and II, the Depression, getting lost in the Outback, struggling to become literate and a long marriage to his wife of 60 years.

“Facey is an old-fashioned gentleman, something that comes through in the various tales within this wonderful book. It is a true historical account, a glimpse back into yesteryear more entertaining and rich than many other “official” historical documents. “

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