50 Australian Books To Read Before You Die

From classic Bryce Courtenay to Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

1. Jessica

Another quintessentially Aussie novel, it is based on the true story of a girl working on a family farm alongside her father. When the tranquil bushland is disturbed by a murder, a series of events lead Jessica into the heart of a scandal. Set during World War I, this heartbreaking story is a must-read.

2. Cloudstreet

If you didn’t have to read it in high school, you really should take the time to do so now. All of Tim Winton’s books offer an accurate and rich insight into everyday Australian life, and Cloudstreet is one of his best works. It chronicles the lives of two Australian families in Perth over twenty years, from the 1940s to the 1960s.

3. Picnic at Hanging Rock

Although framed as a work of fiction, this 1967 story is still considered as one of Australia’s greatest mysteries. A class of young women in 1900 go on a picnic in a remote area, when three of them and a teacher inexplicably disappear. One girl returns, with no memory of what happened.

4. The Book Thief

This recent blockbuster film starring Geoffrey Rush was actually penned by Australian author Markus Zuzak. Set in Nazi Germany, the book follows a young girl and her family surviving the hardships of World War II.

5. My Brilliant Career

Written while she was still a teenager, this Miles Franklin novel, published in 1901, details life growing up as a young feminist in rural Australia. Though a work of fiction, the heroine has much in common with Franklin, and the story is amazingly well-written and captivating.

6. Schindler’s Ark

Thomas Keneally’s novel, which later became a film by Spielberg, it is the thrilling story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to save Jews in Nazi Germany. Though it is a work of fiction, Keneally based the main character on Holocaust survivor Poldek Pfefferberg. After the film was made, this book was republished under the name Schindler’s List.

7. The Slap

You may know it better as the ABC series from 2011, but it began as a novel by Christos Tsiolkas. At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own. The story is shared from the point of view of eight characters, all of whom are affected by the slap, whether directly or indirectly. The powerfully written book shares an insight into family, domestic life, happiness and loyalty.

8. The Rabbits

This book by John Marsden, with illustrations by Shaun Tan depicts the arrival of the British in Australia. It’s a great book for kids and adults alike, even if just for the awesome pictures.

9. Looking For Alibrandi

Another one you may have read back in high school, Looking for Alibrandi is an amazingly accurate story of a Year Twelve student struggling to cope with love, her family, studiying, and the death of a friend. The perfect coming of age novel, especially for anyone with a big (and sometimes embarassing) Italian family.

10. Playing Beatie Bow

Though technically a children’s book, Ruth Park’s brilliant writing makes it an enjoyable read even for adults. The story follows a girl, Abigail, who travels back to colonial Sydney in 1873, where she meets Beatie Bow, a girl who Abigail has learned about in her studies.

11. Snugglepot & Cuddlepie

The picture book which has cemented itself as an Australian classic, it tells the story of brothers Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and their adventures in the Australian bush.

12. Tomorrow, When The War Began

The first book in the Tomorrow series, it is set in Australia after an invasion by foreign powers. A teenage girl, Ellie, and her friends form a rebel army to fight the enemy.

13. The White Earth

Andrew McGahan explores the tensions between Aborigines and the descendants of European settlers in the Australian Outback. A young boy, William, lives with his uncle on a large homestead, and when a law changes to allow Indigenous Australians to reclaim certain land, William is caught up in the history and secrets of the land.

14. Seven Little Australians

A favourite for over 120 years, this Australian-authored is the only to have been in continuous print for that long. The story details the adventures of seven siblings, living in outback Australia under the care of their strict father and flighty stepmother.

15. Possum Magic

Probably one of Australia’s most loved picture books, Possum Magic is an adorable book about, you guessed it, possums and magic. If you didn’t read it while in primary school, do yourself a favour and read it now.

16. Oscar and Lucinda

The recipient of the Man Booker Prize in 1989, this novel (later made into a film with Ralph Fiennes), is an unusual love story set in 19th century Sydney. A priest falls in love with an heiress, and they both discover their love for gambling. This novel has been captivating audiences since its release. Just make sure you read it before seeing the film.

