In 1838 the first Australian novel printed and published in mainland Australia was produced. This book marked a small but significant beginning of what is now a thriving and enthralling genre, that of Australian fiction.
If you haven’t read any (or all) of the books below it’s high time to show a little patriotism. Not only are all of these books written by Australian authors, they are wonderful and engaging accounts of both past and present life in Australia. If you’re looking for a great Aussie book to read, here are 10 to get you started.
by Tim Winton
Like any good Australian tale, Cloudstreet is a story of underdogs. Set in 1950s Australia, it tells the story of two working class families who have come to share a house, a “great continent of a house” called Cloudstreet, in the Perth suburb of West Leederville.
Cloudstreet is a humble book, soft and generous, that will fill you with optimism, warmth and affection for ordinary and extraordinary people alike. And, if you’re lucky, it will take you back to your own childhood — the pleasure of a cold ice-cream on a hot day, while running barefoot down the street.
I Came to Say Goodbye
by Caroline Overington
Caroline Overington’s second novel, I Came to Say Goodbye, is one you’re going to need to read with a box of tissues in hand.
Narrated mostly by careworn father, Med Atley, the story is about Med’s daughter Donna-Fay who struggles with mental illness. A few less-than-ideal decisions later leave Donna-Fay at the tail end of a bad relationship, battling with Community Services over the welfare of her two children.
Covering issues as diverse as child welfare, mental health, refugee immigration, adoption laws and the juvenile justice system, I Came to Say Goodbye is the type of book you can read in two days and talk about for two months.
by Craig Silvey
It was a hot summer night in 1965 when Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of 13, first met 14-year-old Jasper Jones. An outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigon, Jasper was mixed-race, distant, dangerous and in need of help. Charlie, desperate to impress, steals into the night by Jasper’s side and bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery.
Illuminating life in a mining town that’s going downhill fast, Craig Silvey pulls his readers into the web of country life from the perspective of a boy on the cusp of discovering the intricacies of love, truth and everything in between. Packed full of charismatic characters and engaging dialogue, this novel is thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking and wise.
by Bryce Courtney
Let’s be honest, pretty much any book by Bryce Courtney is a guaranteed good read. There aren’t many people who haven’t heard of The Power Of One but Jessica has that special something in every page — Australia.
Set in pre-war rural Australia, Jessica is the tale of a girl of the same name who was raised to be a farmhand for her father. Her sister, Meg, had grand plans of seducing the rich and handsome local bachelor — Jack — but a series of events led Jack to fall in love with Jessica. Pregnant with Jack’s baby, Jessica is hidden away by her family while Jack is at war. From here on you want to read with tissues in hand.
Beautifully written, with characters that will break your heart with their integrity, devotion, innocence and sense of duty, Jessica is one of those books that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
by Colleen McCullough
Every Australian needs to read at least one good convict story so if you haven’t read one yet, let this be it.
Morgan’s Run is a historical novel by Colleen McCullough about the life of an English prisoner driven to the penal colonies of Australia in the 18th century. Largely set on Norfolk Island, the book follows the story of a convict — the educated and resourceful Richard Morgan — left to survive brutal conditions of slavery in a hostile and remote environment.
If it sounds harsh, that’s because it is. Harsh and raw but amidst all that, McCullough manages to showcase the human will to survive, find love and leave a mark.
My Brother Jack
by George Johnston
My Brother Jack is, hands down, an Australian classic. Not only that but it is an engaging read, centred on the lives of two brothers born and raised in suburban Melbourne.
My Brother Jack is narrated by Davy, a skinny teenager who likes to read. Jack is his older brother, a stand-up average Aussie bloke who is Davy’s more confident counterpart.
While Davy grows up to become a journalist during World War II, Jack — though hardworking and decent — suffered during the Great Depression. It’s a captivating tale of life in Australia and an engrossing read, even 50 years on from its original publishing date.
by Sally Morgan
Okay, so technically this one isn’t a novel. But it’s a must-read nonetheless, not just for the issues it raises about indigenous Australians but for the fact it is a beautifully written book about the search for truth.
My Place begins with Sally Morgan as she traces the experiences of her own life growing up in suburban Perth in the 1950s and 1960s. As she talks about her memories, hints and echoes of her past begin to emerge as hidden knowledge is uncovered to reveal a fascinating story of identity.
While you may not get all the subtleties of Aboriginal culture represented in this book, read it with open eyes and an open heart and you’ll be rewarded.
The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson
First published in 1910, The Getting of Widsom shot to instant popularity. In fact, it is so popular it has almost always been in print ever since it first hit the press.
Likely inspired by the author’s own life (Henry Handel Richardson was the pseudonym of Ethel Florence Richardson), The Getting of Wisdom is set in early 1900s Victoria. The main character, Laura Tweedle Rambotham, is the eldest child of a country family sent to boarding school at aged 12. Her experiences at school shock and humiliate the sensitive, imaginative Laura who is desperately trying to fit in.
Despite the change in century, many of the issues Laura faces are common today — bullying, self discovery and the destruction of innocence. It’s a great read and beautifully constructed in a way that will pull your heart in every direction.
Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
You might remember the recent blockbuster of the same name but don’t be fooled. While the movie was good, the books (as always), were better.
Usually the domain of angst-filled teenagers, John Marsden’s Tomorrow series is a great read for all ages. Detailing a high-intensity invasion and occupation of Australia by a foreign power, the books are narrated by Ellie Linton, a teenage girl who is part of a youthful guerrilla gang who is waging war on the invaders from their fictional hometown of Wirrawee.
Tomorrow When The War Began is a great book about friendship during adversity, life in rural Australia during the war and provides an astute insight into the inner workings of the teenage mind. If you didn’t read these books as a kid pick up a set now and be prepared to relive the pangs of your adolescence.
by Andrew McGahan
Grungy and raw, Praise is the sort of book that gets under your skin. Or under your fingernails, like dirt.
It’s a classic Australian coming of age story. Bizarre and, at times, quite confronting, Andrew McGahan’s Praise is set in the slightly grubby living rooms and skanky beds of suburban Brisbane. It is here that Gordon Buchannan drinks beer, smokes and screws his gilfriend Cynthia. Gordon drives a 1970s Holden Kingswood, lives on welfare and works in a bottleshop with Cynthia… when he can be bothered to turn up.
The story is about their mundane yet always somewhat dramatic lives in sticky, sweltering Queensland. McGahan caputres the characters perfectly — Gordon’s narration of his urban substance-fueled woes and Cynthia’s annoying tendency towards empty threats. The tone of the book is dry; a reflection not of the typical Aussie battler but that of the dole-bludger. The characters may annoy you but this book is, without doubt, an excellent view into the world of a particular grungy sub-group of Australia and for that it’s definitely worth a read.