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I’ve long been fascinated with the Australian Outback.
It’s an inhospitable yet mesmerising place. It’s full of beauty and harsh reality. It’s insanely hot and freezing cold on winter nights. It’s takes up a vast part of the Australian continent and feels like another world from the busy life on the coastal fringe.
I’ve experienced dehydration, suffered from heat stroke and got infected with Ross River Fever by mosquitoes I met in the outback. And yet, I cannot imagine not returning to the outback to discover more.
6 INTRIGUING AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK BOOKS
Since my window of opportunity to explore the outback is limited to a few months a year, notwithstanding work and other commitments, I resort to armchair travels to transport myself into Australia’s interior. And usually that’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction.
1. THE LOST MAN | JANE HARPER
The Lost Man is Jane Harper’s third book but it was the first one of hers I picked up.
Set on a cattle station in Outback Queensland, life is rough. The heat, the drought, the mental and emotional drain it takes to eek out a living. It all takes a toll eventually.
Part family drama, part outback mystery, The Lost Man paints a dark picture of a dysfunctional family that’s perhaps more common than we’d like to think as a society.
Full of eerie suspense, Harper manages to capture what it feels like to be in the outback, live off the land, and what it takes to survive as a family and community.
The audiobook is fantastic, it’s incredibly well read. My only problem was that I couldn’t listen to this at night, I got too creeped out.
2. TRACKS | ROBYN DAVIDSON
Oddly enough, I read Tracks when we were in New Zealand this year.
Not many books deserve a full five stars from me, Tracks smashed it. It’s not a new book, this memoir has been around for decades but this solitary journey of one incredible woman, who says of herself that’s she’s nothing special, just plain inspired me.
Her tenacity to not give up her dream of walking across the hostile Australian desert, even in the face of panic attacks and anxiety, spoke volumes to me. Plus, I loved her astute observations about outback life, both positive and negative.
3. THE SHEPHERD’S HUT | TIM WINTON
Set in WA, The Shepherd’s Hut is a disturbing novel about young runaway Jaxie Clackton.
The language is as sparse as the setting, and despite the foul language (and my inherent dislike of it), I got pulled in and couldn’t let it go until I finished it.
Tim Winton is a master when it comes to evoking that desolate outback spirit. The sun burning you to a crisp, the light blinding your eyes, and the endless space filling you with dread. It’s palpable as soon as you open page one.
I read this in 2018 and still think this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent years.
4. ALICE SPRINGS | ELEANOR HOGAN
I’m slowing working my way through the Australian Cities Series, and admittedly haven’t finished reading Alice Springs yet.
Alice Springs, like Darwin, is a fascinating read as it dives right into the city’s seedy history as a frontier town that still battles to define itself.
If you want local insight, instead of a tourist account, pick up Alice Springs. It’ll give you a completely different picture of life in one of the most isolated cities.
5. OUTBACK STATIONS | EVAN MCHUGH
I’m intrigued by how life on Australia’s outback stations works.
In part memoir, in part observations, Outback Stations offers an insight into the history, economic viability and everyday life of some of Australia’s biggest cattle and sheep stations.
It’s a fascinating account that details stories about the early pastoralists, the abominable treatment of Indigenous people and the massive beef companies behind many stations. I found the details about aerial mustering particularly interesting.
While it’s a fascinating read and I certainly recommend it, I could only listen to it in small chunks because of the sheer number of facts presented. It took me months to finish this book.
6. RABBIT-PROOF FENCE | DORIS PILKINGTON GARIMARA
Written a couple of decades ago, Rabbit-Proof Fence chronicles the true story of Molly (Doris’ mother) and two of her sisters trekking for hundreds of kilometres along the rabbit-proof fence in Western Australia.
It’s a harrowing account of three young Aboriginal girls (Black mother, white father) who were forcibly removed from their families, brought to a native settlement station, and who escaped to walk back to their ancestral home.
The audio version read by Rachael Maza is especially good, her intonation is simply wonderful.
So, that’s it, my best recommendations for Australian Outback books.
There are a few titles missing, including A Town like Alice or Desert Queen, which I’ve long had on my to-read list. Every year, the list gets longer but let me know in the comments what books I should add to my mounting Australian Outback reading pile.
WANT TO DO SOME ACTUAL OUTBACK TRAVEL?
Here are the highlights from our Northern Territory road trip a couple of years ago.
We also ventured into southwest Queensland on a 10-day camping road trip.
MORE BOOK POSTS
If you’re in need of some inspiration for what to read next, here are 7 books I found eye-opening and/or challenging in 2018. And here’s my 2020 list of favourite books.