The best books about Sydney Australia

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

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Book cover of Seven Little Australians

First published in 1894, this is definitely a nostalgic choice; however, there’s a good reason why it became the first Australian novel to be continuously in print for 100 years in 1994. Esther Turner’s classic novel is Australia’s answer to Little Women, and if you don’t fall in love with the seven boisterous Woolcot children and end up in tears over the tragic events at Yarrahappini, I’m afraid you’re even harder-hearted than Captain Woolcot himself!

Seven Little Australians

By Ethel Turner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This collection of literature attempts to compile many of the classic, timeless works that have stood the test of time and offer them at a reduced, affordable price, in an attractive volume so that everyone can enjoy them.


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

Lotus

By Jennifer Hartmann,

Book cover of Lotus

This story consumed me and I could not put the book down. I would wake up in the middle of the night to read more of it. As an avid reader, I have books that I liked, books that I loved, and then I have a list of books that are riveting and that speak to my soul. Those are the books I reread and think about often. This book was saved under that last list. Watching Oliver interact with everyone after the ordeal he went through was soul-shattering. Seeing Sydney be a source of comfort, patience and a well of overflowing love to him was just beautiful. Hartmann even made me feel emotions for someone I thought I would initially hate, but ended up feeling bad for at the end of the book. She is a magician with words. That’s why it is a top pick for me for…

Lotus

By Jennifer Hartmann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

To the rest of the world, he was the little boy who went missing on the Fourth of July.
To me, he was everything.
My heart hasn't been the same since he disappeared, but I've learned to build my life around that missing piece.
Twenty-two years later, the last thing I expect is for that missing piece to come back.
His name is Oliver Lynch, and this is his story.
This is our story.


Who am I?

Seeing couples that are still in love after being with one another for 50+ years has always warmed my heart. Seeing my grandparents hold one another’s hands and look at each other with love always made me hopeful to find such a love. I have not been blessed to have that kind of love in my life (yet) but that does not stop me from looking for it and finding it in books. The characters in my favorite books are ones I identify with on some level. They are loyal, do not give up and they love wholeheartedly, even if they make some missteps along the way, the end destination always ends up being deeply in love. And I love cheering on characters when they deal with everyday issues and roadblocks on this journey of love. 


I wrote...

The Truth About Adira

By Anna Paulsen,

Book cover of The Truth About Adira

What is my book about?

The Truth About Adira is a story about second chances as well as a story of finding a type of love that shines a light into places that were once encompassed by utter darkness. This type of light is a guiding beacon that warms a heart that has learned to protect itself by isolating itself.

The Truth About Adira takes you on a journey of exploring the past while building a solid foundation in the present for the future. 

The Dying Trade

By Peter Corris,

Book cover of The Dying Trade

Corris and his protagonist, the hard-scrabble private detective Cliff Hardy, are quintessentially Australian. The Dying Trade introduces Cliff (smoker, drinker, ex-boxer) and sets the standard for all the books that follow in this series. It’s dry and laconic, with a wonderful sense of place (a very gritty 1980s Sydney). There’s a definite nod to the greats— Chandler and Hammett in this series; you know Cliff Hardy probably shouldn’t take this job, it’s odds-on he’ll cop a beating along the way, possible he’ll find love and lose it again. I enjoy the author’s economy with words and the moral complexity of his characters. If you like hard-boiled crime, this series is worth a look!

*Note: Sydney is much nicer than it may seem when you walk in Corris’s shoes!

The Dying Trade

By Peter Corris,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Meet Cliff Hardy. Smoker, drinker, ex-boxer. And private investigator.

The Dying Trade not only introduces a sleuth who has become an enduring Australian literary legend—the antihero of thirty-seven thrillers—but it is also a long love letter to the seamy side of Sydney itself.


Who am I?

I’m an Australian crime writer and I love reading crime with a real sense of place and/or time. Growing up in Australia, most of the time I read international authors, so finding fabulous books by local authors was a thrill every time, and that excitement has never left me. This list crosses the genre from cosy to hard-boiled crime, which hopefully means something for everyone. If nothing here grabs you, there’s a lot more fantastic Australian crime fiction to discover (did you know Australian author Charlotte Jay won the first ever Edgar Award in 1954?) and I can passion-talk about it anytime!


I wrote...

