Some of our favourite Australian books

Australia Day Blog HopWe’re rather proud of our Australian heritage here at A&U, as well as our place in the Australian literary landscape, and what better time to showcase it than Australia Day and as part of the blog hop organised by Book’d Out.

As part of the giveaway, we’ve picked out a selection of from our vast catalogue of fine Australian authors, offering an opportunity to look at Australia past and present through the eyes of literature.

As a relative newcomer to Australia, I’ve probably learnt as much (if not more) about this nation and its inhabitants through literature than through friends, and many of these books have contributed greatly to that knowledge (along with the obligatory Down Under/In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson, which provides a wealth of useful and useless information, along with a love of Big Things!).

The Slap - Christos TsiolkasThe Slap – Christos Tsiolkas

In the case of The Slap (and more recently Barracuda), I have seen a side to Australian culture that is unlikely to be advertised widely. As an unflinching look at a cross section of Australian society, I can understand the difficulty that many Australians may have with the book as it cuts so close to the bone.

In your face writing tackling big issues, but told through the minutiae of daily life, this was the book that brought the bold writing of Christos Tsiolkas to a huge audience who loved and hated it in equal measure.

Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

In a similar vein, the perspectives presented in Michelle de Kretser’s multiple award winning Questions of Travel capture beautifully the good and bad of Australia, and in particular Sydney, as well as the wider world.

In Ravi I can clearly see my own sense of wonder and occasional bafflement when wandering Sydney streets upon arrival, and having also moved from London the observations of Laura often ring true in her comparisons of life on opposite sides of the world (and the challenges being away from home brings).

And then there was the writing itself, beautiful prose that is to be read and reread, to be savoured and pondered. Very much a book to get lost in, and one that lingers on long in the mind after its devastating conclusion.

Jasper Jones by Craig SilveyJasper Jones – Craig Silvey

Beautifully capturing a different side to Australian life was Jasper Jones, which provides insight into small town country life in WA in the 1960s amidst a coming of age story which also tackles Australian prejudices and racism.

It too is full of wonderfully evocative passages which, for me, paint a picture of those days where school holidays stretched on forever but instead set them in the sticky heat of an Australian summer.  And while not a huge follower of cricket, I couldn’t help but be caught up in Silvey’s description of Jeffery Lu’s dominance in the oval!


Snake Bite by Christie ThompsonSnake Bite – Christie Thompson

Another coming of age tale, but this time capturing life in modern day suburbia. While set in Canberra, it is equally applicable to anywhere you find the young and restless, with its tales of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

An in your face writing style similar to that of Christos Tsiolkas (read about when Christie met her literary idol here), Snake Bite is filled with humour and biting observations on growing up, families and feminism.


Australians: Origins to Eureka by Thomas Keneally   Australians – Thomas Keneally

Another raw insight into this nation, but during the very early days, comes from Thomas Keneally’s Australians series. Through the eyes of the Aborigines, as well as the settlers and convicts that descended upon them, Keneally brings to life the early development of Australia in a way that only he could.

We’re thoroughly looking forward to his third instalment of this series hitting bookstores later this year as Keneally celebrates 50 years of published writing in 2014 – an Australian institution.

Awards: Vogel’s, Miles Franklin and more…

A large part of our Australian heritage here at A&U can be traced back through our involvement with The Australian/Vogel’s literary award, which has helped launch the careers of some of the most successful writers in the country such as Tim Winton, Kate Grenville and Gillian Mears.

From this list of Vogel winning writers you’ll find some of the country’s most celebrated authors – with multiple winners of the Miles Franklin and Prime Minister’s Literary Awards amongst them. While last year drew a blank in terms of awarding a winner, we know that this year there will be the opportunity to announce a great new talent in Australian writing – you’ll just have to wait to find out who! (We’re not even sworn to secrecy on this, we actually don’t get to know!).

Foal's Bread by  Gillian Mears

Our final three books come from such award winners, and all speak longingly of the land in which they’re set, and offer a look at rural Australia through the ages.

Foals Bread – Gillian Mears.

Gillian Mears won The Australian/Vogel’s award in 1990 for The Mint Lawn, and here we offer her award winning Foal’s Bread. A love story which, like those of Alex Miller, presents a beautiful affinity with the land, while her rich characters explore emotions of love, jealousy, frustration and disappointment.


The White Earth by Andrew McGahanThe White Earth – Andrew McGahan

The White Earth was the 2005 Miles Franklin Award winner from 1992 Vogel’s Winner Andrew McGahan. While that novel, Praise, captured the youthful grunge lifestyle of early 90’s Australia, The White Earth is far bigger in scope, capturing 150 years of white settlement in Queensland and tackling more recent political tensions.

