The best books about Australia

33 authors have picked their favorite books about Australia and why they recommend each book.

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The Singing Line

By Alice Thomson,

Book cover of The Singing Line

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.


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.

Tracks

By Robyn Davidson,

Book cover of Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback

I read this book in my twenties and then again in my forties and loved it just as much the second time. With her four camels and dog, Robyn Davidson trekked from Alice Springs westward across Australia’s desert all the way to the ocean. Her eight-month journey was often gruelling but just as often it was joyous and exhilarating. She endured sweltering heat, lecherous men, poisonous snakes, and more than once, her camels vanished in the night and she’d spend days searching for them. As she walks, she contemplates life while immersed in the staggering beauty of her surroundings. This is the kind of transformational odyssey that compels you to explore this planet before it’s too late.  


Who am I?

Laurie Gough is a journalist and award-winning author of three memoirs: Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman’s Travel Odyssey; Kiss the Sunset Pig: An American Road Trip with Exotic Detours; and Stolen Child: A Mother’s Journey to Rescue Her Son from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Over twenty of her stories have been anthologized in literary travel books and her books have been translated into several languages. She has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, and has written for The Guardian, The L.A. Times, Maclean’s, The Walrus, USA Today, Salon.com, The National Post, Canadian Geographic, among others.


I wrote...

Kiss The Sunset Pig: A Canadian's American Road Trip With Exotic Detours

By Laurie Gough,

Book cover of Kiss The Sunset Pig: A Canadian's American Road Trip With Exotic Detours

What is my book about?

Laurie Gough is heading west across the USA in a beater car named Marcia, hoping this is a homecoming to the land of her dreams. Back in her early twenties, she lived in a cave on a beach in California for six days and found purpose in her life, listening to waves in the moonlight. The trouble is, she’s now lost that enthusiasm. As she makes her way across the country, meeting a variety of eccentric characters, she recalls her adventures of the last decade – in Greece, the Arctic, Sumatra, the Yukon, Korea, Thailand, Jamaica – trying to discover where she lost her younger, more free-spirited self.  As she closes in on the place of her dreams, she peels back the layers of cynicism that life builds up around us, and finds that our old selves may be still inside us if we only bother to look.

A Military History of Australia

By Jeffrey Grey,

Book cover of A Military History of Australia

My late colleague at UNSW Canberra, Jeff Grey, wrote this important book at the age of just 31. The product of a military family, Jeff blossomed from a specialist in Commonwealth operations in the Korean war into the author of a confident, opinionated (but impressively well researched) general history that went through three editions before Jeff’s untimely death in 2016. Jeff deserves credit for seeing that despite the resurgence in interest in Australia’s military history over the 1980s, no one had spotted the need for a comprehensive book that showed us how the bits went together. Thirty years on, no one has bettered it.


Who am I?

I am a Research Professor in history at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. I now mostly write on the military history of British India history but for 27 years I worked at the Australian War Memorial, Australia’s national military museum, where I became Principal Historian. Much of my career was devoted to Australian military history and more than half of my 40 or so books are in that field. That puts me in a good position to comment upon what I think are the five best books in the field of Australian military history (my own excepted, of course). 


I wrote...

Bad Characters

By Peter Stanley,

Book cover of Bad Characters

What is my book about?

Having left the Australian War Memorial in 2007 I felt able to write what I liked about Australia’s experience of the Great War, a key episode in Australia’s sense of national identity. Picking up an insight from the official historian, Charles Bean, that his history accepted ‘the good and the bad’ of the story (but realising that neither he – nor anyone - had said much about the ‘bad’), I began to explore the other side of the medal, researching what Australians celebrate as their soldiers’ ’larrikinism’ – harmless high spirits.

I showed that Australians, while good fighters, made poor soldiers – unwilling to submit to military discipline, prone to say what they thought and while venerating mateship, more likely to desert than any other army in the British empire. Expecting to affront those who venerate ‘the Anzacs’, I was surprised to find that readers accepted that (as Bean had seen) war history needed to encompass the ‘good and bad’ – and the book jointly won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, an award that dramatically changed my career.