The Shifting Landscape

By Katherine Kovacic,

Book cover of The Shifting Landscape

What is my book about?

Art dealer Alex Clayton travels to Victoria's Western District to value the McMillan family's collection. At their historic sheep station, she finds an important and previously unknown colonial painting - and a family fraught with tension. There are arguments about the future of the property and its place in an ancient and highly significant indigenous landscape.

When the family patriarch dies under mysterious circumstances and the painting is stolen, Alex decides to leave; then a toddler disappears and Alex's faithful dog Hogarth goes missing. With fears rising for the safety of both child and hound, Alex joins searchers scouring the countryside. But her attempts to unravel the McMillan family secrets have put Alex in danger, and she's not the only one. Winner of the 2021 Sisters in Crime Australia Readers’ Choice Award.

Voss

By Patrick White,

Book cover of Voss

I first read Voss – Patrick White’s 1957 fictionalised account of the doomed expedition and eventual disappearance of German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt - 25 years ago at university. I returned to it a couple of years ago as I embarked on my fifth novel, similarly set in 19th century Sydney, recalling how I enjoyed the novel in my earlier reading but finding myself, in this my second reading two decades later, utterly blown away by White’s stunning and bitingly witty evocation of mid-1800s Sydney society. 

Voss

By Patrick White,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Voss describes an epic journey, both physical and spiritual. The eponymous hero, Johann Voss, is based on Ludwig Leichhardt, the nineteenth-century German explorer and naturalist who had already conducted several major expeditions into the Australian outback before making an ambitious attempt to cross the entire continent from east to west in 1848. He never returned.
White re-imagines his story with visionary intensity. Voss's last journey across the desert and the waterlogged plains of central Australia is a true 'venture to the interior'. But Voss is also a love story, for the explorer has become inextricably bound up with Laura Trevellyn,…


Who am I?

I arrived in Sydney in the 90s knowing as much as one brief peruse the Berlitz Guide could provide me. For the next 25 years I immersed myself in its beautiful harbour and beaches whilst writing four novels, all set in my hometown of London. But when I sat down to write my fifth novel, The Unforgiving City, set in 1890s Sydney, I drew a complete blank. What was my adopted city’s history? Did it even have one? If so, where was it? By the time I’d finished the novel I’d unearthed a whole other, hidden, Sydney. I will never view my new home town the same way again. 


I wrote...

The Unforgiving City

By Maggie Joel,

Book cover of The Unforgiving City

What is my book about?

"Maggie Joel’s The Unforgiving City is a fantastic look back at the history of Sydney and the stories that are all too believable for that time. It is a grand, sweeping tale that grabs you the moment you open the first page. Each character’s story is completely gripping, interwoven from character to character with perfect ease… Maggie Joel has created a stunning and evocative story that will sweep you off your feet and put you down right in the middle of the dirty streets of turn of the century Sydney."

Better Reading

My Beautiful Death

By Eben Venter,

Book cover of My Beautiful Death

Eben Venter, though born in the heart of the South African ‘platteland’ (the South African equivalent of ‘fly-over country’), has spent much of his adult life in Australia, and the novel poignantly straddles the two locales: the constricting conservatism of the protagonist’s farm background, and the bewildering freedoms and opportunities of a more cosmopolitan setting. Here that conflict is heartbreakingly acted out and in a grim sense resolved in the main character’s losing battle against AIDS, and his death-bed reconciliation with his hitherto unbending father. Venter gives us a harrowing account of what it is like to die of a disease that wastes your body, blinds you, and makes you mad before killing you. It is all the more remarkable that the experience is registered from the inside, as it were, in a subjective stream of consciousness. The poignancy of the novel is intensified for me by knowing that the…

My Beautiful Death

By Eben Venter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Konstant Wasserman rebels against his people, culture and country. In his own words: I’m going to get the hell away from here and make the life I want somewhere else.

Thus he migrates to Sydney, Australia where he slips into a new way of life: a vegetarian diet, a crazy hairstyle and an adventure with the sexually ambivalent Jude. With this “dark horse” of his he arrives at places where he’d never wanted to go.

In the Wollondilly wilderness west of Sydney he discovers the first symptoms of a terminal disease. Now his real journey starts.


Who am I?

