What makes us Australian? What is it about this wide, brown, often water starved, land that gives us such a strong sense of place and the toughness and irreverence that is required to master it. Let’s take a literary journey of Australia, featuring larrikins, merciless weather, sunbaked rural towns and dirty inner city suburbs.
Here are the 12 must read books that every Australian should read according to Australian Geographic, that simply could not have been set anywhere else.
First published in 1901
Written when she was only 16 years old, Franklin gave us a heroine challenging the social mores of her the 1890s landholding Australian society. Is this Australia’s answer to Jane Austen’s society tales of a woman’s place, who is only worth is in the marriage she can make? Read it and find out.
Also a movie!
First published in 1948
This novel has never been out of print since it was first published and reading Park is considered crucial to building a true picture of the Aussie way of life. Full of earthy, just get on and do it characters, existing in the slums of Surrey Hills. Filled with colourful characters ranging from prostitutes to nuns, from Chinese immigrants to Jews and through it all portraits of our First Nations people’s lives in the 1940s. Her stories and characters have stood the test of time, been made into movies and television series and are enduring. If you have not read it yet, you are in for a treat.
Also on audio.
First published in 1957
Voss won the inaugural Miles Franklin Award in 1957 and is a fictionalised account of the Australian expeditions of explorer Ludwig Leichardt. And this explorer, over confident in his abilities, sets off to pioneer an overland route from the east coast to the west and instead disappears without a trace. This is his journey imagined by Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature.
Also an eBook.
First published in 1967
Moody and atmospheric this novel captures the light, the landscape and the mysterious unknowns that are permeate some of our classic rock formations. Fiction dressed up as a true story is definitely the appeal of this story of missing schoolgirls, with the only girl who returns having no memory of what has happened. This has also been made into a successful film directed by Peter Weir in 1975. Can you work out what happened? Read it and see.
Also a movie and audiobook.
First published in 1991
This is a wonderful two-family saga that has been declared an instant classic. This is also the story of Perth in the middle of the 20th Century, written in a purely Australian vernacular with lovable, flawed characters that grab you by the throat and never let go. Once read this epic is not forgotten. Retold as a Play, and in a TV mini-series Cloudstreet is a story that captures Australians, sounding Australian and living an Australian life.
This comes as an eBook, large print, audiobook and of course movie. See all formats here.
First published in 2000
And of course we need to include a bushranger story, featuring The Bushranger – the infamous Ned Kelly and his gang. Written in Ned’s own words Carey paints a picture of an uneducated, yet highly intelligent man, who in some memories is a Robin Hood for the poor and in others a murderous, ruthless thief. Hero or Hellraiser? Read his own words and make up your own mind.
First published in 2005
Now a successful two-part Television drama, The Secret River tells the story of William Thornhill, who in 1806 comes to Sydney to make a new life after being transported from London as a convict. This book details the horrors that white settlement wrought on aboriginal communities and is based on the life of Grenville’s ancestor, Solomon Wiseman. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the most set Australian text on high school reading lists this shines a light on seemingly decent people who were also capable in great cruelty and complicit with terrible crimes committed against the aboriginal people, the first nation people who were living in this land for over 40,000 years before white settlement. A must read.
This comes as an eBook, audiobook options and movie. See all formats.
First published in 2006
Carpentaria won the Miles Franklin award in 2007, the same day Prime Minister John Howard announced the Northern Territory, where soldiers were sent into remote communities to enforce a legislated ban on alcohol and pornography as part of an effort to combat reported child abuse. This landmark tale of Aboriginal people living in the Gulf country of north-west Queensland is an essential read for those who want to immerse themselves in indigenous storytelling mores and understand the mentality of remote communities beyond the headlines and the stereotypes.
Also an eBook.
First published in 2008
This is described as a madcap romp, that begins with a prison romp, travels from strip clubs, a mental institution, Paris, a jungle in Thailand and ultimately onto a people smuggler’s boat. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this is a blackly comic adventure with vignettes of life in all its tortured forms.
First published in 2009
A novel about the simmering racial tensions over one summer in the 1960s in a small town in Western Australia, this novel is touted as Australia’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Challenging every reader with an unflinching look at the cruelty, intolerance and prejudice experienced by Aboriginal people and the three young boys, Jasper Jones, an aboriginal boy, Jeffrey Lu Vietnamese and nerdy Charlie who is friends with both these outcasts. Jasper is being framed for murder in a town steeped in racism, in a summer so hot that tempers are short and three boys who must find the answer before the town takes justice into their own hands.
Also a movie!
First published in 2011
Autumn Laing is 85, cantankerous, irascible and totally charming she is at the end of her life. But she does remember a time of before, a time when she had an affair with budding artist Pat Donlan in rural Victoria in the 1930s. The Australian landscape always features in Miller’s work and here we move from rolling Australian farmland and bush to the lush tropics in North Queensland and the outback.
First published in 2014
This is the Man Booker Prize for 2014 and is partly based on Flanagan’s father’s experience as a Japanese prisoner of war forced to build the Thai-Burmese ‘death railway’ In World War Two. This book is a story of love, romantic, family and between mates – that keeps men hopeful in situations of unrelenting horror. It is the story of Australia at war a long way from home but also features sunlit beaches, rainswept Tasmania and the Sydney Harbour Bridge but ultimately it is the story of one man’s ruin.
eBook and audio also available.