11 Top Books to Read Before Visiting Australia

When planning a trip the first place I gain inspiration is within the pages of novels and books about the country I want to visit.  Australia is no different.  It is a country we have wanted to explore for years but knowing where to head is the hard part.  Unlike many other countries the landscapes are so diverse we want to experience it all, like many others I am sure, but with Oz being so big, having the time to see it all within one trip may be an issue.

How Big Is Australia?

Australia is a country that spans 7.7 million square kilometres which is around 32 times bigger than the UK and you could squeeze the majority of Europe into it.  Looking at a map of the world simply doesn’t do the size of this country any justice.

The Sydney Opera House is an iconic monument in Australia and one everyone should visit when travelling around the country.

Sydney Opera House. Image provided by Lenny K Photography

Each year more and more tourists aim to visit Australia with New South Wales being the most popular destination for many according to Australian Tourism Statistics. New South Wales is of course an extremely large state which could easily fit the state of Texas within its borders but it still leaves a large amount of the country to explore.

The Blue Mountains of New South Wales Australia

The Blue Mountains of Australia. Image provided by Birgit Juel Martinsen

Knowing where to head however, is probably the biggest dilemma.  Do you follow the masses and head to Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Bryon Bay and Hunter Valley or do you spread your wings and head for the Outback and Alice Springs for example.  If of course you only have a couple of weeks to explore this immense country, sticking to one area is probably the best way to get the most out of your break but what if you plan to take an epic road trip around the country? What if time was not an issue?  Where would you start and what would you want to see?

Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia

Hunter Valley in Australia. Image provided by Kevin Rheese

You also need to consider how you would travel around the Australia.  Would you fly? Personally, I hate flying and I also feel that a road trip is the best way to see any country. The weather in Australia and the nature of the camping is very well defined for each state so you will probably find us touring with something like a camper trailer in tow although we would also be on the lookout for quirky and unusual places to stay along the way.

Books Everyone Should Read before Visiting Australia

To gain insights into this vast country known for its unrelenting heat, its BBQ’s and a few well-known soap operas, we have compiled a list of some of the best books out there that could add real insights into the areas are you looking to visit.

#1 The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough) – Area: The Outback

While the story opens in New Zealand, the majority of The Thorn Birds is set on the fictional Drogheda, a sheep station in the Australian Outback. At its heart is the ill-fated romance of beautiful Meggie Cleary and the handsome Roman Catholic priest, Father Ralph de Bricassart.

The novel spans several decades in the history of the Cleary family and is the best-selling book in Australian history while providing insights into the landscapes around Alice Springs and the climate with its extreme weather conditions.

Germaine Greer devoured The Thorn Birds originally because “I fell in love with Drogheda, not the sheep station’s house with its inappropriate European garden and vulgar furniture, but the 250,000 acres of black soil plains in north-western New South Wales”. 

#2 A Town Like Alice (Nevil Shute) –Area: The Outback around Alice Springs

This is a tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from the Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback.

Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman living in Malaya, is captured by the invading Japanese and forced on a brutal seven-month death march with dozens of other women and children. A few years after the war, Jean is back in England, the nightmare behind her. However, an unexpected inheritance inspires her to return to Malaya to give something back to the villagers who saved her life. But it turns out that they have a gift for her as well: the news that the young Australian soldier, Joe Harmon, who had risked his life to help the women, had miraculously survived. Jean’s search for Joe leads her to a desolate Australian outpost called Willstown, where she finds a challenge that will draw on all the resourcefulness and spirit that carried her through her war-time ordeals.

Nevil Shute’s most beloved novel, a tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from the Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback.

#3 Carpentaria (Alexis Wright) – Area: Queensland

Alexis Wright employs mysticism, stark reality, and pointed imagination to re-create the land and the Aboriginal people of Carpentaria.

In the sparsely populated northern Queensland town of Desperance, loyalties run deep and battle lines have been drawn between the powerful Phantom family, leaders of the Westend Pricklebush people, and Joseph Midnight’s renegade Eastend mob, and their disputes with the white officials of neighboring towns. Steeped in myth and magical realism, Wright’s hypnotic storytelling exposes the heartbreaking realities of Aboriginal life.

#4 Picnic at Hanging Rock (Joan Lindsay) – Area: Victoria

It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared. 

They never returned. 

Although the events depicted in this historical novel are entirely fictional, it is framed as though it is a true story and since this book has been written Yvonne Rousseau has gone on to write The Murders at Hanging Rock where she presents four different explanations for Lindsay’s mystery book.

#5 The True History of the Kelly Gang (Peter Carey) – Area: Victoria

In this novel, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper 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.

 Ned became 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.

#6 Cloudstreet (Tim Winton) – Perth, West Australia

Struggling to rebuild their lives after being touched by disaster, the Pickle family, who’ve inherited a big house called Cloudstreet in a suburb of Perth, take in the God-fearing Lambs as tenants. The Lambs have suffered their own catastrophes, and determined to survive they open up a grocery on the ground floor. From 1944 to 1964, the shared experiences of the two overpopulated clans bond them to each other and to the bustling, haunted house in ways no one could have anticipated.

#7 The Harp in the South (Ruth Park) – Sydney, New South Wales

This is a nostalgic and moving portrait of the eventful family life of the Darcys of Number Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street in Surry Hills, a Sydney slum. There grow the bitter-sweet first and last loves of Roie Darcy, who becomes a woman too quickly amid the brothels and the razor gangs, the tenements and the sly-grog shops.

One amazon reviewer has said of The Harp in the South that the story is ‘focusing on one family and their struggle to survive. The poverty, deprivation and squalor is described in detail and with some gusto’.

#8 The Secret River (Kate Grenville) – Sydney, New South Wales

In 1806 William Thornhill, an illiterate English bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep compassion, steals a load of wood and, as a part of his lenient sentence, is deported, along with his beloved wife, Sal, to the New South Wales colony that would later become Australia.

The Secret River is the tale of William and Sal’s deep love for their small, exotic corner of the new world, and William’s gradual realization that if he wants to make a home for his family, he must forcibly take the land from the people who came before him.

#9 Oscar and Lucinda (Peter Carey) – New South Wales

Oscar is a young English clergyman who has broken with his past and developed a disturbing talent for gambling. A country girl of singular ambition, Lucinda moves to Sydney, driven by dreams of self-reliance and the building of an industrial Utopia.

Together this unlikely couple creates quite a spectacle during mid-nineteenth century Australia. 

#10 The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Thomas Keneally) – New South Wales

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 Jimmy Governor is a powerful story of a black man′s revenge against an unjust and intolerant society.

 #11 Down Under (Bill Bryson) – Across Australia

It is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents and still Australia teems with life – a large portion of it quite deadly.  In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in a very nasty way than anywhere else.

Ignoring such dangers, and yet curiously obsessed by them, Bill Bryson journeyed to Australia and promptly fell in love with the country. And who can blame him? The people are cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted and unfailingly obliging: their cities are safe and clean and nearly always built on water; the food is excellent; the beer is cold and the sun nearly always shines.

Of course, there are many other books set in Australia that might inspire your trip, including a selection of crime novels by Jane Harper and you may have plenty of books, both fictional and non-fictional that you would like to recommend to us.   If that is the case please let us know.  I am always on the search for new books to enjoy.

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11 books on Australia that will help to inspire your trip.  Whether you are looking to stay in one place or take a road trip around the country, these books provide you with stories from the regions, both fictional and non fictional via @tbookjunkie

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