As an African author, I find that my books end up on the ‘African fiction’ shelf in the bookstore, which can be a disadvantage if my novel is, say, about Henry James or the Trojan War, both of which I've written novels about. As a lecturer in English literature, I've become acquainted with a vast and varied array of literature. So, whereas of course there are many wonderful African novels that deal with specifically African themes, I think the label African novel can be constricting and commercially disadvantageous. Many African novelists see themselves as part of a larger community, and their novels reflect that perspective, even though they are nominally set in Africa.


I wrote...

A Poor Season for Whales

By Michiel Heyns,

Book cover of A Poor Season for Whales

What is my book about?

My first novel, The Children’s Day, was, like many first novels, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel.   Perhaps it is appropriate that this, my ninth, should be the contrary: an account of a middle-aged divorcée’s attempt to make a clean start away from her family, friends, and ‘appurtenances’ in a new town, with only her dog as company. But, of course, she discovers that appurtenances are not to be eschewed at will. An impudent young man of questionable motive seems to be intent on infiltrating her life; her children keep on turning up and disrupting her ‘retreat,’ and even her domestic servant refuses to abandon her. It’s a serious look at the stickiness of human relations, but, I hope, also funny in its depiction of the perils of attempted withdrawal. 

Tirra Lirra by the River

By Jessica Anderson,

Book cover of Tirra Lirra by the River

I don’t often read books more than once, but this one I have, and I know I will read it again. The woman whose life is revealed this time is 70-year-old Nora Porteous. She has returned to her native Brisbane, Australia after having escaped it by marriage to Sydney, and having escaped that marriage to London. She now reflects wryly on how she developed throughout those years of hardship and joy as she also experiences the changes in the neighbourhood she ran from decades before. As we move through both her memories of the past and her experience of the present, the details that help us to understand her are extraordinary: ‘The man is unlocking the door. I have had to talk and smile too much in his car, and as I wait I consciously rest my face.’

Tirra Lirra by the River

By Jessica Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tirra Lirra by the River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of Australia’s most celebrated novels: one woman’s journey from Australia to London

Nora Porteous, a witty, ambitious woman from Brisbane, returns to her childhood home at age seventy. Her life has taken her from a failed marriage in Sydney to freedom in London; she forged a modest career as a seamstress and lived with two dear friends through the happiest years of her adult life.

At home, the neighborhood children she remembers have grown into compassionate adults. They help to nurse her back from pneumonia, and slowly let her in on the dark secrets of the neighborhood in the…


Who am I?

Literary agents often say they are looking for books about ‘quirky’ female protagonists. I’m more entertained by female characters who feel real to me. When I write, I make myself uncomfortable a lot of the time, trying to express the many ways people both disguise and reveal the truth. I blame my devotion to my parents for this because when I left home in Massachusetts for college in the foreign land of Indiana, studied for a year in China, then studied in Italy, then worked in Taiwan, then moved to Japan, and later to Singapore, I wrote them copious descriptive, emotional letters. My parents are gone now, but in a way, I’m still doing that.


I wrote...

Lillian on Life

By Alison Jean Lester,

Book cover of Lillian on Life

What is my book about?

Missouri-born Lillian has lived through the post-WWII decades of change in Munich, Paris, London, and, finally, New York. She has grappled with parental disappointment, society’s expectations, and the vagaries of love and sex. Now in her late fifties, she’s waking up next to her married lover and taking stock.

Lillian on Life paints an honest portrait of a hot-blooded woman whose reflections reverberate originally and unpredictably. Charming, sometimes heartbreaking, and never a stereotype, Lillian offers her own brand of wisdom. You won’t soon forget her.

Seven Poor Men of Sydney

By Christina Stead,

Book cover of Seven Poor Men of Sydney

Published in 1934, this is Stead’s first novel, and its Modernistic portrayal of a loosely connected group of young men and women existing and interacting in a poverty-wracked but rapidly changing between-the-Wars Sydney caused a literary storm at the time. The City, caught between its Colonial heritage and its future as a modern Twentieth Century metropolis is the real star of the novel even as its seven bewildered, beleaguered characters roam its bay and suburbs, its libraries, university, and pubs, attempting to negotiate their changing city and their place in it. I couldn’t write a novel about Sydney without visiting Christina Stead’s Sydney first.

