Do you love being transported to a different place?
Being amid a pandemic, it is pretty unlikely that we will be heading overseas for summer holidays this year. Instead we are more likely to be having staycations at home or around the UK. It is at times like this I love reading! My favourite thing when reading is when an author can paint a picture of a place- the landscape, the people, the atmosphere. When they can pull me in and make me feel like I am there, along with the characters experiencing the same amazing places, making me forget where I am.
What images are conjured up for you when you hear someone talking about Australia? Is it the cities or places? Places like the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Barrier Reef or Uluru (Ayers Rock)? Or maybe you think of people or TV shows? What about the endless sunshine and hot weather or maybe it is the funny accent!
I was born in Western Australia but have lived and travelled all over Australia and have been spoilt living in a country that has everything! Amazing beaches with squeaky white sand and turquoise blue waters, rugged coastlines where you can spot humpback wales lumbering past. The lush green forests with towering Eucalypt trees and the thick scrubby bush as far as you can see. There is farmland full of sheep and cattle or wheat and canola. Kangaroos galore, echidnas, Koalas and Emus, not to mention all sorts of spiders and snakes that will kill you given half a chance! I have seen where the rainforest meets the beaches in far north Queensland and the rugged windswept cliffs of Tasmania. I have eaten bush tucker with Aboriginal Elders in red deserts of central Australia and watched drovers on horseback mustering cattle in the bushland of the Australian Alps.
If you have never been to Australia before, I would recommend some of these following books so you can discover the different country and city landscapes that Australia has to offer. Of course, these are not the only books set in Australia, these are just few that I have read and really enjoyed. Ones that made me forget about the rainy cold English weather and transport me back to a warm, sunshine filled country.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart – Holly Ringland: This book was my number one read of 2019. This a beautiful story with an equally beautiful cover! The first time I saw this book, the cover jumped out at me and I knew I had to read the book without even opening a single page or reading the blurb. I will say up front that there is a trigger warning for some people as it covers the topic of domestic violence but over all this book was amazing, please don’t let that put you off. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a descriptive and deeply moving novel spanning two decades, it shares the life of Alice Hart who, when tragedy strikes at the age of nine, is taken from her home, a sugarcane farm by the ocean and sent hours away to a native flower farm to live with a grandmother she never knew existed. Alice grows up working on the farm and is taught the family tradition of speaking through native Australian flowers, to say things that cannot be said in words. A deep family secret is revealed, and Alice flees the farm and heads into the central Australian desert. There she is hoping to forget the past and move on with her own happy future only to find that history is repeating. A wonderful story full of love, loss, and redemption. What I really liked about this book is that at the beginning of each chapter, the author introduces it with a native flower, a picture and its description which ties into that chapter.
The Pearler’s Wife – Roxane Dhand: What I found really interesting about this book, is that it is based on the little-known true history of the pearling industry in far north Western Australia, something that I didn’t know anything about! I found this book different to others set in the same time period as it does not sugar coat Australia’s history of its treatment of Indigenous Australians nor the south-east Asians who came to Australia to find a better life for themselves. The book is set in the 1900’s in the fictional town of Buccaneer Bay (but is based on the town of Broome) in far north Western Australia. From her comfortable, pampered life in her English home, 19-year-old Maisie is sent to the rugged isolated Buccaneer Bay to marry a man she has never met. There she is faced with the harsh reality of a cruel, loveless marriage, a small and backwards outback town with the stifling heat and humidity. Not to mention coming face to face with the Government’s White Australia policy and the terrible treatment of the local aboriginals and Asian workers. But it is not all bad for Maisie, who finds friendships with those that society says she shouldn’t. She also finds herself falling in love with a British diver she met on the voyage from England. This book of full of mystery, dark secrets, greed, friendship with a little bit of love.
Batavia – Peter Fitzsimons: The Batavia story has been a favourite of mine since visiting the Fremantle Maritime Museum as a child and seeing part of the wreck, the artifact and skeletons and reading the descriptions- I was hooked! I have read pretty much every fiction and non-fiction book about the Batavia but this book by Peter Fitzsimons is my favourite. Fitzsimons has the knack of writing non-fiction, historical book with a hint of storytelling, really bringing the story to life. The story of the Batavia is one of the most awful but fascinating stories in Western Australian history. In 1629 the pride of the Dutch East India Company, the Batavia, is on its maiden voyage from Amsterdam to the Dutch East Indies, laden with precious cargo. The ship is already boiling over with a mutinous plot that is just about to break when, just off the coast of Western Australia, it strikes an unseen reef in the middle of the night. The Abrolhos Islands is the scene of mutiny, lust, terror, survival, and for some, rescue.
