Love reading? Visiting Australia? What a beautiful melding. Discover the best books about Australia, from travel books, true crime and historical fiction, to modern classics.
Do you like to exhaustively research a place before you travel there?
Apart from blogs, like – ahem – this one, books are a great resource for just this.
Alongside travel books, it can be helpful to read books set in a city, country or continent before you visit, to get a feel for the place.
I’m a big reader and I particularly like to read books written by my country people, set in my country.
As such, I’ve rounded up a collection of books to read if you’re travelling to Australia, living in Australia or just need a new reading recommendation.
Bonus: These books are all written by Australian authors and all take place within an Australian setting.
So let’s dive right in. Here are some of the best books about Australia.
This guide to the best books about Australia will cover:
Best books about Australia (as recommended by an Aussie bookworm)
Best books about travel in Australia
This is a travel blog after all, so let’s start with a list of the best books about Australia, for those soon to explore this sunburnt country.
Welcome to Country – Marcia Langton
This is the book to read if you want to know more about Indigenous Australia and the Torres Strait Islands.
It’s a travel guide to Indigenous Australia, written by anthropologist, Professor Marcia Langton.
Part one is an introduction to Australia’s Indigenous culture and covers precolonial and post colonial history, as well as detailing cultural awareness for visitors.
In part two you’ll discover Indigenous tourism opportunities available in Australian states and the Torres Strait Islands.
A chance to allow you to learn more about the culture that has existed here for tens of thousands of years.
Loving Country: A Guide to Sacred Australia – Bruce Pascoe & Vicky Shukuroglou
Similarly, but not quite the same, Loving Country tours through Australia’s sacred Indigenous sites. Journey from the Grampians (Gariwerd) in Victoria, to Bruny Island in Tasmania and of course, Uluru.
The book covers the history of these sites and the often catastrophic effects of European colonisation on the area and to the local Indigenous people.
The authors also offer some stinging criticism, particularly on the importance placed on colonial culture, while First Nations culture is largely ignored.
A great introduction to the vast landscapes that cover this ancient continent and a compelling argument for taking care of them.
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback – Robyn Davidson
The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision.
This is one of the best books about Australian travel I have read – although it is a memoir, it inspires adventure.
Tracks tells the story of Australian Robyn Davidson’s 2,700km trek from the centre of Australia to the west coast in 1977, at the age of 25.
She is accompanied only by four camels and her dog Diggity.
It takes her 195 days, but she does it, despite the skepticism of those around her and the general public.
Davidson’s writing is exquisite and her journey is the kind of adventure many of us dream of taking. Once again at 25. As a woman. In the 1970s. Wowsers.
The best Australian classics
The following books are considered to be classics. They’re some of the best books about Australia to read if you’re keen on taking a deep dive into our literary scene.
Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
I’m beginning to realise that things don’t turn out the way you want them to. And sometimes, when they don’t they can turn out just a little bit better.
This one of the best-known and most-loved coming-of-age stories in the country. 17-year old third-generation Italian Josie Alibrandi is juggling her culture, family life and the racial differences at her snobby private girl’s school, with quite simply, being a teenager in 90’s Sydney.
With her final exams looming and her father suddenly on the scene, she grapples with first love, loss, friendship and long-buried family secrets, admist a trio of headstrong Italian women.
Published in 1992, many of the book’s themes are still apparent today.
And good luck trying to find an Australian 90s kid who hasn’t read the book or seen the truly excellent movie.
Monkey Grip – Helen Garner
When Helen Garner published her debut novel, people were outraged.
Why? Well, largely because she used her own diaries as source material.
How dare she! Doesn’t she know that fiction books HAVE to be made up?!
The story revolves around Nora and Javo, two young Melburnians living the share house life in the 1970s.
It’s your classic love tale. Nora loves Javo. Javo loves drugs. As a consequence, their relationship is fractured and frustrating.
I remembered only the good and loveable things about him, not the wretchedness he caused me, and the dope, and the resentments and silence and the half-crazy outbursts. I remembered his smell and the colour of his eyes and his head thrown back to laugh; these things were a second away, in time, but the others I dredged up dutifully, knowing that I must, for the sake of truth and sanity, try to keep a balance.
Being largely about twenty-somethings, the story has everything you’d expect it to have. Communal living, drugs, financial woes and everyone banging each other constantly.
What I love about this and Garner’s other books, is the way she lovingly describes Melbourne. She knows the city intimately, having lived in it for much of her adult life.
