Nature & Soft Adventure Tours
Australia, New Zealand & Pacific tours and travel
is a general list meant to make you familiar with Australia. Obviously
it’s not complete, and is somewhat eclectic. Just because it’s
not included, don’t worry – it probably means we haven’t
seen it, read it, or had it recommended to us. If you find a publication
that you think would interest other travelers, please let us know.
We haven’t included regular travel guides as they cater to a
range of styles, and are easily found on the travel shelves of most
of these books are available at Amazon.com.
For the more specialized natural history titles try the online natural
history bookstore NHBS.com,
or the American Birding Association’s on-line shop www.americanbirding.org/abasales.
Further afield Birds
Australia’s on-line shop www.birdsaustralia.com.au, and
Andrew Isles Natural History Books www.AndrewIsles.com,
both in Australia, are good sources. Although we’ve tried to
ensure that everything on the list is available, some may be more
difficult to find, and some may only be available in Australia.
General and History
Fatal Shore. Robert Hughes
A history of Australia during the period transportation – the
British practice of sending convicts to serve their term in Australia
– with which settlement began. The long but easily-read and
entertaining book gives good insight to the early development of Australia
and the still-present character of Australians.
A Traveler's Literary Companion. Robert Ross
A well-selected overview of Australia’s culture, geography,
people and outlook.
a Sunburned Country. Bill Bryson
A must-read. Bill Bryson nails the Australian psyche and outlook perfectly,
in a continuously insightful and hilarious way. Less dark than his
book on walking the Appalachian trail, and funnier than Postcards,
Bryson manages to show the foibles of Australians while making it
clear how much he likes and admires them.
Explorers. Tim F. Flannery
Another overview of the development of Australia, told through 67
Dreaming. Edward Kanze
Tale of a couple’s extended travel through Australia. Both naturalists,
or at least very interested in natural history, they seek to see much
of the wildlife they have read about. A little plodding, and there’s
an annoying and artificial attempt to compare their journey with Homer’s
Odyssey (and so we receive a few lessons in classic mythology along
the way). Many species seen are mentioned, and so this can help as
a wildlife-finding guide. But overall it’s pretty superficial,
with little background or development of the characters met along
the way; there’s also a certain element of freeloading –
they are on a budget – which can be off-putting. Not in the
same class as Bryson, but also aims at telling a different story,
one of the wildlife of the continent, not the ways foibles of the
people. Still, it’s interesting enough and worth reading if
you are particularly interested in wildlife.
Tales Guides. Australia – true stories of life down under. Habegger
A collection of thirty-nine travel tales, from writers both familiar
and unfamiliar, covering a wide spectrum of experiences, from offshore
yacht racing to a food gathering with Aborigines. Cities, outback
and the reef are all covered. Recommended.
Aboriginal Art and Culture
Art. Wally Caruana
A good overview of Aboriginal Art, from its more traditional roots
to that currently being created. As Aboriginal art is now widespread
for serious collectors, souvenir purchasers and as motifs on everything
from tea-towels to Qantas Jumbo Jets this book will enable the traveler
to have a better understanding of these ubiquitous images.
Atlas of Australia, New Zealand & the South Pacific. Richard Nile
& Christian Clerk
Short essays accompanied by maps and copious illustrations of the
arts and cultures of the South Pacific.
A controversial, semi-fictional (but nowhere is this made clear) book
about the Aboriginal people and their ways of life, from Chatwin’s
particular perspective and, it seems, personal needs. It covers his
own travels in the Outback of Australia, where he observed, talked
with and studied the Aboriginal people. As with his book on Patagonia
(though this volume is both more and less personal), his travel is
an opportunity to consider much broader themes than just his geographical
and anthropological experiences.
of Australia. John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga
An overview of Aboriginal history, culture and art, primarily in textbook
format and reading level. Although the oldest surviving culture, with
a continuous history going back at least 40,000 years, Australian
Aboriginal culture, including rock paintings considered older than
any from Europe, is also one of the most overlooked. This work helps
overcome this eurocentrism.
