A Western Australian reading list: introducing a focus on Western Australian writers

As many of you will know, I have recently relocated to Western Australia (WA) after almost 21 years of living in the UK. I am originally from Victoria, on the other side of the country, so even though I am back “home”, as it were, I have never lived in WA before, so it is all very new and exciting — and a little bit strange.

For those who don’t know, WA is Australia’s biggest state — it makes up almost a third of the entire landmass, most of which is desert (or what you might call the Outback). The state’s population of around 2.6 million people (in 2014) live largely in the fertile south-west (home to the Margaret River wine region) and the capital city of Perth.

Until 2015, I had never stepped foot in WA. But when I did so, on an all-too-brief holiday, I immediately fell in love with the laidback lifestyle, the open spaces and the weather. I have returned for longer holidays several times since, and in June 2019 made the leap to move here permanently, choosing to settle in Fremantle, a historic port town just a 30-minute train journey south of Perth.

Living here for only a short time it strikes me how little I know about WA culture — its music, art, theatre and literature, in particular — because when you grow up on the south-east coast of the country it’s all very Melbourne and Sydney-centric. (Something I also noticed when I lived in Queensland for a few years in the mid-1990s.)

But what I have learned is that WA has a very strong literary tradition, with numerous successful writers, past and present, and a handful of independent presses, including Fremantle Press, the University of Western Australia Press and Margaret River Press, being based here.

I thought I would use my blog over the next few months to celebrate WA writers and review books written by the people who live here (or come from here). I’m regarding it as a bit of a journey of discovery and hope you might come along for the ride.

I’m not a complete ignoramus though. In the past, I have read many WA writers and I can see from my archives that I have already reviewed some, including (in alphabetical order by author’s surname):

Alan Carter

Claire G. Coleman

Amanda Curtin

Brooke Davis

Robert Drewe

Ron Elliott

Elizabeth Jolley

Gail Jones

Lynne Leonhardt

Joan London

Kim Scott

Craig Silvey

Randolph Stow

David Whish-Wilson

Tim Winton

My TBR includes novels by Josephine Wilson, Geraldine Wooller, Annabel Smith, Michelle Johnston, Marcella Polain, Madelaine Dickie, Steve Hawke and Dave Warner — just to name a few!

Have you read any of these books? Can you recommend a good read by a WA author?

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33 thoughts on “A Western Australian reading list: introducing a focus on Western Australian writers

  1. Well, first, I have a publisher to add to your list, and a very special publisher at that. Magabala Books are based in Broome, and they are an award-winning not-for-profit Indigenous outfit, publishing everything from children’s books to a to novels and NF. I discovered them when I was teaching through their gorgeous picture books illustrated by indigenous artists, but they also publish some crime novels by Indigenous authors which should appeal to you! See https://www.magabala.com/ and have a look in the kids section of your local library to see what I mean. You will be buying their books as presents for nieces and nephews in no time:)
    For someone new to the west, you put many local reviewers to shame, I reckon you’ve covered many of them already! However, here’s some you may not know of: Martin Edmond (Isinglass); Alice Nelson (The Children’s House), The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Indigenous) and We Are Not Most People, by Tracy Ryan.
    If I could have a say in what you read next from your TBR, it would be Dustfall by Michelle Johnston. I’d love to know what you think of it.
    You can find all these on my blog via this category:
    https://anzlitlovers.com/category/origin-of-author/australian-authors/western-australian-authors/
    Oh yes, and check out a lovely collection of stories from Fremantle Press by TAG Hungerford (a WA LitAward bears his name) about postwar Perth. Bill has a collection of his stories too, which he might lend to you:)

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    • Ah, I knew you’d be a wealth of information on this topic, Lisa. Thanks for reminding me about Magabala Books — I recall you mentioning them before. Thanks, too, for all those author names, none of which are familiar to me. I am surprised about how many writers there are here given the small population. And funny you should mention TAG Hungerford because I almost bought a lovely looking hardcover by him called ‘Stories from Suburban Road’ — is that the one you meant?

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      • Yes, that’s the one. It made me want to get on a plane and go exploring (even though it was written so long ago) so I’m sure you’ll love it too. The one that Bill lent me by TAGH is called Wong Chu and the Letterbox. He must be on the road tonight, or he’d be commenting here himself.

