50 Must Read Australian Novels (The Popular Vote)

Love Australian Literature? Check out our poll to discover Australia’s Favourite Novelist. Click here to see the full list.

So, for those who have just arrived I shall begin at the beginning.

On a whim I asked the twittersphere and facebookland what they thought were the ‘must read’ Australian novels. In a matter of hours hundreds of titles were suggested. I then made a long list of these offerings and asked the world to vote for their favourites. A fellow on twitter suggested I allow one title per author, to ensure the list wasn’t swamped by Wintons, Careys, McCulloughs and Courtenays. The title which received the most votes would be that author’s single listing. I thought this a good idea. (Tim Winton would have swallowed up the Top Ten otherwise. Good on ya, Timmo.)

I soon had the top fifty settled. And here they are.

Remember, if you think the list is rubbish, blame the public at large. If you think the list helpful, inspiring and right on the money, you have my excellent administration to thank. (To buy a listed title, click on a cover pic and go through to the Booktopia bookshop.)

97801402739841.Cloudstreet

by Tim Winton

From separate catastrophes two rural families flee to the city and find themselves sharing a great, breathing, shuddering joint called Cloudstreet, where they begin their lives again from scratch.

For twenty years they roister and rankle, laugh and curse until the roof over their heads becomes a home for their hearts. Tim Winton’s funny, sprawling saga is an epic novel of love and acceptance.

Winner of the Miles Franklin and NBC Awards in Australia, Cloudstreet is a celebration of people, places and rhythms which has fuelled imaginations world-wide.

Click here to read an extract of Cloudstreet


97801432027212. Picnic at Hanging Rock

by Joan Lindsay

While Joan Lindsay’s haunting Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock is a work of fiction, the story is often considered one of Australia’s greatest mysteries.

In 1900, a class of young women from an exclusive private school go on an excursion to the isolated Hanging Rock, deep in the Australian bush. The excursion ends in tragedy when three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock. Only one girl returns, with no memory of what has become of the others . . .


the-book-thief film3. The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel’s father was taken away on the breath of a single, unfamiliar word – Kommunist – and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother’s eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.

So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.


97801432048624. Seven Little Australians

Ethel Turner

Judy’s father, Captain Woolcot, found his vivacious, cheeky daughter impossible – but seven children were really too much for him and most of the time they ran wild at their rambling riverside home, Misrule.

Step inside and meet them all – dreamy Meg, and Pip, daring Judy, naughty Bunty, Nell, Baby and the youngest, ‘the General’. Come and share in their lives, their laughter and their tears.


my-brilliant-career5. My Brilliant Career

Miles Franklin

‘I am given to something which a man never pardons in a woman. You will draw away as though I were a snake when you hear.’

With this warning, Sybylla confesses to her rich and handsome suitor that she is given to writing stories and bound, therefore on a brilliant career. In this ironically titled and riotous first novel by Miles Franklin, originally published in 1901, Sybylla tells the story of growing up passionate and rebellious in rural NSW, where the most that girls could hope for was to marry or to teach. Sybylla will do neither, but that doesn’t stop her from falling in love, and it doesn’t make the choices any easier.


97817417582076. The Slap

Christos Tsiolkas

To smack or not to smack is the question that reverberates through the interconnected lives dissected in Christos Tsiolkas’ award-winning novel, now in paperback.

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.

It is a single act, but the slap reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it. Told through the eyes of eight of those present at the barbecue, this acclaimed bestseller is an unflinching interrogation of the life of the modern family. Poignant and provocative, THE SLAP makes us question the nature of commitment and happiness, compromise and truth. Whose side are you on?


my-brother-jack7. My Brother Jack

George Johnston

The thing I am trying to get at is what made Jack different from me. Different all through our lives, I mean, and in a special sense, not just older or nobler or braver or less clever.

David and Jack Meredith grow up in a patriotic suburban Melbourne household during the First World War, and go on to lead lives that could not be more different.

Through the story of the two brothers, George Johnston created an enduring exploration of two Australian myths: that of the man who loses his soul as he gains worldly success, and that of the tough, honest Aussie battler, whose greatest ambition is to serve his country during the war.

Acknowledged as one of the true Australian classics, My Brother Jack is a deeply satisfying, complex and moving literary masterpiece.


97807322843368. The Magic Pudding

Norman Lindsay

The Magic Pudding was first cooked in 1918, and thousands of children (and their parents) have been relishing it ever since.

Norman Lindsay’s timeless classic follows the adventures of debonair young koala Bunyip Bluegum, sailor Bill Barnacle and penguin Sam Sawnoff – owners of the much-desired Magic Puddin’ Albert – who try to out-wit Possum and Wombat, the professional, and extraordinarily persistent, puddin’-thieves.

This new paperback edition includes all the original illustrations and, for those who have not yet tasted this puddin’s magic delights, it is definitely worth savouring. Ages 8+


97801432027529. The Harp in the South

Ruth Park

Ruth Park’s classic novel The Harp in the South is one of Australia’s greatest novels. 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.


978052285554810. The Man Who Loved Children

Christina Stead

The Man Who Loved Children is Christina Stead’s masterpiece about family life. Sam and Henny Pollit are a warring husband and wife, he a fully blown narcissist and she spoiled and prone to fits of despair.

Their hatred, aggravated by too little money and too many children, lies at the centre of this chilling and brilliantly observed novel about relations between parents and children, husbands and wives.

The Man Who Loved Children is acknowledged as a contemporary classic of Australian and international literature.


978184115458911. Year of Wonders

Geraldine Brooks

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March and People of the Book. A young woman’s struggle to save her family and her soul during the extraordinary year of 1666, when plague suddenly struck a small Derbyshire village. In 1666, plague swept through London, driving the King and his court to Oxford, and Samuel Pepys to Greenwich, in an attempt to escape contagion.

