CategoryReviews of Australian Literature

Taboo by Kim Scott

I had been looking for this book to become available in the US for more than a year when I learned that Kim Scott was visiting my small city in Virginia. It was wonderful to hear him speak and to be able to buy the book. I should explain that he was here at the invitation of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, the only art museum in the US that is wholly devoted to Aboriginal art. One of...

Stories of Perth by Alice Grundy

This collection of 12 short pieces are connected by Perth, the most isolated city in the world. I came to read it thanks to Reading Matters who returned to Australia after 20 years in London. Having lived on the east coast she was new to the area, so she picked up this book. I’m mighty glad she did. Much as I want to remember and write about all of the selections, I will focus on just a few...

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss

Anita Heiss compiled these 50 short pieces by Aboriginal people in Australia and has gathered a pleasingly varied anthology of voices. I read that some of the stories are by well-known figures, but they were all unknown to me. Some were successful in sports, some are musicians, some were quite young. I loved them all and grew addicted to the six readers. Many spoke of their parents’...

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Well, this one is going on my best-of-the-year list for sure. I can’t decide whether it’s best described as a fairy tale or as operatic. The story by Dalton, a newspaper crime writer, was inspired by his beloved mother and stepfather who dealt heroin, by his 70-something convicted murderer babysitter, and by his severely alcoholic father. My question is how it is that these folks inspired such a...

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

The author, a Bundjalung woman, has written a book that is at once devastating and funny. The continuing awful results for indigenous people of the European presence are well depicted here. The story centers on Kerry, who rides a stolen Harley back to her hometown as her grandfather is dying. She is sad about her girlfriend, just sentenced to five years in prison for robbery and feels guilty...

Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Whiskey and Charlie are twins born in Britain whose family moved to Australia when they were teens. The book opens with Charlie sitting with Whiskey in the hospital after an accident left Whiskey in a coma. Chapters with scenes at Whiskey’s bedside are written in sans serif type to distinguish them from the story of their growing up and then growing apart. That story is told in chapters...

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

Tim Winton’s most recent fiction is yet another amazing work. The narrator is a teenage boy who begins his story telling that his father has once again beaten him, leaving one eye swollen shut. Later Jackson returns to find his father had died when the car he was repairing collapsed on him. Jackson, believing he will be accused of killing his father, runs in hopes of getting far enough away...

Shell by Kristina Olsson

A wonderfully complex tale beautifully told that focuses on one of the most awe-inspiring man-made structures in the world and an issue that loomed large in my own young life, well, how can that be wrapped up in a single book? Shell is set in Sydney when the opera house construction was underway and coincidentally, conscription to send men to fight in Vietnam began, in late 1965 and 1966. Pearl...

Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Tim Winton

It was such a treat to read a book that lovingly describes Tim Winton’s unique home, “the world’s largest island,” as he has it. For me the best part is being reminded of the sense memories of my own childhood, though my Virginia countryside couldn’t be more different from Australia. One topic he wrote about that resonates with me begins this way:  “Like most...

True North by Jill Ker Conway

Jill Ker Conway’s second autobiographical book follows The Road from Coorain and recounts her experience upon arrival from Australia as a graduate student at Harvard through her time at the University of Toronto. It ends with the beginning of her presidency at Smith College in 1975. She tells the charming, sometimes quite touching stories of her life in this period beginning in 1960. The...

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