Outback Reading - Australian Outback Books Especially For Kids

No wonder Australian language is losing its character. 99.9% of the children’s books being sold in Australia use American and English words and expressions. I cringe every time I see ‘cowboy’ instead of ‘stockman’, ‘chicken coop’ instead of ‘chook shed’, 'pickup' instead of 'ute' and ‘meadow’ instead of ‘paddock’. I ‘Australianise’ books when reading them aloud to kids and suggest others do likewise. When they’re old enough to realise the word you’ve just said doesn’t match what’s on the page it’s an ideal opportunity to explain the differences in terminology between countries, and why it’s important that we use our own words rather than imports.

More information on our uniquely rural Australian words and expressions can be found in the glossary in the book 'A Million Acre Masterpiece'.

With rising publishing costs and price resistance amongst consumers, many of whom typically want a Rolls Royce for the price of a Holden (or even a pushbike), publishing Australian, good quality, illustrated children’s books has become extremely difficult. And if it’s not profitable publishers simply cannot afford to continue. We have some of the most talented illustrators and story writers right here in Australia so it is vital that we support their efforts by purchasing these fabulous Australian books for the up-and-coming generation of readers.

There are too many excellent Australian children’s books to mention here, so those on the following list are all specifically related to the bush in some way – as well as being first-class quality and uniquely Australian. Some are out of print, so only available secondhand.

Please note:

I only sell my own books 'A Million Acre Masterpiece' and 'Life as an Australian Horseman', not books by other authors.  The books below are listed simply to assist my customers find additional bush books which they may be interested in, and to assist other authors by publicising what they have written.  Unfortunately I do not have the administrative resources to provide advice on where copies may be available at present (some of the bush books below are long out of print, but may be available in secondhand bookshops).

Sales of my own books, cards and photographs are what enable the continuation of recording of life on Australian cattle stations, and are what make this website possible.

Outback Alphabet and Outback Count out

Nora Kersh, 1999
Self published, Maxwelton (North Queensland)

Grandma’s precious chest

Nora Kersh, 2005
Boolarong Press, (Queensland)
Completely authentic, original books full of character that have been written and illustrated by a grandmother who spent decades living in remote areas and educated all her own children by correspondence. Nora's watercolour paintings are beautiful - her love of the bush and the lifestyle shines through.

Bevan’s shearing team at Beeantha
Kate, the Flying Doctor
James, the outback postman
Samantha at Helen Downs

Judy and Darryl Cooper, 1995
Holding Educational Aids, Marayong (New South Wales)
Excellent books that clearly and effectively explain life in north-western Queensland. The sort of books that would ideally be compulsory in every Australian primary school.

Cranky - The baby Australian Camel

Joyce Nicholson & Gordon De'Lisle, 1964
Landsdown, Melbourne
A lovely, timeless story about a couple of children living on a remote cattle station in central Australia. Absolutely beautiful black and white photos, taken by Gordon De'Lisle on Atnarpa, Arltunga and Ross River Station, Alice Springs. Every time I open this book one of the first things I notice is the beautiful timber yards, because I miss seeing them - steel yards have no character.

Farm book (an Australian board book)

Photographs by Bill Thomas, 1992
Lothian
An excellent first-word book for toddlers, to teach them words like ‘ute’ instead of ‘pickup truck’.

Giddy Goanna

Giddy Goanna is a not-for-profit child safety promoting organisation, based in SE Queensland, that began with a focus on farm safety. Dependant on erratic government grants plus private donations and sponsorship, and primarily volunteer labour, 6 books have been published to date, plus a cd, dvd and t-shirts. The first three books featured Giddy Goanna, the Careless Cousins and Spiney covering every aspect of farming and grazing - from sheep, cattle and horse handling to chemical, motorbike, machinery and farm tool safety. Farms are potentially very dangerous places for children, and unfortunately most long-term rural residents know of at least one child who has died in a drowning or vehicle/machinery accident. There are many potential hazards and when you have several children it is easy to overlook telling the youngest some essential detail or other, such as leaving working dogs alone when they are eating; with tragic consequences. So these Giddy Goanna books are an excellent prompt for filling in the gaps. The books are very Australian and very entertaining. Reading through them and answering the questions and puzzles with a child raises subjects parents can then add detailed comments on, personalising their specific situation. Farm safety is common sense, but it is something that has to be repeatedly explained to children, and enforced.

The 3 farm safety books were all written by Pamela Brown, and published by Giddy Goanna Ltd, Toowoomba (Queensland).

  • Farm Safety Fun with Giddy Goanna Illustrated by Rebecca Berrett, 1995
  • Giddy Goanna - Fun on the Farm Illustrated by Chris Sheldrake, 1997
  • Giddy Goanna - Many Farms to Visit (1999) Illustrated by Chris Sheldrake, 1999

Giddy Goanna books are highly recommended for all children - not just those who live on or visit farms. In fact the books illustrate very well what a fabulously interesting places farms are to live on. The books, DVD, CD and t-shirts are available from the Giddy Goanna website.

Kimberley Boy

Written by Veronica Brooking & photographed by Annette Millar, 2006

Published by Annette Millar, Broome (Western Australia)
A beautiful story written by Veronica Brooking about her won Bradrick and the aboriginal community they live in, Ngalapita, near Fitzroy Crossing in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and other May Gibbs books

May Gibbs 1877 - 1969
Unique stories and absolutely splendid illustrations that are full of Australian plants & animals. I prefer the original books that show the simple beauty of May’s sepia-coloured illustrations and unaltered writing, rather than the ‘modernised’ versions with glossy lurid colours and ‘updated’ text. Read the original books to the kids and let them play with the more recently published versions. May's books do contain the occasional pushing of her views re. the trapping of feral animals and a lecture or two on adults maltreating animals. Kids are unlikely to be conscious of this wheelbarrow pushing, (I only noticed the soapboxing in adulthood), so it may be appropriate to gently point out the direct and indirect harm that feral animals cause to our native animals, when the subject arises in May's books. (I love Scottish Terriers, but two I owned were incurable, detestable lizard killers. [Despite stumpy legs and a barrel body, one also decimated the residents of my mother-in-law's chookyard, one sunny afternoon. It was astonishing dedication for a dog that never broke out of a slow trot at the best of times.] If May was around today we could have an interesting discussion on the potential harm to gumnut babies, by terriers roaming free in the bush! They'd have chased and eaten them, not talked to them.)

May Gibbs Sydney home was 'Nutcote' ; a few years ago it was rescued from demolition and restored.

The Billabong series of books

Mary Grant Bruce 1878-1958
Some people may find Mary Grant Bruce’s books featuring Nora of Billabong a bit dated, especially some of the attitudes. But I found her books to be a great read and source of inspiration and it’s quite likely the books I borrowed from the Echuca library all those years ago, motivated me to move further out into the sticks (whereas for many, it’s the watching of films set in the American Wild West that inspired them to head bush). The illustrated dust jackets on the 1950s reprints are excellent. Look for the original books in secondhand bookshops and online. Mary Grant Bruce had a very impressive writing career and a summary can be found at the Australian Women’s Archives Project.

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