The north of England remained untouched until, in a small community of leadminers and hill farmers, a bolt of cloth arrived from the capital. The tailor who cut the cloth had no way of knowing that the damp fabric carried with it bubonic infection. So begins the Year of Wonders, in which a Pennine village of 350 souls confronts a scourge beyond remedy or understanding.

Desperate, the villagers turn to sorcery, herb lore, and murderous witch-hunting. Then, led by a young and charismatic preacher, they elect to isolate themselves in a fatal quarantine. The story is told through the eyes of Anna Frith who, at only 18, must contend with the death of her family, the disintegration of her society, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit attraction.

Geraldine Brooks’s novel explores love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggle of 17th century science and religion to deal with a seemingly diabolical pestilence. Year of Wonders is also an eloquent memorial to the real-life Derbyshire villagers who chose to suffer alone during England’s last great plague.


978014320269112. For the Term of His Natural Life

Marcus Clarke

Scarcely out of print since the early 1870s, For the Term of His Natural Life has provided successive generations with a vivid account of a brutal phase of colonial life. The main focus of this great convict novel is the complex interaction between those in power and those who suffer, made meaningful because of its hero’s struggle against his wrongful imprisonment. Elements of romance, incidents of family life and passages of scenic description both relieve and give emphasis to the tragedy that forms its heart.


978014320485513. I Can Jump Puddles

Alan Marshall

I Can Jump Puddles is Alan Marshall’s story of his childhood – a happy world in which, despite his crippling poliomyelitis, he plays, climbs, fights, swims, rides and laughs.

His world was the Australian countryside early last century: rough-riders, bushmen, farmers and tellers of tall stories – a world held precious by the young Alan.


978174237262414. Jasper Jones

Craig Silvey

Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress.

Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother, falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu.

And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.


978174166761515. Power Without Glory

Frank Hardy

In the history of Australian literature few books have been so controversial than Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory.

This is a tale of corruption stretching from street corner SP bookmaking to the most influential men in the land – and the terrible personal cost of the power such corruption brings. John West rose from a Melbourne slum to dominate Australian politics with bribery, brutality and fear. His attractive wife and their children turned away from him in horror. Friends dropped away. At the peak of his power, surrounded by bootlickers, West faced a hate-filled nation – and the terrible loneliness of his life.

Was John West a real figure? For months during the post-war years, an Australian court heard evidence in a sensational libel action brought by businessman John Wren’s wife. After a national uproar which rocked the very foundations of the Commonwealth, Frank Hardy was acquitted. This is the novel which provoked such intense uproar and debate across the nation. The questions it poses remain unanswered…


the-chant-of-jimmie-blacksmith16. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

Thomas Keneally

When Jimmie Blacksmith marries a white woman the backlash from both Jimmie’s tribe and white society initiates a series of dramatic events. As Jimmie tries to survive between two cultures, tensions reach a head when the Newbys, Jimmie’s white employers, try to break up his marriage. The Newby women are murdered and Jimmie flees, pursued by police and vigilantes. The hunt intensifies as further murders are committed, and concludes with tragic results.

Thomas Keneally’s fictionalised account of the 1900 killing spree of half-Aboriginal Jimmy Governor is a powerful story of a black man’s revenge against an unjust and intolerant society.


978184767267417. The Spare Room

Helen Garner

Helen has little idea what lies ahead when she offers her spare room to an old friend of fifteen years.

Nicola has arrived in the city for treatment for cancer. Sceptical of the medical establishment, placing all her faith in an alternative health centre, Nicola is determined to find her own way to deal with her illness, regardless of the advice that Helen can offer.

In the weeks that follow, Nicola’s battle against her cancer will turn not only her own life upside down but also those of everyone around her.


978014320270718. The Getting of Wisdom

Handel Richardson

Henry Handel Richardson’s The Getting of Wisdom is the coming-of-age story of a spontaneous heroine who finds herself ensconced in the rigidity of a turn-of-the-century boarding school.

The clever and highly imaginative Laura has difficulty fitting in with her wealthy classmates and begins to compromise her ideals in her search for popularity and acceptance.


978014320479419. The Power of One

Bryce Courtenay

First with your head and then with your heart . . .

To Peekay, a seven-year-old boy who dreams of being the welterweight champion of the world, this is a piece of advice that he will carry with him throughout his life.

Born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred, this one small boy will come to lead all the tribes of Africa. And in a final conflict with his childhood enemy, the Judge, Peekay will fight to the death for justice.

Bryce Courtenay’s classic bestseller is a story of the triumph of the human spirit – a spellbinding tale for all ages.


eucalyptus20. Eucalyptus

Murray Bail

On a country property a man named Holland lives with his daughter Ellen. Over the years, as she grows into a beautiful young woman, he plants hundreds of different gum trees on his land.

When Ellen is nineteen her father announces his decision: she will marry the man who can name all his species of eucalypt, down to the last tree.Suitors emerge from all corners, including the formidable, straight-backed Mr Cave, world expert on the varieties of eucalypt.

And then, walking among her father’s trees, Ellen chances on a strange young man who in the days that follow tells her dozens of stories set in cities, deserts, faraway countries…

Awarded the Miles Franklin and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Eucalyptus is Murray Bail’s best and most moving novel. It is both a modern fairy tale and an unpredictable love story played out against the spearing light and broken shadows of country Australia.

Haunting and mesmeric, Eucalyptus illuminates the nature of story-telling itself.


978174166763921. True History of the Kelly Gang

Peter Carey

‘I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.’

In TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semi-literate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a monstrous criminal, a thief and a murderer.