17. Came Back To Show You I Could Fly

This is a story of the unlikely friendship between a 11-year-old boy and a 20-year-old, drug-addled pregnant woman. A gripping story which also tells of the horrors of drugs and the effects they can have.

18. Burial Rites

Agnes has been charged with a brutal murder in Iceland, and is sent to a rural farm to await execution. The family who lives there avoid her at first, but as her death date draws near, the farmer’s wife and daughters learn that there is more to Agnes’ story.

19. Dirt Music

Another great Tim Winton book, Dirt Music really captivates the essence of what it’s like to live in Australia. An illegal fisherman falls into a secret relationship with a woman in a small town. The characters’ stories are full of grief and regret, making for an emotionally charged novel that you won’t want to put down.

20. Carpentaria

Indigenous author Alexis Wright tells the story of the inhabitants of Desperance, a small town in Queensland. Aboriginal inhabitants are embroiled in arguments with other members of the community, and this novel explores these complex relationships.

21. Where The Forest Meets The Sea

This is more of a work of art than a story, but Jeannie Baker’s lifelike collage illustrations are amazing. Set in a Queensland rainforest, the book looks back at what the land was like before the arrival of white settlers. Even if you don’t read it, it is definitely worth flicking through the book to see the illustrations.

22. White Gardenia

This compelling novel by Belinda Alexandra tells the story of Anya, a Russian girl living in exile in China during World War II. She eventually flees China, leaving her family and making her way through the Philippines to Australia. Based in history, the emotional story has amazing attention to detail.

23. So Much To Tell You

Presented through the diary of a 14-year-old girl, John Marsden’s story follows Marina, who has been scarred by an acid attack and no longer speaks. At a new boarding school, her English teacher asks her to keep a journal to explore her feelings of pain and distress.

24. Jasper Jones

This novel by Craig Silvey is a riveting tale about Charlie, a bookish 13-year-old who is drawn into the events surrounding the disappearance of a local girl, when town outcast Jasper Jones asks him for help. Labelled as an Australian answer to To Kill A Mockingbird, this deep yet funny novel is set to become an Aussie classic.

25. The Secret River

Kate Grenville’s historical novel centres on an English convict sent to Australia in the early 1800s for theft, who journeys up the Hawkesbury River upon his release. The book details his interaction with local Aboriginal peoples and how the two cultures interact.

26. Puberty Blues

This very funny novel by Gabrielle Carey & Kathy Lette, which has been turned into a successful TV show, is a great account of growing up in Australia in the 1970s. It tells the pro-feminist story of two 13-year-old girls trying to be popular through surfing.

27. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

Thomas Keneally tells the story of bushranger Jimmy Governor, through the eyes of an exploited Aborigine. Set in the late 1800s and based on a true story, the book is controversial, with some (including Keneally) saying that he, as a white man, should not have written in the voice of an Aboriginal person.

28. An Imaginary Life

A novella which has wonderful poetic prose. It tells the story of the Roman poet Ovid, exiled to a town on the Black Sea. Though he doesn’t understand the native population, he forms a bond with a wild boy, and the story details their relationship.

29. Two Weeks With The Queen

Colin, a twelve-year-old Australian is sent to live in London while his brother is being treaded for cancer. Colin decides to try and sneak into Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen to send her “top doctors” to help his brother. The book tells of the importance of hope and love, and is a great book for all kids to read.

30. Eucalyptus

A gruff owner of a eucalyptus tree farm declares that his daughter, Ellen, may only marry a man who can name every species of tree on his land. Ellen is uninterested in the many suitors who attempt the challenge, until she meets a mysterious man who is full of tales of his adventures. An enthralling story of love, it is full of rich wisdom of art, language and land.

31. Tender Morsels

A retelling of the classic Grimm’s tale ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’, Margo Lanagan’s dark and vivid story is set between two worlds. Liga lives with her two daughers in an imaginary world, safe from her violent and frightening childhood. As time goes on, the border between this world and reality begins to blur, and Liga must do what she can to protect her daughters.

32. Unreal!

Paul Jennings’ books are what most Australian kids remember reading growing up. His short stories are wonderful and often wacky, with great endings. As well as Unreal!, make sure to also read Unbelieveable!, Uncanny! and Unbearable!

