Favourite Australian History Books

I’ve been asked to share

some of my favourite Australian History books

so I’ve made my selection,

and here they are.

First up is “Australian History Live”.

This is a real treasure trove.

It’s essentially a book full of primary sources

-that is, letters, diary entries, articles, photos, cartoons etc-

from eyewitnesses to events in Australian history.

It covers all sorts of topics,

from the standard ones you’d expect

-such as convicts, explorers, Gold Rush, the wars, depression-

to the less common ones,

like performers, natural disasters, the Olympics, shipwrecks, comets

and the rabbit proof fence.

This is the kind of book you could add to a daily reading basket

and read through over the course of a year.

Or simply as a buffet of interesting peeks into the past.

It’s definitely a gem for your bookshelves.

This next one is another favourite

-“Australian Backyard Explorer” by Peter Macinnis.

We read this beauty from front to back!

This book approaches the topic of Australian explorers

from a novel angle,

an angle that is much more appealing

than the usual approach taken when studying explorers.

The organising structure of the book is survival skills

and, as it talks about these skills,

it introduces various Australian explorers.

It explores the importance of adequate food and water supplies,

sharing what the explorers carried with them,

and situations where explorers were unprepared.

It talks about navigation and mapping,

and parts of Australia that were charted by various explorers.

It details the importance of observation and specimen collection

and includes lovely examples of the notebooks kept by the explorers.

It’s such a cleverly constructed book,

weaving important survival knowledge,

with stories of the explorers who had to rely on these skills.

It also includes quite a few hands-on projects,

which just make the study of explorers

a little more ‘interesting’

…if you know what I mean.

As a bonus, the book includes a fold out map

showing the paths of the explorers covered within the book.

This was definitely one of our much loved reads.

This next book was a more recent read

and one I wasn’t sure I’d like.

It’s called “Let the Land Speak” by Jackie French.

I was expecting this book to promote a number of ‘popular agendas’,

none of which I wish to find in my history books.

However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, there was a little of this,

but we actually really enjoyed the book

and found it absolutely fascinating.

It approaches history from the perspective of the land

-looking at what the land can tell us about history,

which turns out to be quite a lot.

For example, the accepted story that the first fleet colonists almost starved

is a little questionable.

From the perspective of what we know of the land

from eyewitness accounts,

there was an abundance of food in the area

-both familiar and unfamiliar to the British.

So, the colonists couldn’t possibly have been starving.

The book then explores why we believe, or the colonists believed,

they were starving.

It’s a really eyeopening account,

one I’ll leave you to read in the book.

While we’re talking about books by Jackie French,

I’ll add all of her books to this list.

I wouldn’t say they are all brilliant or that her writing is outstanding,

but I will say that she’s a prolific writer of Australian historical fiction for children

(we don’t have many of those)

and we’ve quite enjoyed many of her books..

For the younger crowd, the primary school kids,

I’d recommend her animal histories.

Each book tells about a historic event or person

through the perspective of an animal.

All of these were great!

Her most recent series

is the ‘Secret History’ series.

I haven’t read all of these yet,

but the ones I have read, I’ve enjoyed.

Possibly my favourite Jackie French books

were these two

-“Tom Appleby: Convict Boy” and “The Night They Stormed Eureka”.

Another book and author we’ve enjoyed is

Anthony Hill’s “Captain Cook’s Apprentice”.

I’ve also got a couple of Anthony Hill’s war stories

and they were excellent too.

His books are geared more towards the older crowd.

This next one is out of print I believe,

but whenever I’ve needed a copy,

I haven’t found it terribly hard to find one.

It’s Meredith Hooper’s “The Journal of Watkin Stench”.

(Yes, she also wrote “History of Australia” with Manning Clark and Susanne Ferrier.”

“The Journal of Watkin Stench” is a real treat.

It tells the story of the first fleet from the perspective

of a rat who journeys to Australia on one of the first fleet ships.

We loved this story.

The next recommendation is a real classic

that, until very recently, you could not read

unless you were the lucky owner of one of the very hard to find

and extraordinarily expensive out of print copies.

Thankfully, Living Books Press has bought them back into print

and I’ve finally been able to read them to my men.

Yes, they were worth the wait.

Now, you have to remember that these stories are a product of their times,

but it is because they are a product of their times

that they should be included in our history studies.