To his own people, the lowly class of ordinary Australians, the bushranger is a hero, defying the authority of the English to direct their lives. Indentured by his bootlegger mother to a famous horse thief (who was also her lover), Ned saw his first prison cell at 15 and by the age of 26 had become the most wanted man in the wild colony of Victoria, taking over whole towns and defying the law until he was finally captured and hanged.

Here is a classic outlaw tale, made alive by the skill of a great novelist.


978192165677422. The Broken Shore

Peter Temple

Joe Cashin was different once. He moved easily then; was surer and less thoughtful. But there are consequences when you’ve come so close to dying. For Cashin, they included a posting away from the world of Homicide to the quiet place on the coast where he grew up. Now all he has to do is play the country cop and walk the dogs. And sometimes think about how he was before.

Then prominent local Charles Bourgoyne is bashed and left for dead. Everything seems to point to three boys from the nearby Aboriginal community; everyone seems to want it to. But Cashin is unconvinced. And as tragedy unfolds relentlessly into tragedy, he finds himself holding onto something that might be better let go.

Peter Temple’s gift for compelling plots and evocative, compassionately drawn characters has earnt him a reputation as the grand master of Australian crime writing. The Broken Shore is Temple’s finest book yet; a novel about a place, about family, about politics and power, and the need to live decently in a world where so much is rotten. It is a work as moving as it is gripping, and one that defies the boundaries of genre.


978174166762223. We of the Never Never

Jeannie/Aeneas Gunn

In 1902 Jeannie Gunn, a Melbourne schoolteacher, went with her new husband to live on the remote Elsey cattle station near the Roper River in the Northern Territory. Though she spent little more than a year there, her experiences in the outback and her contact with the local Aborigines impressed her deeply, and on her return to Melbourne she set down her recollections in two books, We of the Never Never and the Little Black Princess.

These books have become classics of Australian literature, beloved by generations. They are presented her in a special condensed edition for the enjoyment of today’s readers.


978014318024124. The Bodysurfers

Robert Drewe

Set among the surf and sandhills of the Australian beach – and the tidal changes of three generations of the Lang family – this bestselling collection of short stories is an Australian classic. The Bodysurfers vividly evokes the beach, with the scent of the suntan oil, the sting of the sun and a lazy sensuality, all the while hinting at a deep undercurrent of suburban malaise.

From first publication, these poignant and seductive stories marked a major change in Australian literature.

‘These stories breathe. Taut yet teeming with life, they are shot through with gritty phrases that catch at one’s throat.’ – Sydney Morning Herald


978033035971925. Tirra Lirra By the River

Jessica Anderson

Liza used to say that she saw her past life as a string of roughly-graded balls, and so did Hilda have a linear conception of hers, thinking of it as a track with detours. But for some years now I have likened mine to a globe suspended in my head, and ever since the shocking realisation that waste is irretrievalbe, I have been careful not to let this globe spin to expose the nether side on which my marriage has left its multitude of images.

Nora Porteous has spent most of her life waiting to escape. Fleeing from her small-town family and then from her stifling marriage to a mean-spirited husband, Nora arrives finally in London where she creates a new life for herself as a successful dressmaker.

Now in her seventies, Nora returns to Queensland to settle into her childhood home.

But Nora has been away a long time, and the people and events of her past are not at all like she remembered them. And while some things never change, Nora is about to discover just how selective her ‘globe of memory’ has been.

Tirra Lirra by the River is a moving account of one woman’s remarkable life, a beautifully written novel which displays the lyrical brevity of Jessica Anderson’s award-winning style.


978014320473226. Shiralee

Darcy Niland

Everyone has their cross to bear – their swag, their shiralee – and for Macauley, walking across New South Wales in search of work, it is his young daughter who has to suffer his resentment at having her in tow. But then, he discovers that the ties that bind can be as much a comfort as a burden, and what he thought of as his Shiralee could be the one thing that will save him from himself.

This classic Australian novel perfectly captures the spirit of the bush and the tough, resilient people of the outback.


the-boat27. The Boat

Nam Le

Nam Le is . . . a disturber of the peace.

Consider the subjects of his stories: a child assassin in Colombia (‘Cartagena’), an ageing New York artist desperate for a reconciliation with his daughter (‘Meeting Elise’), a boy’s coming of age in a rough Victorian fishing town (‘Halflead Bay’), before the first atomic bomb falls in Japan (‘Hiroshima’), The suffocations of theocracy in Iran (‘Tehran Calling’). This astonishing range is topped and tailed by accounts of the uneasy reunion of a young Vietnamese writer in America with his ex-soldier father, and by the title story – the escape of a group of exhausted refugees from the Vietcong in a wallowing boat.

One might be permitted to think, after all this high seriousness and intensity, Nam Le can’t do funny. But this criminally talented 29-year-old can do that as well. BARRY OAKLEY, Australian Literary Review


the-secret-river28. The Secret River

Kate Grenville

In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.

But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.

Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals—Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring—are finding their own ways to respond to them.

Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.

Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a ground-breaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.


978073228224029. The Thorn Birds

Colleen McCullough

Treasured by readers around the world, this is the sweeping saga of three generations of the Cleary family.

Stoic matriarch Fee, her devoted husband, Paddy, and their headstrong daughter, Meggie, experience joy, sadness and magnificent triumph in the cruel Australian outback. With life’s unpredictability, it is love that is their unifying thread, but it is a love shadowed by the anguish of forbidden passions. For Meggie loves Father Ralph de Bricassart, a man who wields enormous power within the Catholic church …

As powerful, moving and unforgettable as when it originally appeared, The Thorn Birds remains a novel to be read … and read again.


978020719740630. Ride On Stranger

Kylie Tennant

“Civilization is mad and getting madder every day”.