The city comes alive as a character in the book, particularly the inner-neighbours where these wild young things conduct their lives.
Garner is a master of prose and it’s a style many young writers since have tried to copy and not quite achieved.
And if you’re interested in reading Garner’s actual diaries, she has subsequently published them as a trilogy.
As she largely deals in true crime and non-fiction, her entire catalogue can really be counted as some of the best books about Australia.
The Harp in the South Trilogy – Ruth Parker
I read The Harp in the South, its prequel Missus and sequel Poor Man’s Orange probably around twenty years ago and yet, I think about them all the time.
The trilogy is an at-times moving, at others heartbreaking portrait of a family living in the slums of Sydney – the Darcys of Number Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street.
Missus introduces us to the handsome young country boy Hugh Darcy, who meets and sweeps Margaret Kilker off her feet.
We reacquaint with ‘Hughie’ and ‘Mumma’ in The Harp in the South. Hughie’s now a drunk, Mumma’s doing her best to get by and they’re parents to two daughters – shy Rowena (Roie), who is coming into womanhood and bubbly and inquisitive Dolour.
Poor Man’s Orange is my favourite of the three, although it’s a most emotional read. Life is hard and grief is rife throughout the lives of these characters but the ending is perfect, if not perfectly bittersweet.
Although now marketed as a trilogy, The Harp in the South was the first to be published.
I recommend reading them as Parker wrote them (2, 3, 1). It’s nice to finish the story, then step back in time to Hughie and Mumma’s partnership and see where it all began.
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay
This is one of the best books about Australia, in that it totally confuses fact with fiction. It’s that convincingly written.
It’s St. Valentine’s Day in 1900 and a group of local schoolgirls are having a picnic at Hanging Rock, in Victoria.
By the end of the outing, three schoolgirls and a teacher are missing.
Only one girl is ever found. Their disappearance has devastating repercussions on the town’s small community.
Perhaps even better than the book itself, are the various conspiracy theories surrounding the authenticity of the story.
Author Joan Lindsay was deliberately vague throughout her lifetime over whether there was any basis of truth to the events within her book.
It’s become one of the great urban legends in Australia.
The ending is particularly ambiguous – the last chapter explaining the disappearances omitted on the suggestion of Lindsay’s editor.
The final chapter was published in 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock. I read it in the end, but in my opinion it’s best not to. Stuff gets weird.
The Turning – Tim Winton
Okay, controversial opinion time.
Many people love Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. It won a bunch of awards (including the 1992 Miles Franklin award) and regularly tops lists of ‘best books by Australian authors’ or ‘Australia’s favourite book’.
Yeah, it’s good I guess.
Winton’s The Turning is the book I’m going to rep on this list.
Why? Well, it’s collection of short stories for one thing.
Cloudstreet is a tome. This book, you can dip in and out of, at leisure.
And they’re all very very good. Set in Western Australia, each story has a loose thread running through it, with overlaps in themes and settings.
It’s not an easy read, at times. Many of the characters in this book are poor, abused, unhappy, lonely and down on their luck.
Yet the stories are just so damn good. It’s one of those books, where you carry the characters with you, after reading.
The awesome power of Tim Winton’s writing. Guess all those awards are very much earned!
The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
A fact that annoys me about some of the best books about Australia – they’re set in the outback, or in the countryside.
Or they just detail Australia’s colonial past, not even a pinprick in the history of this ancient land and its Indigenous peoples.
What I like about Christos Tsiolkas award-winning book, is it offers a glimpse into suburban Australia, where many of the country’s inhabitants live out their lives.
Here’s how it plays out.
The scene? A family barbecue. A super annoying kid is being a pain in the butt and quite rude to another child.
The father of this child slaps the obnoxious kid.
Now, no matter how annoying another parent’s child is being and how much their lack of discipline is aggravating you… you probably shouldn’t slap their child.
And this event is a catalyst that sets the story hurtling along its way.
The parents of the slapped child are aggrieved: they want to have the slapper arrested.
Tsiolkas however, is less focused on say, child abuse and more on family and friendly relations.
Plus, the characters are both sharp and wonderfully multicultural in a way that is actually reflective of Australian society.
It’s a big book but a page turner. If you’ve not the time to read it, the subsequent TV series is equally as good.
Voss – Patrick White
Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the eponymous German Johann Ulrich Voss is crossing the Australian continent, on an adventure that can best be described as ill-advised.