Seven Poor Men of Sydney

By Christina Stead,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seven Poor Men of Sydney as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in 1934, Seven Poor Men of Sydney is Christina Stead's first novel, a brilliant portrayal of a group of men and women living in Sydney in the 1920s amid conditions of poverty and social turmoil.
Set against the vividly drawn backgrounds of Fisherman's (Watson's) Bay and the innercity slums, the various characters seek to resolve their individual spiritual dilemmas through politics, religion and philosophy.
Their struggles, their pain and their frustrations are portrayed with consummate skill in this memorable evocation of a city and an era.


Who am I?

I arrived in Sydney in the 90s knowing as much as one brief peruse the Berlitz Guide could provide me. For the next 25 years I immersed myself in its beautiful harbour and beaches whilst writing four novels, all set in my hometown of London. But when I sat down to write my fifth novel, The Unforgiving City, set in 1890s Sydney, I drew a complete blank. What was my adopted city’s history? Did it even have one? If so, where was it? By the time I’d finished the novel I’d unearthed a whole other, hidden, Sydney. I will never view my new home town the same way again. 


I wrote...

The Unforgiving City

By Maggie Joel,

Book cover of The Unforgiving City

What is my book about?

"Maggie Joel’s The Unforgiving City is a fantastic look back at the history of Sydney and the stories that are all too believable for that time. It is a grand, sweeping tale that grabs you the moment you open the first page. Each character’s story is completely gripping, interwoven from character to character with perfect ease… Maggie Joel has created a stunning and evocative story that will sweep you off your feet and put you down right in the middle of the dirty streets of turn of the century Sydney."

Better Reading

The Long Ride Home

By Nathan Millward,

Book cover of The Long Ride Home: From Sydney to London

Any book that starts with an impulsive decision is bound to engage someone like me who doesn’t like to plan much before a journey. With his Australian visa shortly to expire and his relationship going the same way, Nathan, aged twenty-nine doesn’t do the sensible thing and fly back home to the UK. Instead, he buys a potentially unsuitable decommissioned postal delivery 105cc Honda "Postie" motorbike. He names it Dorothy and starts the homeward journey from Sydney to London. I found his story riveting as, like me, he finds delight in the simpleness of life on the road and in meeting local people and other travellers.

I bet he’s glad he didn’t get that flight home!

The Long Ride Home

By Nathan Millward,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the story of my 35,000 kilometres ride from Sydney to London on a 105cc Honda called Dorothy. It was journey of nine months, through eighteen countries, with barely any planning, hardly equipment, just setting off one day and hoping that somehow I'd make it to the other side of the world.

The book was originally released by HarperCollins in Australia where it is known as Going Postal. This is the international release, with a few changes to the text and a list of images and videos at the end. Hope you enjoy.


Who am I?

Most motorcycle travellers spend months planning their trips but I took off on a whim having been lured by romance and tales of the open road. When my conventional life fell apart, I surprised even myself by flying to India and buying a brand new 500cc Enfield Bullet motorcycle and began my haphazard global wanderings learning to trust that the world I had been told was a dangerous place, wasn't at all (except for a couple of occasions at sea!) I liked the meandering life so much, it became a way of life.


I wrote...

Hit the Road, Jac! Seven Years, Twenty Countries, No Plan

By Jacqui Furneaux,

Book cover of Hit the Road, Jac! Seven Years, Twenty Countries, No Plan

What is my book about?

Instead of continuing my nursing career and saving for my pension, I naively embarked on an unplanned and exciting journey on a motorbike. This led to travelling through twenty countries and learning that the world is generally a friendly place. I didn't know I was on a quest at the time, but I made some enlightening discoveries.

Book cover of The Harp in the South

This is an Australian classic. Published in 1948, Park wrote this, her first novel, when she moved to the crowded, chaotic impoverished inner Sydney suburb of Surry Hills. Fascinated and deeply stirred by what she saw, her novel centres on the close-knit Darcy family whose love for one another and enduring joy for life is in stark contrast to the harsh and occasionally brutal world around them. Park’s love for her characters and for her city shines through and provides a magical yet thoughtful window on a Sydney in the years immediately following the war. I worked in Surry Hills for many years and I set much of my last novel on its streets and laneways so to walk those same streets in Ruth Park’s footsteps was such a treat.