Fence: The True Story of One of the Greatest Escapes of All Time.
True story of an Aboriginal girl’s removal from her parents
by the Australian Government during a long period (only completely
ended in the early seventies) of taking Aboriginal children to be
raised by white Australians to “assimilate” them into
mainstream society. Now know as the “Stolen Generation,”
this group has been politically active over the last few years in
an effort to gain recognition, recompense, and where possible return
to their family roots. The power, and to some degree horror, of the
story overcomes the lackluster writing. The recent film of the same
title dwells mostly on the lives of the individual family involved;
the book focuses more on the events leading up to the removal policy,
and its effects on the Aboriginal population told from the perspective
of the most directly involved – one of the Stolen Generation.
Molly Craig, the woman at the heart of the story (and Doris’
mother), has just died (January 2004).
Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and
People. Tim F. Flannery.
An overview of the mammals of Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand.
Tim Flannery writes in the style of his own outlook – he is
something that could possibly be described as “zoorenaissance
man.” A very good “big picture” book from a very
Natural History of Australia. Tim Berra
A detailed (includes plate tectonics, Wallace’s line and similar
broad concepts) introduction to the natural history of the continent.
Well illustrated and readable, it covers its ranging topics well.
Includes Aboriginal Australia and the Great Barrier Reef in addition
to the normal land-based fauna and flora.
Worlds Collide. Penny van Oosterzee
Not about Australia per se, but a very readable overview of geologic
history and plate tectonics in the region, the fundamental reason
for Australia’s strange and largely unique fauna & to a
lesser degree flora. Read this for an understanding of why the fauna
on western New Guinea is fundamentally the same as that in Tasmania
3000 miles away, but completely different to that on Java, just 1000
miles away. Or why there are marsupials in South America, on the other
side of the world from Australia.
Photographic Guide to Mammals of Australia. Ronald Strahan
An excellent pocket-sized photographic guide to all the mammals a
casual to serious observer may see in Australia, with notes on rarer
ones. Includes accurate species details and range maps, with 168 color
photographs. There are bigger books, but this is all you’ll
need to identify and learn a little about what you see.
Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Peter Menkhorst & Frank
A complete field guide to Australia's mammals. Full color illustrations
throughout, distribution maps, classic layout. A little hefty, but
an excellent guide. Larger illustrations than the photos in Strahan,
and with habitat and distribution entries – Strahan just has
small maps. Covers 379 species including marsupials, monotremes, bats,
native rodents, seals, marine mammals and some intoduced species,
with more information than the photographic guide. Maybe one to look
at in Australia, and make the decision to buy or not.
Key Guide to Australian Mammals. Cronin & Westmacott
More a handbook than a guide, there is little to recommend this book
unless it is all that is available, and even then it is primarily
useful as a reference book, not a field guide. The drawings are poor
to mediocre, and there is no descriptive material in the annoyingly
repetitive text that helps to distinguish one species from another.
Included here for completeness rather than as a recommendation.
of Australia. Steve Wilson & Gerry Swan
The only field guide available; small enough to comfortably carry
although heavy. Both authors know their subjects very well. The photos,
mostly from the authors’ own huge photolibraries, are selected
well to differentiate close species, and salient features are emphasized
in bold. Usually a single line about habitat, and a very small range
map. Even if there were another guide, this would be highly recommended.
Guide to the Birds of Australia. Pizzey & Knight
There’s not much difference between this and Simpson & Day.
This is slightly larger, but perhaps a bit more complete as a field
guide, with more non-visual identifiers. Both are excellent filed
Guide to the Birds of Australia. Simpson & Day
See above; there is more natural history in this book, so it is more
complete as a handbook of Australian birds, but is therefore s a little
less detailed as just a field guide. Make sure you get the latest
‘field guide’ version for traveling, not the older and
much larger edition. New edition is slightly smaller than Pizzey &
Knight, but both are more than pocket-size.