Seems to be the flavour of most European ‘explorers’ of this era, when you consider the fate of contemporaries like Burke and Wills.
The story largely revolves around Voss and orphan Laura Trevalyan, niece of a wealthy Sydneysider sponsoring the expedition.
The two are made for each other, which they unfortunately realise after Voss sets off on his journey. Timing is everything, as they say.
He proposes in a letter and Laura waits for his return. Will the soulmates ever be reunited?
White is one of this country’s most lauded authors. Not only is he the inaugural recipient of the Miles Franklin award, he’s the only Australian to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
One of the best books about Australia to read if you’re in the mood for a sweeping epic.
The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood
You know how some authors seem to get their timing exquisitely right? Charlotte Wood is one such writer.
Granted, she has written a shocking modern day parable in her own right, surely destined to go down in history as an Australian classic.
But, she published in 2016, just before the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world. And how’s that for timing?
In this novel, ten young women awake from a drugged sleep.
They’ve been abducted and taken to the middle of the Australian outback, chained up and dumped in a sheep-shearing shed.
Turns out, they all have something in common… they’ve each been involved in sex scandals with powerful men. The explicit details of the scandals are never told, but we hear enough to know we know these stories.
Would it be said they were abandoned or taken, the way people said a girl was attacked, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the centre, as if womanhood itself were the cause of these things? As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves.
This Stella Prize winning book reads less like a feminist call to arms, than a modern day horror story.
It’s a compulsive page turner that will have you hooked ’til the very end.
My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin
Stella Franklin or Miles Franklin is one of Australia’s best loved authors – she has not one, but two notable awards named after her.
Her brilliant writing career started with this novel, which she wrote as a teenager to amuse her friends.
It caught the eye of bush poet Henry Lawson, who took it to Edinburgh… and as they say, the rest is history.
The book tells the tale of Sybylla Melvyn, a headstrong lassie growing up in country Australia in the late 19th century.
Daddy drinks and Sybylla is sent to her grandmother’s property, where she catches the eye of a wealthy local, Harold Beecham. He thinks she’s a ten, she is less convinced.
She picks up work as a governess to help support her family. All the while, she is harbouring aspirations to become a writer.
And things get a little more grim from there on in.
Best modern Australian fiction
These contemporary novels are the best books about Australia to read, if you’re after a novel which reflect this country as it is, today.
Bodies of Light – Jennifer Down
Despite the somewhat uplifting sounding title, Bodies of Light is not exactly a happy book.
It covers the life of Maggie Sullivan, also known as Josie and Holly, depending on where she is and who you ask. And it’s not an easy life at all.
The story starts in 2018, when Maggie is sent a Facebook message. ‘Wondering if you are any relation of Maggie Sullivan (Aussie), she went missing a long time ago.’ Maggie deletes the message and blocks the sender in a panic, but begins to reflect on the life she has long buried.
What follows is an emotional journey from 1975 to 2018, through abuse, trauma and drug-use, from Victoria to Sydney, New Zealand to Ann Arbor in Michigan.
It’s devastating and it’s beautiful and it’s tragic and it’s hopeful. Ultimately, it’s a must-read book about Australia.
The White Girl – Tony Birch
The White Girl introduces us to Odette Brown and her granddaughter Sissy, who live in the fictional country town of Deane.
It’s 1960’s Australia and the Aboriginal Protection Act is in full force. Children are still being forcibly taken from their parents, caregivers and local communities.
The main issue is, that despite being Indigenous, Sissy looks white.
Bill Shea, the local policeman, the ‘protector’ of the community, largely leaves Odette and Sissy alone. Then, he is replaced by Sergeant Lowe, a jobsworth and bigot, who is determined to enact total control over his new jurisdiction.
Lowe is intent on terrorising Odette and Sissy. Then, the plot thickens – Odette is sick and needs to journey to the city for treatment. Under law, she requires a ‘travel certificate’ issued by Lowe to leave.
However, she cannot go without Sissy, for fears that Lowe will swoop in and take her, to go live with a white family.
He believes he is doing ‘the right thing’, although he would be displacing yet another Indigenous child.
So, Bill Shea and Odette hatch a plan, to sneak Sissy out of the town, leaving Lowe furious in their wake. And the chase begins…
Tony Birch is a phenomenal writer and this is one of the best books about Australia. It takes a new perspective on a true tragedy, the shock waves of which continue to reverberate throughout our Indigenous communities.