So says Shannon Hicks in Kylie Tennant’s marvellous, harsh, satiric 1943 novel. Arriving in Sydney just before WWII, Shannon, a dreamer and idealist takes on the world of politics, business, religion and men.

The consequences are challenging and unpredictable.


ice-station31. Ice Station

Matthew Reilly

At a remote ice station in Antarctica, a team of US scientists has made an amazing discovery. They have found something buried deep within a 100-million-year-old layer of ice. Something made of METAL.

Led by the enigmatic Lieutenant Shane Schofield, a team of crack United States Marines is sent to the station to secure this discovery for their country.
They are a tight unit, tough and fearless.
They would follow their leader into hell.
They just did . . .


voss32. Voss

Patrick White

Join J. M. Coetzee and Thomas Keneally in rediscovering Nobel Laureate Patrick White In 1973, Australian writer Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature.”

Set in nineteenth-century Australia, “Voss” is White’s best-known book, a sweeping novel about a secret passion between the explorer Voss and the young orphan Laura. As Voss is tested by hardship, mutiny, and betrayal during his crossing of the brutal Australian desert, Laura awaits his return in Sydney, where she endures their months of separation as if her life were a dream and Voss the only reality.

Marrying a sensitive rendering of hidden love with a stark adventure narrative, Voss is a novel of extraordinary power and virtuosity from a twentieth-century master.


maestro33. Maestro

Peter Goldsworthy

Against the backdrop of Darwin, that small, tropical hothouse of a port, half-outback, half-oriental, lying at the tip of northern Australia, a young and newly arrived southerner encounters the ‘maestro’, a Viennese refugee with a shadowed past. The occasion is a piano lesson, the first of many…


gould-s-book-of-fish34. Gould’s Book of Fish

Richard Flanagan

Once upon a time that was called 1828, before all fishes in the sea and all living things on the land were destroyed, there was a man named William Buelow Gould, a white convict who fell in love with a black woman and discovered too late that to love is not safe.

Silly Billy Gould, invader of Australia, liar, murderer and forger, was condemned to the most feared penal colony in the British Empire and there ordered to paint a book of fish.

Once upon a time, there were miracles…


35. Praise

Andrew McGahan

Praise is an utterly frank and darkly humorous novel about being young in the Australia of the 1990s. A time when the dole was easier to get than a job, when heroin was better known than ecstasy, and when ambition was the dirtiest of words. A time when, for two hopeless souls, sex and dependence were the only lifelines.

‘McGahan’s book is a bracing slap in the face to conventional platitudes and hypocrisies.’ – The Australian


978192165637836. Dog Boy

Eva Hornung

Abandoned in a big city at the onset of winter, a hungry four-year-old boy follows a stray dog to her lair. There in the rich smelly darkness, in the rub of hair, claws and teeth, he joins four puppies suckling at their mother’s teats. And so begins Romochka’s life as a dog.

Weak and hairless, with his useless nose and blunt little teeth, Romochka is ashamed of what a poor dog he makes. But learning how to be something else…that’s a skill a human can master. Fortunately–because one day Romochka will have to learn how to be a boy.

The story of the child raised by beasts is timeless. But in Dog Boy Eva Hornung has created such a vivid and original telling, so viscerally convincing, that it becomes not just new but definitive:

Yes, this is how it would be.


37. The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony

Hal Porter

A classic among Australian autobiographies, The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony is regarded as Hal Porter’s masterpiece. Recreating the rhythms of small-town life between the wars, it covers the author’s first two decades. From the sensuality of his early boyhood experiences, Porter travels ever-observantly through his Baimsdale school years to his first job as a cadet reporter. The shock of his mother’s death, however, disturbs the pattern of his new adventures as a teacher, art student and actor in Melbourne.

(BBGuru: I know this shouldn’t be included as it is not a novel but as someone nominated it and as others voted for it and as it is better than most of the stuff on this list, I decided to include it. I also wanted to shame the publishers for letting something this valuable, and loved, drop out of print.)


978140503941338. After America

John Birmingham

Our world went to hell on March 14, 2003.

Four years after an inexplicable wave of energy decimated the American mainland, and then just as inexplicably disappeared a year later, US President James Kipper is no closer to explaining the catastrophe to the traumatised survivors.

In a decaying New York City, an assassination attempt on the President prompts the suspicion that the looters overrunning Manhattan may be more organised and sinister than previously thought.

Working on a farm in Texas to earn his citizenship, Miguel Pieraro believes in the promise of the New America. That is until tragedy cuts through his family.

In the English countryside, Echelon agent Caitlin Monroe must once again fight for her life, a sharp reminder that her nemesis is active again.

Then out of the smoking ruin of the Middle East comes an enemy that will be Kipper’s toughest challenge yet. The battle for the Wild East is just beginning, but does this New America, and its gun-shy President, have the strength of will to destroy the past in order to save the future?


978014320305639. Butterfly

Sonya Hartnett

On the verge of her fourteenth birthday, Plum knows her life will change. But she has no idea how.

Over the coming weeks, her beautiful neighbour Maureen will show her how she might fly. Her adored older brothers will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends – her worst enemies – will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.

Who ever forgets what happens when you’re fourteen?


978014300952840. A Fraction of the Whole

Steve Toltz

Meet the Deans.

The Father is Martin Dean.

He taught his son always to make up his mind, and then change it. An impossible, brilliant, restless man, he just wanted the world to listen to him – and the trouble started when the world did.

The Uncle is Terry Dean.

As a boy, Terry was the local sporting hero. As a man, he became Australia’s favourite criminal, making up for injustice on the field with this own version of justice off it.

The Son is Jasper Dean.