Finally, but by no means least, are Pamela Rushby’s historical fiction books.

Gosh, I wish she wrote more Australian history novels.

They are excellent and we’ve loved them all!

“Interned” is a recent purchase

so I haven’t read that one yet,

and I’ve got another on its way to me,

“The Secret Battle”,

about a Brisbane event I’ve never even heard of.

The other three are absolute favourites

and I’d say they easily rival Jackie French’s books in the quality of the writing.

So, there you have it

-a selection of our favourite Australian history books.

Please feel free to share your own favourites in the comments section.

I’m always on the hunt for more great books.


Posted by on June 7, 2022 in Book Recommendations


Thoughts on Good Quality Literature

Recently, I’ve been pondering literature:

the quality of books that we read,

in particular, the quality of books we allow children to read,

and how this fluff and twaddle affects readers.

Can you sense that I’m struggling to encourage certain young readers

to read beyond the twaddle to which they are accustomed?

With my own kids, it was easy.

Twaddle was simply discouraged,

so they never really developed much of a taste for it,

even though they had access to it at the library, if they really wanted it.

With my nieces, I’m discovering that it’s an uphill battle to improve,

or even just expand, their reading diets.

The simple fact is that quality books require more effort than twaddle.

The vocabulary is more advanced, the structures more complex,

the characters more three dimensional and the plots less formulaic.

A child who is used to twaddle is going to reject all of that.

They are going to say, “I don’t like it”,

but what they mean is, ‘I’m not used to this level of reading, I’m not accustomed to it.”

I’m trying my best to expose my nieces to quality literature through reading aloud,

but the sad fact is that they are exposed to much more twaddle than quality literature.

And, when the twaddle outstrips the literature…

Well I haven’t given up yet.

Anyway, for those struggling with the same battle,

I wanted to share a great article and quote from the CIRCE Institute

“Let any untrained child determine his diet and he will subsist on candy, chips, soda, etc.—on things that give a moment’s delight but fail to nourish and promote the health of the body. In the same way, let any untrained child determine his reading and he will subsist on the trash that passes for children’s or young adult literature—books with thin plots, shallow characters, and asinine and repetitive, if not downright wicked, morals—works that may produce momentary enjoyment but fail to nourish and promote the health of the soul.

What is more, junk food and junk books alike stave off our hunger and thereby deter us from seeking higher and better things that provide true nourishment for the body and soul. This deprivation leads to a corruption of taste. The child that only eats Skittles and Cheetos will not enjoy broccoli; the child that reads junk books will not enjoy Jane Austen or Charles Dickens—the child exposed only to trash will be far too easily pleased in his reading and eating.”


My Current Reading Pile

I thought I’d share my current reading pile

as I enjoy looking at other people’s reading piles.

It is quite the hodge-podge pile

as it reflects a lot of different reading situations.

So, let’s just start from the top of the horizontal pile…

“A Journey into Russia” by Jens Muhling – I’m reading this one at bedtime, I’ve always found the eastern European culture fascinating. So far it’s a pretty interesting book, but it’s not as good as I was expecting.

“Browse: Love Letters to Bookshops Around the World” edited by Henry Hitchings. – This was a $3 bargain buy. So far I haven’t ‘loved’ any of the essays, although there have certainly been quote-worthy sections.

“Reader, Come Home” by Maryanne Wolf – I’ve only just started this one, but I’m very keen to devour it. It’s about the effects – mostly negative I’m gathering – of reading on electronic devices. (Yes, I do read on devices, but most of my ‘heady’ reading happens on paper.)

“Strange New World” by Carl Trueman – I love this author’s books. Yes, all of them (and I think I own all of them now). This one is a current bookclub read and it’s good, however, having read the longer, more academic version – “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self” – I would encourage people to choose the longer version if they are seriously interested in the topic. It’s well worth the time and effort. This shorter version is more of an appetiser. Still good though, but the other one is better.

“Byzantium” by Judith Herrin – I started reading this one years ago. Then, it went missing and I’ve just rediscovered it. After dusting it off, I’ve decided to start again. The Byzantium Empire just fascinates me and, sadly, it’s something that is often skimmed over in history classes and curriculums.

