Larissa Behrendt, Home
A multi-generational saga brought about by a young urban Aboriginal lawyer's return to Country. The narrative focuses on Candice's family history beginning with a massacre of her people and her grandmother's experiences as a member of the Stolen Generations. Deals with the legal components of dispossession and erasure, as well as the social and psychological effects of colonisation.
Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang
A highly stylised, first-hand account 'written' by the infamous bush ranger himself in order to combat the media reports that, he believed, wrongfully vilified him. Important for the ways in which it captures inter-ethnic relations between British and non-British whites in Australia's pre-federation days, particularly the desire for land, capital, and power.
Felicity Castagna, No More Boats
Set in Parramatta in 2001, and taking place during the matter of weeks that separated the arrival of the MV Tampa in Australian waters and the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in the US, this novel chronicles the disintegration of the Martone family. Patriarch and post-war Italian refugee Antonio suffers the loss of a friend and sustains serious physical trauma during a workplace accident that he blames on unskilled labourers who have immigrated to Australia from Asian and Arab-majority countries. After the ghost of his deceased friend tells him to paint NO MORE BOATS in front of his home, Antonio becomes a media sensation and is co-opted by a far-right nationalist group. His wife, daughter, and son all struggle with the 'new' Antonio, who feels that the Australian Dream he worked so hard to attain has been taken against his will, leaving him no place to belong in his adopted homeland.
Richard Flanagan, Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish
A complex, fantastical representation of the colonisation of Tasmania in the nineteenth century. The novel is particularly interesting because of the ways in which it draws into question the recorded history of Australia's colonial period and the truthfulness of the written record. It also touches on important issues such as the treatment of convicts, the elimination of Aboriginal people, and the dangers or interracial relationships. Another underlying theme of note is the disparity between believing that the world is inherently good and reconciling with the terrible things that happen so that life can progress.
Kate Grenville, The Secret River
Likely Australia's most-taught novel of historical fiction at the moment, The Secret River chronicles the life of William Thornhill, impoverished Londoner turned convict turned Australian landed gentry. The plot builds on tensions between settlers like Thornhill and the Aboriginal inhabitants of his land claim, culminating in a massacre that is subsequently covered up. While has been largely been lauded as a progressive and honest account of Australia's settlement, it has also received criticism for reinforcing regressive identity politics. See the works by Jeanine Leane and Odette Kelada below.
Gail Jones, Sorry
Though set in Western Australia around the time of the second world war, this 2007 novel is often associated with contemporary Australia's reconciliation policies and, in particular, Kevin Rudd's apology speech. The central tension involves the death of young Perdita's father and who is to blame--Perdita herself, her manic-depressive mother, or the Aboriginal servant Mary, the latter of whom is arrested for the murder. Thematically, the novel deals with silence as a result of trauma--for much of the novel Perdita has a terrible stutter--and the long process of reconciling with past violence. In this way, the novel is seen as an attempt at reconciling the historical violence enacted upon Aboriginal Australians, though, as has been the case with criticism of Kate Grenville's The Secret River, some have found Jones' novel problematic as well.
Thomas Keneally, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
A fictionalised account of a historical incident involving Jimmy Governor, an Aboriginal man hanged just days after Australia celebrated federation at the dawn of the twentieth century. In the novel, Blacksmith is driven to murder after a series of racially-charged encounters leave him disillusioned and enraged with the white society that never recognises his humanity.
Richard King, Carrion Colony
A dark satire chronicling the demise of fictional Australian penal colony Old & New Bridgeford, this text is stylistically very post-modern, bending the rules of what a novel can or should be. King's allegorical critique of colonisation juxtaposes settlers' ecological devastation with their propensity for physical violence. This is largely a novel of soldier-versus-convict, with Indigenous peoples rarely showing up in character; it could be argued, though, that the massacre of a local bird species, the Kurrapuuk, is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the many massacres settlers committed during this time (this isn't to suggest that the comparison of Indigenous peoples to birds isn't itself, highly questionable).
