What are the great Australian novels?

In my Moby Dick thread an Australian posted said they’d read it in school, which got me thinking about the books I’ve read from the big English speaking/writing countries of the world. It’s kind of surprising but I don’t think I’ve read very much at all, if I’ve read anything, from Australia.

I assume that’s because the great books Australians are producing just don’t really get a lot of publicity in America? I’ve seen a few Australian films, for example, although not nearly as many as I know are made. But then I started thinking and I can’t think of any Australian books I’ve read.

I’ve read Canadian fiction, of course, although probably not the Great Canadian Novel. (I’m sure there is one. Margaret Atwood maybe? If so I’ve read the Great Canadian Novel.) I’ve of course read probably as much British fiction as American fiction. I’ve read a few South African books. (The World That Was Ours blew my fragile little mind although I don’t think that’s widely read.) I’ve read some Indian books that were originally in English. (And a few in translation but I really don’t enjoy reading books in translation much, I always feel I’m just not really able to see what the book is really supposed to be.)

I even read Whale Rider, so I’ve read a Kiwi book.

So what’s up in the world of Australian letters? What are the great Australian books everybody has to read in school and hates and then they read them way later and realize how good they are? What’s the Aussie Fifty Shades of Grey? (Yes, I know, it’s Fifty Shades of Grey, but you know what I’m asking.)

What’s your favorite Australian book?

(Wait, I remember. I started Gould’s Book of Fish but lost my copy, years ago. Does that count? Also read The Fatal Shore but I’m not sure nonfiction counts and also I think the author moved away from Down Under a long time ago. Also I have seen a LOT of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.)

Nevil Shute was a prolific writer. On The Beach and A Town Like Alice come to mind.

Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds was extremely popular if not particularly literary.

Australia has always had a strong community of SF authors. But there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly distinctive about Australian SF.

Peter Carey is a great Australian novelist.
Oscar and Lucinda, Bliss, etc…

Illywhacker is a great great book that I have never seen a US version of.

The two that came to mind immediately:

Voss by Patrick White

Australia’s only Nobel prize winner for literature.


The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Note that the setting is ostensibly “Washington DC” but in reality it is Sydney.


Any reputable public library should have both of these.

Is there a typical answer an Austrlian would give? In America, the common answers(right or wrong) are:

Moby Dick
Huckleberry Finn
Great Gatsby
along with others, I’m sure. I don’t think any of those are the greatest or “great” American novel, but they do come up the most. What is the most common Australian answer?

For short stories, I’d recommend Henry Lawson’s work, especially such gems as “The Drover’s Wife” and “The Loaded Dog” – two very different pictures of life in the Australian Outback more than a century ago.

Not heavy / highly “worthy” / earnestly intellectual stuff: but – novelist and short-story writer D’Arcy Niland. I’ve read two of his novels, The Shiralee and Call Me when the Cross Turns Over – about “life in the raw” in the remote parts of Australia, mid-twentieth-century. I found the books powerful and moving.

And – comical material for kids (“of all ages”): The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay. Set in a milieu where, a la Wind in the Willows, humans and animals alike are sapient, and talk, and mix with each other on equal terms. The book tells of the doings of Bunyip Bluegum the koala, Sam Sawnoff the penguin, Bill Barnacle the (human) sailor, and their magical ever-self-replenishing pudding: our heroes have assorted crazy adventures while tramping around the Australian bush.

What I’ve seen has tended to be heavily apocalyptic, but I don’t know if that is representative.

A couple to add in no particular order:

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton
True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
All the Rivers Run, Nancy Cato
Monkey Grip, Helen Garner

+1 on The Magic Pudding and add Blinky Bill, Dorothy Wall
and one that gets the mind going on a very different basis The Eleventh Hour, Graeme Base

And if you are going to get into Lawson’s works you need to balance them with and equal dose of AB “Banjo” Patterson.

He was the first in my mind, but it turns out that less than half of his novels were written after he moved to Australia. Certainly it was his best period, but I’m uncertain that I’d call him an Australian writer.

Another vote for Peter Carey, who was cleaning up the Booker Prize committee in the '90s. Oscar and Lucinda was made into a feature film starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett, before anyone knew who Cate Blanchett was. Illywhacker, as previous poster said, is very good. I’d vote it his runner-up novel.


A Fortunate Life - AB Facey

My Brother Jack - George Johnston

Remembering Babylon - David Malouf

Schindler’s Ark - Thomas Keneally

But what’s the Big Book? The Huck Finn?

Who are you asking?

I would at least start with On the Beach. I don’t know Australian literature enough to be definitive, but I know that this is a fantastic book.

Power Without Glory gets my vote. Hard to believe it hasn’t been mentioned already.

Now, it’s not without flaws, and Frank Hardy was an unreliable narrator with an axe to grind, but it is a remarkable book, and it says a lot about Australia, particularly in terms of politics and social class.

Chapelli has the last laugh

Closely follows by Chapelli laughs again. Better than Max Walkers rubbish. :stuck_out_tongue:

Most of the classic stuff has been mentioned. Henry and Banjo great poets from the early days. A couple of current day reasonably prolific Aussie writers are John Birmingham and Matthew Reilly. Peter Fitzsimons does a lot of historical writing.

Is there a classic Australian novel? Don’t think so, not anything you’d get close to universal agreement on anyway.