Bookclub: Australian Literature


The classic Australian story is a different kind of beast from your average novel. My limited exposure to Australian literature has shown me that sense of place and the lives of ordinary people far outweigh a strong plot. Would you agree?

This year one of my reading goals was to read more Australian lit, so I dabbled in the likes of Tim Winton, Ruth Park and Helen Garner.  A good start to Aussie literature, I reckon!

I’ll share my reflections on Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South, though some of my thoughts could probably be applied to my experience of Australian novels more broadly.

The cover of The Harp In The South, Ruth Park. Read by Kate Hood

Earlier this year I read The Harp in the South via audiobook. Have you read it? Published in 1948, The Harp in the South is the second within a trilogy that follows the Darcys, a Catholic-Irish Aussie family who live in Sydney’s suburban slums. If you can get your hands on the audio version read by Kate Hood, do it! She’s a fantastic narrator.

Here are some things that struck me about The Harp in the South:

  • The story is a snapshot of Australian history wrapped in fiction. By zooming in on one family and their daily lives in the slums, it tells a larger narative about post-war life in Australia.
  • It reminded me of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. I imagine Ruth Park’s literature was a significant influence on Tim Winton and other Aussie authors.
  • The descriptions of characters and surrounding environment are vibrant, detailed and quite funny.
  • It felt like the whole world existed within the small hub that contained the Darcy’s life: school, pub, the prostitute-lined street, the market and the fish and chip shop.
  • The struggles each family member faced were raw and honest. From gambling and alcohol problems; finding love in a time where marriage was still a survival strategy; finding a sense of identity; facing illness and soul-scarring grief, all lathered with the Aussie-battler aversion to dwelling on the things you just can’t change.
  • The Harp in the South is beautiful, sometimes uncomfortable and definitely a must read.

So, dear Bookclubbers, what are your thoughts? Have you read any Ruth Park? Are there any particular Aussie novels you’d recommend? Any characters or authors that tickle your fancy? I’d love to hear your thoughts, just pop them in ‘Comments’ section below.

I look forward to chatting with you further in bookclub!




Filed under Bookclub, Books

6 responses to “Bookclub: Australian Literature

  1. Pingback: 2013 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge | Dear Stephen King,

  2. Ashamed though I am to admit, I’m still too much invested in outdated undergrad English wank to want to delve without pretence into true Australian literature.

    However the Wheeler Centre conducted an interview recently with Charlotte Wood about what it means to be a contemporary Australian author, which I quite enjoyed. I’m not at all familiar with her work, but she summarises much of what I find hard to synthesise between expectation of cliche (which is what turns me off from Marcus Clarke through to Tim Winton) and the reality of the country itself when depicted in writing.

    Well worth a gander:

    • DearStephenKing

      Hey Han, thanks for that, I look forward to reading the interview.
      So, tell me more about the ‘outdated undergrad english wank’?? I’m fascinated!! The only literature related subject I did looked at 5 ‘great classics’ and didn’t touch on Australian literature at all. So, educate me, dear, what’s the thinking? And can I legitimately continue on in blissful unawareness of these matters?

      cheers x

      • Your ‘five great classics’ subject sounds like it would’ve been more or less a condensed version of any standard English Literature degree, Shan! Methodological analysis of pretentious cliches through the ages. I wouldn’t give up the contextual knowledge for a world of contemporary literature, but frankly if you’re probably enjoying reading a whole lot more if you’re truly untainted by an acute awareness of every historical reference to the literary canon. Relish it!
        In retrospect maybe some good ol’ Aussie outback tales are exactly what I need… X

        • DearStephenKing

          Yes, do it! Read some Aussie tales & let me know what you think!

          Yeah I loved the subject I did. We studied Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, Antony & Cleopatra, and Medea. Have you read those?

          I’d love to study more literature one day, but will finish what tI’m doing first.

          Thanks Hannah, always appreciate your feedback & encouragement!

          • Not a bad list! I studied Medea and Antony & Cleopatra in VCE English and Theatre Studies respectively. Haven’t looked at Wuthering Heights specifically, but have covered plenty of other Bronte sisters across the board. Anna Karenina is on my longterm to-read list, but I don’t recall Sir Gawain cropping up anywhere…
            Hope you find the time to sample some lit courses one day in the not too distant future!
            Talk to you soon. X

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