Guide to Australian Birds. Michael Morcombe
The third field guide option. Perhaps the best, though just slightly
larger (6.5x9.5) than Pizzey, and the range maps are not graduated.
Picture opposite information format. Make sure you get the December
2003 edition, not an earlier one.
Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia. Thomas & Thomas
Useful for being in the right spot at the right time, although best
if used with Bransbury’s Guide to Finding Birds in Australia.
Very useful if you’re traveling by yourself, without a guide
or group. There are several regional guides as well, only available
in Australia. The Birds Australia shop is a good supply for these.
Guide to Australian Wildflowers. Greig.
Describes over 1000 common Australian wildflowers, with color plates
of each species.
Reef Fishes. Lieske & Myers
Pictures, distributions and a little ecology of over 2100 species
of fish found around coral reefs. World-wide coverage, and so is also
useful when fish-watching in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, not
just the Pacific of the Great Barrier Reef. Plates can be a little
washed out, and are not as clearly printed as many field guide, but
do include many illustrations of the often totally different juveniles.
still looking for a good general book on the Great Barrier Reef, but
haven’t been able to find one since Isabel Bennett’s went
out of print. Let us know if you if you find one.
Town Like Alice. Neville Shute
A classic Australian novel describing the determination of mid-20th
C. settlers against the background of the second world war. Another
book which helps non-Australians understand the Australian outlook
(most Australians identify with this book, despite their city-based
lives and experiences.)
and Lucinda. Peter Carey
A story of love, exploration and a glasshouse in 19C Australia. Paints
a detailed picture of early Australia apart from the more typical
Outback/settler genre, while including the trials faced building the
country. This novel won the Booker prize.
History of the Kelly Gang. Peter Carey
A most debatable title, but a great read and another Booker prizewinner
from Carey. Ned Kelly was, depending on your viewpoint, either an
egotistical, callous common thief and murderer or a martyred Robin
Hood trying to support his aged widowed mother against the relentless
class warfare imposed on the working class by a landed, imperious
gentry. He’s generally looked upon as a hero to many Australians
even today, who maintain a deep suspicion of government and police
alike. Although uneducated, his last words on the gallows in Melbourne
Jail were “such is life.”
of the Never-Never. Mrs Aeneus Gunn
Story of life on 1920s outback station, with considerable observation
of the social and cultural life of the Aboriginal workers there (typically
on stations the station looked after the entire clan of the workers,
not just paying the men and women who actually worked there). Advanced
for its day, and similar in outlook to Steinbeck’s “Grapes
Music. Tim Winton
Basically a tale of love, betrayal, class conflict and finding –
or losing – self. However, while very well-written – it
was short-listed for the Booker Prize - the setting will be of most
interest to readers who are traveling to Australia. The northern Western
Australia coast is this setting, a coast that is a narrow stretch
of sand between a bounteous and fruitful sea and a harsh and unforgiving
inland. The story’s about those who live here, mostly making
a living from the sea, as there’s not much else. While the fishing
town is the focus it also ranges more widely, from Broome to Perth
and elsewhere, and by the end you’ll have a better understanding
of Australians, especially those that eschew city life – where
the vast majority live – for more challenging places and lifestyles.
Lawson and Banjo (Andrew Barton) Patterson are Australia’s
equivalent of the Mark Twain genre of short story and poetry, chronicling
the earlier Australia that they saw around them. Banjo Patterson wrote
both “The Man from Snowy River” and “Waltzing Matilda”
(which most Australians consider their true national anthem). Dorothea
McKellar is another poet worth reading for her Australian insight,
especially of the country itself. Mark O'Connor’s “Poetry
in Pictures : The Great Barrier Reef” (1985) is out of print,
but contains poems that manage to convey the sense of the Reef, even
including biological concepts and scientific names, while keeping
the rhythms and language of poetry. Worth finding if possible.
availability and price of these books, just click on the Amazon.com
logo below. Amazon also has some useful maps. If you save the site
in your favorites you can check for other books as you come across
references to them.
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