The best books about the history of Australia

Peter Grose Author Of Ten Rogues: The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile
By Peter Grose

Who am I?

I’ve now written four books, of which three are Australian history. My first two books were World War 2 military history. My publishers persist in calling each book a best-seller, and who am I to disagree? I live in France and my third book A Good Place To Hide is about a French community that rescued Jews from the Nazis. My fourth book Ten Rogues took me back to Australian history, telling the story of a bunch of ten convicts who in 1834 nicked a brig and sailed it from Tasmania to Chile without a map or a compass.


I wrote...

Ten Rogues: The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile

By Peter Grose,

Book cover of Ten Rogues: The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile

What is my book about?

The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile. From the grim docks of nineteenth-century London to the even grimmer shores of the brutal penal colony of Norfolk Island, this is a roller-coaster tale. It has everything: defiance of authority, treachery, piracy and mutiny, escape from the hangman's noose and even love. Peopled with good men, buffoons, incompetents and larrikin convicts of the highest order, Ten Rogues is an unexpected and wickedly entertaining story from the great annals of Australia's colonial history.

The books I picked & why

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The Fatal Shore

By Robert Hughes,

Book cover of The Fatal Shore

Why this book?

I used to say of The Fatal Shore that any Australian who hadn’t read it should have his or her passport confiscated and should not be allowed to vote. When I was taught history in school in Australia, we were endlessly told that the first colonists were on the brink of starvation. In The Fatal Shore, Bob marvels at all this. The blacks looked on incredulous at the starving settlers. Here were people surrounded by plenty: edible meat, edible fish, and edible native plants. Yet they would rather starve and yearn for a regular British diet than sample the natural riches around them.

The Fatal Shore

By Robert Hughes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An award-winning epic on the birth of Australia

In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonise Australia.

Documenting the brutal transportation of men, women and children out of Georgian Britain into a horrific penal system which was to be the precursor to the Gulag and was the origin of Australia, The Fatal Shore is the definitive, masterfully written narrative that has given its true history to Australia.

'A unique phantasmagoria of crime and punishment, which combines the shadowy terrors of Goya with the tumescent life of Dickens' Times


The Commonwealth of Thieves

By Thomas Keneally,

Book cover of The Commonwealth of Thieves

Why this book?

Tom is an old mate, and a magician with words. He is also a prodigious researcher. Books: yes. The bibliography in The Commonwealth of Thieves runs to seven tight-packed pages, divided between primary sources (three pages) and secondary sources. The bibliography is underpinned by no fewer than 27 pages of notes. The Australian history I was taught at school was hogwash. Tom has set it straight in this brilliantly researched and off-the-wall history of our early days.

The Commonwealth of Thieves

By Thomas Keneally,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this spirited history of the remarkable first four years of the convict settlement of Australia, Thomas Keneally offers us a human view of a fascinating piece of history. Combining the authority of a renowned historian with a brilliant narrative flair, Keneally gives us an inside view of this unprecedented experiment from the perspective of the new colony’s governor, Arthur Phillips. Using personal journals and documents, Keneally re-creates the hellish overseas voyage and the challenges Phillips faced upon arrival: unruly convicts, disgruntled officers, bewildered and hostile natives, food shortages, and disease. He also offers captivating portrayals of Aborigines and of…


Behind Bamboo: Hell on the Burma Railway

By Rohan Rivett,

Book cover of Behind Bamboo: Hell on the Burma Railway

Why this book?

I was five years old when this book first appeared (in 1946) but I must have been about 12 when I first read it, and the memory has stayed with me ever since. Rohan Rivett was a fine Australian journalist. He was captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell in February 1942, and stayed as a prisoner-of-war for the duration. It has stuck in my memory ever since, a simple and modest account of the horrors faced by Allied prisoners held by the Japanese.

Behind Bamboo: Hell on the Burma Railway

By Rohan Rivett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


The definitive first-hand account of life as an Australian POW during World War II, particularly on the notorious Burma railway, the setting for Richard Flanagan's Booker Prize-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Rohan Rivett was a journalist in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese in 1942.  He escaped south—across the treacherous Bangka Strait—to Indonesia, but was soon captured and became just one of thousands of POWs struggling for existence in a Japanese camp.  The struggle was to last for more than three years. Behind Bamboo is unflinching in its honesty and haunting in its realism.  It is…


Cooper's Creek: Tragedy and Adventure in the Australian Outback

By Alan Moorehead,

Book cover of Cooper's Creek: Tragedy and Adventure in the Australian Outback

Why this book?

Over the years Australia has produced a succession of superb journalists, of whom Alan Moorehead was one of the most distinguished, both as a war correspondent and as a writer of non-fiction books. Cooper’s Creek tells the story of the Burke and Wills 1860 expedition, which set out to cross Australia from south to north. It is a tale of heroism, tenacity, and sheer, rotten luck. Almost everybody perished, some when rescue was literally hours away.

Cooper's Creek: Tragedy and Adventure in the Australian Outback

By Alan Moorehead,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1860, an expedition set out from Melbourne, Australia, into the interior of the country, with the mission to find a route to the northern coast. Headed by Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills, the party of adventurers, scientists, and camels set out into the outback hoping to find enough water and to keep adequate food stores for their trek into the bush. Almost one year later, Burke, Wills, and two others from their party, Gray and King, reached the northern shore but on their journey back, they were stranded at Cooper’s Creek where all but King perished. Cooper’s…


The Singing Line

By Alice Thomson,

Book cover of The Singing Line

Why this book?

This really is quite an extraordinary book, published on 1 January 1999. Alice Thomson is a British journalist who came to Australia to write a history of the overland telegraph line connecting Darwin to Adelaide. The line was built by her great-grandfather Charles Todd, a young English engineer. It is partly a touching love story, part a great historical narrative, and part a fascinating travel book. To do her research, Alice Thomson and her husband came to Australia and drove the length of the old telegraph line, picking up anecdotes and atmosphere along the way. As an aside, I mention that a seamless line of women in Alice Thomson’s family have borne the name Alice. Alice Springs was named after Charles Todd’s young wife Alice. The dry river that runs through Alice Springs is called the Todd River.

The Singing Line

By Alice Thomson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This work charts the author's journey in the footsteps of her great-great grandfather, Charles Heavitree Todd, the man who strung the telegraph across Australia. It brings together a mix of family history and exploration with a young couple's trek, as they follow the same line 150 years later.


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