The best politically engaged books about Australia

Judith Brett Author Of From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting
By Judith Brett

Who am I?

I'm a political historian who writes for my fellow citizens and I have chosen books by writers who do the same. Books which are written with passion and purpose: to shift political understanding, to speak truth to power, to help people understand their country and the world, and to inspire a commitment to improving them.


I wrote...

From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting

By Judith Brett,

Book cover of From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting

What is my book about?

Australia is the only English-speaking democracy to make voting compulsory. Australians do not see this as a contradiction of democracy but its embodiment, that the government is selected not just by the majority of people who turn out but the majority eligible to vote, and turnouts are regularly above 90%. Compulsory voting is accompanied by compulsory voter registration, preferential voting, the non-partisan administration of elections and voting on Saturdays, with barbeques and cake stalls at polling stations, and election night parties that spill over into Sunday morning. The benefits are immense. Compulsory voting brings to the polls the poor and marginalised, young people and new citizens, and busy people with no axes to grind who dilute the impact of polarising zealots and moral crusaders.

The books I picked & why

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Australia

By W.K. Hancock,

Book cover of Australia

Why this book?

A classic written on the eve of the Great Depression on the political culture of the British settlers in the great south land, with its commitment to egalitarianism, to bureaucratic process, and to protection all round, with restricted immigration and protective tariffs building ring-fences around ordinary workers’ standard of living. Hancock does not wholly approve of the result, which he sees as encouraging mediocre conformity. Written with verve and a sardonic eye.


The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia

By Henry Reynolds,

Book cover of The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia

Why this book?

A confronting history of the British invasion of Australia, documenting the massacres but also the resistance of indigenous people across the continent as they defended their tribal lands well into the twentieth century. No longer could anyone imagine that Australia had been settled peacefully. The book had a profound impact on Australians’  understanding of their history, but also on the continuing political struggle for indigenous rights.


The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change

By Tim Flannery,

Book cover of The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change

Why this book?

The story of climate change over millions of years up to the present when burning fossil fuels is heating our planet and threatening not just the survival of human society but the intricately linked ecologies of the natural world. Australia is already feeling the effects, with worse droughts, terrible fires, repeated coral bleachings on the Great Barrier Reef, and escalating species extinction. Flannery writes brilliantly about the impact of humans on nature, and also on what we can do, individually and collectively, to avert catastrophe.


You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World

By Clare Wright,

Book cover of You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World

Why this book?

Australian women won the right to vote decades before their British and American sisters. In 1893 the colony of South Australia was the second place to grant it, after New Zealand the year before, and the first to give women the right to stand for parliament. Many Australian women joined the international suffrage crusade as activists, agitators, and intellectuals. This is their story, as they marched, organised, lectured, and staged amazing stunts, like dropping handbills from a dirigible on the procession of King Edward to open the winter session of the British parliament in 1909. 


Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform

By Marilyn Lake,

Book cover of Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform

Why this book?

Australia, like Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, was settled as a White Man’s land, where the inequities and corruption of the Old World would be replaced by the egalitarianism and democratic commitments of New World progressivism. But there was no place for Indigenous peoples who were deemed backward and primitive. Lake explores the links between American and Australasian reformers at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century and the way they combined racial self-confidence with a commitment to forging an ideal social order. Lake shows that race and reform were mutually supportive as Progressivism became the political logic of settler colonialism.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Australia, Indigenous Australians, and colonies?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Australia, Indigenous Australians, and colonies.

Australia Explore 178 books about Australia
Indigenous Australians Explore 11 books about Indigenous Australians
Colonies Explore 41 books about colonies

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Songlines, Remembering Babylon, and The Yield if you like this list.