If you’re trying to decide on your next Australian holiday destination or simply want to get a feel for an area before you travel there, a great way to learn more about the country is through Australian novels. While many works tell fictional accounts of historical stories or invent new ones, they do tend to also draw on the scenery and culture of a location to really set a tone and capture a reader’s attention. Some of the most lauded books in Australian literary history are actually set in locations across the country and provide unique insights into areas both large and small. If you’d like to immerse yourself in the imagery of Australian tourist destinations that have been captured in prose, read on for three top books to add to your reading list.
“Cloudstreet” by Tim Winton
Celebrated Australian novelist Tim Winton was born in Western Australia’s capital city Perth, and brings to life the culture of the region in the award-winning book “Cloudstreet”. The novel, which won the Miles Franklin Prize and the NBC Banjo Award for Fiction in Australia, chronicles the lives of two working-class families who flee rural disasters and head to Perth. They end up living together at a large house named Cloudstreet over the period of two decades after the end of World War II. The families bond over a plethora of shared extreme experiences such as adultery, death, marriage, birth and drunkenness and learn more about each other than ever expected. This sprawling saga resonates with themes about love and acceptance, finding one’s place in the world and the search for the meaning of life. “Cloudstreet” was published in 1991 and used as the basis for a TV miniseries of the same name that aired in 2011. The novel is a great place to start if you are going to Perth for the first time and want to get a feel for the city before you leave.
“The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas
If you plan to visit the city of Melbourne and want a taste of its culture, lifestyle and background before you travel, a fascinating book to consider adding to your reading list is “The Slap”, by acclaimed Australian author Christos Tsiolkas. The book is told from the viewpoints of eight different people who are present at a suburban barbeque when a man slaps a child who is not his own. The novel explores the notions of child-rearing and boundaries in middle-class suburban Australia (in particular Melbourne, where it is set and where the author lives) and showcases the ricochet effect that the slap has on the group of friends present — all of whom have different takes on whether the behaviour was acceptable or not. The book revolves around themes of families, expectations, beliefs, desires, marriage, parenting and children, and the ways of 21st century domestic life.
The powerful 2008 novel won a multitude of awards and praise for its author after release, including the ABA Book of the Year, Overall Best Book in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year/Overall Book of the Year. It was also shortlisted for the prestigious Miles Franklin Prize and long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In 2011 the novel was also turned into an eight-part drama series by ABC Television.
“Eucalyptus” by Murray Bail
Published in 1998, Eucalyptus is one of award-winning author Murray Bail’s best works and won both the Miles Franklin Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1999. The novel is set in rural New South Wales and revolves around a father who plants hundreds of gum trees, of all different species, on his farm as his daughter grows up. When she is 19 years old he tells her that she will marry the first man she meets who can name every single species of eucalypt on the property. A number of would-be suitors from across the globe arrive to try their hand at the challenge; however most are more interested in the challenge than the love of the daughter. The novel showcases a fable-like style that has elements of a fairytale combined with a modern Australian regional landscape.
“Cloudstreet” image by cdrumbks from Flickr’s Creative Commons.