Outback Reading — Outback & Agricultural Reference Books

Listed below are dozens of the top quality non-fiction books relating to rural and northern Australia. Many of the reference books are considered to be the industry standards and have been reprinted innumerable times over a number of decades. They are popular with the general public and used in colleges and universities.

Sales of my own books, 'Biggest Mobs - Longest Shadows', 'Life as an Australian Horseman' & 'A Million Acre Masterpiece', are what enable the continuation of recording of life on Australian cattle stations, and are what make this website possible.

I only sell my own books, 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 (most of the bush books below are long out of print, but available secondhand).


On this page:

Agricultural Reference Books

Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual * Highly recommended

Bill Mollison, 1988 and reprinted many times

Tagari Publications, Tyalgum (New South Wales)

Permaculture is basically common-sense agriculture — practical, logical, sustainable living.

This inspiring, classic book is jammed full of useful, practical information, easy to understand diagrams and illustrative photos. Covers everything to do with living sustainably, from soil, climate, and vegetation to housing design and practical recycling. It’s easy to look up information via the very detailed index.

Written Bill Mollison, considered by many to be a legend and described as the ‘godfather of permaculture’.

Big Mobs

Glen McLaren, 2000

Freemantle Arts Centre Press, Freemantle (Western Australia)

A unique book, very well researched and objective, that gives a good understanding of the complete history of Australia’s pastoral industry while blowing away a few old myths.

Managing the Channel Country sustainably — Producers’ Experiences

Vince Edmondston, 2001

Published by the Queensland DPI (Brisbane)

A large booklet full of priceless personal opinions and experiences of station managers in the channel country, from Boulia south to Lake Eyre. A must-read for anyone who thinks that shifting company station managers every couple of years is a smart idea. The value of personal observation and experience is obvious. If only there were more books that recorded first hand knowledge gathered over decades. The DPI are to be commended for publishing this book.

Hungerford’s Diseases of Livestock

T.G. Hungerford, 1945 & reprinted and updated many times since

Very solid book of information on diseases, parasites, plant poisoning etc that afflict sheep, cattle, pigs, dogs, cats, horses and goats.

Sheep Diseases

A Brightling, 1988

Inkata Press, Melbourne (Victoria)

Comprehensive book of sheep diseases, parasites & other nasty afflictions. Graphic photos help accurate diagnosis, but this is not recommended reading around dinnertime.

Bushcraft and Heritage Books

Ron Edward’s Rams Skull Press, Kuranda, Queensland

Ron Edwards was one of the most multi-skilled, creative blokes around. He could paint, draw, write (with a great sense of humour) and had a huge fund of practical knowledge regarding leatherwork and other aspects of bushcraft. Plus he self-published for decades.

His books and booklets have easy to follow instructions and illustrations and to cap it off they’re full of character and wit. They cover everything from making different sorts of stockwhips, saddlery, Turks head knots and secret plaiting to all manner of other bushcrafts. These books really are unique. Ron created as much as half-a-dozen busy people would be pleased to accomplish in one lifetime. Everyone who has any interest in the bush should own at least one of Ron’s drawings, paintings or books.

Sadly Ron died in early 2008.

One particular classic book of Ron's is:

A Field Guide to the Skills of the Australian Bushman

Ron Edwards, 1996

Rams Skull Press, Kuranda (North Queensland)

Excellent book written with a bushie’s typical dry humour. Clearly explains a myriad of things to make and how to repair stuff in the bush. From doing a Cobb & Co (twitched fencing wire) to making a ‘chooks cafeteria’, and bush toys for children.

Native Australian Wildlife References

The Australian Museum — Complete Book of Australian Mammals — The National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife

Edited by Ronald Strahan, 1983, & reprinted (1991).

Cornstalk publishing (Collins/Angus & Robertson), Sydney (New South Wales)

Hefty, comprehensive and beautifully presented reference book with unsurpassed photographs and information regarding unique Australian mammals.