McGahan has constantly shown that his writing can’t be pigeonholed, from the dark humour of Praise, 1988 and Underworld to work also spanning sci-fi and children’s novels.

Journey to the Stone Country – Alex Miller

Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller

Which leads on to another award winner, and one which The White Earth is often compared to – Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller, his second Miles Franklin winning novel back from 2003. A love story of a white woman and an Aboriginal man, Miller brings forth issues of black politics and reconciliation as well as many of the complexities of contemporary Australia.

Miller deals with themes touched upon by many of these books – displacement, identity and a sense of belonging, all of which are well worth pondering on Australia day.

Win all these books!

For your chance to win these eight brilliant books just leave us a comment below telling us about your choice of book that best captures Australian life. And if you’ve read any of these, let us know what you think of them too – how do they fit with your image of Australia and sense of identity?

Congratulations to our winner Karen Crook!

Be sure to check out some of the other participants in the Blog Hop for more great Australian books.

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  • Sam Still Reading

    I loved They’re a Weird Mob by Nino Culotta. It gave me a really good insight into how my grandparents felt when they arrived in Australia after WWII as displaced people. It was also very funny and showed how multicultural Australia is today.

  • For me the best book which exemplifies contemporary Australia is Julienne van Loon’s Harmless from Fremantle Press. It shows Australians struggling with and overcoming cultural differences and economic, familial and social hardships.

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  • Carpe_Librum1

    What a fabulous giveaway! Last year I read Cloudstreet by Tim Winton and it just felt SO Australian, although not representative of contemporary city dwellers, but more of a bygone era. The language was just a delight!

    Sam Still Reading mentioned They’re A Weird Mob, and I loved this book too, it’s very funny.

    Good luck everyone and Happy Australia Day!

  • Wendy Sutcliffe

    I’ve read The Slap, Jasper Jones, The White earth and Journey to the Stone Country. Of those I enjoyed The White earth the best.
    I’ve just finished reading “Mad Men, Bad Girls” by Maggie Groff and while it may never be a “classic”, it’s certainly classically Australian! I doubt a book from anywhere else would call a girl names Savannah with love bites on her neck, “The Battered Sav”. Still makes me laugh.

  • Nat Haraida

    I have had the opportunity to read Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears, loved the beauty of Australia come to life in the early 1900’s. What I love when reading Australian novels is the way the authors can describe the landscape and the culture of Australians and how regardless of the periods of time, they attitudes translates across the fighting spirit, the she’ll be right attitude and the way a whole community will band together to save a neighbour. Those things is what I love from Australian Authors. 🙂

  • Rachel McEleney

    Bereft by Chris Womersley was one which captured the essence of the bush for me. Wonderful book and a must read.

  • frellathon

    I’m a touch embarrassed to say that I can’t think of a book that fits as “Australiana”, clearly I need to expand my Aussie author reading. I’ve not read any of these books though I’ve heard The Slap is great so I think I’d start there if I was lucky enough to win.

  • Jess F

    I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read any of these books yet, but god more than half of them are on my TBR Pile and are books that I’ve closely watched for a LONG time.

    As far as books that I think capture the essence of Australia life, well that’s a rather tough question answer. Not because I can’t think of a book, but rather because we have so many talented Australian authors here that its hard to choose just one, or just one representation. For example, I love Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet as you really got a feel for the people from all different backgrounds and their opinions and stereotypes from that time. Likewise I love Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Albrandi and On The Jellicoe Road for the way in which it engages with younger readers and once again the immigrant make up of society. Then there’s Ethel Turner and her Seven Little Australian Series which I think I reread at least one a year because it’s ALL about Australian families and the fears and love they had for each other at that time period. Likewise I can’t go past Helene Young, Bronwyn Parry, Rachael Treasure and Karly Lane for their remote aspects of Australia whether that be the national parks and wilderness of Bronwyn Parry’s novels, or the harsh and unforgiving, but unmistakeably beautiful outback in Treasure and Lane’s writing. Likewise Loretta Hill is an author I read soley for the way she represents an unseen side of FIFO (Fly in Fly Out)workers.

    Thank you for the chance to enter this wonderful giveaway.
    Happy Australia Day!

  • Pauline Rimmer Stacey

    The Slap as a T V show and Book betrays Australian life to a tee loved it

  • Bec Brown

    for younger readers Looking for Alibrandi or Karen Wood’s books are a great look at Australia, also Happiest Refugee for a look at multicultural Australia. For Rural Australia love Tony Parsons

  • Lauren Chater

    I’ve read quite a few of these, but was most moved by Gillian Mears’ book Foal’s Bread. From that first heartbreaking scene (the ‘squeaky kiss’ will stay in my memory forever!), you know you are reading something special. It’s an amazing book which manages to capture the essence of Australian life in the early part of the 20th Century, combining myth, folklore and the history of Australia, both indigenous and colonial. You really empathise with the characters, even the ones who make terrible mistakes and must live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. I have recommended thisbook to so many people, just so I can talk to them about it when they’ve read it! Gillian Mears is a national treasure…

  • medusawink

    I enjoyed Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker. It is a dark-humoured period-piece pastiche of Australian gothic (or should that be Australiana-gothic?) that captures the foibles of rural small-town life rather well.

