50 Must Read Australian Novels (The Popular Vote)

by |January 11, 2011

50 Must Read Australian Novels

Hello friends, as someone who’s found themselves at this blog post, can we safely assume you want to discover the 50 Must Read Australian Novels? Perhaps you’re interested in Australia’s Favourite Authors? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

Over the past several years, Booktopia’s reader polls have unearthed the country’s most loved writers, both of fiction and non-fiction. Matthew Reilly was voted your favourite Australian author in 2017, Isobelle Carmody in 2016, John Flanagan in 2015, Mathew Reilly took out the honour in 2014, and Kate Morton in 2013.

Below you’ll find the results of the first ever poll Booktopia ran in 2011. After thousands of votes, your Top 50 Must Read Australian Novels were announced. Read about how the poll began and check out your favourites below.

John Purcell, 2011

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.)

50 Must Read Australian Novels1. 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.

50 Must Read Australian Novels

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.

Get your copy of Cloudstreet here.

Click here to read an extract.

50 Must Read Australian Novels2. 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 . . .

Get your copy of Picnic at Hanging Rock here.

The Book Theif 50 Must Read Australian Novels3. The Book Thief

by 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.

Get your copy of The Book Thief here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels4. Seven Little Australians

by 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.

Get your copy of Seven Little Australians here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels5. My Brilliant Career


by 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.

Get your copy of My Brilliant Career here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels6. The Slap

by 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?

Get your copy of The Slap here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels7. My Brother Jack

by 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.

Get your copy of My Brother Jack here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels8. The Magic Pudding

by 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+.

Get your copy of The Magic Pudding here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels9. The Harp in the South

by 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.

Get your copy of The Harp in the South here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels10. The Man Who Loved Children

by 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.

Get your copy of The Man Who Loved Children here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels11. Year of Wonders

by 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.

Get your copy of Year of Wonders here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels12. For the Term of His Natural Life

by 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.

Get your copy of For the Term of His Natural Life here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels13. I Can Jump Puddles

by 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.

Get your copy of I Can Jump Puddles here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels14. Jasper Jones

by 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.

Get your copy of Jasper Jones here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels15. Power Without Glory

by 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…

Get your copy of Power Without Glory here.

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

by 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.

Get your copy of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels17. The Spare Room

by 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.

Get your copy of The Spare Room here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels18. The Getting of Wisdom

by 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.

Get your copy of The Getting of Wisdom here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels19. The Power of One

by 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.

Get your copy of The Power of One here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels20. Eucalyptus

by 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.

Get your copy of Eucalyptus here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels21. True History of the Kelly Gang

by 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.

Get your copy of the True History of the Kelly Gang here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels22. The Broken Shore

by 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.

Get your copy of The Broken Shore here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels23. We of the Never Never

by 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.

Get your copy of We of the Never Never here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels24. The Bodysurfers

by 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

Get your copy of The Bodysurfers here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels25. Tirra Lirra By the River

by 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.

Get your copy of Tirra Lirra by the River here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels26. The Shiralee

by 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.

Get your copy of The Shiralee here.

The Boat27. The Boat

by 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.

Get your copy of The Boat here.

50 Must Read Australian Books28. The Secret River

by 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.

Get your copy of The Secret River here.

50 Must Read Australian Books29. The Thorn Birds

by 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.

Get your copy of The Thorn Birds here.

Ride On Stranger30. Ride On Stranger

by Kylie Tennant

“Civilisation 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.

50 Must Read Australian Novel31. Ice Station

by 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 . . .

Get your copy of Ice Station here.

voss32. Voss

by 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.

Get your copy of Voss here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels33. Maestro

by 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…

Get your copy of Maestro here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels34. Gould’s Book of Fish

by 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…

Get your copy of Gould’s Book of Fish here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels35. Praise

by 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

Get your copy of Praise here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels36. Dog Boy

by 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.

Get your copy of Dog Boy here.

The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony37. The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony

by 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.)