Reptiles & Amphibians of Australia

Harold G Cogger, 1975 & reprinted (1994)

Reed Books/William Heinemann, Chatswood (New South Wales)

This is THE book to own to identify Australian lizards, frogs and snakes — the most comprehensive reference book on the subject, with good quality photographs, distribution maps and information. If everyone owned a copy of this book, legless lizards and harmless pythons would be a lot safer.

Wildlife on Farms — How to Conserve Native Animals

Various authors, 2003

CSIRO publishing, Collingwood (Victoria)

The book is most applicable to more closely settled farming country in Southern Australia, however it is an excellent reference book. It lists a number of prominent endangered native animals and has photos, distribution maps, descriptions and practical advice on what exactly can be done to preserve their habitat and help ensure their survival. A good example is curlews — still common in the north (amazingly), but now unfortunately rare in much of southern Australia.

Plants and Trees in the Australian Bush

Plants of Western New South Wales

G.M. Cunningham, W.E. Mulham, P.L. Milthorpe, J.H. Leigh, 1992

Inkata Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, Lane Cove (Sydney)

Very large and comprehensive reference book, with quality photos and information. Quite a few of the plants shown grow in other parts of central Australia.

Field Guide to Weeds in Australia

Charles Lamp & Frank Collet, 1976 then many reprints

Inkata Press, Melbourne (Victoria)

Excellent reference book with accurate photos, however most of the weeds featured are a problem only in more temperate regions, i.e. southern Australia, where most farming takes place. Weeds specific to grazing country in northern Australia, such as rubbervine, are not mentioned.

Fungi Out West - Some Fungi of Southern Inland Queensland

Edited by Ross Tait, 2007

Published by the Chinchilla Field Naturalists' Club, Chinchilla (Queensland)

Published information on southern Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, rainforest and coastal regions is so plentiful by comparison with environmental information on inland areas. So it is indeed a joy to discover a first-rate quality regional publication on any part of the natural environment - especially on a subject as overlooked as fungi. This book has fabulous photos and descriptions, and though we live more than one thousand kilometres north of Chinchilla, many of the fungi look familiar. So in future wet seasons I will be examining the book to try to identify the many species of fungi located in north Queensland. This book is a credit to the Chinchilla Field Naturalists Club.

The very first photographs I took that really set me on my way to becoming a professional photographer, were of various toadstools - including the fabulous 'fly agaric' fairytale toadstools, bright red caps with white spots, that grew prolifically in the grounds of the boarding school I attended. Fungi are an essential part of the natural cycle of life and an element of natural splendour that is unfortunately very overlooked.

Traditional Bush Medicines — an Aboriginal Pharmacopoeia

Aboriginal Communities of Northern Australia, 1988

Greenhouse publications, Richmond (Victoria)

Excellent bush medicine reference book — excellent plant photographs, line drawings, location maps plus information with good technical glossaries also.

Gardening in Rural and Remote Areas

Help & Hints for Outback Gardeners:

Compiled by Rhondda Alexander

Isolated Children’s Parents Association (ICPA), 1990s?

Excellent practical & realistic information for outback gardeners, that you won’t find in the gardening pages of a ‘national’ newspaper, glossy magazine or fancy ‘lifestyle’ television programme.

First hand information from residents in South-West Queensland, specifically Boulia, Bedourie and Birdsville, dealing with climate, soil and water difficulties — very big difficulties. What will grow and what won’t, and how to keep it healthy.

It died while I was away - Incorporating ‘It died in the Oven’

Various residents of the Richmond district, 1980s?

Published by the Richmond Cultural Association, Richmond (Queensland)

Great advice on gardening by station residents between Winton, Julia Creek and Hughenden (northwest Queensland) where the water, soil and harsh humid/dry climatic extremes are not popular with many types of plants (in fact you’re flat out growing anything higher than a fence post in the downs country with the heaviest blacksoil).