Now that his father is dead, Jasper can try making some sense of his outrageous schemes to make the world a better place. Haunted by his own mysteriously missing mother and a strange recurring vision, Jasper has one abiding question: Is he doomed to become the lunatic who raised him, or a different kind of lunatic entirely?

From the New South Wales bush to bohemian Paris, from sports fields to strip clubs, from the jungles of Thailand to a leaky boat in the Pacific, Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole follows the Deans on their freewheeling, scathingly funny and finally deeply moving quest to leave their mark on the world.


978174066701241. Things We Didn’t See Coming

Steven Amsterdam

It’s the anxious eve of the millennium. The car is packed to capacity, and as midnight approaches, a family flees the city in a fit of panic and paranoid, conflicting emotions.

The ensuing journey spans decades and offers a sharp-eyed perspective on a hardscrabble future, as a boy jettisons his family and all other ties in order to survive as a journeyman in an uncertain landscape. By turns led by love, larceny, and a new sexual order, he must avoid capture and imprisonment, starvation, pandemic, and some particularly bad weather.

In Things We Didn’t See Coming, Steven Amsterdam links together nine luminous narratives through the mind of one peripatetic and resourceful wanderer who always has one eye on the exit door and the other on a future that shifts more drastically and more often than anyone would like to imagine.


978014320474942. It’s Raining in Mango

Thea Astley

Wresting his family from the easy living of nineteenth-century Sydney, Cornelius Laffey takes them to northern Queensland where thousands of hopefuls are digging for gold in the mud. They confront the horror of Aboriginal dispossession, and Cornelius is sacked for reporting the slaughter. This is an unforgettable tale of the other side of Australia’s heritage.


white-gardenia43. White Gardenia

Belinda Alexandra

In a district of the city of Harbin, a haven for White Russian families since Russia’s Communist revolution, Alina Kozlova must make a heartbreaking decision if her only child, Anya, is to survive the final days of World War II.

White Gardenia sweeps across cultures and continents, from the glamorous nightclubs of Shanghai to the harshness of Cold War Soviet Russia in the 1960s, from a desolate island in the Pacific Ocean to a new life in post-war Australia. Both mother and daughter must make sacrifices, but is the price too high? Most importantly of all, will they ever find each other again?

Rich in incident and historical detail, this is a compelling and beautifully written tale about yearning and forgiveness.


978174166965744. Ransom

David Malouf

David Malouf shines new light on Homer’s ILIAD, adding twists and reflections, as well as flashes of earthy humour, to surprise and enchant.

In this exquisite gem of a novel, Achilles is maddened by grief at the death of his friend Patroclus. From the walls of Troy, King Priam watches the body of his son, Hector, being dragged behind Achilles’ chariot. There must be a way, he thinks, of reclaiming the body – of pitting compromise against heroics, new ways against the old, and of forcing the hand of fate. Dressed simply and in a cart pulled by a mule, an old man sets off for the Greek camp …

Lyrical, immediate and heartbreaking Malouf’s fable engraves the epic themes of the Trojan war onto a perfect miniature – themes of war and heroics, hubris and humanity, chance and fate, the bonds between soldiers, fathers and sons, all newly burnished and brilliantly recast for our times.


the-timeless-land45. The Timeless Land

Eleanor Dark

An outstanding literary achievement, meticulously researched and deeply felt, its portrait of the earliest days of the European settlement of Australia remains unrivalled.

1788: The very beginning of European settlement. These were times of hardship, cruelty and danger. Above all, they were times of conflict between the Aborigines and the white settlers.

Eleanor Dark brings alive those bitter years with moments of tenderness and conciliation amid the brutality and hostility. The cast of characters includes figures historical and fictional, black and white, convict and settler. All the while, beneath the veneer of British civilisation, lies the baffling presence of Australia, the “timeless land”.


978186325681046. I Came To Say Goodbye

Caroline Overington

Who is left behind when a family falls apart?

It was four o’clock in the morning. A young woman pushed through the hospital doors. Staff would later say they thought the woman was a new mother, returning to her child – and in a way, she was. She walked into the nursery, where a baby girl lay sleeping. The infant didn’t wake when the woman placed her gently in the shopping bag she had brought with her. There is CCTV footage of what happened next, and most Australians would have seen it, either on the internet or the news. The woman walked out to the car park, towards an old Corolla. For a moment, she held the child gently against her breast and, with her eyes closed, she smelled her.

She then clipped the infant into the car, got in and drove off.

That is where the footage ends.

It isn’t where the story ends, however.

It’s not even where the story starts.


978192165642247. Diamond Dove

Adrian Hylands

Diamond Dove is a great fun read, a crime novel with a true larrikin spirit. That means it has real wit; dry, earthy and with no bullshit. Hyland has written the kind of book we need so much more of in this country. He quizzes the fraught, complex world of the outback with a critical eye but he also paints with rare clarity a picture of both black and white lives that is filled with compassion and affection. It’s invigorating.’ Christos Tsiolkas


978174166626748. Disco Boy

Dominic Knight

Disco Boy is a novel about putting things off. Paul’s life is an endless process of deferral as procrastinates endlessly about his job (DJ for a MobyDisc), the law degree wasting away, living with his parents, his friends and of course women. Sometimes it is easier to joke yourself away as a failure than to put your hands on the keyboard and write that hit song or lean forward and kiss that girl who has been your best friend’s girlfriend all these years . This is a laugh out loud funny, sweet and aware novel with poignant under tones. Everyone will identify to some degree with the lives of Paul, Zoe, Nige, Simon, Flea, Lucy (well maybe not Lucy) as they set out on their adult lives of discovering who they are supposed to be. It is This Life in a book.


978174114566349. Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery

Kerry Greenwood

The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.

Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.


last-summer

50. Last Summer

Kylie Ladd (@kylie_ladd)

Rory Buchanan has it all: looks, talent, charisma-an all around good-guy, he’s the centre of every party and a loving father and husband. Then one summer’s afternoon, tragedy strikes. Those who are closest to him struggle to come to terms with their loss. Friendships are strained, marriages falter and loyalties are tested in a gripping and brilliantly crafted novel about loss, grief and desire.

Told from the points of view of nine of the people who are mourning Rory, this riveting novel presents a vivid snapshot of contemporary suburban Australia and how we live now. Marriage, friendship, family-all are dissected with great psychological insight as they start to unravel under the pressure of grief. The characters live on the page; their lives are unfolded and their dilemmas are as real as our own.


86 Responses

  1. Adam’s Empire and Kalinda by Evan Green are awesome reads.

    Like

  2. Glad to see Disco Boy made it to the list. Its a great contemporary read. Thanks for putting up the list, now i got lots more to read!

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  3. Um where the hell is Looking For Alibrandi!?

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  4. Thanks for the list! Is Peter Carey a national treasure yet?!
    (“Oscar and Lucinda”…drowning in glasshouse:what a scenario)

    Like

  5. Xavier Herbert
    Morris West

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  6. […] 50 Must Read Australian Novels […]

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  7. […] 50 Must Read Australian Novels […]

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  8. […] 50 Must Read Australian Novels […]

    Like

  9. […] http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2011/01/11/50-must-read-australian-novels-as-voted-by-you-in-2010/ […]

    Like

  10. […] See also: http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2011/01/11/50-must-read-australian-novels-as-voted-by-you-in-2010/ […]

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  11. What ever happened to John O’Grady’s They’re A Weird Mob I would have thought that this one would have been there., no doubt it was thought to be not very politically correct, but it was very much like the time it was set in.

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  12. I am so disappointed with this list. I consider myself an avid reader, and I read a lot of Australian stuff. I’ve only heard of a couple of these, and a couple of the authors.

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    • Rather than be disappointed you should be so happy to have stumbled upon this list – so much more fantastic Aussie writing to read – along with other suggestions offered by those reacting to the list with further leads beyond the 50!

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    • How anyone can say they are an avid reader of Australian ‘stuff’ (what Cosmopolitan?), then admit they have only heard of a couple of these books, (on a list which includes dozens of classics and contemporary wonders) beats me! It’s a great compendium thanks … Of course there are many more. None of “Australia’s top novelists” …weird last time I checked Carey, Winton, Courtney, Clarke, Franklin, Flanagan, Stead and White were all high up there! The biggest oversight seems to be a lack of indigenous writers, Sally Morgan, My Place for a start.

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  13. This list does not include any of my favourite Australian authors . Di Morrissey, Peter Watt and Judy Nunn. Who an earth choose top 50 books without any from Australia’s top novelists.

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  14. I’m on Sabbatical in Melbourne for six months (visiting from the US) and decided to read only Aussie fiction while I’m here. I’ve been using your list as a guide. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions!

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  15. You could have replaced the first 20-odd entries with Robert G. Barrett’s novels. He was the Jimi Hendrix of Australian authors.

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  16. Really enjoyed Peter Carey’s Ned Kelly. Original and entertaining to read. One day I hope to be on this list.

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    • I hope you succeed! Good luck

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  17. A long time ago a read a novel about a rancher -based all on his development of his ranch and family dynasty. I’m sure it was called the ‘cattleman’ but must be wrong as despite many searches I cannot find a trace of it. It covers before and after WW1. Would love to read it again. Its written in first person by the main character towards the end of his life from his hospital bed seeing all his family visitors and deciding who he should leave his property to- any suggestions?

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    • You must be referring to Cattleman by RS Porteous. I believe it was published in around 1960, and is probably long out of print. My grandfather (himself a grazier) gave me Cattleman, and another Porteous novel, Brigadoon, to read when I was a child. Cattleman was just so authentically Australian that I’ve never forgotten it.

      Like

    • Read “Brigalow” too. R S Porteous wrote this one as well, about Qld cattle country before cactoblastis ate out all the prickly pear. I love this book and re read it every year or so

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  18. [...] 50 Must Read Australian Novels (The Popular Vote) [...]

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    • Rod Usher. A Man of Marbles; Florid States; Poor Man’s Wealth. All great novels. Please get him listed next time.

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  19. One that I thought would be on the list is ‘Too Many Men’ by Lily Brett.

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  20. Where’s Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White? Magnificent book. Also Captivity Captive by Rodney Hall? Beautiful writing.

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  21. I couldn’t get past the obnoxious, belching male character and the filthy language in the first two pages of The Slap so I returned it. According to the salesperson I wasn’t the only one.

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  22. I’m so surprised to see “Diamond Dove” here! I love it, but thought hardly anyone else knew it. Just goes to show I’m not the only person with taste! However there is no mention that this is one that would get the Janet Evanovich fans into Australian fivtion…

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  23. You have to be kidding! Picnic at Hanging Rock as number two? The Book Thief only at number three? Where is Markus Zusak’s The Messenger? Disappointing list :(

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  24. If my mother had been more adventurous, I may have been an Aussie now.
    But I’m Dutch and very interested in Australian history and literature. The Fatal Shore is missing on your list, which is a pity. At present I’m reading one of Patrick White’s books, The Tree of Man, and Voss is next on my list.
    The Thornbirds I loved, as I did the book on the Ned Kelley gang. I’ve also read a couple of others on your list.

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  25. [...] 50 Must Read Australian Novels (The Popular Vote) [...]

