Historical Musings #30: Exploring Australia

In a comment on my last Historical Musings post – on the subject of nautical fiction – Yvonne mentioned that books set in Australia often feature a sea voyage, which is understandable as transportation (the relocation of prisoners) played such a big part in Australian history. I hadn’t read any of the books Yvonne referred to – and this made me think of how few historical fiction novels set in Australia I have actually read!

I have searched through my blog archives and it seems that the only Australian historical novels I have reviewed are The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally, about two sisters from the Macleay Valley who serve with the Australian Army Nursing Service during the First World War, and The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman, the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife living on a remote island off the coast of Australia in the 1920s. There’s also The Ghost Writer by John Harwood, but that book is only partially set in Australia and not entirely historical either, although it does include some wonderful 19th century ghost stories!

Thinking of books that I read in the years before I started blogging, the only ones that come to mind are Colleen McCullough’s family saga, The Thorn Birds, and All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato (of which I can remember nothing other than that I enjoyed it at the time). I obviously need to read more Australian novels! I found an interesting list at Goodreads but I’ve only heard of a few of those books…so where should I start?

Can you recommend any good historical fiction set in Australia?


New to my historical fiction shelves since last month’s post:

* The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
* The Autumn Throne by Elizabeth Chadwick
* The Snow Globe by Judith Kinghorn
* The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood
* Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer
* The Last Hours by Minette Walters
* The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley
* The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

Have you added any new historical fiction to your TBR recently?

36 thoughts on “Historical Musings #30: Exploring Australia

  1. whatmeread says:

    Rush, Oh! By Shirley Barrett is a very entertaining novel about whaling off the coast of Australia (they went out from land to chase the whales), and I’m just now reading Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar, which is on our list, set in the mid-1800’s in Southern Australia. Part of it is set in England, but the main action seems to be in Australia.

    • Helen says:

      Rush Oh! sounds interesting! I’ll definitely have to think about reading that one. I will get round to Salt Creek eventually, although I have a few other books from the Walter Scott Prize lists that I want to read first.

      • Brona says:

        Salt Creek was a wonderful read & my colleague really enjoyed Rush Oh!

        I’ve only just discovered the Walter Scott prize – how did I miss it???? I’ve just finished the Chatlotte Hobson.

    • Helen says:

      I think I may have read some of Minette Walters’ crime novels years ago, though I’m not sure. Her new one is set in the 14th century, so sounds a bit different.

  2. Bree140 says:

    I enthusiastically second the recommendation of Rush, Oh!

    On a much darker note, Kate Grenville has written several books about (I’m quoting from her Wikipedia page here) “the dark legacy of colonialism, especially its impact on Australia’s Aboriginal peoples”. In the order in which they were written, they are:

    The Secret River
    The Lieutenant
    Sarah Thornhill (a sequel to The Secret River)

    • Helen says:

      I think I definitely need to look out for Rush, Oh! Kate Grenville’s books have always sounded interesting to me, but I still haven’t read them. I’ll try to read The Secret River soon and hopefully I’ll like it enough to want to read her others too.

  3. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says:

    I have not read much from Australia either, but I have one book that was sent me for review that looks interesting: Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar. I would like to read that one, and others! What about Oscar and Lucinda? (I have not read it either, but it’s the only one that readily springs to mind.)

    • Brona says:

      Salt Creek is an easier read than Oscar & Lucinda, although I was only 21 when I read it nearly 30 yrs ago! Having said that, one of the final images in the book with the glass church has stayed with me all this time.

    • Helen says:

      I need to read more books set in New Zealand too! I have read The Luminaries but not Green Dolphin Street…I’m sure I’ll read it eventually as I love Elizabeth Goudge. 🙂

  4. Yvonne says:

    The Thorn Birds and All The Rivers Run are excellent books. Forefathers is another good one from Nancy Cato.

    Here are some of my favourites, a mixture of old and new (I think I’ve mentioned some of these to you before!)

    Sara Dane (Catherine Gaskin)
    A Cargo of Women: The Novel (Babette Smith)
    The Convict Girl Series (Deborah Challinor)
    The Cedar Cutter, The Currency Lass (Tea Cooper)
    Salt Creek (Lucy Treloar)
    The Ballad of Desmond Kale (Roger McDonald)
    The Dark Dream (Lilly Sommers)
    The Australians Series (William Stuart Long)
    The Gentleman’s Garden, The Dark Mountain (Catherine Jinks)
    The Flinders Ranges Series (Tricia Stringer)
    Portrait in Gold (Patricia Ainsworth)
    Theirs to Bestow which is Behold, New Holland! and New Holland Heritage combined (Rix Weaver)

    You’ve added a lot of interesting titles to your bookshelf which I’ve now added to my wish list (The Wicked Cometh, The Snow Globe, The Crow Garden, The Last Hours) and thanks to Whatmeread, I’ve also added Rush,Oh!

    • Brona says:

      Sara Dane & Gaskin’s other Aust books (I Know My Love) are great, easy to read historical fiction.
      Jackie French also writes YA historical fiction that lots of adults enjoy too.

    • Helen says:

      I knew you would have some great recommendations, Yvonne. I haven’t read any of those so will have lots of investigating to do! Sara Dane is a book I’ve wanted to read for a while, so maybe I’ll start with that one.

  5. The Cue Card says:

    Hello, Oh the Stedman novel was quite excellent; how was The Daughters of Mars? I’d recommend a historical novel I read in 2015 for Aussie Reading month called The Secret River by Kate Grenville about the early days of settling the colony. here’s my review of it at http://www.thecuecard.com/?s=Australia — cheers!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I really enjoyed the Stedman novel. The Daughters of Mars was interesting, but I didn’t like the writing style (no quotation marks, for example). I must read The Secret River soon!

      Brona – I’ll try to take part in the reading month this year. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    I second the recommendations for The Secret River. You’ll find a good number of recommendations for Australian literature on the blog Brona’s Books. Last year, I read The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay, which I think you might like. It’s set in post-WWII Australia.

  7. FictionFan says:

    The only one that comes to mind is A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys, but that’s about the boat crossing to Australia and the story more or less finishes as they arrive. I haven’t read The Secret Garden yet, but have had it strongly recommended to me by people whose opinions I trust, so I suspect you would like that one.

    • Helen says:

      I’m interested in reading the Rachel Rhys book anyway, even if it’s more about the voyage than Australia itself. I’ve only heard good things about it!

  8. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

    There’s a severe lack of fiction set in Australia on my shelves in general, never mind just historical fiction, which is something I need to rectify, but I do have Courtney Collins’ The Untold on my TBR. =) I’d like to read The Light Between Oceans, too.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read much about Australia in general either – whether historical or contemporary. The Untold sounds good; I might have to add that one to my TBR too. 🙂

  9. Lark says:

    Aaron Fletcher wrote a series of books set in Australia called the Outback sagas. I read several–Outback Station, Walkabout, etc.–and thought they were well-written and very interesting. Then, of course, there’s always A Town Like Alice. That’s my favorite! 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I’ve been meaning to read A Town Like Alice for years, but still haven’t got round to it. I’m glad to hear you like it – I’ll have to move it up the TBR!

  10. jushillblog says:

    SO many good suggestions! I’m so glad I came across your post with these awesome historical fiction book recommendations! Check out Graced 1943 by Courtney Milford, it’s the first in a series and I’m excited about getting in to it. Her site has all of her books and more on the series, https://www.courtneybooks.com/. Thank you so much for sharing your TBR list!

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