Friends and Dark Shapes – Kavita Bedford
We are turning thirty and things don’t look like we imagined they would.
Kavita Bedford’s debut is a gentle and tragic story.
The unnamed protagonist moves into a share house ‘the year after my father died’. The house in question is in gentrified Redfern, an inner-city suburb of Sydney, home to ‘the Indigenous community, the housing-commission folk, the students, the young professionals’.
The housemates are rapidly running out of youth but the usual adult milestones of partners, children, mortgages, secure work feel out of reach.
As they do for so many people of this generation who have tried to settle in Sydney.
Our Australian-Indian protagonist is working part-time, teaching media studies and freelancing as a journalist. Throughout the pages of this book, she is coming to terms with her grief.
One joy of reading this book, is the setting, the city of Sydney.
I’ve not read a book that’s captured the city quite this way, particularly the experience of living in it where socially, financially and perhaps even ideologically, you just can’t seem to settle in, to grow roots, to feel like you truly belong.
Terra Nullius – Claire G. Coleman
As far as books about Australia go, this one is intensely focused on this country.
So you may not know that the land that is now so-called Australia was declared ‘terra nullius’ when Europeans first invaded, meaning ‘land that is legally deemed to be unoccupied or uninhabited’.
Meaning it was ripe for the taking from its Indigenous peoples, as far as the settlers are concerned.
So, as an Australian well-versed in Australia’s tragic colonial history, the beginning of this book is familiar.
We’re introduced to Jacky, a young Native man, a slave, fleeing from a mission.
There’s massacres, Settler Troopers, a murderous nun and a colonial administrator, known only as the Devil.
We assume this story is taking place post 1788, in the early days of the colonial frontier.
Then, Coleman takes our assumptions and throws them back in our faces. And… dang.
I won’t spoil what happens next, but this was a book that stayed with me a long while after I finished it.
It’s an excellent and harrowing recollection of Australia’s modern history, just not how you’ve ever heard it told.
The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty
Many of the best books about Australia are probably written by Liane Moriarty. Big Little Lies is her best known novel, but The Hypnotist’s Love Story is my personal favourite.
We meet hypnotist Ellen, who is smitten with widower Patrick and the feeling appears to be mutual.
Everything is going well. The chemistry is fantastic and Ellen is a hit with Patrick’s eight year old son, Jack.
But, Patrick has a secret. Turns out, he has a stalker – his ex-girlfriend Saskia, who has thoughtfully extended her stalking to now include Ellen.
Although Patrick is weary and frustrated by Saskia’s endless pursuits, Ellen is kind of interested.
And at first as the reader, you’re rather exasperated by Saskia. She seems a bit pathetic at first, but Moriarty’s excellent knack for characterisation leads you, as the reader, to start to see things from her point of view, and really feel for her.
Relationships end for many reasons and sometimes, it’s just because the timing is off.
Often, one party has not been seen, heard or had any kind of closure.
Granted, the events of this novel is an example of taking things perhaps a little too far, but it reads as an important reminder of the healing power of a little empathy.
The Lost Man – Jane Harper
Jane Harper’s books offer up not only a cracking mystery. Her evocative descriptions of the rural Australian spaces her stories are set in make you feel like you are there, experiencing the wild and deadly beauty of this great, southern land.
Her third published book and first standalone novel takes place in the harsh outback.
Cameron Bright is found in the middle of the desert, baked to death by the sun, at the grave of an unnamed stockman. He’s a handful of kilometres from his air-conditioned, well-stocked and perfectly fine four-wheel-drive
His death is a mystery. Cam is well-equipped and knows the lay of this particular land well enough to not make any rash decisions, especially when he has plans to meet his older brother Nathan that day.
The story shifts from there to the perspective of Nathan, the eldest of the three Bright brothers.
Nathan is shunned by the local community, unable to leave his almost useless 3500 acre property after a messy divorce.
Not convinced that Cam has taken his own life, he is left to try and figure out who dunnit.
The cast of characters is small, but the setting is a vast expanse of endless space.
This is one of the best books about Australia for any fans of crime fiction.
Bruny – Heather Rose
And there was the bridge close up, winged, injured, a giant beast fallen on one knee.
Meet the Colemans. Some might say they’re the beating heart of Hobart, Tasmania.