  • Margaret Thomas

    I love to live in the past so my all time favourite is The Secret River, other favourites are A Fortunate Life, The Harp in the South and my childhood favourite Seven Little Australians.

  • Sue Bou

    I loved Rachael Treasure’s ‘the Rouseabout’. It painted the scenery to perfection, caught the gruffness of characters, shone some light on struggles and elaborated on grit, strength and fun. Such a great portrayal of things Australian.

  • Regan Stevenson

    Too many favourites…but, for depicting the part of the world that is close to my heart, Butterfly Song, by Terri Janke. The viewpoint that her story tells, is one not often found in Australian literature and the glimpses of the Torres Strait Island and the intertwining narrative about the Mabo decision are so important for all Australians to know about, in my opinion.
    Whenever I feel a tropical North Australian monsoon season, I recall reading Andrew McGahan’s descriptions of it in ‘1988’.
    For the childhood nostalgia factor, my choices would also be ‘Seven Little Australians’ and ‘Playing Beattie Bow’ for making the early years of European settlement in Australia so accessible and engaging to young readers.

  • Benjamin Travia

    Unfortunately, I haven’t read many Australian books. But fortunately I have read Cloudstreet. I felt that Winton authentically captured the full gamut of human experience and the journey of familial relations. Although, it probably works well in many cultural contexts, there is an inherent ‘Australianness’ that runs deep through the novel. The fact that he is a Freo native doesn’t hurt either.

  • Patricia Featherstone

    Anything by Bryce Courtney says Australia to me..through and through.

  • Pris Gormley

    Growing up, different Australian books have had special meaning for me. As a small child, I loved Bib and Bub, the gumnut babies. Later I read all the Mary Grant Bruce books many times over, and loved Seven Little Australians. At school, For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke brought the early days to life. Ruth Park got everything right in her Harp of the South trilogy, and I still reread them for sheer pleasure. Last year I won Coal Creek, Alex Miller’s latest, which stands out for me as a real Aussie bush story. It captivated me, and stands out as the epitome of Australian writing.

  • Emma

    I haven’t read any of the above books. Crow Country by Kate Constable, is my pick as a book that captures Australian life, especially out in the country. And the feeling of moving from the city to the country. Walking miles and getting no where in particular. The community spirit. All of it.

  • Anna M

    Kalinda by Evan Green. It shows a lifestyle thats very unique to outback Australia. I remember telling a US Ranch owner about how large some of the Stations are in the outback and he would not believe me at all. he was convinced that I was having him on.
    I have not read a single one of the books that are listed above although im very keen to read The Slap.

  • Raelee York

    I love Oranges & Sunshine by Margaret Humphries.. The subject is a bit sad and shocking I know but I think it tells the story of an important part if Australian history that many people don’t know about.
    The harsh Australian outback in some cases goes right along with the harsh treatment these children suffered.
    I haven’t read any of the books listed but I would love to start…

  • Michelle Short

    Cloud Street-Tim Winton is my novel of choice for visiting overseas friends. It has so many vivid images of Australia and our (past) way of life, that it paints a glorious picture for the reader

  • Marianne W

    My favourite Australian book is A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey, although done as part of the High School Ciriculum. It has stayed with me ever since and teaches you the reality of life in Australia. It is a book that should be read by young and old.

  • Sonia

    The Thornbirds is the book that captures Australian life for me. From the outback sheep station to the canefields to the tropics, it has it all!

  • Karen

    For me, Bryce Courtenay captures Australia for me.

    I have also recently read books by Deborah Burrows, which showcased Perth, Western Australia, during WWII. Juanita Keys and Jenn J. McLeod have been more recent reads, with these stories showing the community spirit of Australian country towns.
    When I was younger, I read “A Fortunate Life” by A.B Facey, and “For The Term of His Natural Life” by Marcus Clarke.
    I feel that these, as well as many other books, of course, show the diversity that can be found in this great land of ours.
    Thanks for a great list of books, many already on my TBR list, the rest now added. Thanks also for the opportunity to participate in the blog hop.