38. Obernewtyn

by Isobelle Carmody

In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. But for Elspeth Gordie, born with enhanced mental abilities that would see her sterilised or burned if discovered, it is also dangerous.

There is only survival by secrecy, and so she determines never to use her forbidden powers. But it is as if they have their own imperative, and their use inevitably brings her to the attention of the totalitarian Council that rules the Land . . .

Get your copy of Obernewtyn here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels39. Butterfly

by 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?

Get your copy of Butterfly here.

20 Must Read Australian Novels40. A Fraction of the Whole

by 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.

Get your copy of A Fraction of the Whole here.

50 Must Read Australian Books41. Things We Didn’t See Coming

by 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.

Get your copy of Things We Didn’t See Coming here.

50 Must Read Books42. It’s Raining in Mango

by 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.

Get your copy of It’s Raining in Mango here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels43. White Gardenia

by 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.

Get your copy of White Gardenia here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels44. Ransom

by 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.

Get your copy of Ransom here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels45. The Timeless Land

by 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”.

Get your copy of The Timeless Land here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels46. I Came To Say Goodbye

by 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.

Get your copy of I Came To Say Goodbye here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels47. Diamond Dove

by 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

Get your copy of Diamond Dove here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels48. Disco Boy

by 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.

Get your copy of Disco Boy here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels49. Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery

by 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.

Get your copy of Cocaine Blues: A Phryne Fisher Mystery here.

50 Must Read Australian Novels

50. Last Summer

by 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.

Get your copy of Last Summer here.

128 Comments Share:

About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


  • Angelrat

    January 27, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    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.

    • January 27, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      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)

      • D Irons

        April 22, 2018 at 11:37 am

        Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony is ok. The one I really dislike in your selection is “The Man Who loved Children” I would put that among the worst books I’ve ever read!!! Patrick White wrote much better books the “Voss”,my pick would be “The Eye of the Storm”. Bryce Courtney would have picked “April Fools Day”, the most heart wrenching beautiful book I’ve ever read. I also would have had “My Place” and “a Fortunate Life in There. Quite obviously I have a different taste in literature than yourself Cheers Diane

        • Marg

          June 11, 2018 at 1:35 am

          Glad to see a lot of my favourite books in your list – especially “The man who loved Children”

  • Margaret Tucker

    February 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    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.

  • February 1, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    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!


    Cynthia C

  • Michael Tullett

    February 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    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.

  • Libby

    February 1, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    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.

  • Kano

    February 1, 2011 at 8:07 pm

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

    • Lisa McArthur

      August 5, 2011 at 7:49 am

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

      • August 5, 2011 at 8:05 am

        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.

        • Grace Marks

          March 1, 2017 at 9:13 pm

          No Morris West book included? Shoes of the Fisherman has never been out of print and is still considered to be the pope of all papal fiction!!

    • annette

      January 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm

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

  • Dave

    February 3, 2011 at 8:08 am

    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….

  • February 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    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.

  • February 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    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.

    • hannah van mil

      August 13, 2011 at 5:49 pm

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

    • Island girl

      November 8, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      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

      • annette

        January 2, 2013 at 9:07 pm

        Marvellous must read it again

  • Polly

    July 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    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.

    • Polly

      July 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm

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

  • May

    September 9, 2011 at 9:33 am

    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.

    • March 23, 2012 at 1:41 am

      sorry but i thought the slap was fab

    • Arika

      November 19, 2013 at 8:49 am

      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.

  • October 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    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.

    • December 12, 2011 at 11:59 pm

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

  • trish

    December 20, 2011 at 10:23 am

    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

    • December 20, 2011 at 11:14 am

      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,

  • February 25, 2012 at 2:48 am

    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?

    • March 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm

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

  • March 23, 2012 at 1:39 am

    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.

    • March 23, 2012 at 7:45 am


      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


      • March 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm

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

        • March 24, 2012 at 10:52 am

          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.