33. Mao’s Last Dancer

The autobiography of Chinese-Australian Li Cunxan. It details his journey from being a impoverished field worker to a world famous professional dancer.

34. Candy

Luke Davies’ confronting novel charts the story of two lovers, living in Sydney, who also share a drug habit. With vivid imagery, the story is a frightening story of loss, love and addiction.

35. Hating Alison Ashley

A pre-teen comedy by Robin Klein which is a hilariously truthful account of going to school in Australia. Erica Yurken lives in low-income housing, but views herself as superior to everyone else.. Until Alison Ashley comes along to challenge that.

36. Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence

This stunning novel, which was adapted into a film, is personal account of a family’s experiences as members of the Stolen Generation. It is the story of three girls who escape a government settlement and trek over 2,400km across the Australian desert to get home.

37. The Getting Of Wisdom

This Australian classic 1910 novel is a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s experiences at a Melbourne all-girls boarding school. Though written about a teenager, this book is aimed at an older audience, presenting more mature themes.

38. A Fortunate Life

The autobiography of Albert Facey, this story chronicles his life in Western Australia, where he began working at age eight on the farms. He speaks of his time as a soldier in World War I, and how he lost his son in World War II. One of Australia’s favourite classic books, it has become a primary account of the Australian experience during World War I.

39. The Power of One

Set in South Africa in the 1930s, this is the story of five year old Peekay, who is the target of racial hatred. One day he meets amateur boxer Hoppie Groenewald who inspires Peekay to dream of being welterweight champion of the world. Narrated by Peekay looking back as an adult, the story is fraught with thoughts and feelings, making this a very emotive read.

40. Ransom

This is David Malouf’s retelling of the story of the Iliad from books 22 to 24. A novel of suffering and redemption, it is the tale of two men (Achilles and Priam, King of Troy) at war. A blending of past and present, Malouf presents a rich story filled with powerful lyricism.

41. Storm Boy

The book that sparked the successful children’s film of the same name, Storm Boy is the story of a boy and his pelican. The story explores his relationships with this pet, his father and an outcast Aboriginal man named Fingerbone.

42. My Place

Sally Morgan’s autobiography is a milestone in Aboriginal literature, and portrays her quest for knowledge about her family. Sally, after travelling to her grandmother’s birthplace, finds out that she is not white but in fact aborigine, something which was hidden by her family to avoid stigma.

43. Feeling Sorry For Celia

A teenage novel told through a series of notes left on the fridge by Elizabeth and her mum, this book is a funny and touching story of the difficulties of being a teenager.

44. The Burnt Stick

A striking picture book which tells the horrors of the Stolen Generation. John Jagamarra was taken away from his mother when he was five because he was half white, despite his mother darkening his skin using a burnt stick. This is a story of enduring love and painful separation.

45. The Eleventh Hour

A rich and vivid picture book, this is the story of Horace the elephant who hosts a costume party for all his animal friends. However, when they go to eat, it turns out someone has already eaten all the food! It’s up to the reader to go back and look at the very detailed illustrations to solve the mystery.

46. On The Jellicoe Road

Taylor is a 17-year-old who was abandoned by her mother at age eleven, and now lives with her mentor and guardian Hannah. When Hannah disappears, the only clue Taylor has to find her is a manuscript she’d written twenty years ago.

47. The Harp in the South

Ruth Park tells the story of Sydney’s Surry Hills in the 1940s when it was a suburban slum. Roie Darcy is growing up in a world of brothels and razor gangs, but tells her story with exuberance and hope.

48. Stolen

Sixteen-year-old Gemma was kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken as a prisoner to the Australian Outback. The story, written as a letter from Gemma to her captor, Ty, tells of the intense beauty and isolation of the Outback, and Gemma’s feelings toward him, which change over time.

49. Voss

Set in 19th century Australia, Patrick White tells the story of an explorer and a naive young woman who share a short-lived, yet intense relationship. Based on the life of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who died in the outback, it is a tale of love, passion and loss.

50. The Thorn Birds

This is an epic story, told over three generations, and spanning fifty years, it is set on a sheep farm in country Australia. Powerful, moving, and unforgettable, it is an Australian landmark novel.

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