The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, 1998); audiobook read by Nigel Planer (Isis, 1999) One of the weaker Discworld novels. Pratchett makes suitably merry with intelligent design and the origins of (stereotyped) Australianism, but the Unseen University wizards are rather tiresome when employed as main characters and Rincewind’s exploits are equally belaboured. Funny but unusually pointless.
Hitler’s Daughter by Jackie French (HarperCollins, 1999); audiobook read by Caroline Lee (Bolinda, 2014) The framing narrative of this cleverly structured middle grade book sees three rural Aussie kids sharing a story while waiting for their school bus. The tale of Hitler’s daughter raises the disturbing question: should children be held responsible for their parents’ beliefs.
Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park (Thomas Nelson, 1980); audiobook read by Kate Hood (Bolinda, 2012) Ruth Park mixes time displacement with coming-of-age in a classic of Australian literature. 14-year-old Abigail Kirk, having fought with her mother, finds herself transported back to Sydney of 1873. Amidst the historical realism unfolds a beautifully told tale of hardship and self-discovery.
The Bone is Pointed by Arthur W. Upfield (Angus & Robertson, 1938); audiobook read by Peter Hosking (Bolinda, 2010) This mystery doesn’t take much solving, but neither did many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s. As with Sherlock Holmes, it is the character of half-caste Aboriginal detective Napoleon Bonaparte that bewitches the reader, plus in this case Upfield’s vivid descriptions of outback…
Australia: 160 Iconic Images Celebrating What Makes Us Different by Bruce Postle (Affirm, 2016) Part art, part historical record, part opportunistic novelty, photojournalist Bruce Postle’s collection captures many different aspects of life in Australia, preserving images of a developing nation from the 1920s onwards (some earlier pictures being taken by his father Cliff, also a photojournalist).
The Nimbin by Jenny Wagner (Thomas Nelson, 1978) Australian middle grade story The Nimbin shows that books don’t have to follow elaborate plot arcs or contrive to manufacture character conflicts and resolution. Instead it serenely explores its scenario: Philippa’s beach holiday turns unusual when she adopts a strange little creature.
Jackie Chan’s First Strike dir. Stanley Tong (1996) A light and loosely scripted action comedy that takes Jackie Chan to Australia in pursuit of a stolen warhead. Although nothing special by and of itself, the movie is worth watching for Chan’s bedazzling and impish do-it-yourself stunt-work and martial arts sequences.
The Super-Roo of Mungalongaloo by Osmar White, ill. Jeff Hook (Wren, 1973) There is something delightfully enthralling — and quintessentially Australian — in Osmar White’s tale of Scotsman Angus McGurk’s intrepid expedition into the perilous heart of the Dreaded Deadibone Desert, this fanciful undertaking gaining impetus through the punchy illustrations of acclaimed newspaper cartoonist Jeff Hook.
Fatty & George by John Honey (ABC, 1981) Fondly remembered and surprisingly watchable thirty-five years on, this stilted but oddly compelling Tasmanian science fantasy captivated a generation of Aussie kids with its time-freezing crystal, over the top villains, catchy theme song and brazenly prominent (now brilliantly kitsch) avant-garde synthpop motifs.
Newsfront dir. Phillip Noyce (1978) The tagline suggests humour but this sombre, almost melancholic biopic of (archetypal) newsreel cameramen working in Australia during World War II and the decade subsequent, bolstered by archival footage, serves more as a time capsule of life in a young, not-so-modern country.