The best books about Australian animals

Danielle Clode Author Of Killers In Eden: The True Story of Killer Whales and their Remarkable Partnership with the Whalers of Twofold Bay
By Danielle Clode

The Books I Picked & Why

The Mammals of Australia

By Ronald Strahan

Book cover of The Mammals of Australia

Why this book?

The Mammals of Australia is one of the go-to books on my bookshelf. It covers all the mammals in Australia with great pictures, maps, simple summaries, and readable and interesting facts. When it was published, it summarized all the latest information in one place and has been an invaluable reference ever since. Every time I pick it up I find myself reading about some other fascinating species as well as the one I was looking up.

It covers everything from koalas and quolls to dugongs and dingoes, to monotremes and marsupial moles. It covers bats and seals and introduced mammals (although not whales). I wish I had a book like this for every major taxonomic group. 

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The Silver Brumby

By Elyne Mitchell

Book cover of The Silver Brumby

Why this book?

A kid’s novel about wild horses (known as brumbies in Australia) might seem a strange choice for recommendations about Australian animals, but Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby was the first book I read that really captured the Australian landscape and its plants and animals. It was also one of the few books that told a story from the perspective of a wild animal without anthropomorphizing.

It’s a wonderfully evocative homage to the Australian alps and the creatures that live there and it reflects a lot of the dilemmas facing Australian conservation today. Wild horses, or brumbies, do a huge amount of environmental damage in Australia and yet a lot of people love them. In some ways, this book is symbolic of the difficult decisions we have to make to rectify some of the damage we have done, and continue to do, to our wildlife.

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Koala: A Historical Biography

By Ann Moyal

Book cover of Koala: A Historical Biography

Why this book?

Koalas are one of Australia’s most loved and most well-recognized animals, and yet it’s surprising how little is known about them.  They feature prominently in Australian Indigenous stories, and yet were rarely used for clothing or artwork. When Europeans first arrived, it took them over 10 years before they even noticed these strange animals living in the trees above them and they have continued to bemuse scientists ever since. Ann Moyal, one of Australia’s most eminent historians of science, tackles the story of how we know what we do about koalas in an intriguing story about our patchy history with the koala, from neglect and exploitation and near extinction, to protection and international fame as the poster-child for Australian conservation.

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Diary of a Wombat

By Jackie French, Bruce Whatley

Book cover of Diary of a Wombat

Why this book?

There are loads of great picture books that feature Australian animals but one of my favorites is Diary of a Wombat. It’s a very simple story told from the perspective of a wombat and it highlights their adorable, but also irascible and fairly destructive personalities. It’s incredibly difficult to pull off an ‘animal voice’ without it sounding like a person or a bit patronising, but Jackie French really nails it in this book, probably because of her extensive experience with looking after wombats. And the illustrations by Bruce Whatley are full of fun and joy. It makes me laugh every time I read it.

If wombats read books, I think this is the one they would love best, and what book about animals needs a better endorsement than that? 

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By Robbie Arnott

Book cover of Flames

Why this book?

This genre-busting debut novel by Tasmanian writer Robbie Arnott defies all attempts to describe or classify it. The writing is vibrant and beautiful. It’s a book that fills your lungs with a blast of fresh air, the scents of the cool southern rainforests and dazzles you with clouds and sun and rain and fire. It seamlessly blends realism with a spirit world, binding the human to the animal in an evocatively magical and disturbing story that brings Australian nature and animals into focus in an entirely new literary landscape. I defy anyone to read this book and not fall in love with the Rakali and weep a little the next time it rains. Quite the most remarkable book I’ve read.

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