Books, Reading, Top Ten Tuesday
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Top Ten Tuesday: 10 books set in rural Australia

LittleMe

I still pull this face when the sun is in my eyes.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish is to revisit a past Top Ten you may have missed over the years, or one you want to revisit. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to do ‘10 Books Set Outside the U.S.‘ (this would probably have greater significance for me if I lived in the U.S., but anyway) and post about a few books that are set in my home country.

The very earliest years of my life were spent in a small town in the Aussie bush called Come-by-Chance, named so for the fact that it’s so small, you would literally come upon it by chance if you just so happened to be driving through the area; one of Australia’s most famous poets, Banjo Paterson, even wrote a poem about it. I left there when I was very small and, other than a brief sojourn there when I was about seven, I haven’t been back there for almost 20 years, but I still have memories of the dry and the dirt, the heavy rain and the mud. Most of the roads in and out were dirt – no asphalt – so when it was especially rainy the school bus wouldn’t able to get to us and we’d have to be schooled from home; the school was an hour away, by the way.

So here are ten books in no particular order that remind me of the bush and of my childhood in general.

TheManFromSnowyRiverThe Man from Snowy River by A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson.

Long before this was a film that I obsessed over when I was younger (Tom Burlinson, who played The Man, was probably my first screen crush), and a novelisation based on that screenplay, it was a poem. It’s perhaps the most famous poem penned by the man mentioned above, A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson. I can’t say much else about this book other than it’s the complete embodiment of the spirit of the Aussie bush.

The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell.

Another film I obsessed over as a child was The Silver Brumby (starring a very young Russell Crowe), based on the novel by Elyne Mitchell. The book is about Thowra, a brumby (the name for the Australian wild horses) who roams the Snowy Mountains region (this alpine area of Australia is famous for its wild horses). He’s special because of the colour of his coat, and the main focus of the story is The Man (yes, another man from the Snowy region, but not the same one) who hunts Thowra to capture him and tame him. But if the book taught one little girl (me) anything, it’s that some wild things will never be tamed. Incidentally, it was Elyne Mitchell who wrote the novelisation of The Man from Snowy River mentioned above.

RushOh!Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett.

I literally finished reading this last night, which is lucky because this book absolutely needs to be on this list. The setting of this book is on the coast rather than in the bush, so it’s an interesting contrast to the first two books (it’s also really excellent and you should go read it right away). But despite the different location there’s the same sense of isolation, the same Aussie battler spirit, and the same sights and sounds evoked by the other books on this list. Any Aussie kid who grew up on the coast (which is where I’ve been since I left the dust) will know the feeling of being harassed by plovers during mating season, and bush kids (and coast ones too) will know all about the joys of being chased by magpies. Birds can be scary here.

Bereft by Chris Womersley.

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted about this book roughly ten trillion times on this blog, so I won’t go on about it for too long. Instead, I’ll just direct you to my review of it and tell you how perfectly Womersley captures the bush.

Dirt MusicDirt music by Tim Winton.

This is not my favourite book by Tim Winton (that would be Cloudstreet), but this is the one that spoke to my sense the most. I remember liking the story, but not loving it. It was the Winton’s descriptions of the red dirt and the ocean I loved the most. In fact of all the books on this list, this is one that probably evokes the senses the most – you can almost smell the eucalyptus and hear the cicadas when reading this, and it’s also a glimpse into modern life for those who live in the more isolated coastal areas.

A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey

This memoir spans some of the most important moments in world history: WWI, The Depression and WWII. We’ve all read memoirs from these periods, but I feel like lots of people may not have read one written by an Australian (that’s a big assumption on my part) and I believe those people are missing out. So go read it.

JasperJonesJasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

If you want to know what it’s like to be an Aussie kid during summer, then you can’t not read Jasper Jones. The childhoods shown in this book aren’t typical by any means, but they’re a pretty close rendering of what life was like growing up in Australia in the 1960s. I say that like I was there; clearly I wasn’t, but there were loads of things I could relate to – especially staying out late on hot summer nights, knowing there would be no school the following day.

A Simpler Time by Peter FitzSimons.

This is another good one to read if you want to know what it’s like to grow up in Australia (maybe not now so much, but definitely my generation and earlier), but an accurate depiction because it’s a memoir rather than fiction. This one is exciting for me as it’s set in my region, so I know a lot of the places and although Mr FitzSimons was a child long before I was even a twinkle in my mother’s eye, his childhood wasn’t that different to mine.

cover-true-historyTrue History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey.

Ned Kelly was kind of like Australia’s Robin Hood, but also not really. In any case, his exploits are a huge part of Australia’s folklore and wasn’t something I’d really given a lot of thought to before reading this book. Carey’s fictionalised account of the life of the bushranger, Ned Kelly, is completely brilliant and possibly my favourite of the few Booker Prize winner’s I’ve read. It’s so Aussie and colonial it hurts, and I think is the perfect way to introduce oneself to such a prominent piece of Australian history.

Four Fires by Bryce Courtenay

I’m going to make another big assumption and say that Bryce Courtenay is probably most well-known outside Australia for his novel, The Power of One. But he’s also written a bunch of books set in Australia that generally tell stories about how tough life can be in Australia, the rural areas in particular. I’m stretching my memory a bit in regards to Four Fires, as it’s been many years since I read it and it covers a lot of ground in 1000+ pages. Basically anything of importance that happened in the period from the 1940s to the late 1990s is covered in this book, but seen from an Australian perspective. But it’s the day-to-day stuff that’s the best thing about this book and that are worth getting through all those pages for.

