Australian Natural Adventures

Wildlife, Nature & Soft Adventure Tours

Custom Australia, New Zealand & Pacific tours and travel

Recommended Reading

Australia booklist

This 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 bookstores.

Many of these books are available at For the more specialized natural history titles try the online natural history bookstore, or the American Birding Association’s on-line shop Further afield Birds Australia’s on-line shop, and Andrew Isles Natural History Books, 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

The 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.

Australia, A Traveler's Literary Companion. Robert Ross
A well-selected overview of Australia’s culture, geography, people and outlook.

In 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.

The Explorers. Tim F. Flannery
Another overview of the development of Australia, told through 67 personal accounts.

Kangaroo 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.

Travelers’ 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

Aboriginal 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.

Cultural 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.

Songlines. Bruce Chatwin
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.

Prehistory 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.

Rabbit-Proof Fence: The True Story of One of the Greatest Escapes of All Time. Doris Pilkington
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).

Natural History

The 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 knowledgeable biologist.

A 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.

Where 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.

A 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.

A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Peter Menkhorst & Frank Knight
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.

Reptiles 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.

Field 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 guides.

Field 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.

Field 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.

The 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.

Field Guide to Australian Wildflowers. Greig.
Describes over 1000 common Australian wildflowers, with color plates of each species.

Coral 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.

We’re 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.


A 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.)

Oscar 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.

True 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.”

We 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 of Wrath.”

Dirt 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.

Henry 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.


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