During the recent lockdown I was scanning my bookshelves for my next read and I spotted a South Australian classic, Storm Boy. I had recently seen the remake of the movie, and I was reminded of this great story set on the beautiful Coorong. So it got me thinking – what other books set in South Australia are out there? I then proceeded to add a whole pile more books to my library holds list and even more to my Goodreads wish list.
Then I thought – why not share them with you too? If you are like me, you will enjoy reading about a place you are soon to visit, or if you are already familiar with the place, it brings a different understanding to the story. So here are fifteen South Australian books that I will be hunting down and reading over the next few months. I will write a little about them now, and come back and update with what I think after I have read them. I’ll leave you a link below too if you want to read them for yourself.
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- 1 The Books Set in South Australia I’m Adding to My Reading List
- 1.1 Storm Boy – Colin Thiele
- 1.2 The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
- 1.3 Hidden from View – Gill D Anderson
- 1.4 Hindsight – Melanie Casey
- 1.5 Mallee Boys – Charlie Archbold
- 1.6 Three Dog Night – Peter Goldsworthy
- 1.7 Outback Wonder – Juliet M Sampson
- 1.8 Tamam Shud: The Somerton Man Mystery – Kerry Greenwood
- 1.9 Working Class Boy – Jimmy Barnes
- 1.10 Heart of the Country – Tricia Stringer
- 1.11 Maralinga – Judy Nunn
- 1.12 Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar
- 1.13 Time’s Long Ruin – Stephen Orr
- 1.14 Clara Morison – Catherine Helen Spence
- 1.15 Deadly, Unna? – Phillip Gwynne
The Books Set in South Australia I’m Adding to My Reading List
As I was choosing which books to include on this list, I decided to stretch my reading a little so some of these are books I would not normally have picked up off the shelf at the bookshop or library. I tend to read non-fiction, usually memoirs, often travel related. I also like the occasional “popular fiction”, particularly if I’m on holidays and looking for something light and easy. Historical fiction based on true events is another genre I enjoy. It’s always good though to broaden horizons, and who knows – might find myself a new favourite author.
Storm Boy – Colin Thiele
Storm Boy is an Australian classic children’s book, first published in 1964. I read it as a child, but I know when I watched the movie a few months ago I had definitely forgotten some of the details. Storm Boy is the story of a young boy who, with his Dad, is living in the remote Coorong area. He rescues and raises a pelican, who becomes his constant companion. Without giving away the story, by the end I just know I will be flooded with tears, but this really is a lovely, heartwarming story of friendship.
Edited after reading: This is a short but really lovely read. The story is much more simple than the movie makes it out to be, with a much stronger environmental message. Yes, there were still a few tears, but I definitely did not find it as heartbreaking as the movie. It really portrays the Coorong just as it is – wild, fragile and special. This is a great book to read to your kids.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
I have seen this book around a lot over the last few years, but I had no idea it was set in South Australia. A beachside suburb in Adelaide is where much of the story is told. Of course that’s not the only location since the story is based around a group of Japanese POWs in the 1940s. I saw it described somewhere as a book of death and love, which kind of sounds traumatic to me, but a good cry towards the end is always the sign of a good book.
As a winner of the Man Booker Prize, The Narrow Road to the Deep North has all sorts of acclaim. Sometimes that worries me a little too. I just recently read another “prize winner” and spent much of the book feeling like it was just a little too clever for me and I didn’t quite get it. I will give this a go though, and I hope it’s as good as I have heard.
Hidden from View – Gill D Anderson
Hidden from View almost looks too much like a romance for me. If I was in a bookshop and saw this I would not give it a second glance, but when scouring Goodreads for ideas, this one popped up – and it has an incredible rating of 4.6/5 stars with over 100 reviews. That alone makes me curious enough to give it a go.
While looking at the book makes me think of a romance novel, this is definitely not that. Yes, it is about relationships, but complex ones of all types. The book comes with a warning that it could be seen to be quite graphic, and has themes around violence, sexual assault and deviant behaviour. I have no idea what to expect, and very nearly passed on this book, but that rating has me curious!
Hindsight – Melanie Casey
This is the first in a “paranormal crime procedural series” written around a character living in a fictional town on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Now “paranormal” is not a genre I tend to gravitate towards, but I’m willing to give this one a go. It is definitely not a cosy mystery, and it doesn’t seem to be a full on thriller, so it sits somewhere in the middle. The main character is a psychic who accidentally “experiences” a murder. She then teams up with a local detective to
Since I don’t read many mysteries or thrillers, I am looking forward to something a but different with this one.
Mallee Boys – Charlie Archbold
This is a Young Adult book set in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia. The story is about two brothers as they cope with the death of their mother, while living on an isolated farm with their father, who is grieving just as much as they are. It’s a true coming of age story.
This book won a prize at the Adelaide Writer’s Festival before it was even published. It appears to have been used recently for a novel in schools too.
Three Dog Night – Peter Goldsworthy
When I saw Three Dog Night I thought I had read it in the past. I don’t have it on my Goodreads bookshelf though, so if I have read it, it was YEARS ago! I have read another of Peter Goldsworthy’s books though, and if I remember correctly, I liked it without loving it.
