Before writing this post I spent some time browsing through my bookshelves searching out Australian books and authors.
As I ran my hands along the spines and moved up and down the shelves I began to realise how many Australian books and Australian authors have had a huge impact on my life at different times.
Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall was one of the first ‘special’ books I remember getting as a child. It was a beautiful red hardcover edition with crisp, white pages. I loved the illustrations although the story itself left me cold. I was very proud of this book and I loved its presence on my little bookshelf. This was when my love of collecting and cataloguing favourite books began.
I first discovered Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner in my primary school years. I saw the wonderful ABC TV series and fell in love with Judy and her family. This was the first time a book made me cry; I knew what was going to happen to Judy, so I was prepared. But I wasn’t prepared for the final poignant chapter where Turner describes the impact of Judy’s death on the rest of her family!
In 6th Class, our school librarian read my class Climb A Lonely Hill by Lilith Norman. It was not a book I would have picked for myself to read. It had an unattractive cover and was about a car accident in the bush. None of this sounded appealing to me.
I was scared stiff all the way through this book. It tapped into several of my fears – being lost, pain, wild animals. But it also introduced me to the genre of ‘end of the world as we know it’ novels where survival of the fittest ruled.
I still love a good end of the world story!
In highschool, two very different Australian books were on my regular re-read roster.
Pastures of the Blue Crane by H F Brinsmead was a chance discovery in the local library. I picked it up because I liked the cover and it seemed likely to contain some romance! But I was blown away to discover that the body of the book was set around Murwillumbah.
My grandmother lived in Murwillumbah and my family spent many summer holidays in the area. This was the first time I had ever read a novel about somewhere that I knew intimately. I could picture Rhyll’s house, I knew the streets and beaches she walked, I could smell the trees and flowers in bloom and the smoke from the burning canefields, I felt the humidity and heat. I loved the connection and sense of belonging I felt with Rhyll and the place.
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay is forever enmeshed with the movie. Whenever I read the book, images from the movie invade my senses and give the book extra impact. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the book as much without the movie. My imagination could not have conceived the eerie, spooky, sensual nature of Hanging Rock on its own. I needed Peter Weir for that. The mystery, secrecy and supernatural possibilities of the missing girls still gives me goosebumps.
When I started teaching, Mem Fox was all the buzz. Possum Magic had been published in 1983 to great acclaim and her storytelling abilities were already legendary. One of my lecturers showed us a video of Mem retelling the fairytale of The Little Match Girl.
There was not a dry eye in the room as Mem drew the story quietly to a close.
I was so moved by her passion, her love of language and the sheer joy she took in sharing a beautiful story that I vowed to always tell stories to children with as much passion and joy.
25 years later I am still reading aloud to groups of children; always searching for those special books that will live forever in our hearts and souls.
A few years later I read Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. I loved his sense of place and belonging. Although I had never been to WA, Winton made me feel like I had. Reading this novel made me feel that Australian literature had finally grown up.
From this time on I actively sought out Aussie authors, enjoying the belonging and connection I felt with them. I devoured Peter Goldsworthy, Robert Dessaix, David Malouf, Robert Drewe, Colleen McCullough, Sally Morgan, Frank Moorhouse, Thomas Keneally, Georgia Blain and Geraldine Brooks just to name a few.
In my 30’s I joined a community choir for the first time. It was a huge step outside my comfort zone and immensely rewarding and satisfying.
Amanda Lohrey had written a short piece for a book called Secrets titled ‘The clear voice suddenly singing’. It was the tale of a woman singing in a choir that spoke to and answered all my deep seated fears, hopes and desires. This was one of those lovely moments when exactly the right story turned up at exactly the right moment in my life.
Another such moment occurred when I first moved to Sydney and I attended an author event and met Lucinda Holdforth. Her enviable story, True Pleasures, combined her time in Paris with her love of French authors.
Lucinda started me off on a huge Francophile binge reading fest that still lingers 4 years later!
I love how reading Australian literature can help us to make sense of our own lives, our history, our culture. But I also love that our authors are no longer restricted to writing about Australia and our Australian experience. We now have authors writing about every time in history, on every continent, in any city, with many different voices.
It’s an exciting time to be reading Australian books.
One thought on “A – Z Blog Hop: A is for Australia”
What a great list of reads. I've only read a few of them, and some of them are quite new to me. Climb a Lonely Hill for instance. That sounds great. And True Pleasures is exactly my sort of thing- I've never heard of it! I shall put it on the TBR. I love how broad the range of Aussie books are too, many things for everyone.