What to read on your Australian holiday.
When I’m traveling I like to read books related to the country I am visiting. I think it enhances my travel experience to engage with the country in both the real and literary worlds. (Plus, you can learn a lot of slang!) I know I’m not the only traveler who feels this way. Shannon at A Little Adrift has a list of books by country here. I’ve also enjoyed browsing through Nancy Pearl’s selections in Book Lust To Go.
While I was in Australia, I did my best to read books set in Australia written by Australians. I called upon a few internet searches, my personal Australian expert Alli, and the Australian section at our local used bookstore to find worthy titles.
Most were hits but a few were misses. Here’s a list to get you started on your Australian reading.
My Top Picks – These books feel like Australia to me.
1. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough – A big, thick, enthralling Australian soap opera of sorts set in the outback during the early 20th century. The plot is honestly too involved to describe so just know that it’s the story of a family on a sheep station full of love (involving a priest!) and heartbreak. It’s a classic. It’s also a mini-series that I would love to watch.
2. Tracks by Robyn Davidson – The true story of a woman who resolved to cross the Australian outback on a camel. I actually read this several years ago when I thought I might be moving to Kalgoorlie. It was recently made into a movie.
3. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey – One part coming of age and one part murder mystery. Protagonist Charlie is approached by Jasper Jones one night and taken to Jasper’s “special place.” What Charlie finds there sets the mystery in motion.
4. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – Another mystery. A group of female students set out on a picnic and disappear. This book intrigued me from the minute I read the blurb on the back. It was made into a movie in the ’70s.
5. Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington / Nugi Garimara – The true story of three girls (Doris’ mother and aunts) who were removed from their aboriginal families and placed at the Moon River Settlement. The girls escaped and followed the rabbit proof fence to travel the 1,000+ miles back home. It was also made into a movie.
6. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton – The story of two families sharing one house in Perth during the mid 20th century. Consistently voted to the top of Australian literature lists. Also made into a mini-series but I hear it strays from the book.
For Lighter or Beach Reading – Australian goodness with less brain power required.
7. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – The classic story of seven mischievous children growing up in 1880s Sydney. It’s children’s lit, so it’s a quick read… but don’t let that fool you. It’s a powerful and emotional piece of literature. Also made into a mini-series.
8. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas – A man slaps a child at a barbecue and everything sets off from there. Told from the viewpoint of 8 characters, The Slap examines family life in a pretty entertaining way. Made into an Australian tv series and an American tv series.
9. Dirt Music by Tim Winton – Georgie is living with the local legend in a small fishing town when she becomes fascinated with a poacher. The fallout of her illicit relationship leads the poacher to flee to an isolated island off the coast of Western Australia.
10. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson – The story of one girl shedding her innocence after she’s sent to boarding school in Melbourne in the early 1900s. While reading this I thought it was strange subject matter for a man. It makes much more sense now that I’ve discovered it was written under Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson’s pseudonym. It was made into a movie in the late 70s.
11. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – A very popular bestseller of the beach reading variety. The police are investigating a crime and the reader learns a new piece of the puzzle as different witnesses are interviewed. Honestly, this book could be set in any coastal city but it happens to be set in Sydney.
12. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – Another popular beach read. The story of three women who are put into impossible situations and how their lives are intertwined. There’s secrets, a murder, affairs, and an Easter egg hunt. The title is kind of terrible though.
Runners Up – Compared to the others, these aren’t quite my cup of tea. Perhaps they’ll be yours?
13. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – A bit of an Australian fairytale. A young woman’s beauty is known throughout the land. Her overly controlling and eucalyptus enthused father decides that the man who can name every single species of eucalyptus on his property will win her hand in marriage.
14. Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy – A fourteen year old boy in small town 1960s South Australia falls for his young and hip English teacher, Miss Peach.
15. The Laughing Clowns by William McInnes – The story of a middle aged man going home again (to Queensland). Truthfully, I chose this book because of the balloons on the cover. I don’t think I was the right demographic.
16. The Water Underneath by Kate Lyons – Bones turn up in a lake where a woman and her baby went missing decades before. This book had potential, but I found the plot very difficult to follow.
17. The Different World of Fin Starling by Elizabeth Stead – A magical story about a tiny town that’s affected by one small boy, Fin Starling.
18. Praise by Andrew McGahan – A classic of the grunge lit genre. Just a guy chilling in 90s Brisbane with not much to do and no ambition. I probably would have liked it better at a different stage in my life.
You may have noticed that there’s only one book on my list written by an aboriginal writer. The vast majority of books I found described the Australian experience through the eyes of people with European roots. I did a little more sleuthing today and found this list by the Guardian of works by indigenous writers and this more general list of Australian indigenous writers as well.
Do you have any Australian favorites of your own to recommend?
Happy Reading and Happy Australia Day yesterday!
*I generally like to steer clear of modern day travel writing. There tends to be too much navel gazing in it for my taste these days.