Wanda Koolmatrie (aka Leon Carmen), My Own Sweet Time
A literary hoax perpetrated by Leon Carmen, a white man posing as an Aboriginal woman. Though it is entirely fictional My Own Sweet Time was published as a coming-of-age memoir of a young black woman who, adopted by a white family, never feels a sense of belonging until she travels around Australia, joining the 1960s counterculture movement and writing lyrics for an American rock band. See Philip Morrissey's article below for more on the controversy surrounding this book and its place in a long history of cultural appropriation.
Melissa Lucashenko, Mullumbimby
Told from the perspective of Jo Breen, a single Indigenous mother determined to raise her daughter and restore a small patch of her traditional lands, this novel depicts the many entanglements of history, family, land ownership and belonging. Mullumbimby is particularly important to critical thinking about Native Title claims, as Lucashenko demonstrates that court-recognised claims to country can drive a wedge between clans and extended families. Another striking feature of this novel is the relationships Jo forms with animals, from the horses she loves as if they were people to the many birds who offer her guidance in her most difficult and confusing moments.
David Malouf, Remembering Babylon
Set in a nineteenth-century Australian colony, the novel revolves around Gemmy and his brief return to white society after having been rescued by Aborigines when shipwrecked. Gemmy is held in disdain by many of the white settlers, who see him as a sort of race traitor and, perhaps, the realisation of their fears concerning their own 'civilisation' on the frontier wilderness.
James Vance Marshall (Donald Gordon Payne), Walkabout
Outside of the controversy over its actual authorship, Walkabout has had a popular shelf life, having been taught widely in Australian schools. Two young American children are briefly stranded in the bush when their air plane crashes. Soon, a young (and unnamed) Aboriginal man completing his rite of passage into manhood comes along to lead them to safety and teach them survival skills. Mary, the elder of the two young Americans, distrusts their rescuer, however, and fears his perceived sexual savageness, and this distrust leads to his tragic end. The novel is highly romantic and features the noble savage trope.
Andrew McGahan, The White Earth
Set predominantly in the 1990s around the Mabo v. Queensland case that realised terra nullius as a legal fiction and acknowledged native title, the novel depicts an elderly settlers' lifelong obsession with owning a one-great cattle station now in ruins. As the elder statesman of the family, John McIvor attempts to teach his young grand-nephew William to love the land he has struggled so long to own, driving both of them to the point of physical and emotional crises.
Alex Miller, Journey to the Stone Country
A novel of reconciliation in which the protagonist, a white woman, finds a new sense of self-fulfilment out bush through her relationship with Bo Rainey, an Aboriginal man determined to reclaim his ancestral lands. Confronting Australia's colonial history is a major theme of the novel, and Miller's depiction of this theme has been a source for a great deal of scholarly inquiry.
Kim Scott, That Deadman Dance
Scott's beautiful novel depicts contact between English settlers and the Noongar people of Australia's southwestern shores. Through the character of Bobby Wabalanginy, the novel briefly imagines what might have been had colonisation turned out differently and coexistence through mutual respect maintained. As an elderly man, Bobby reenacts for white tourists the violent history of his peoples' dispossession through song and dance.
Tim Winton, Dirt Music
Set in Western Australia, Dirt Music is, on the surface, a novel about two star-crossed lovers, Georgie and Lu, and the long, circuitous route they take to one another. Essential to both characters, however, is their relationship to the land, sea, and society, and, in that way, the novel can also be read as a quest for belonging that is shaped by the sense of attachment both characters feel to place and space. Winton is well-known for his poetic treatment of coastal terrain, and this novel is a prime example of his distinct style.
Alexis Wright, Plains of Promise
Like Behrendt's novel Home, this is also a multi-generational family saga that links past to present, as well as Country, mission, and urban life through the homecoming of a contemporary Aboriginal woman. Aboriginal religious practices and belief factor heavily into the novel's development, and colonial violence against black women is a consistent theme.