Bruny’s protagonist Astrid or ‘Ace’ is a New York-based UN mediator, returning to the homeland she made every effort to escape.
Her brother JC is the Premier of Tasmania. Strangely, sister Max is the leader of the opposition party.
Their mother is seriously ill and their father, after a stroke, can only speak in Shakespeare quotes.
And it’s out from the under the tendrils of this strange family dynamic, that our story evolves.
Part of a $2 billion bridge being built between the island of Bruny and mainland Tasmania is blown up. It’s agreed that hundreds of Chinese workers will be imported to the island to complete the project on time.
Who is responsible for blowing up the bridge, and why?
Part family drama, part political thriller, Rose, who is herself is Tasmanian, has clearly crafted a story that hits close to home.
Beyond the political implications, I’m there for the witty dialogue between the characters and her talent when it comes to lovingly describing her place of origin.
Dinner With the Schnabels – Toni Jordan
Sometimes you just want a book that’s a delight to read, that makes you feel good.
And makes you laugh, from time to time, or page to page.
If this is the case for you, then Dinner With the Schnabels will hit the spot.
The story covers one week in a post-COVID Melbourne. Simon Larson has not had a good time of late.
His business has failed and he lost the family home. He’s feeling depressed, a bit useless and very overwhelmed.
He loves his children and his wife, Tansy, but is a bit perplexed by her family, who seem to constantly impose on his life.
Particularly Gloria, matriarch of the family, who wouldn’t know what a boundary was if it hit her in the face.
Simon has one job to do, landscaping a friend’s backyard for an upcoming family event.
Yet, his plans are derailed by an unexpected house guest. And as it turns out, Tansy has a secret.
Things start to whirl out of control and Simon’s got to ask who he really can count on when his chips are down.
Jordan is an exceptional writer and this novel is exceptionally funny.
This is one of the best books about Australia to read if you’re in the mood for something lighthearted and fun.
Best books about Australia to make you think
Keen to learn something about this great southern land before visiting? Here are some of the best non-fiction books about Australia.
The Family Law – Benjamin Law
If you’re after something light, easy and entertaining, The Family Law could be the best Australian book for you.
This hilarious memoir recounts growing up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, with a somewhat eccentric family.
Law’s divorced parents are trying to earn a living, while they adapt to the Australian way of life.
On top of this, Law is both Asian and gay, and writes candidly about finding his place in 1990s Queensland, when the vile One Nation political party is at peak popularity.
Law is regularly compared to David Sedaris and his writing is similarly introspective, tongue-in-cheek and just downright funny.
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World – Tyson Yunkaporta
I’m not reporting on Indigenous Knowledge systems for a global audience’s perspective. I’m examining global systems from an Indigenous Knowledge perspective.
You know when you finish a book and you’re like ‘wow, that book not only has changed my life but the way I see the world’?
Well, this book will have that kind of impact.
You have probably noticed that things in the world are… kinda bad. And it really does feel like the human race is perhaps up s*** creek, without a paddle.
So, what’s the solution? Perhaps, it’s been in front of us all along.
In this book, Yunkaporta examines how Indigenous culture(s) could heal the world.
He draws deep on First Nations traditions and his own personal insight, to offer up techniques to the reader on how they can best live and learn, as they walk the path of life.
While the writing is accessible, there are many challenging ideas in this, merely because they go against how many of us fundamentally see the world and our place within it.
Another Day in the Colony – Chelsea Watego
The Black Lives Matter movement has seen a surge of anti-racism books.
This is not one of them.
Rather, it’s one of those books about Australia that may make white readers feel… a little uncomfortable.
But – all the more reason to read it!
Professor Chelsea Watego doesn’t want to ‘hope’ things get better in so-called Australia.
She’d much rather explore ‘the emancipatory possibility of not giving a fuck’, maybe not exactly in the same way Mark Manson intended.
In this collection of essays, Watego examines the ongoing colonial violence experienced by First Nations people in Australia, and reflects on her own childhood and path into academia.
As she herself says, she isn’t a race theorist, but through her experiences, she exposes the lies that settlers tell about Indigenous people.
I mean yeah. This book isn’t written for white people. It’s written for Black people, bringing them back into conversations where they’ve otherwise been disregarded or ignored.
After all, we’re living in a country whose First Nations people were not supposed to survive, let alone flourish.
It’s a country that did everything it could to force its Indigenous people to die out.
Watego’s call to arms is simple. ‘Fuck hope. Be sovereign.’
