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.
The 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.
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 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.
Jasper 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.
True 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.