‘Australia: A Biography of a Nation’ by Phillip Knightley


Non fiction – paperback; Vintage; 384 pages; 2001.

To mark Australia’s centenary of federation, Phillip Knightley, himself an expat Australian, set out to write a book about the country of his birth, to explore the idea of what it is to be Australian and to analyse what it is that has made Australia such a successful nation despite the fact it was set up by convicts and their jailers. Why is it that Australia and Australians turned out so differently from America and Americans given that both countries were settled in similar ways?

Knightley’s Australia: A Biography of a Nation not only answers these questions (and more), it is a superb exploration and thought-provoking warts-and-all account of Australia’s recent history.

As an Australian who has spent the past three-and-a-half years living in London, Knightley’s main question has often plagued my thoughts: what is an Australian, and, more recently, why is it that we seem to be taking over the entertainment and sporting world (Kylie, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, Peter Carey, et al)?

Through a clever combination of historical anecdotes and personal memoir, Knightley’s “biography of a nation” is a superb, hard-to-put-down story that spans everything you thought you knew about Australia and everything you didn’t. If you’ve never been Down Under or don’t know who Gough Whitlam is or have never heard of Mabo, this book will expand your knowledge and have you dying to get on the next plane to Sydney. And if you’re Australian you might just find out something you didn’t know about your country or had forgotten you knew.

This book is a must read for potential travellers and citizens alike. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.


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