In the second half of 2012, Australian readers were invited to vote for their favourite books by local authors. The results were compiled by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s First Tuesday Bookclub and announced on a television special broadcast across the country on 4 December.
The most popular books, the ’10 Aussie Books to Read Before You Die’ span a broad range of genres, reflecting diversity and variety in contemporary Australian literature.
The Top 10 Aussie Books to Read Before You Die
10. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
First published in 1967, this drama and mystery novel is set in 1900 and centres on a group of students from a women’s college who disappear during a picnic at the site of a real life landmark rock formation, Hanging Rock. Lindsay’s novel was adapted into a feature film in 1975, directed by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show).
9. The Secret River by Kate Grenville
This historical novel by one of Australia’s most celebrated contemporary novelists won the 2006 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The book explores early contact between European colonisers and the Aboriginal people who already inhabited the land near the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales.
8. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
This best-selling book was published in 2008 by iconic Australian publishing house, Allen & Unwin. The plot centres on a group of friends whose relationships are tested when one slaps another’s child at a suburban barbeque. Nicholas Hasluck, a judge of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, describes the book as ‘a controversial and daring novel’ which examines ‘identities and personal relationships in a multicultural society’. The Slap, Tsiolkas’s fourth novel, was adapted as a mini-series by ABC television in 2012.
7. The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
The Magic Pudding (full title The Magic Pudding: Being The Adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and his friends Bill Barnacle and Sam Sawnoff) is a classic Australian children’s tale. In a world filled with humans and animals, the story centres on a pudding that, no matter how many times it is eaten, always reforms to be eaten again. The Magic Pudding was both written and illustrated by Norman Lindsay. Lindsay’s original sketches are on display at the State Library of New South Wales.
6. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Many pundits were surprised to see Silvey’s second novel rank so highly in the pole, despite the novel winning and being shortlisted for a number of major literary awards including the Miles Franklin Prize. Published in 2009, the story is set in Corrigan, a regional mining town, in 1965 and follows Charlie Bucktin, a bookish 13 year old.
5. The Power of One by Bryce Courtney
Born in South Africa, Bryce Courtney, was one of Australia’s best-selling novelists. Set in his home country, The Power of One explores life in apartheid South Africa in the 1930s and 40s. Sadly, Courtney passed away in November 2012.
4. The Harp in the South by Ruth Park
The Harp in the South is set in 1940s Sydney, focusing on the then slum suburb of Surry Hills and the Darcy’s, a Catholic Irish Australian Family. The book was first published in 1948, its sequel Poor Man’s Orange was published in 1949 and a prequel, Missus, was published in 1985. Park won the inaugural Sydney Morning Herald sponsored writers’ competition Best Novel award with the manuscript for The Harp in the South.
3. A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey
The only non-fiction book to make the Top 10 list, A Fortunate Life is the autobiography of Albert Facey. The book depicts Facey’s early life in Western Australia and his experiences as a private at Gallipoli during World War One. When asked about the origins of the title for the book, Facey said‘I called it A Fortunate Life because I truly believe that is what I had’. Facey originally wrote his autobiography only for friends and family. It was accepted for commercial publication just nine months before his death in 1982 and has become widely read in Australia, especially by many primary and secondary school students.
2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 200 consecutive weeks. Set in Germany during World War II and narrated by ‘death’, the novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Born in 1975, Zusak is the award-winning author of four previous books for young adults: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl and I Am the Messenger.
1. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
Cloudstreet in perennial favourite among Australian readers and literary critics alike. In 2003 members of the Australian Society of Authors voted the book as their favourite Australian Novel. It was also the overwhelming favourite in the 2010 Favourite Australian Novel poll conducted by literary magazine Australian Book Review. The novel is set between 1943 and 1963 and chronicles the lives of two working class families who live together at One Cloud Street. Tim Winton has been named a Living Treasure by the National Trust and was awarded the Centenary Medal for service to literature and the community.