          • March 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm

            well guess i can but wait !

    • trish

      March 23, 2012 at 11:12 am

      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

      • March 23, 2012 at 11:31 am

        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

  • March 31, 2012 at 4:24 pm

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

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

  • March 31, 2012 at 6:29 pm

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

  • Robert

    April 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm

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


  • Steffi O'Brien

    May 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    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.

  • May 9, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    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.

  • July 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm

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

    • nodrog

      September 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      spot on…made the first fleet so exciting.

  • Terence Clarke

    August 21, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    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

  • Andrew

    August 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    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.

    • Ken Ross

      November 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      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!

      • wizofoz

        September 27, 2013 at 7:48 pm


  • natnew

    September 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    where is “Capricornia?

  • Jim KABLE

    December 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    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”?

  • Jim KABLE

    December 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    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.

  • k marks

    December 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

    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.

    • Jim KABLE

      December 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm

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

  • January 8, 2013 at 6:27 am

    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.

  • Glenn

    January 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    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 🙁

  • Fred

    January 9, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    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…

  • ann

    January 16, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    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.

  • s ryan

    January 26, 2013 at 4:53 am

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

  • mwils

    April 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

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

    • April 12, 2013 at 4:47 am

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

  • Jan

    April 22, 2013 at 4:41 am

    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?

    • Kat

      April 23, 2013 at 11:53 pm

      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.

    • Steffi O'Brien

      April 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      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

      • Dipa

        December 12, 2014 at 12:54 am

        Based on Kat’s reply, I found this link for the book “Cattleman” by R S Porteous. It’s available to read in several libraries, and in audio form as well. Hope you find it at a library near you to enable you to read it again!

    • Dipa

      December 12, 2014 at 12:55 am

  • May 29, 2013 at 10:29 pm

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

    • Mel

      May 23, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      I hope you succeed! Good luck

  • John Green

    May 31, 2013 at 9:27 am

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

  • Marla

    June 3, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    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!

  • peterofware

    June 4, 2013 at 4:40 am

    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.

  • Bernard

    June 5, 2013 at 8:19 am

    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.

    • Jim KABLE

      June 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      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!

    • RovingWriter

      January 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      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.

      • Jackie Hauser

        December 28, 2017 at 4:45 pm

        Looking for an aboriginal coming of age story about a boy traversing the land looking for a spirit, finding it in a very small rock when he reaches the ocean. Heard the book read on the radio about 1977 – 79. The reader I thought read it does not remember it.

  • Wayne

    August 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    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.

  • Peter Anthony Leach

    December 24, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Xavier Herbert
    Morris West

  • Patrick Hughes

    January 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm

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

  • Bronte

    February 12, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Um where the hell is Looking For Alibrandi!?

  • March 21, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    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!

  • June 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm

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

    • johannach

      August 5, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      I’ve read and loved Adam’s Empire but I’m unable so far to get hold of the sequel Kalinda. Can anyone advise me where I can get a paper copy, either hard back or paper back, new or second hand, that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars? I live in the Netherlands.

  • August 4, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    Andrew McGahan’s black satire, Underground is a great read and fantastic attempt at the great Australian novel. I liked it much more than Praise. Definitely recommend it for those wanting a classic Australian read.

  • David

    August 25, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    I like Judy Nunn, and A B Clancy and agree that their very good, but I just read a book called… The Devil Inside the Book it was very good. Thoughts of my wife vibrated in my mind after I read it.

  • September 25, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I’ve saved this page to look up later so I can check out several books on the list. I’m currently reading a book I don’t think is on that list – Capricornia by Xavier Herbert. I picked it up for 40p so I think it was a real bargain! I enjoyed reading this blog. Very informative.

  • April 8, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Reblogged this on We Are The Books We Read and commented:
    It really is amazing the number of novels written by Australians about Australia and how many of them I haven’t read.