“Faith in the Wilderness” edited by Nation and Lui – I’ve only just started this one as well (yep, lots of ‘just started’ books on this pile). My bookclub friend is also keen to read this book, so I have to hurry up and finish, so I can lend it to her.

“Monk Habits for Everyday People” by Dennis Okholm – I’ve been nibbling at this book for ages and enjoying it. It’s a great ‘pick up and read a little, every now and again’ type book.

“Lightfall – The Girl and the Galdurian” and “Lightfall – Shadown of the Bird” by Tim Probert – These are both graphic novels that I’m pre-reading for my eldest niece. I’m always on the hunt for books for my nieces, however I never hand them over without checking them first. There’s too much ‘immoral presented as moral’ content in children’s books nowadays.

[Update: I’ve finished “Lightfall – The Girl and the Galdurian.” I loved it! Such a good story. I’ve already passed it on to my niece and now the pressure is on to finish the second book. Book one leaves you hanging on a cliff, so my niece will be dangling all week until I finish.]

“Amari and the Night Brothers” by Alston – I’m buddy reading this book with my eldest niece. Each week we read a chapter separately and then chat about it. So far, I’m enjoying the book. (Hubby is listening to the audio and says it’s a good story, although the writing isn’t the same quality as JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series.)

“The Black Dress” by Pamela Freeman – This one is excellent and I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s the story of Australia’s only saint, Mary MacKillop, written for middle graders. Even for those who aren’t Catholic – I don’t regard myself as Catholic anymore – the story is a great read, especially if you want a taste of Australian history.

“War and Peace” by Tolstoy – This is our current read aloud. We should be finished some time next decade…maybe. Jokes aside, it’s beautifully written and slowly drawing us in.

And finally, but by no means least…

“Ukraine and Russia” by Paul D’Anieri – With everything that is happening in Ukraine, I wanted a book to properly explain the situation, not a social media post or youtube video. This is the one I chose as the author attempts to explain the situation from both perspectives, which I think is necessary in a complex situation.

“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by JK Rowlings – As it’s the 25th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book, I’ve decided to re-listen to the whole series on audio. The Harry Potter books are fantastic. Rowling is a phemonenal writer, one who, I think, lacks comparison in the current world of children’s literature.

Since I know someone will ask,

the colourful eggs in the background of my reading pile

are handpainted Ukrainian Easter Eggs.

No, I have no Ukrainian heritage,

I just think the eggs are beautiful,

which is why they are still on display

well after Easter.

And, now, I should go and get back to my reading,

or this pile will look much the same next time I share a reading pile.

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Posted by on May 29, 2022 in Book Recommendations


“Bullies and Saints”

This is a book I read for bookclub and it was fantastic. 

(My bookclub friend chooses the BEST books!) 

I’d never heard of the book,

even though it’s written by the Australian author and historian,

John Dickson.

Hence, I’m forever thankful to my friend for yet another brilliant suggestion.

This book would make a great addition to a teen’s (and their parents’) history reading.

I learned stacks of new things,

much of which I thought I knew,

only to find out that I’d absorbed a whole lot of propaganda.


Basically, the book is an honest look at the highs and lows,

the bullies and saints,

of Christian history. 

Dickson says that it’s important for the church

to take a long hard look at itself

before it starts pointing fingers at its secular counterparts.

However, the news isn’t all bad,

not by a long shot.

While the nasty and negative most often steals the limelight

– that’s human nature…to tend towards the dark side –

the church has been responsible for an incredible amount of good. 

I honestly didn’t realise how much of the good in our world

was thanks to Christian saints

(and, by saints, I mean Christians who remained faithful to Christ).

It’s phenomenal!

And it makes me want to read more works by early Christians.


Dickson gives a wonderful analogy

for how people must view Christianity’s bullies and criminals.

Do we dismiss all classical music as awful

based on the performance of a beginning musician?  No!

He says, in “Bullies and Saints”:

“Jesus Christ wrote a beautiful composition.

Christians have not performed it consistently well. 

Sometimes they were badly out of tune. 

But the problem with a hateful christian

is not their Christianity

but their departure from it.

…Christ’s melody remains beautiful

– dare I say unique.

And when Christians perform it,

they leave an indelible mark

on the world.”

I just love that!


This book is definitely worth a read.

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Posted by on May 21, 2022 in Book Recommendations