G’day Mate: 6 Books about Australia

Photo of Uluru in Australia.
Photo courtesy nosha on Flickr used under CC License.

This past Monday, January 26, was Australia Day, the national day of Australia where Australians celebrate the founding of their country. Australia is a unique country/continent with many fascinating stories both true and fictional. From travelogues to history to fiction all the books below will help the reader to explore the history, landscape, and culture of this country of extremes.

In a Sunburned Country book coverIn a Sunburned County by Bill Bryson

With unimaginably hot and dry weather, amazingly friendly people, and more things that can kill you faster than anywhere else in the world, Australia is a place unlike any other and master travel writer Bill Bryson lends his engaging and humorous point of view to exploring this nation. As he travels around the continent, Bryson describes meeting the slightly mad locals, waxes lyrical on the killer fauna, and recounts the bizarre history of Australia, always remaining undeniably entertaining. Through his travels and historical and scientific asides, Bryson’s affection for this unique and fantastical land always comes through his writing.

True History of the Kelly Gang book coverTrue History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

Peter Carey creates an unforgettable portrait of Ned Kelly, the legendary outlaw, letting him tell his story in his own distinct voice. Starting with Kelly’s early history of being raised by his bootlegger mother who indentured him to a horse thief and moving through his trips to prison and his rise as a famous outlaw, hunted by the upper class English and beloved by the lower class bushranger Australians, Ned Kelly tells the tale of his life as he is pursued by the police across Australia. A true life legendary character, both a criminal thief and murderer and a kind of folk hero, Carey brings the voice of Ned Kelly alive with the creation of his untutored but lyrical voice.

The Road from Coorain book coverThe Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

The story of one woman’s isolated childhood in the Australian outback and the struggles she overcame there to eventually become the first female president of Smith College. Conway spent the first eleven years of her life growing up on the 30,000 acres of arid land that her father struggled to make profitable. After contending against an 8-year drought, Conway’s father committed suicide. Overcome by grief and depression her mother moves them into wartime Sydney where Conway struggles with her new suburban life, the loss of her father, and her mother’s descent into alcoholism. With a vivid sense of place that locates her memoirs firmly both in the outback and in Sydney, the story of Conway’s early life is deeply evocative of the land and country where she grew up.

Chasing Kangaroos book coverChasing Kangaroos: A Continent, a Scientist, and a Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Creature by Tim Flannery

In Chasing Kangaroos, Flannery explores several interconnected topics about the natural and human history of his native Australia. This book contains both memoirs from the author’s travels as well as a natural history of that uniquely Australian creature, the kangaroo, and how it has adapted to the changing ecology of Australia. While charting both his journey around the country and the journey of the kangaroo through time, Flannery also examines how the landscape of Australia has shaped its human inhabitants and how they in turn have altered that landscape. Chasing Kangaroos offers readers a travelogue, a natural history of the kangaroo, and an ecological examination of a truly unique country.

The Fatal Shore book coverThe Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes

The Fatal Shore presents a thorough accounting of the British settlement of Australia over an eighty year period through their prisoner transportation system. Hughes takes a well-rounded perspective of this uniquely scaled resettlement operation examining the political and societal reasons for the prisoner resettlement of Australia, the attitudes and challenges of the captains in charge of resettlement and governance of the new colony, as well as the lives of the convicts forced into moving halfway around the world. The Fatal Shore also does not shy away from acknowledging the plight of the aboriginal peoples of Australia that the transported Englishmen slowly forced out in this comprehensive look at the early history of Australia.

The Thorn Birds book coverThe Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

An epic tale spanning several generations of the Cleary family, ranchers in the Australian outback, the heart of this story revolves around Meggie Cleary and her ongoing relationship with Ralph de Bricassart the ambitious priest of the local parish. As the book moves through time, the Cleary family undergoes many hardships stemming from the difficulty of growing anything in the harsh climate of the Australian outback, but McCullough also examines the beauty of the land as well as the difficulties it contains. As the parish priest develops a relationship with the Cleary family and with Meggie specifically he is torn in many directions by his faith, his ambition, and his love for Meggie. This epic exploration of love, family, and tragedy is a deeply human story, but always is influenced by the intense Australian setting.