Sacred Places

By K.S. Inglis,

Book cover of Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape

Ken Inglis, an Australian who began as a scholar of religion in Victorian Britain, discovered in the 1980s that he wanted to understand the way war (which had been neglected by Australians more interested in organised labour or ‘the Bush’) had shaped the nation in the twentieth century. He found that war memorials, a pervasive feature of the Australian landscape, provided a key to that question. Based on a huge national survey and the labour of willing volunteers, in 1998 he, at last, published his magisterial Sacred Places, a study of ‘war memorials in the Australian landscape’. Rightly revered by those fortunate to have known him as a wise and humane scholar, Ken’s book – successively revised as anniversaries and war memorials proliferated – appeared in three prize-winning editions. Ken died in 2017, mourned as a key pioneer in understanding how war has permeated Australia’s modern history.


Who am I?

I am a Research Professor in history at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. I now mostly write on the military history of British India history but for 27 years I worked at the Australian War Memorial, Australia’s national military museum, where I became Principal Historian. Much of my career was devoted to Australian military history and more than half of my 40 or so books are in that field. That puts me in a good position to comment upon what I think are the five best books in the field of Australian military history (my own excepted, of course). 


I wrote...

Bad Characters

By Peter Stanley,

Book cover of Bad Characters

What is my book about?

Having left the Australian War Memorial in 2007 I felt able to write what I liked about Australia’s experience of the Great War, a key episode in Australia’s sense of national identity. Picking up an insight from the official historian, Charles Bean, that his history accepted ‘the good and the bad’ of the story (but realising that neither he – nor anyone - had said much about the ‘bad’), I began to explore the other side of the medal, researching what Australians celebrate as their soldiers’ ’larrikinism’ – harmless high spirits.

I showed that Australians, while good fighters, made poor soldiers – unwilling to submit to military discipline, prone to say what they thought and while venerating mateship, more likely to desert than any other army in the British empire. Expecting to affront those who venerate ‘the Anzacs’, I was surprised to find that readers accepted that (as Bean had seen) war history needed to encompass the ‘good and bad’ – and the book jointly won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, an award that dramatically changed my career.

Down Under

By Bill Bryson,

Book cover of Down Under: Travels in a Sunburned Country

Bryson’s various travelogues give you such colourful views of the places he visits and, if you’re journeying to Australia, Down Under is a must-read. Expertly combining sharp observations, unusual factual snippets, and incisive wit, the pictures he paints will inspire you to travel and see it for yourself... or alternatively, persuade you to avoid it at all cost. Whichever the result, you will be amply entertained. 


Who am I?

As an independent traveller, and throughout a career supporting international nature conservation, I’ve been fortunate to see many far-flung places of the world. Over the years, technology (eg. smartphones, internet, social media) has radically changed the way we travel, and indeed our expectations. Nowadays we want instant access, instant answers, instant results; we hate waiting for anything. However, long-haul travel still demands us to wait... in airport lounges, at train stations, bus stops, and onboard our transport while we endure long hours before reaching our destination. While some aspects have changed, patience, humour, and a good book still remain the best companions for any long journey. 


I wrote...

Diary of a Shy Backpacker: Awakening Down Under

By Bruce Spydar,

Book cover of Diary of a Shy Backpacker: Awakening Down Under

What is my book about?

Diary of a Shy Backpacker is a romcom travelogue that has been described as “refreshingly different” and as “a saucy, fun, entertaining read which perfectly captures the backpacking experience.” The series is a semi-fictional account, loosely derived from my own 'selectively-enhanced’ adventures, travelling in the days before smartphones and social media. We begin in Australia with Awakening Down Under, before moving to New Zealand in Eye on the Prize, and finally to Canada in No Looking Back. Throughout the journey you’ll be entertained, as one reader put it, by “colourful characters, beautiful landscapes and of course... throbbing loins.” Why not join the ride?

Ultimate Road Trips Australia

By Lee Atkinson,

Book cover of Ultimate Road Trips Australia

Australians love a road-trip – the longer, the better. This book, by one of Australia’s top driving holiday experts, is jam-packed with information and advice to make yours as easy as possible. Driving is definitely the best way to see our vast continent, and the route maps and distance lists are hugely useful. It’s a great resource on where to stay – everything from swank hotels to camping spots – and what to do. Want to know the best time of year to visit a certain place? That’s covered too.


Who am I?