Cloudstreet– Tim Winton: Tim Winton is a Western Australian icon; his novels are set in Western Australia and the coastal landscape features heavily in most of them and Cloudstreet is one of his best-known works. It is a family saga, set in Perth, Western Australia. After two families, the Pickles and the Lambs, suffer separate tragedies, they flee their rural homes and end up sharing the same large house called Cloudstreet for 20 years, from 1943 to 1963. The two vastly different working-class families find that their lives become entwined as the experience love, marriage, birth, death, adultery, joy and loss binding them together. This novel has won numerous awards and has been adapted to the stage and screen. A great book about life in post war Australia.
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay: The author has written it in such a way that it makes you wonder if Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fiction or non-fiction story. When I first read this book, I was intrigued and did not know if this was true or not, so I had to do some research to find out! It is a classic Australian historical novel set in 1900 is about a group of students from Appleyard College for Young Ladies who decide to go on a picnic on Valentine’s Day to Hanging Rock, which is in bushland in country New South Wales. During the picnic three students and a teacher go for a walk in the bush and never return.
Storm Boy – Colin Thiele: This book is an Australian childhood classic and is still one of my favourite books! I remember reading this over and over again as a child. I enjoyed watching the multiple movies that have been made since the book was printed in 1964. It is set in South Australia, and is rich in its beautiful descriptions and the characters, is about a boy who rescues and rehabilitates three orphaned pelican chicks and returns them to the wild, but the youngest one, Mr Percival refuses to go and becomes Storm Boy’s friend. It is a wonderful moving story about how special connections can be made with living creatures. Wonderfully detailed in its explanations of the rugged South Australian coast.
A fortunate Life – A B Facey: An extraordinary autobiography written an “ordinary” man, Albert B Facey. It begins before the turn of the century when AB Facey was a young boy, his father dies, and he is abandoned by his mother at the age of two. Living with his grandmother, he was working on the land by eight. The book follows him and his life growing in rural Western Australia, the many jobs he had. Enlisting in the Australian army and his experiences in Gallipoli during World War 1, and his life in Australia after returning from war. This is a modern classic that is studied as part of the high school curriculum and is a fascinating read giving us an insight of life in early Australia.
Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton: The first time I heard about this book was when I was listening to a radio interview with the author, Trent Dalton. He was talking about the inspiration behind the book and the fact that it is based on his own childhood and experiences living in the Brisbane suburbs. A word of warning with this one, it is gritty and delves into the darker side of drugs and violence, not to mention the swear words used frequently. In saying that, this book has remained in the top 10 selling books in Australia for over 12 months and has won multiple awards. Boy Swallows Universe is set in the 1980’s and 1990’s in Brisbane, Australia, It is a coming of age story of a boy growing up in a poor suburb, surrounded by poverty, drugs, violence and crime. All Eli Bell wants to do is grow up and be a journalist…and a good person. It is a dark story but also full of hope and love with a touch of humour. With gritty descriptions of the suburbs it has a distinct Australian feel to it.
The Dry – Jane Harper: A crime mystery novel and book one in the Aaron Falk series. It is set in a present-day farming town in rural Australia which is in the midst of the worst drought in living memory. A farming family is found dead in an apparent murder/suicide and Federal Police Detective Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown to farewell his childhood friend. However, there are many unanswered questions and when his friends’ parents beg him for help, Detective Falk finds himself investigating his friend’s death. Long buried secrets begin to surface and threaten to be revealed along with new secrets.
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence – Doris Pilkington: Based on a true story set in the 1930’s in Western Australia. It was written by the daughter of the eldest girl, Molly (who was a child of mixed race or “half-caste” as her mother was aboriginal, and her father was white). It is set at the time where the Australian Government could take mixed race children from their families and place them in a white household to be “made” white (now known as the Stolen Generation). This story follows the 3 “half-caste” aboriginal girls 8, 11 and 15, who run away from settlement that they have been placed with and make a long, arduous trek up north to find their families following the rabbit-proof fence, a symbol of love, home and security. This book was also made into a feature film called “The Rabbit Proof Fence” in 2002.
The Complete Poems of Banjo Paterson. There is something about the poems of Banjo Paterson! Banjo Paterson is Australia’s best known and most loved bush poet. His poems describe life at the turn of the century for those living in the bush dealing with summer droughts while droving cattle or rescuing horses who escaped to run with the wild brumbies. He also touches on life on the front line in World War one. He wrote many poems, his most famous being The Man from Snowy River, Clancy of the Overflow and Australia’s unofficial anthem Waltzing Matilda. In 1983 Slim Dusty’s rendition of Waltzing Matilda was the first song ever to be broadcast from astronauts to earth. Banjo Paterson’s face can be seen on the Australian $10 note along with the brumbies from the poem The Man from Snowy River. And the Man from Snowy River has been made into a feature film (1982) and the poem was also performed as part of the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. There is a YouTube video of actor Jack Thompson doing an amazing reading of Clancy of the Overflow, one of my favourites!
I hope some of these titles have caught your eye! Enjoy opening the door to another place…. and possibly another time! I hope you are transported somewhere exciting and fun this summer, even if is while sitting in your favourite reading spot at home. Enjoy the journey.
Happy Reading, Nic