Classic Australian Books You Should Read In Your Lifetime
With our round-up of the Australian best books of all time, you’ll laugh, cry and be moved with these must-read books.
There’s nothing better than cosying up with a hot cuppa and a ripping read. The hours fly by, and you’re drawn into worlds you could never have imagined. To help you meet your next great book love, we’ve turned back the clock and made our list of the best Australian books of all time.
So line up your literary bucket list with our edit of classic Australian books you should read in your lifetime.
The legendary Miles Franklin is widely known as one of the most important writers of our time, this book, which was written while Franklin was still a teenager. The novel, a true Aussie classic, follows Sybylla, a headstrong girl and her adventures growing up in rural Australian in the 1890s. The story touches on everything from romance and family drama and serious issues of drought, alcoholism and crushing debt. If you can’t quite commit to the novel, definitely check out the Academy Award-nominated film adaptation.
Simply overflowing with most beautiful, lyrical prose you’ll ever read, Merry-Go-Round in the Sea is a true Australian classic. Set in 1941, the novel shows you Geraldton and Western Australia through the eyes of Rob Coram, a six year old boy. As Rob grows up and the world around him changes, he grapples with what it means to be a grown up and the effect of the war on those around particularly his cousin and hero Rick. The book is brimming over with the most glorious type of nostalgia and images of childhood. To borrow from the book itself,‘the merry-go-round would turn by itself, just a little above the green water. The world would revolve around him, and nothing would ever change… and it would be today forever.’
This eerie and captivating mystery casts a long shadow over the Australian literary scene. Ethereal and enigmatic, the historical fiction novel is presented as if it were a true story and tells the tale of a group of girls leaving for a picnic on Valentine's Day in 1900. Three of them will not return.
Peter Carey’s Booker Prize winning novel follows it’s titular characters through a rather unusual love story. Oscar is a young English clergyman with a taste and a talent for gambling and Lucina is an ambitious country heiress who moves to Sydney with the hopes of making a life for herself. Both serious gamblers the mid-nineteenth story hinges of a bet and the roll of a dice.
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (1991)
In one word? Epic. A sprawling tale that takes us through the lives of two families, the Lambs and the Pickles who live together in a Perth house over a period of 20 years. The novel follows the families as they face hardship and heartache, face tragedies and triumphs. The book is quintessentially Australian and you’d be hard pressed to ever find a better representation of Australian life from 1943 to 1963.
Though this is certainly more of a YA novel than the others on this list, this book is such a classic that we absolutely had to include it. Melina Marchetta’s debut novel tells us the story of Josephine Alibrandi as she navigates her HSC year at a private girls school, navigates, racism, classism, grief and figures out how to make those difficult first steps into adulthood. Plus, if you can get your hands on the film adaptation, it’s an absolute much-watch especially if you grew up in Sydney!
This Booker Prize-winning novel tells the tale of Australia’s most famous outlaw. Depicted as a rambling, first-person autobiography written by Ned Kelly as he flees from the police. The novel gives you a unique depiction of Ned Kelly and shows us who he really was – or at least who Peter Carey thinks he was – if he was a hero, a thief a murderer or something else entirely!
The Turning by Tim Winton (2005)
The delicately interlaced short stories in Tim Winton’s The Turning tell the story of modern day Australia. With Winton’s distinct light illuminating the good, the bad and the ugly. While there are moments of hope, Winton leans into everything that makes us uncomfortable, shining light on struggle with genuine tenderness and without a shadow of judgement. Throughout all 17 short stories you’ll always find something beautiful to hold onto.
Set on the Hawkesbury in the early nineteenth century, The Secret River tells the story of the genesis of ‘Australia’ as we know it today. The story explores the story of a convict transported to New South Wales, who was then freed and ‘given new land.’ The story of a shadowy chapter in our nations past without ever shying away from the fact that our country was invaded and the land stolen from the rightful, traditional owners.
Later known as an acclaimed ABC show starring Melissa George, the source material for The Slap is a must-read for all Australians. At the centre of the story is a pivotal moment during a suburban Melbourne backyard barbeque, when a man slaps a child who isn’t his own. This single act ripples through the lives of all present, exposing fractures along racial and class lines and making everyone question what it means to be loyal.
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (2009)
Set in a small town in rural Western Australia (it’s crazy how many of these classic books are sent in Western Australia!), Jasper Jones is a YA Australian gothic tale. Set in 1965, the story centres on 13-year-old Charlie Bucktin and begins as whispers run through a small town after a young girl goes mysteriously missing. It’s been called Australia’s answer to To Kill A Mockingbird so that should give you a good gauge of just how good this book is!
Winner of the Man Booker Prize, Richard Flanagan’s sixth novel is considered his magnum opus. Unsurprisingly, as one of the best books of all time, the book delves into the trauma suffered by Australian POWs during a brutal Japanese project that became known as the ‘Thailand-Burma Death Railway’. Survivor, Dorrigo Evans, is a feted war hero in old age but remains haunted by the personal mistakes, lost loves and trauma that have trailed him since that unspeakable time in his life. Dark, sprawling and rooted in history, the novel is a deeply affecting examination of how hard it is to live after survival.
This novel from literary legend Markus Zusak – of The Book Thief fame – tells the tale of five brothers and their mysterious absentee father in a Sydney suburb. The story centres on Clay who will do anything to keep his family together but, how far is he willing to go and how much is he willing to forgive?
Melissa Lucashenko’s searing dark comedy is written entirely in the voice of stripped back, salt of the earth chatter – not the stylised prose that many would expect of a Stella Prize and Miles Franklin award-winning book. Unrelenting and acerbically funny, the novel is an unvarnished portrait of intergenerational Aboriginal trauma set among family drama, corrupt politicians and greedy developers. Every page is set at a ripping pace, ablaze with magic realism, spilled secrets and unforgettable characters, leading to the discovery that no matter how frayed the ties, the power of family is ultimate. Not only is this a must-read, it is one of the best books of all time.
After working your way through the best books of all time, you may be after more ways to love your time at home. So, why not spruce up the place with some fresh blooms or lush plants, delivered to your door? Now that you’ve created a heavenly space, these are all the things we do to curb that pesky cabin fever.
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