The Harp in the South

By Ruth Park,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Harp in the South as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Australian classic, this is the story of the Darcy family who live in the Depression era tenements of Surry Hills, Sydney.

Hugh and Margaret Darcy are raising their family in Sydney amid the brothels, grog shops, and run-down boarding houses of Surry Hills, where money is scarce and life is not easy.

Filled with beautifully drawn characters that will make you laugh as much as cry, this Australian classic will take you straight back to the colourful slums of Sydney with convincing depth, careful detail, and great heart.


Who am I?

I arrived in Sydney in the 90s knowing as much as one brief peruse the Berlitz Guide could provide me. For the next 25 years I immersed myself in its beautiful harbour and beaches whilst writing four novels, all set in my hometown of London. But when I sat down to write my fifth novel, The Unforgiving City, set in 1890s Sydney, I drew a complete blank. What was my adopted city’s history? Did it even have one? If so, where was it? By the time I’d finished the novel I’d unearthed a whole other, hidden, Sydney. I will never view my new home town the same way again. 


I wrote...

The Unforgiving City

By Maggie Joel,

Book cover of The Unforgiving City

What is my book about?

"Maggie Joel’s The Unforgiving City is a fantastic look back at the history of Sydney and the stories that are all too believable for that time. It is a grand, sweeping tale that grabs you the moment you open the first page. Each character’s story is completely gripping, interwoven from character to character with perfect ease… Maggie Joel has created a stunning and evocative story that will sweep you off your feet and put you down right in the middle of the dirty streets of turn of the century Sydney."

Better Reading

Book cover of Flight 714 (The Adventures of Tintin)

I couldn’t resist adding a Tintin graphic novel to my list since Herge’s adventure series is widely beloved — and this one is a particular favorite. The story opens when the miserly millionaire, Laszlo Carreidas, "the millionaire who never laughs," invites Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Professor Calculus to accompany him on his private jet to Sydney instead of taking commercial Flight 714. It all seems rather jolly — until the millionaire’s jet is hijacked and diverted to a volcanic island in Java. As always, Herge nails the geographical details, plot twists, cheeky humor — and the idiosyncrasies of human nature, like grizzled Captain Haddock’s constant frustration with absentminded Professor Calculus. As a kid, these books opened entire worlds to me — I couldn’t wait to grow up and embark on my own adventures!

Flight 714 (The Adventures of Tintin)

By Hergé,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flight 714 (The Adventures of Tintin) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic graphic novel. On their way to Sydney, Tintin and Captain Haddock run into an old friend, a pilot who offers them a ride on a private jet. But when the plane gets hijacked, Tintin and the Captain find themselves prisoners on a deserted volcanic island!


Who am I?

Squat toilets, profuse sweating, jumbo centipedes, ear nibbling—these are just some of the delights I’ve encountered in my global travels, which inspired my YA comedic adventure novels, Never Sorry Ever Jolly and Carpe Diem, which was published in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, and China. Carpe Diem was also nominated for numerous YA awards, chosen as a Book Sense/Indie Bound Pick, received a starred review from the School Library Journal, and according to The Washington Post: “This is self-confessed travel junkie Autumn Cornwell's first novel—and she's hit one out of the park.” Basically, I live my life as an adventure then write about it!


I wrote...

Carpe Diem

By Autumn Cornwell,

Book cover of Carpe Diem

What is my book about?

"I've got my entire life planned out for the next ten years -- including my PhD and Pulitzer Prize," claims overachiever teen Vassar Spore, whose overachiever parents named her after an elite women's college. Vassar’s summer plans include AP and AAP (Advanced Advanced Placement) classes — that is, until her long-lost bohemian grandmother suddenly resurfaces and blackmails her parents into allowing Vassar to backpack through Southeast Asia with her.

What starts out as “family bonding” turns into a series of misadventures from Malaysia to Cambodia to the remote jungles of Laos. Tensions mount as Grandma Gerd’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mode of travel drives control freak Vassar absolutely bonkers. She sweats, falls in love, hones her outdoor survival skills -- and uncovers a family secret that turns her whole world upside-down. Vassar Spore can plan on one thing: she'll never be the same again.

Or, view all 35 books about Sydney Australia

New book lists related to Sydney Australia

All book lists related to Sydney Australia

Bookshelves related to Sydney Australia