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  2. I started your post thinking I’d know nothing about Western Australian writing given how few Australian novels seem to get published in the UK then three names leapt out at me – Gail Jones, Joan London and Tim Winton. Strong literary tradition, indeed! enjoy your literary exploration, Kim.

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    • Ah, yes, Gail Jones, Joan London and Tim Winton are literary superstars both here and abroad. I know that Alan Carter is published in the UK (he’s originally from Sunderland), ditto for Stow (he emigrated to the UK and died there a few years back) and Kim Scott’s Deadman Dance is a Bloomsbury title. I believe his latest one, Taboo, is out next month.

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  3. I think you’d like Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith. Also Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman if you haven’t read that. I also have a couple of Dawn Barker’s books on my shelves and I enjoyed All That is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster. Looking forward to hearing about your reading journey.

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    • Whisky Charlie Foxtrot is the one I have in my TBR. And thanks for the reminder about Claire G Colman; I’d forgotten she was from WA. I will add her to this list as I have reviewed Terra Nullius.

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  4. Bill is indeed on the road, in Port Augusta SA tonight and should be home for the weekend, happy to meet you down the pub with an armload of books. I do my best to read WA but you are way ahead of me. You know my favourite – Rubik. The biggest name not on your list is John Kinsella and I’d also mention Mudrooroo. Mary Durack adds colour. Rabbit Proof Fence is important, and I also have the memoir of a Western Desert woman, Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis.

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    • Thanks for all the suggestions, Bill. I’m planning a foray to the library later so will see what I can find.. I know they have “Rubik” on the shelves. mind you, I have so many books here waiting to be read that I really don’t need any more!

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  5. That’s a good idea for a post. I have to admit to having read books by only a few Australian writers and no Western Australians at all! I will make note of some of these books.

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  6. Elemental has been sitting on my TBR pile since I bought it after your review many years ago. I finally got round to reading it a few weeks ago and, goodness me, what a wonderful read it was! I have Joan London and Gail Jones on my shelves along with the latest Tim Winton (having read all his others) so I’m really looking forward to joining you on this new reading journey,

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    • So pleased you read Elemental! Amanda Curtin is one of the first people I met when I landed in WA a few months ago… she’s really lovely and very active in the literary circles here.

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  7. Pingback: ‘Cusp’ by Josephine Wilson – Reading Matters

  8. I’ve read titles by several of the names on your list (Alan Carter, Elizabeth Jolley, Claire Coleman, Amanda Curtin) solely because of your blog, Kim. So, I’m excited to see what other authors you discover and, in turn, bring to my attention.

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    • Oh, that’s great to know, Christina. This is a very isolated part of the world but I’m surprised by how many writers there are here and how many of them have actually achieved worldwide success. I’m hoping this little project might help me discover some new-to-me authors and, in turn, introduce them to my blog’s international audience.

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  9. Two other authors to add are Annabel Smith (many books including Whisky Charlie Foxtrot) and Louise Allen (Sister song).

    You have inspired me to do an ACT Region page, but oh dear, the definitions – what is the region, and then do I do writers who lived here for a few years but weren’t born here and not longer live here (like Sara Dowse and Dorothy Johnston). I’m not sure I’m up for it, on reconsideration!

    BTW I totally, totally understand your falling in love with Perth. If I had my choice of places to live in Australia that would be it. But, with all my family and friends in the east, including elderly parents here and grandchild in Melbourne, I guess I’m not prepared to leave them behind. I will just enjoy your posts vicariously. And we are planning another foray there, though exactly when, I don’t know.

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    • Yes, I have Annabel Smith on my Kindle. I follow Louise on Twitter but have never seen her books to buy anywhere but now I’m on the right side of the planet (!!) that should no longer be a problem.

      I can imagine that creating an ACT list would be problematic… it’s such a small territory. I would struggle to name any writer (unless they were a politician) from that part of the world!

      And yes, it’s hard not to fall in love with Perth. I was speaking to a real estate agent the other day and he told me to be careful of the “WA disease”. I asked him what that was. He said “once you move here you never leave”. He cane from the UK 15 years ago on a holiday 😂

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