Saturday, 9 November 2013

New reads down under: 5 great Australian books

Dad and me in Canada, winter of '64

In a few weeks' time my dad will be flying to Sydney and coming to visit us for the first time. I couldn't be more excited. In between planning excursions, jotting down meal ideas and making up his room, I've also been thinking about books he might enjoy.

Growing up in the UK I didn’t come across a lot of Australian writing and I suspect my dad won't have either. So there's plenty to catch up on. When I arrived here nearly a decade ago, reading taught me about the history, heritage and culture of this beautiful land and I loved discovering new authors and fresh voices who showed me things I would never have discovered for myself.

I still have lots more reading to do. Great books are published faster than I can read them, but here are five I particularly enjoyed:

Breath by Tim Winton
It’s been a long time since I read it, but I still remember this story about a young boy, ‘Pikelet’ who lives near Perth and keeps dangerous company. This is a scary book for mothers of boys, but it’s also astutely observed, elegantly written and taught me a good deal about the perilous beauty of our waters.

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
Reading Conway’s memoir dispelled any romantic fantasies I may have had about life on a rural property. She lived and worked on her family’s 32,000-acre sheep farm in the Australian outback until her father drowned when she was 11. Reading Conway’s descriptions of the impact of a three-year drought on the land, the animals and her family was an education in itself.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville
This Australian classic is a must-read for anyone wanting to know more about Australian history and its colonisation by the British. Grenville’s fictional account of an early 19th century Englishman, William Thornton, transported to Australia for theft, was inspired by her research into her ancestor Solomon Wiseman. It’s a gripping, confronting read that helps illuminate a dark topic.

Kate Grenville's The Secret River: a confronting read

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Set in the fictitious regional mining town of Corrigan, Jasper Jones perfectly conveys the smouldering heat of a long Australian summer when there’s nothing much to do in the school holidays except play cricket, hang out with your mates – and discover the terrible secret behind a young girl’s death. As funny as it is dark, Jasper Jones is like a little time capsule; a 1960’s summer perfectly preserved for its readers.

The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman
This book is set on a remote island, Janus Rock, off Western Australia in 1926. It's the story of Tom Sherbourne, a young lighthouse keeper and his wife Isabel who live a quiet life until a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant. I absolutely loved this book (read my review here) and urge you to read it for yourself immediately.

These are just five of my favourite Australian books. I know there are many more out there waiting to be discovered. I'd love to hear which ones you recommend...


  1. Hi
    Interesting to hear a "foreign" perspective on Australian literature.
    I find a lot of Australian books "try too hard" . I have also loved most of those listed by you.
    Some additional books I suggest are:
    My brother Jack";
    "Merrygo round in the sea" by Randolph Stow;
    "A fortunate life" by A B Facey.

    I also recall as a child absolutely loving a couple of novels by Judith Wright. She is a wonderful poet, but I've never been able to track down her novels.

  2. Hi Megan,

    Thanks for your suggestions - I haven't come across any of them, which is great - I'll enjoy tracking them down.

    Will let you know how I get on!