Dark Emu – Bruce Pascoe
One of the most popular books about Australia’s history, Pascoe wanted to give his readers a better idea of what this great southern land was like before and after Europeans invaded the country.
Pascoe’s source material consists of interviews with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, fourth-generation farmers and settlers diaries (such as ‘famed’ ‘explorer’ Major Thomas Mitchell).
He uses these to paint a different picture of Australia before 1770.
The settlers in their ignorance, regularly downplayed and disrespected Australia’s Indigenous peoples economy, knowledge and relationship with country.
They claimed they didn’t fully ‘use’ the land, all to better justify taking it off them.
Rather, the First Nations peoples symbiotic relationship with the land allowed them to thrive for tens of thousands of years.
In contrast, it’s taken a mere 230 years for Europeans to completely upset the balance of this delicate ecosystem.
Pascoe’s book has received both positive and negative reviews. If anything, it certainly seems to have touched a nerve.
It left me wanting to know more about our Indigenous history – a living history, which we, as a country, are so lucky to have.
Best Australian true crime books
Here are some of the best books about Australia to read if you consider yourself a true crime junky.
Return to Uluru – Mark McKenna
A sacred place for the local Anangu people and a source of fascination for Europeans like Charles Sturt and Cecil Madigan, Uluru is a special place.
Mark McKenna certainly recognises it, but his proposed book on ‘the Centre’ went in a completely different direction, after he made a chilling discovery, which ‘unsettled the history’ he’d hoped to write.
A Pitjantjatjara man was executed by a group of men in 1934. He’d infringed tribal law and was being dealt with accordingly, in a manner that goes against European law.
Northern Territory policeman Bill McKinnon tracks down the murderers and arrests six suspects.
They escape on the trip back to Alice Springs. McKinnon pursues.
A man named Yokununna is wounded and tracked to a cave at the base of Uluru. He throws rocks through an opening in self-defence. McKinnon fires into the cave in response, killing him.
McKinnon claims that he acted in self-defence. He didn’t mean to seriously harm Yokununna.
A Board of Enquiry, stacked with his friends, unsurprisingly exonerates him.
It’s a story that has been told plenty of times and continues to be sadly relevant today.
The book isn’t all about McKinnon. McKenna introduces the reader to Central Australia and shifts from traditional history-writing of the area’s long history to the personal, as he covers his own relationship with this part of Australia, which captivates him like so many others before.
This is also a beautiful book to read, in that it’s filled with photographs and maps and the pages just… feel nice.
You come away with a little more knowledge of this vast and mysterious continent.
The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island – Chloe Hooper
Chloe Hooper is one of my favourite authors. The Walkley (a prestigious journalism award in Australia) award-winning writer sure knows how to tell a tale.
And The Tall Man certainly has a tale to tell.
This true story takes place on Palm Island, off Townsville in north Queensland.
In late 2004, 36 year old local Indigenous man Cameron Doomadgee is arrested for swearing at a policeman on the street, or loudly singing a song, depending on who you ask.
Senior Sargeant Chris Hurley, the ‘boss man’ of the island, forces him into the police van. Less than an hour later, Doomadgee dies in his cell.
This is not discovered until the next morning.
The Tall Man follows the police investigations andthe riot on Palm Island, which followed an announcement that the death was accidental.
Hurley is charged with murder, the first time a police officer had been charged over an Aboriginal death in custody.
A drawn-out inquest finds him guilty of manslaughter, before he is acquitted on mainland Australia by a Townsville jury.
While the book largely focuses on Doomadgee’s death and the events that followed, Hooper, who feels ‘incandescently white’ on her first visit to Palm Island, builds context by examining the relationship between police and Indigenous people on Palm Island and reflecting on the divide between north and south, Australia’s ‘two countries’.
Beautifully written, it’s sadly still relevant.
It’ll make you angry, sad and ashamed – but you won’t ever regret reading it.
Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmania Salmon Industry – Richard Flanagan
As far as true crime books about Australia go, there’s something fishy about this particular story.
Tasmania is gorgeous but it’s got a toxic secret – the billion-dollar Big Salmon industry, which is in bed with Tasmanian government and doing untold environmental damage to what once was a pristine environment.
Flannagan is a Booker-prize winning author and he doesn’t hold back in his investigation into the shady practices of farming Atlantic salmon in his home state.
One area he focuses on is the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, which separates Bruny Island from Tassie’s mainland.
