Writers of Australia: Getting to Know Your Literary History

Writers of Australia:  Getting to Know Your Literary History

Monday, June 4th, 2012

When thinking about Australia, the literary history of the land of Oz probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, Australia has a rich and wonderful literary tradition that is very much alive and celebrated today. From Nobel Prize winners to famed libraries and world-renowned literary festivals, Australia has much to offer any literary enthusiast.

Writers

Australia was being written about long before Australians themselves picked up the pen and were recognized for their efforts. One of the most famous works of this type is Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” whose setting was in a land to the west of Tasmania.

Other categories of Australian literature penned by non-native Australians encompass works of adventure, possible the most famous of which being “Such Is Life” by Joseph Furphy, the Irish author known as “the Father of Australian novel.”

Australian writers have since come into their own, including works from Indigenous Australians and ex-patriots. Below are just a very few of some of Australia’s notable authors.

  • Clive James – Now living in the UK, James is best known for “Unreliable Memoirs,” an autobiographical series. James is also a journalist, poet, and critic as well as being an author and memoirist.
  • Patrick White – In 1973 White became the first Australian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was subsequently named “Australian of the Year” in 1974.
  • Kim Scott – An award-winning author, Scott is an Indigenous Australian of the Western Australian Noongar people. Scott has twice won the Miles Franklin Award which is given, “for the best Australian published novel or play portraying Australian life in any of its phases.”
  • Colleen McCullough – McCullough is the author of “The Thorn Birds,” Australia’s highest-selling novel. Written in 1977, the novel was made into a TV mini-series in 1983. As of 2009, the novel had sold about 30 million copies.

Libraries and Bookstores

Australia’s libraries and bookstores are not only a part of Australia’s literary history, but they are also a part of daily life for most Australians. With local libraries and bookshops on seemingly every corner, it’s easy to see Australia’s passion for literature. Below are some of the most notable repositories of books in Australia.

  • The National Library of Australia – Located in Canberra, the National Library of Australia boasts a collection of over ten million materials and is known as, “the nation’s single most important resource of materials recording the Australian cultural heritage.”
  • Cole’s Book Arcade – While you can no longer visit this Melbourne bookstore, no listing of literary hotspots in Australia is complete without a mention of E.W. Cole’s famous establishment. The shop was highly influential in Melbourne until its closure in 1929.
  • NGV Australia Shop – Located in Federation Square, this is the place to be for both Indigenous and graffiti books. The bookshop itself is surrounded by eye-catching architecture and is filled with equally eye-catching art.
  • The Paperback Bookshop – This independent bookstore has it all: Australian nonfiction, fiction, imports, and is open late for those who prefer to come out after dark. Considered a local icon, this bookstore is also conveniently located near a variety of restaurants and pubs.
  • Bookhouse – This shop may be quite small, but the welcome is warm and the selection of used books wide. It’s worth a trip inside just to chat with owner Ben Kemp. Be sure to get a suggestion from him to speed you on your way to your next literary experience.
  • Syber’s Books – Whether you’re into war history and true crime, or sci-fi and fantasy, this secondhand bookshop is the place to be. A truly lovely staff is an even better reason to come by.

Festivals

It’s difficult to find a time of year where there isn’t some sort of literary festival taking place in Australia. Below are a few highlights of upcoming events in Melbourne:

  • Emerging Writers Festival – May 24-June 3, general literature.
  • Continuum – June 8-11, speculative fiction.
  • Oz Comic-Con – June 30-July 1, pop culture.
  • Melbourne Writers Festival – August 24-September 2, general literature.

For any literary-minded traveler, Australia is a must-visit destination. The next time you’re there, be sure to make time for wandering the stacks and exploring the Land Down Under’s literary side.

When thinking about Australia, the literary history of the land of Oz probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, Australia has a rich and wonderful literary tradition that is very much alive and celebrated today. From Nobel Prize winners to famed libraries and world-renowned literary festivals, Australia has much to offer any literary enthusiast.

This article was written by Erica Gustafson who is a freelance media consultant for the Esplanade hotel Fremantle. She can often be found with her nose in a good book Image by Simon Cocks.