As a full-time travel writer for 30 years, I’ve travelled all over Australia and am still constantly surprised and thrilled by new places. Ask me what my favourite place is, and it’s impossible to choose! From the grandeur of Western Australia’s Kimberley and the red ochre colours of the Outback to the deep blue of the oceans and lush rainforests...I love it all and I love sharing my discoveries – both in cities and on the long and winding roads – with readers. When I’m not travelling or writing about it, I’m usually planning the next trip!


I wrote...

Frommer's Australia

By Lee Mylne,

Book cover of Frommer's Australia

What is my book about?

Find the Australia of your dreams – scope out Sydney’s best surf beaches, find the top laneway cafes and street art scenes in arty Melbourne, discover the best places to come face-to-face with Australia’s unique wildlife, and the most colourful underwater playgrounds on the Great Barrier Reef. Learn why Indigenous experiences are the key to unlocking Australia’s reality. Then there are the hotels, restaurants and unmissable attractions…and I’ve visited them all.

Updated every year (until the pandemic temporarily interrupted travel plans), this guide distills the best of Australia’s capital cities and their surrounds. The Frommer’s format is tried and tested, honest and opinionated and designed to appeal to all budgets.

Top Walks in Australia

By Melanie Ball,

Book cover of Top Walks in Australia

Melanie is passionate about the great outdoors and has hiked all over Australia. Her book (a second edition is due out in early 2022) covers an incredible 66 walks and her love of the landscape shines through. Some of the walks are well known, such as Tasmania’s Overland Track, while others are lesser-known. Designed for all abilities and time constraints, there’s really something for everyone, whether you want to walk in tropical rainforests or rocky ancient escarpments. It makes me want to pull on my hiking boots and go!


Who am I?

As a full-time travel writer for 30 years, I’ve travelled all over Australia and am still constantly surprised and thrilled by new places. Ask me what my favourite place is, and it’s impossible to choose! From the grandeur of Western Australia’s Kimberley and the red ochre colours of the Outback to the deep blue of the oceans and lush rainforests...I love it all and I love sharing my discoveries – both in cities and on the long and winding roads – with readers. When I’m not travelling or writing about it, I’m usually planning the next trip!


I wrote...

Frommer's Australia

By Lee Mylne,

Book cover of Frommer's Australia

What is my book about?

Find the Australia of your dreams – scope out Sydney’s best surf beaches, find the top laneway cafes and street art scenes in arty Melbourne, discover the best places to come face-to-face with Australia’s unique wildlife, and the most colourful underwater playgrounds on the Great Barrier Reef. Learn why Indigenous experiences are the key to unlocking Australia’s reality. Then there are the hotels, restaurants and unmissable attractions…and I’ve visited them all.

Updated every year (until the pandemic temporarily interrupted travel plans), this guide distills the best of Australia’s capital cities and their surrounds. The Frommer’s format is tried and tested, honest and opinionated and designed to appeal to all budgets.

Loving Country

By Bruce Pascoe, Vicky Shukuroglou,

Book cover of Loving Country: A Guide to Sacred Australia

Far from an ordinary guidebook, Loving Country, A Guide to Sacred Australia gets to the heart of this ancient continent through the eyes and stories of Australia’s First Nations people. Beautifully designed and illustrated with photographs, the book opens up an Australia that many visitors never – sadly – see. Exploring Australia’s Indigenous culture is one of the best ways to understand this country, and there are many ways of doing that, if you seek them out. After consultation with Indigenous communities and elders, the authors have chosen just 18 places to feature, telling the stories of the Dreaming, explaining traditional cultural practices, and outlining tours that will open a new world to those who care to dive deep into the culture.


Who am I?

As a full-time travel writer for 30 years, I’ve travelled all over Australia and am still constantly surprised and thrilled by new places. Ask me what my favourite place is, and it’s impossible to choose! From the grandeur of Western Australia’s Kimberley and the red ochre colours of the Outback to the deep blue of the oceans and lush rainforests...I love it all and I love sharing my discoveries – both in cities and on the long and winding roads – with readers. When I’m not travelling or writing about it, I’m usually planning the next trip!


I wrote...

Frommer's Australia

By Lee Mylne,

Book cover of Frommer's Australia

What is my book about?

Find the Australia of your dreams – scope out Sydney’s best surf beaches, find the top laneway cafes and street art scenes in arty Melbourne, discover the best places to come face-to-face with Australia’s unique wildlife, and the most colourful underwater playgrounds on the Great Barrier Reef. Learn why Indigenous experiences are the key to unlocking Australia’s reality. Then there are the hotels, restaurants and unmissable attractions…and I’ve visited them all.