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21 Comments

  1. Rush Oh! and A Simpler Time both sound excellent. You’re so right that I’ve never read a memoir from WWII/Depression Era from the Aussie POV (and, in fact, I may never have even read a single memoir from this era? could it be?).

    Also, that photo of you is too precious. The entire outfit is flawless.

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    • It’s funny because I actually have pants like that now – they are the most comfortable. This was taken on a day when camel riders came to Come-by-Chance (because that’s the sort of thing happens in the middle of nowhere in regional Australia); I rode camels in style.

      I 100% recommend AB Facey’s book – I feel like it’s required reading for Australians, but I think it’d be great for non-Aussies too. The period between WWI and WWII really formed our attitude as a country and Facey’s book exemplifies it perfectly. And he seemed like the loveliest person as well.

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    • I’m glad – I hope at least some of them = happy reading for you! My favourite of all of these is Rush Oh!, so I’d recommend shuffling that to the top of the list 🙂

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    • My Brilliant Career is Australian I believe – written by Miles Franklin. I’ve never read it though, so I didn’t include it on my list. I feel like it’s one I should probably get to at some point, though – have you read it?

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  2. Come-by-Chance sounds fabulous! I love its optimism and not surprised to read you had tennis courts there, I grew up in a remote rural area (in NZ) and the tennis court was one of the social gathering points, in fact for a community that had just one shop, it had a huge sports complex and lots of teams/clubs.

    Oh I remember that scene in The Man From Snowy River when he goes over the side of the hill and the motion slows down, it’s permanently fixed in my brain, I think we all stop breathing at that point in the film, it’s so powerful, but I didn’t know anything about the literature behind it or the woman who wrote the script, thank you for this, it’s a fabulous list.

    I used to read a lot of Peter Carey after starting out with Oscar and Lucinda and loved Ned Kelly, my favourite of his is Jack Maggs, I got bogged down with Parrot and Olivier and his books since then haven’t managed to lure me back. But when he’s on form, he’s definitely one of my favourite storytellers.

    Cloudstreet sounds likes a must, I have Dirt Music on my shelf and sounds like I might want to start there, I do love books that evoke the senses and knowing he has another that is a page-turner sounds alluring.

    Do you have any recommendations of indigenous authors? I’d love to read a great book written from within the Aboriginal cultural perspective.

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    • Now that I think about it, it makes sense that some smaller, quite isolated towns would have a tennis court (or similar); it would be important to have that social hub to ease the isolation I guess.
      Another Tim Winton one you might like is ‘Breath’ – his personal love of surfing really shines through in that one, and the sense of place in that is wonderful.
      I’ve read very little from indigenous authors. The only one that comes to mind was a sci-fi sort of YA novel earlier this year, and I didn’t really enjoy it that much. But I did find this article that might interest you – it’s five must-read books by Indigenous authors; some of them sound really good and I’ll definitely be looking for some of them myself (especially the first one). I’m so glad you asked about this!

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  3. Great list! I’m ashamed to admit that although I grew up in Australia I never read all that much Australian literature, particularly about the bush. I do love Tim Winton, though – Cloudstreet is an amazing book, and I’d definitely say it’s my favourite of his as well. His writing is so lovely, almost poetic, I’d say. 🙂

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    • Don’t worry, you aren’t alone! I definitely haven’t read as much Australian literature as I’d like – it just doesn’t grab my attention in the same way that European literature does.

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    • Hmm. I don’t read a lot of YA actually, so I’m probably not the best person to ask unfortunately! ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ by Melina Marchetta is one that’s been popular ever since I was at school forever ago, so that might be a good one to try. It’s contemporary YA though, so I’m not if it’s what you had in mind.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Firstly, hooray! So glad you loved Rush Oh! (I was feeling the pressure…)

    I feel EXACTLY the same as you do about Dirt Music – Cloudstreet is my favourite Winton and yet so much of Dirt Music and the sense of place has lingered.

    I’m seeing the stage production of Jasper Jones soon – looking forward to how they tackle the cricket match which I do reckon is the highlight of the whole book.

    Love Kelly Gang – I’m not a huge Carey fan (the last one I read, Chemistry of Tears, wasn’t great and may well have been our break-up) but this is an exceptionally good book.

    Lastly – Come-by-Chance? I never knew such a place existed… how lovely.

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    • You have no idea how much I loved it – I thought my heart was going to burst at one point. I actually sighed out loud on the train and held the book over my chest like a weirdo. And John Beck…more sighing.
      I think I would have liked Dirt Music more if the characters weren’t so unlikeable – I couldn’t become attached to any of them.
      Have you read Oscar and Lucinda? That’s another Carey novel I love. Oh and My Life as a Fake is excellent as well (they’re the only three of his I’ve read and I’ve liked them all, so my happy relationship with him continues).

      Yes, Come-by-Chance. It sounds whimsical and lovely, but it’s really just one of those small towns you don’t even pass through on the way to anywhere else. I don’t even know why it’s there – it’s so far removed from anything. When I lived there, all it had was a general store, which also doubled as the pub (because obviously an Aussie town needs to have a pub); a house that was the post office that my mum ran for a few years, but eventually the postal services were moved into the store as well; a house next to the store, one behind it; a small cottage that I lived in with my mum and dad; and that’s about it. Oh and it surprisingly had tennis courts too, which was weird. Most people lived out of the town on properties, so tennis club meetings were kind of a big social thing. And we can’t forget the Come-by-Chance races – apparently it’s still a pretty big deal out there, but I only have the vaguest recollections of going there as a littlie.

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