  • April 24, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Interesting to peruse the list. I was proud to say I have read at least 50% of the books. Now onto the other 50%!!
    ‘Jasper Jones’ was one of my standout favourites.

    • Annie

      May 7, 2017 at 7:34 pm

      And a fab stage play in Melbourne, 2016!

  • Fiona de Kerckhove

    August 25, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Reblogged this on Fiona's World and commented:
    I’ve read quite a few of these-or seen the movies. Obviously I have some reading to do…

  • Ingrid

    July 18, 2016 at 1:11 am

    I came across an Australian novel that seems to be rather a hidden away book. It’s a most unusual story, uniquely well written and with depth that seeped into me when I wasn’t fully aware it was happening. It’s been my best read for some years combining mysticism with true human emotional realism although I didn’t fully appreciate that depth while I was reading: Delia and Reid by Denis S Hurley —I’ve only been able to find the latest edition in ebook form on Google Books. The overall love story is beautiful too!

  • Lily

    November 15, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    Janet Turner Hospital is a brilliant yet seriously neglected Australian novelist. And where’s Gillian Mear’s Foal’s Bread & Roger McDonald’s Ballad of Desmond Kale

  • Louisa

    January 2, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Totally agree with your opinion of The Watcher on the Cast iron Balcony! I was fortunate enough to have had to study this in high school with a fabulous English teacher who brought the tales to life. Unforgettable!!

  • Lukas Sprehn

    January 16, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    Where is Emily Rodda/Jennifer Rowe?????????????

  • David Winger

    March 13, 2017 at 2:34 am

    Patrick Holland has two novels, ‘The Mary Smokes Boys’ and ‘One’, that will outlive all of these.

  • Annie

    May 7, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    Eucalyptus did not engage me or my book club ….

  • Natalie Barron

    July 18, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Thank so much for this brilliant list. I realised I had read many of these over my life, starting in my teens, but now in my 70’s have missed quite a few. Great to have a “go to” list to dive into with gusto!! No negative comments from me. You can’t please everyone!!

  • Leonie Egan

    July 26, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Gerald Brooks is a fabulous Sydney born writer. All her books are first class. Real Aussie outback romantic-crime novels must go to Bronwyn Parry. Thanks for the list. Have read many and half to go. Looking forward to it.

  • Kenn Rogers

    August 4, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    I read a BOOK RELATING TO WESTERN AUSTRALIAN shady government dealings and it was written in the Scarborough/Cottlesloe region.
    Can anyone tell me the name and author of same. The story was based in the Burke era of government

  • Robin

    August 27, 2017 at 10:04 am

    I consider “Cane” by Robert Donaldson and Michael Joseph 1967 to be a classic of Australian literature and life which I read in England. It seems unknown here in Australia, not in libraries, not in print. I think Fields of Fire was based on the cane fields of Quensland. Any thoughts please?

  • Heather

    September 14, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Stellar list. Would have loved to have seen Randolph Stow and Chloe Hooper but hey. My first Australian book I read was Tree of Man by Patrick White and I have never looked back. Best wishes from Canada.

  • Rhoda Kaye

    September 26, 2017 at 5:12 am

    Great list; I look forward to exploring these authors. I got here because I am trying to find the name of a book I read on vacation some years back. It was a huge, sprawling novel, with a unique protagonist POV: he defines himself immediately as someone who does not tell the truth. Unfortunately, that is all that I remember: that, and that I loved it. I am 85% sure it was an Australian author, but I did not write it down at the time. Can any of you lovely people tell me what it might be?

  • teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen

    October 15, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    What about Morris Gleitzman? He’s a brilliant author, if for teens.

  • str

    October 23, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    does anyone know any literature about refugee;disease;Australia ?

  • Paul Herring

    November 14, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I’m surprised that Ion L Idriess’ books didn’t get a mention. He was a classic Australian writer, whose books including “The Cattle King”, “The Desert Column” and several others didn’t get a mention. I realise you can’t include every author/book, but some of his works rate a mention surely.

