The best Australian books about conquering homophobia

Who am I?

A century of prejudice is laid bare in these books, but within their pages are countless subtle and overt ways that gay Australian men have given homophobes the big middle finger. We may not always have thrived, but through resistance, migration, verbal agility, notoriety, and sheer resilience, collectively we have conquered. I stand on enormous shoulders at a time when queer writing is proliferating on an inevitable tide of equality that has risen across my lifetime in this country. My selections encompass first nations and migrant stories, some of the pioneers of our gay literature, and ‘outside’ voices bravely looking in to discern us with dignity.

I wrote...

Tank Water

By Michael Burge,

Book cover of Tank Water

What is my book about?

James Brandt didn’t look back when he got away from his rural hometown as a teenager. Now, he’s returned to Kippen because his cousin Tony has been found dead under the local bridge. The event triggers James’s journalistic curiosity—and his anxiety—both of which cropped up during his turbulent journey to adulthood. 

But it is the unexpected homophobic attack he survives that draws James into a hunt for the reasons one lonely Kippen farm boy in every generation kills himself. Standing in the way is James’s father, the town’s recently retired top cop, who is not prepared to investigate crimes no one reckons have taken place. James must use every newshound’s trick he ever learned in order to uncover the brutal truth.

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The books I picked & why


By Sumner Locke Elliott,

Book cover of Fairyland

Why did I love this book?

Elliott came out to his fans with this beautiful novel charting the life and times of Seaton Ross, a protagonist in the author’s image. Despite the terrible series of obstacles placed in Seaton’s way, from overbearing or absent family, deeply closeted and self-centred lovers to furious fag hags, he manages to escape Australia—just as Elliott didwithout developing a lasting hatred in his exile. Rendered with the author’s signature wit (he took a leaf from E. M. Forster), the homophobia of Australia’s working classes becomes a source of this novel’s pathos, so that when Seaton encounters the most shocking consequences a gay man can face, we are ill-prepared. A wry, sexy, heartfelt swan song from the Australian who made it big in the American broadcasting industry.

By Sumner Locke Elliott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fairyland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The final book by Sumner Locke Elliott, the award-winning author of Careful, He Might Hear You.

Drawing heavily on Locke Elliott's own experiences, Fairyland charts the life of Seaton Daly, an aspiring writer coming to terms with his homosexuality in the repressive atmosphere of inner-city Sydney during the 1930s and '40s. Lonely and naive, Daly dreams of escaping to the 'promised land' of the United States.

Fairyland is an intimate, affecting, sometimes harrowing portrayal of a lifelong search for love. Sumner Locke Elliott's 'coming out' novel, it was first published in 1990, the year before his death.

This new edition…

Book cover of The Devil's Grip: A true story of shame, sheep and shotguns

Why did I love this book?

A page-turning journey through the motivations, passions, and secrets that led to a shocking crime; but also a long-overdue look at the elements of Brokeback Mountain that have always existed in Australia's rural heartlands. Assisted by a key survivor of the Wettenhall family drama—Bob Perry—Drinnan takes a very personalised look back at a rural dynasty’s fortunes, but also the social, legal, and cultural restrictions for same-sex-attracted men in Australia from the 1970s to the present day. Australia is a nation said to have been built on the sheep's back, yet the truth about gays in this nation's bush culture is only just emerging. Drinnan's book sharply spearheaded the discussion into the mainstream while documenting Perry’s journey from the closet to liberation.  

By Neal Drinnan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Devil's Grip as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Seven shots ring out in the silence of Victoria’s rolling Barrabool Hills. As the final recoil echoes through the paddocks, a revered sheep-breeding dynasty comes to a bloody and inglorious end.

No one could have anticipated the orgy of violence that wiped out three generations of the Wettenhall family, much less the lurid scandals about Darcy Wettenhall, the man behind the world famous Stanbury sheep stud, that would emerge from the aftermath.
Almost three decades later, the web of secrets and lies that led to this bizarre and seemingly motiveless murder spree are unravelled with the help of Bob Perry,…

Red Herrings for Breakfast

By Annabet Ousback,

Book cover of Red Herrings for Breakfast

Why did I love this book?

This is a searing memoir about siblingsAnnabet and Anderswho grew up in an abusive household in a privileged Sydney suburb; but it is also the author’s search for the reasons behind her gay brother’s suicide. Anders Ousback became an accomplished restaurateur and potter, yet Annabet explores how despite this success, he never really outran his demons. She courageously searches for their source, using his surviving journal as clues, and what she finds throws up an incomplete and terrifying picture of a young gay Australian boy faced with the ‘rules’ of gender and sexual politics in postwar Sydney, where gay men were expected to pretend to survive. The real red herring in this story is unforgettable.

By Annabet Ousback,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Red Herrings for Breakfast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Annabet and her younger brother Anders grew up in idyllic surrounds on the lower north shore of Sydney in the 1950s. They lived in the original boatshed on Balmoral Beach and had an Australian mother and an imposing Swedish Naval captain for a father. However, nothing was as it seemed and Annabet and Anders were exposed to harsh, often irrational and frequently violent discipline from both parents, which left them emotionally unbalanced and starved of affection. In a time where domestic violence was never discussed within the family let alone outside it, Annabet and Anders struggled to keep their spirits…


By Christos Tsiolkas,

Book cover of Barracuda

Why did I love this book?

Danny Kelly is a living, breathing gay Greek protagonist, and the choices this driven young competitive swimmer faces about loving relationshipswhile he’s in the pursuit of athletic prowessare written with a resounding ring of truth. Tsiolkas’ visceral sex scenes, underpinned by gripping descriptions of the desires behind the mechanics, speak to much more than the act itself. They go to the heart of identity in a novel with so many layers of self-definition: the migrant, the working class hero, the quintessential male, the stereotypical gay, the success story, and the abject failure. That Danny escapes his ambition alive is a miracle, and it has everything to do with digging deep and staring down expectations.

By Christos Tsiolkas,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Barracuda as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the international bestselling and Booker Prize nominated author of The Slap comes a blazingly brilliant new novel.

Longlisted for the 2014 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

You lose everything. In front of everyone. Where do you go from here?

Daniel Kelly, a talented young swimmer, has one chance to escape his working-class upbringing. His astonishing ability in the pool should drive him to fame and fortune, as well as his revenge on the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports scholarship. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has…

Book cover of Jack Charles: Born-Again Blakfella

Why did I love this book?

Homophobia appears to have been the least of Jack Charles’ worries. If it ever bothered him, he barely lets it register in this memoir of a creative life lived both on the fringes and in the spotlight. Perhaps that’s the point, that his eloquent, good-humoured approach always seemed to scotch the haters right from the get-go. In an unbendingly honest self-reflection, Charles also pulls off describing himself as a “poof”, a very Australian term of derision that has been reclaimed by many. His ‘born again’ tale similarly relates how he survived in the face of terrible prejudices endured by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islandersthe First Nations people of Australiaand their vibrant, resilient spirit. An uplifting gem.

By Jack Charles,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jack Charles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stolen from his mother and placed into institutional care when he was only a few months old, Uncle Jack was raised under the government’s White Australia Policy. The loneliness and isolation he experienced during those years had a devastating impact on him that endured long after he reconnected with his Aboriginal roots and discovered his stolen identity. Even today he feels like an outsider; a loner; a fringe dweller.

In this honest and no-holds-barred memoir, Uncle Jack reveals the ‘ups and downs of this crazy, drugged up, locked up, fucked up, and at times unbelievable, life’. From his sideline as…

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Interested in homophobia, Australia, and Sydney Australia?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about homophobia, Australia, and Sydney Australia.

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