Flanagan details how the channel has become degraded, by a corrupt industry chasing nothing else but profit.
He also reveals how the salmon, with its image of healthy, clean eating is just clever marketing.
The meat is dyed red and the salmon live out terrible lives in horrendous conditions.
Due to their diet, they contain fatty omega-6 oils, rather than the omega-3 oils, which are better for humans.
It’s harrowing, rage inducing read, which may turn you off Tasmanian salmon for life. And knowing all this, is that really such a bad thing?
Best books about Australian history
This ancient continent has a varied history. These are the best books about Australia to read if you’re a bit of a history buff.
Melbourne Circle: Walking, Memory and Loss – Nick Gadd
Melbourne Circle is part history book, part travel memoir and part love letter from author Nick Gadd to his partner, Lynne.
Over a two year period, Nick and Lynne spend their weekends circling the city of Melbourne on foot.
Shortly after they complete the journey, Lynne passes away from cancer (no spoilers I promise, it’s on the blurb of the book).
Nick processes his grief by recounting the journey to Lynne, speaking of the secret places they investigated, the old buildings and ghost signs they uncovered, as they walked around their city.
It’s a beautiful book to read.
Not only is it incredibly moving, but it’s filled with maps and Nick’s photographs, so you get a real sense of this places he covers.
The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka – Clare Wright
The Eureka Rebellion is a defining moment in Australia’s recent history, the pitting of gold miners against the corrupt ‘ruling class’ of law keepers and British colonial administration.
After gold is first struck in central Victoria, thousands flock to the region, hoping to make their fortune.
Women are largely absent from books set in this era of Australia’s colonial history. And that’s where this hefty tome steps in, to fill the gaps.
Wright’s Stella Prize-winning book covers the ‘forgotten’ rebels – the female diggers who made up a quarter of the population of the Ballarat goldfields in 1854 and had a most definite part to play in proceedings.
We’re introduced to key characters along the way, entreprenurial women who established stores, sold grog on the sly, managed theatres and hotels and even published the Ballarat Times.
These women dealt with dangerous pregnancies, domestic abuse, suffrage, legal prejudice and much more, sadly aligning with many issues women continue to face today.
It is certainly refreshing to read a history where the herstory is placed front and centre.
The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia – Don Watson
The ‘bush’, much like the outback, has a central place in the Australian psyche.
Yet, despite being considered the heartland of Australia, how much do we really know about it? Or have to do with it?
The bush is a social construct as well as an ecological one: as much as the things that grow and live there, we define it by the people who inhabit it.
European settlement led to mass clearing of Australia’s forests and bush land, the repercussions of we are dealing with today.
The lack of trees has seen weeds go wild, precious, fertile topsoil washed into rivers, soil salination and the extinction of many of our unique native animals (and less talked about but just as important, native flora).
Watson is a country boy, long drawn to the bush. As the title promises, he does travel as part of the research for this history book.
Yet the language is not dry; his lyrical writing brings the magic of the bush alive.
It can be challenging to define the bush, as Watson himself notes, ‘it is, by many accounts, the source of the nation’s idea of itself’.
This is one of the best books about Australia to read if you’re interested not only in the wild nature of the country, but the perception of Australia from an ideological point of view.
Truganini: Journey Through the Apolcapyse – Cassandra Pybus
Truganini is one of Australia’s best-known Indigenous figures.
Often and incorrectly referred to as the ‘last Aboriginal Tasmanian’, her life is often viewed as a tragedy.
She survives the 1820s, when the clans of south-eastern Tasmania are almost wiped out.
Truganini is then sent to Flinders Island, exiled with other Tasmanian Indigenous peoples. Many did not survive the outbreaks of influenza and other diseases.
After her death, despite her wishes, her skeleton is exhumed and put on display at the Tasmanian Museum until the 1940s. She is finally returned to her Aboroginal community in 1976 and cremated.
Cassandra Pybus’ ancestors told a story of an old Aboriginal woman who’d walk across their farm on Bruny Island in the 1850s and 1860s.
Pybus later realises this is Truganini, walking the ancestral lands of her people, the Nuenonne.
In this book, she examines original eyewitness accounts, to tell the full tale of Truganini’s extraordinary life.
So there you have it – these are some of the best books about Australia, each quite varied and original. Have you read any on this list? Any titles you’ve now added to your TBR pile? For more, check out these Australia travel essentials.