  • Kireina Kate Warner

    I will always love ‘A Fortunate Life’ by Albert Facey, although set so long ago it has so many wonderful iconic Australian experiences and gives a glimpse into how harsh a new life in Australia could be for many new immigrants. I loved ‘Foal’s Bread’ by Gillian Mears for similiar reasons and I would love to read ‘The Slap’ for a more modern take on life In Australia.

  • Danielle Netherclift

    My favourite quintessential Australian novel is Illywhacker by Peter Carey, followed by Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan.

  • Karen Crook

    Come in Spinner by Dymphna Cusack. It’s a wonderful novel focussing on the lives of working women during the Second World War – a great story and Cusack has a keen eye for the ways broader social and political issues impact on ordinary people. The themes of the book remain relevant today.

  • Kirsten Benhiam

    There is nothing more Australian than the Stories of Alison Lester and Pamela Allen. Waddle, Giggle Gargle is the essential Australian story of dodging magpies and Are We There Yet? Is a travel guide for kids and gives an insight into travelling around with kids in the car. I know they are picture books but as a mum to young kids I read them constantly and love how Australian they are.

  • Jacinta Hynam

    I haven’t read any of them yet but have heard a lot about The Slap. All on my to read shelf 🙂

  • Natasha Coster

    Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Big Country. I laughed so hard, because I grew up in little towns like the ones he went to and sometimes it takes a foreigner to truly get inside a country and its people

  • Liz Bray

    Can’t go past Magic Beach by Alison Lester for a fantastic Australian Children’s book. Each page has me captivated and remembering seaside holidays from my youth, the last few pages especially as the sleepy children share a big lumpy king sized bed, dozing off to the sounds of the surf crashing on the shore.
    Gilgamesh by Joan London is one of my favourite Australian books for Adults, just really captures the feel of Australian life in the time it was set. Anything by Alex Miller of course. Sometimes it takes someone coming to Australia from abroad to recognise the subtlties of Australian life we may not notice.

  • Linda

    I really enjoyed Sally Morgan’s “My Life”. The true story of indigenous Sally (who for some time believed she was Indian) and her life.

  • Louise Burge

    I really loved Four Fires by Bryce Courtenay. It really captured the spirit of Australian families and Australian towns, plus I really enjoyed the description of the natural beauty of the Australian landscape. Just beautiful.

  • Angela Hogan

    Poor Man’s Orange by Ruth Park – also Harp in the South, it transports me back to the Darcy’s in Surrey Hills

  • sussi mallon

    Christos Tsiolkas writing can be confronting, however for me that is part of the joy of reading, confrontational, challenging, controversial, I don’t always want an “easy read”.
    The Timeless Land by Eleanor Dark captures the hardship and hostility of early Australian pioneering life, features a broad cast of characters that embody the spirit of the time and gives an inspiring insight into the transition from British to Australian colonial life & the complexities involved. A brilliant & enduring blend of fact and fiction.
    Australia produces fabulous writers, each generation bringing descriptions and depictions of the essence of our unique country in their own way. To choose one author, one book, is a difficult task.

  • Courtney

    The slap explores many different attitudes and looks at family dynamics and filters through modern Australian society!

  • Pam Glover

    Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. Easy to understand why as of 1994 it was the only book by an Australian author continuously in print for 100 years. I am quite sure we can all see ourselves in at least one of the children and no doubt ‘match’ other children with our own family members. Hope we are all continuing to introduce our children to it.

  • Ann-Marie Day

    Picnic at Hanging Rock gave us a taste of the life style and fashion of old Australia. There are many Aussie authors who put a little bit of Australia into their books. Di Morrisey is one I can think of straight away. I have not read any of the above mentioned books.

  • Julie Whelan Was Hathway

    Come in Spinner by Dymphna Cusack and Florence James
    Come in Spinner had an enormous impact on me when I read it as a teenager. It seemed to capture with utter truthfulness the reality of raw Australian life in a way no other novel had.

  • Michelle Endersby

    Kings in Grass Castles by Mary Durack gives a sense of the vastness of the Australian continent and the pioneering spirit of those whose work on the land. So atmospheric – a classic.

  • Kathryn Apel

    Kidlit author that I am, I’ve got to say that ‘Are We There Yet’ is an awesome book capturing the Australian sites and experiences. So authentic, I thought I’d written it myself. I’m doubly in love with it because of its many & varied themes for classroom use. Love it!

  • Sorry, we’re having problems picking a winner today – we’ll have them tomorrow by noon, promise!

  • Our winner has been chosen, *DRUMROLL* and it is @karen_crook:disqus! We’ll be in touch shortly by e-mail.

    Thanks for all the great suggestions, we’ve certainly expanded our reading list 🙂

  • Karen Crook

    Thanks Onions! I’m looking forward to reading the winning books, as well as following up on some of the great suggestions in the comments.

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