Three Dog Night is set in Adelaide when the main character returns back to the city after ten years living overseas. He brings his new wife back with him, and introduces her to an old friend, who has changed significantly over the years. There is a lot of Aboriginal cultural references in the book.
The reviews online tend to be all over the place, with some people loving it and some not liking it at all. I’ll give it a go and see what I think.
Outback Wonder – Juliet M Sampson
Outback Winder got me with the title, I’m a sucker for anything to do with the Outback! Now that I have read a little more about it, I’ve discovered its a young adult novel set in the Flinders Ranges, and is another coming of age tale, this time from the perspective of an 18 year old girl.
I’m hoping there are plenty of sweeping views and great descriptions of the outback lifestyle, to take we back to an area I really love.
Tamam Shud: The Somerton Man Mystery – Kerry Greenwood
This is a really interesting choice. Not only is it because it is about one of South Australia’s most intriguing mysteries, it’s also because I am not 100% sure of the book itself. I have seen it described as a sort of memoir of Kerry Greenwood, but I have also seen the audiobook described as one of her Phrynne Fisher mystery novels, so I’m looking forward to reading this to see for myself exactly what sort of book this is. Oh, and I’d also like to learn more about The Somerton Man, who has again been in the news recently, as his remains were exhumed. The plan is to use new technology to again try to solve this mystery.
Working Class Boy – Jimmy Barnes
Okay, I admit it, I’m a bit of a Barnsey fan, I absolutely bought all his records when I was a teenager, went to his concerts, I even lived just metres from one of the pubs he regularly played in before Cold Chisel became famous. This book is about the early years of his life, before he became an Australian rock idol, growing up in the tough northern suburbs of Adelaide. While it’s generally well known that his upbringing wasn’t pretty, and he quickly became involved in drugs, alcohol and a hard partying lifestyle, I’m intrigued to learn more about what Jimmy went through and how it shaped his life into the incredible musician he became.
Heart of the Country – Tricia Stringer
I love a good historical saga occasionally, particularly one with good characters and a good storyline. This one is set in the Flinders Ranges, an area I love, so I am hoping that this doesn’t tend too far towards the “romance” genre for me. Heart of the Country is the first of three books in this series.
Maralinga – Judy Nunn
Talking about historical sagas, here’s another one I’ve included on my list. If you were a Home and Away fan back in its early years you will remember Judy Nunn playing Ailsa Stewart. Since giving up acting, she has become an author, and spends her time writing books set in the Australian countryside. This one is described as a love story (I hope not toooo romance-y) against the background of the horrible events that took place at Maralinga. I usually pick up her books when I come across them for my Mum who enjoys her work. I had to do a quick search on Goodreads to see if I had actually read any of her books before, and I discovered I have read only one, Territory, way back in 2002. I wonder how this one will stack up now?
Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar
This immediately brings to mind a horrible abduction that occurred at Salt Creek on the Coorong a couple of years ago. This book though, was written before that happened, and has nothing to do with it other than being set in the same location.
A pioneering family move from Adelaide to settle in the fragile Coorong and learn about nature and the environment, Aboriginal culture and themselves as they navigate life in this remote location. It is a good historical snapshot of this part of Australia in the nineteenth century.
This book was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award in 2016.
Time’s Long Ruin – Stephen Orr
Time’s Long Ruin captured my attention when I saw that it was loosely based on the story of the Beaumont Children, a well known real South Australian mystery when three young children disappeared – and to this day no one knows exactly what happened to them.
Set in the hot steamy summer of 1960, children disappear from the beach. This story is about how those left behind deal with that.
Edited after reading: When I first picked up this book I was worried it might have been too dry. I need not have worried, it was a great read that really captured me. I could literally feel the streets of Croydon during that sweltering summer. There are a few facts that are slightly wrong, but so long as you remember this is fiction, then it all comes together nicely.
Clara Morison – Catherine Helen Spence
I choose this book for a completely random reason. When I was at university, one of the buildings was named after Catherine Helen Spence so her name jumped out at my. I knew she was a prominent South Australian, but I have no idea how she earned that prominence, and I didn’t know she was an author. It was also a different choice to read something first published in 1854 instead of my other choices which are mostly published in the last few years.
The story is about Clara Morison, a young woman who immigrates to Adelaide in the 1850s. It describes her struggles as she learns about life on the other side of the world.
I sometimes struggle with the language used in books written in the 1800’s so it will be interesting if that bothers me with this book.
Deadly, Unna? – Phillip Gwynne
Deadly, Unna? has been often set as a novel in high school English recently, and it has been made into a movie (which I think I’ve seen). It has also won awards such as the Children’s Book of the Year (older readers) so I am curious to see what it’s like. Reviews online are particularly interesting. They tend to be 4/5 stars from adult and international readers, but the teenagers reading it in high school tend to give it 1 star – but would they do that for any book they were forced to read? I know I didn’t like many of the novels I read in high school, but liked the few I’ve reread as an adult.
I’m not sure if it’s clear in the book, but from what I’ve read, Deadly, Unna? is set in Port Lincoln. It will be interesting to see if I recognise the town.
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.