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  26. I am surprised Australian Author Judy Nunn has not made the top 10 best Australian books. I have read Kal, Maralinga and Heritage. All books are a must read. She has taken Australia’s political & general history and created some marvelous reading material.

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    • She’s on my list to read – very impressive on Jennifer BYRNES Bookclub last night – ABC TV!

      Like

  27. I wanted to see Judah WATEN somewhere on this list – the first significant Aussie writer to deal with immigrants of non-English-speaking background (Alien Son – and many other titles) and also Brian CASTRO (Birds of Passage especially) who won the Vogel Book Prize in the early 1980s – sharing with Nigel KRAUTH.

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  28. A friend gave me Porter’s “Watcher” – I thought it fantastic as a remembrance – then many years later discovered it was an imagined memory – so you might well include it as a work of fiction after all – indeed! I was in awe of the books included – but would love to have found Judah WATEN “Alien Son” (and many other titles) for being one very early to have written of the non-English speaking immigrant experience. And, too, where was Brian CASTRO – especially “Birds of Passage”?

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  29. where is “Capricornia?

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  30. Surely the late Robert Hughes’ masterly work on Australia’s convict beginnings “The Fatal Shore” should be on this list. It’s an historical NOVEL surely and one of the most compelling Australian reading experiences of the past 25 years.Maybe I’ve got the voting criteria wrong, but it seems a weird ommission to me.

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    • Great non-fiction book but novel! I’m sure you are a very nice fellow but hey, you better have a second look, you are making a fool of yourself, mate!
      Ken

      Like

      • Jerk

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  31. Seems ridiculous that The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney had to yield place to The Getting of Wisdom, and so is not there. Too many books that have been dramatized on TV/Film. Grrr! – Terence Clarke

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  32. You don’t have “Morgan’s Run” which is one of the most important books about Australia

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    • spot on…made the first fleet so exciting.

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  33. [...] to expand my Australian classic literature knowledge. Searching Google I found a Booktopia blog (50 Must Read Australian Novels), and Project Gutenburg Australia. Interestingly, there were only 2 repetitions between these [...]

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  34. I have only just discovered this list and what a great resource it is for me here in London when I’m searching local libraries for an Australia-fix. I don’t agree with the whole list, of which I’ve read 27. Gerald Murnane could have rated a mention, but then the list was complied from public opinion, rather than a literature connoiseur’s point of view. Shame on the publishers for dropping The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony, one of the best Australian books of all time.

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  35. I have read 21 of these. Now it is time to get a move on and try some of those I have missed. Thanks for the list.

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  36. Thanks for the list, I’ve added several titles to my To-Read list.

    Cheers!

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  37. [...] In January 2011, the Booktopia Book Guru, also known as John Purcell, published a similar survey list on the Booktopia Blog. Booktopia conducted the survey through social media with its 5500 Twitter followers and 40,000+ Facebook fans.  Booktopia, clearly no small force in the Australian book world, came up with The 50 Must Read Australian Books  – (The Popular Vote 2010) [...]

    Like

  38. I’ve read 4, 5, 6, 8, 14, 16, 29, 30 and 45.

    Like

  39. I’ve read one, #21 True History of the Kelly Gang

    Rather than under-read, I feel inspired to pick up more fiction. Cheers

    Like

  40. thank you so much !! i love aussie novels – but the ones i want i normally can’t get – want ”currawalli street” and ”the mistake” like now !!! cheers x.

    Like

    • Hello,

      We ship to the UK. SO if you are desperate you can order copies of each here

      Currawalli Street > http://www.booktopia.com.au/currawalli-street/prod9781742377100.html

      The Mistake > http://www.booktopia.com.au/the-mistake/prod9781921901041.html

      John

      Like

      • i know but i think you will charge $30 ( that £15 each ??)

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      • Postage to the UK is expensive. We cut it down to the bare minimum but we are not able to influence rates freight companies charge us. Yet. That day will come.

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      • well guess i can but wait !

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    • while i have read quite a few of these novels and great to see some for future reading I fail to see why books not set in Australia or about Australians are in the list .Year of Wonders is one for example. While Geraldine Brooks is one of my favaourite authors generally I don’t think this book should be on this list. This is mainly to the detriment of some other really fantastic books like Coonardoo The Fortunes of Richard Mahony and a House is Built that put the early Australain mindset on it’s path and tell us more about our own culture

      Like

      • Please remember this was a popular vote.

        Books by Australian writers were chosen. Australian writers have written wonderful books not set in Australia. I would not want to see them miss out being read because of that.

        We decided that only one book per author would be listed. As The Fortunes of Richard Mahony received fewer votes than The Getting of Wisdom, it was left off.

        Thank you

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  41. Not a bad attempt but, like all lists, very much open to debate with so many inclusions of books from long gone eras that are venerated but don’t really capture the reader of today. It’s like honouring dear old Granny simply because she’s reached her century – even if she rambles on and makes little sense to those around her.
    Bryce Courteney – OUT (over-hyped work of a supreme marketer in the ranks of Geoffrey Archer). Diamond Dove – bright, breezy, dramatic and highly entertaining but surely not Top 50 material. And where is the exquisite Beyond The Shallows by Favel Parrett?

    Like

    • Past the Shallows (which I agree is exquisite) was published in Jan 2011 so perhaps that’s why it’s not on the list.

      Like

  42. [...] 50 Must read Australian novels [...]

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  43. [...] looking at Booktopia’s 50 Must Read books, which was created by a public vote, I realised I had only read seven of them, and three were for [...]