  • December 13, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Obviously then, you have not read POOR FELLOW MY COUNTRY. In the event of which, you have read nothing. Or if you have read it, then your literary tastes are constricted indeed. You must enjoy watching cookery shows on television.

  • JIM

    January 26, 2018 at 4:36 am

    The one in your list that got me wound up the most was Voss.
    White had to have been a brilliantly skillful writer, to have induced me to willingly subject myself to his self-indulgence and continue reading to the end. It is at times hard going but well worth the struggle.
    Despite having been written in mid 20th century, the style harkens back to 19th century drawing room pretentiousness. The games of verbal badminton, obscure oblique repartee — especially that between Voss and Laura — would be intolerable were it not that White’s prose is otherwise so compelling. It’s not possible to believe that even in the 19th century people ever spoke in such terms. So one must accept that aspect of the book as pure fantasy and either go along with it, like a passenger on a midway ride for the sheer pointless thrill of it; or else throw the book against a wall. I’ve chosen the former.
    So what shall we make of Voss, the man? Is he just a poseur, serenely ensconced in his own vanity, mocking the lesser beings around him, but ultimately a man of no consequence? Or is all of that just a façade meant to hold the world aloof, leaving him undisturbed to pursue his grand adventure? Certainly, men who dare greatly carry giant egos and an ego needs to be fed, one way or another. Undoubtedly he will achieve much, if only by sheer force of will — or die noisily in the attempt. In the end, his true worth may be shown not by what he achieves but by what sort of man he becomes at the end of it all, either by valiantly perishing or by emerging as a whole human being, no longer a slave to his own ego. Voss the iconoclast rejects humility: to become humble is to forsake one’s status as having been created in the image of God. That places him in a total win-or-lose struggle: prevail or be destroyed. (I will not reveal here how or if Voss resolves that dilemma; others will have to read the book to find out)
    And what can become of Laura — in her own way an iconoclast too. White’s 19th century romantic notion of the remote, unattainable love, a spiritual bond that manages to transcend vast differences in personality as well as physical separation may be a little too much for most 21st century readers to accept. But, as with White’s hundred year old writing style, either you go along with it or walk away from the book altogether.
    White himself is every bit as uncompromising as his two protagonists.

  • March 16, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Completely agree with Cloudstreet being at #1, puzzled at the lack of anyone missing Colin Thiele’s work – his work was iconic to my generation’s childhood. Would also have liked to have seen Robbery Under Arms somewhere on the list (not well enough known these days?).

  • Topaz

    May 6, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    Such is Life??

  • Jon from Cascadia

    July 6, 2018 at 4:05 am

    Great list. Sorry to only encounter it now, 7 years later. In 1988-89, I spent 9 months in Canberra at ANU and read many of the older books on this list (or others by the same authors). Early on I picked up a book called something like “The Good Read Book,” which had one-paragraph summaries of over 100 Australian novels. It and a local bookstore structured my spare time in those pre-Amazon and pre-Internet days.
    Surprised that David Ireland isn’t on the list, but maybe he was more popular with critics than the public. “Archimedes and the Seagle” seemed like it would have had staying power.
    Thanks for publishing this list!

  • Valerie

    August 30, 2018 at 7:40 pm

    Water Under the Bridge is possibly my favourite Australian novel. I’ve read about half of those in the list. I think the Solid Mandala is better than Voss.

  • bobbie bonte

    August 31, 2018 at 9:59 pm

    How can I register on your website and receive updates and newsletter and be part of the community?

    • Sarah McDuling

      September 6, 2018 at 6:52 pm

      Hi Bobbie,

      If you create a Booktopia account you can go to your ‘Newsletter Preferences’ to decide which newsletters you would like to receive! You can create an account here.

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  • October 19, 2018 at 6:01 am

    An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend
    who has been conducting a little homework on this.
    And he in fact bought me dinner simply because I found it for him…
    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the
    meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss this issue here on your website.

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