Updated every year (until the pandemic temporarily interrupted travel plans), this guide distills the best of Australia’s capital cities and their surrounds. The Frommer’s format is tried and tested, honest and opinionated and designed to appeal to all budgets.

Breath

By Tim Winton,

Book cover of Breath

Winton is one of Australia’s most celebrated authors for his effortless prose. In Breath, he vividly captures the moment restless ennui of life in a small town meets the Australian desire to push boundaries, building background tension that eventually crashes Aussie surf culture down like a dumper and leaves everything broken. While the award-winning Cloudstreet is often considered Winton’s ‘Great Australian Novel’, the historic setting and vernacular felt somewhat contrived to me. I consider Breath Winton’s true masterpiece, which stays with you long after you finish the final page.


Who am I?

I’m an author, poet, and editor who works in natural history and social history publishing by day, explaining the unique flora and fauna, culture, and spirit of this ancient continent. By night, I moonlight as a fiction author, writing whatever takes my fancy. Seeing Australia and understanding Australia aren’t always the same thing in a country with unforgiving stony desert at its heart, more venomous creepy-crawlies than you can ‘poke a stick at’ (but please don’t!), the oldest living culture in the world, and a complex history. So, here are my recommendations for novels that travel deep into the Australian spirit.


I wrote...

What the Sea Wants

By Karin Cox,

Book cover of What the Sea Wants

What is my book about?

Juliette Brewer can’t face the truth. Ash Gordon can’t bear another lie. A passion for surfing brings them together, but will the sea, with all its sorrows, tear them apart? Be swept away by this contemporary Australian surf romance with all the depth of the Pacific.

“I want to live my life in this book and I know I'll be happy. It's realistic and fun and loving and all I hope for. Karin Cox, you rock!" Linda, Kalpa's Book Blog

The Countdown Years 1974 - 1987

By Peter Wilmoth,

Book cover of The Countdown Years 1974 - 1987: Glad All Over

Every Sunday night for nearly a decade between the mid-70s and early 80s, most young Australians could be found in one place – in front of the TV, watching Countdown. Countdown was the most powerful force in the local pop/rock scene, the maker and breaker of hits. Published in 1993 in the afterglow of the show’s long run, Glad All Over, by former Age journalist Peter Wilmoth, is an appropriately loving tribute, which includes acknowledging the many (like me!) who loved to hate the show but still always watched it! As mostly oral history, it’s a sparkling story, and if the Countdown phenomenon still begs harder analysis – because as much as it was a great booster for Australian music, it actually blocked just as much – that’s the nature of a new historiography: the field has to get opened up first, and then is subject to increasingly…

Who am I?

I am an art school dropout and recovering rock critic who, since 1981, has published a dozen books on Australian music and popular culture, plus worked extensively in television and as a freelance journalist. I'm too old to be called an enfant terrible, but with the way I still seem to be able to court controversy, I must remain some sort of loose cannon! Sydney’s Sun-Herald has called me "our best chronicler of Australian grass-roots culture," and that’s a tag I’m flattered by but which does get at what I’ve always been interested in. I consider myself a historian who finds resonances where most don’t even bother to look, in our own backyard, yesterday, and the fact that so much of my backlist including Inner City Sound, Highway to Hell, Buried Country, Golden Miles, History is Made at Night, and Stranded are still in print, I take as vindication I’m on the right track…


I wrote...

Stranded

By Clinton Walker,

Book cover of Stranded

What is my book about?

Stranded is a cultural history of the Australian independent music scene that was spawned by the DIY punk movement in the late 70s and grew even despite resistance in the 1980s, up to a belated breakthrough in the early 90s thanks to the grunge realignment of the aesthetics of rock. It’s a blend of reportage, oral history, memoir, and criticism. When it was first published in 1996, it was considered somewhat contentious for its non-populist vision. What it was was prescient, putting its money on acts like Nick Cave, the Go-Betweens, and the Triffids who were so spurned in Australia in the 80s that they were forced into exile in Europe – and are now considered, worldwide, among the most enduring products of the period. After two decades out of print during which time the book’s legend only grew, it has just been re-released in 2021 in a new, expanded edition by the Visible Spectrum. 

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