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  44. I didn’t know about this vote so here are my choices that I would have voted on.Three others that are fantastic reads but a bit older than the books on this list “The fortunes of Richard Mahoney” by Henry Handel Richardson “A House is Built ” by Barnard Eldershaw and “Coonardoo” by Katherine Suzanna Pritchard
    I think these books deserve a place in our literary history too

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    • Hi Trish,
      I agree. ‘The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney’ isn’t on the list because we decided to have one title per author. ‘The Getting of Wisdom received more votes so that made it on the list. ‘A House is Built’ and ‘Coonardoo’ were nominated but did not receive enough votes… democracy, huh!?
      I will be holding a new poll in the first days of January. Be sure to vote then.
      Thanks for your interest,
      John.

      Like

  45. Great list. I have read eleven of the entries and have three more on my shelves waiting. I didn’t see any by Gail Jones (Sorry stands out in my mind, or Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria but you can’t include everyone and my perspective is from some distance. I’m in Canada and rely on my public library and Bookmooch so I think I’ve done well to read 70 plus Aussie novels. I’d read more if more were available locally but it has been getting better over time. I will keep this list for reference, thank you for doing all that works for us.

    Like

    • I agree, Gail Jones is fabulous. All John Marsden’s work is great and also James Moloney’s books.

      Like

  46. Fabulous list but do not agree that “The Slap” is on the same level as the other books listed. The media made it a bigger hit due to content and although the subject was a great choice, I felt the book was disappointing. Definitely not in the same league as other choices.

    Like

    • sorry but i thought the slap was fab

      Like

    • I both loved and hated The Slap. The power of this book lay in it’s ability to polarise reader’s opinions and to spark debate. Many acquaintances were reading it at the same time, and there was much passionate debate and argument about the issues that Tsiolkas raised, the characters attitudes and behaviours, their origins. A great work of art is one that challenges the reader, creates unease and discomfort and this certainly did that.
      On an entirely different note I was delighted to see Kylie Tennant included in the 50.

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  47. I think this is a fabulous list – and I’ve actually read quite a lot of it – I also value the suggested reading from the books I haven’t yet read. Surpising choices for Patrick White and Peter Malouf, but on the whole a great list. I do think there are couple of missing books however – ‘The Getting of Wisdom’ and ‘A Fortunate Life’ – I don’t think any list of truly great Australian novels is complete without them.

    Like

    • How embarassing – I looked through the list again and saw that the getting of wisdom is included. Forgive my rashness!

      Like

  48. [...] Top 10. Let us know what you think? Do you agree or have we missed a great Australian novel? Click here for the full [...]

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    • Yes, I think you have missed Steven Lang, great aussie
      writer…”An Accidental Terrorist” and “88 Lines about 44 women”

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    • My Favourite book by an Aussie author is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Is he writing the sequel because if it is half as good it will be brilliant

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      • Marvellous must read it again

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  49. Just alerting any readers to my most recent novel which is set in Little Lon 1891.
    In Lonnie’s Shadow published by Ford Street Publishing.

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  50. Good to see Peter Goldsworthy on the list & David Malouf (although not my fave). It would be interesting to do a tally of some kind to see how many historical, how many about the outback etc are featured.
    I have a feeling Australian novelists have been accused of obsessing over human vs landscape as a theme. Which is interesting since most Australians live in cities. Echo the call for My Place.

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  51. Wow havent read much lately but I am indulging once again…I love aussie literature and would add ” Commonwealth of Thieves” to my top 50 among others, however I think the list is great, I am amazed that i have read so many of these books but pleased that there are many I have yet to discover…I would love to see the complete list for each author….

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  52. ‘A fortunate life’ by A B Clancy should be in top 25. Also don’t think should limit one book per author. Any thoughts?

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    • Absolutely agree but author’s name is A.B. Facey…

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      • A Fortunate Life isn’t included because most voters considered it a memoir and not a novel and so didn’t nominate it. I think Hal Porter snuck in because most considered that a novel. I love A Fortunate Life and believe everyone should read it.

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    • Agree with A Fortunate Life”. Should’nt limit for example Tim Winton’s “Dirt Music”.

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  53. Great list, pleased “My Brother Jack” is on it, an all time favourite of mine. Disappointed Sally Morgan’s “My Place” is not there. A wonderful piece of literature. And “Cloudstreet” a favourite also.

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  54. What about the merrygoround by the sea. I still think Bliss is Careys best Ned’s story is a newspaper series that should have been released 100 and so years ago. But shit it’s all good reading.

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  55. Hi there BBG,

    So glad you’ve put up this list! It’s a brilliant collection, Aussie’s should be so proud of our literary achievements.

    I’m especially glad that Tim Winton and Robert Drewe are in the list, as we’re making the major feature film adaptations of Shallows and The Drowner! Can’t be happier to be taking these amazing Aussie stories to the world! These will be the biggest WA stories to hit the big screen, exciting stuff…

    Congrats on also taking Aussie lit to the world via this blog!

    Cheers,

    Cynthia C

    Like

  56. OK list. But why do you include Bryce Courtney’s Power of One. It’s about South Africa, by a South African,even if he does now call Australia home.

    Like

  57. BBGuru – if you think most of the books on this list are “shit” why on earth did you bother to publish it??? (your comment in “The watcher on the cast iron balcony)
    I can’t believe you wrote that. After all, this “shit” was apparently voted for by many people, and thus would not be regarded as shit at all by most. Books aren’t shit. They’re interesting or dull or somewhere in between, but not shit. Shit is reality TV. America’s Next Top Model. Survivor. Lost… you get the drill.
    I’m still flabbergasted.

    Like

    • Sorry. I edited that from the original post but forgot to edit it from the full fifty. After I wrote it I felt I was being shortsighted. So I cut it out. My bad. On the other hand, I am glad you found it. It tells me readers are not just skimming down the list.

      Have you read The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony? When I finished it I was convinced I would never read anything better. (I was wrong, of course)

      Like

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