Tropical Food Gardens — A Guide to Growing Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables in Tropical Soils and Climates

Leonie Norrington, with illustrations by Colwyn Campbell, 2000

Bloomings Books, Melbourne (Victoria)

Absolutely beautiful illustrations complement excellent practical information on rewarding gardening in harsh tropical wet/dry climates, based on Leonie’s decades of first-hand experience in the north. Easy to use alphabetical index of plants. Most applicable to far northern areas of relatively good rainfall but the principles also apply further south where there is less rain.

Northern Cultural Heritage

The Australian House — Houses of the Tropical North

Balvant Saini & Ray Joyce, 1982 & reprinted (2002)

New Holland Publishers, Frenchs Forest (New South Wales)

Absolutely splendid magazine-style soft cover book, one of my all time favourites. I love authentic Australian architecture and this book is made up of quality photos of the fabulous features that make Queenslander-style houses unique. With a good glossary and list of further references. If only we were still building such practical, good quality and good looking houses of character, for generations to come to appreciate.

Outback Cookbooks - Bush Recipes

Country Women’s Association (CWA)

Country Women’s Association (CWA) books are the most practical cookbooks that I own. They have recipes for such things as eggless cakes — essential when it’s your son’s birthday, the road is impassable and it’s so humid that the chooks stopped laying three weeks earlier (and the humidity made the fridge freeze the eggs you had stored). These practical books don’t rely on weird ingredients that are impossible to obtain unless you have a gourmet deli just around the corner. You can add extra ingredients to these basic foolproof recipes if you want a fancier result.

When CWA members sit around eating the results of their labours and doing embroidery they are discussing government policies and serious social issues. The CWA is the largest women’s organisation in Australia and raises a huge amount of money for a variety of worthy causes. Many people can’t get their heads around this combination, consequently the CWA is consistently underestimated. See the national CWA website for more information, including links to state organisations.

The CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints * Highly recommended

Compiled by a committee led by Mrs Agnes Barnes, 1936 (then updated & reprinted more than 40 times over more than 60 years)

Published by the Country Women’s Association of Western Australia (Perth)

This is THE classic CWA book. A very solid, stocky book with a dark blue hardback cover, that doesn’t rely on glossy pics for impact — it has survived more than seventy decades by providing reliable, useful information. Great practical recipes and in the back there’s a heap of useful info such as how to remove marks made by hot plates on a polished table, how to check whether eggs are fresh, etc.

Bundaberg QCWA Cookery Book

Bundaberg CWA, 1997

I can highly recommend the Russian caramels on page 190 — yum. Usual practical CWA information eg metric conversions, plus extra information like the correct placement for an assortment of cutlery and wine glasses at a flash dinner.

Helpful Hints for Hopeless Housewives (and Handy Mutton Recipes)

Compiled by Winton QCWA, 1972 (& reprinted 1997)

A truckload of handy stuff that used to be handed down verbally by generations of efficient, capable housekeepers. I think I now know exactly where those writers of fashionable ‘natural cleaning products in the home’ books have pinched all their info from — they didn't dream it up themselves! And I have finally discovered exactly how my husband must have buckled two of our 60 year old saucepans when I was away; ‘do not put cold water into hot frying pans immediately after use or they will buckle’. Until I read that, I really wasn’t sure how he managed it.

Also has some great games to play in the car, not just the usual ‘I Spy’. Handy for anyone travelling long distances such as you find around the Winton region.

How many Grids to Gregory?

Compiled by the Gregory Branch of QCWA, 1977 (then reprinted in the 1990s)

Usual handy recipes plus some great historical information and splendid photographs, including one of a team of 4 billygoats pulling a small water cart at Burketown (Gulf of Carpentaria, far north Queensland).

Distance Education Delicacies

Charleville SODE (School of Distance Education), early 1990s

Handy recipes and information, plus a detailed list of quantities to aid in calculating catering purchases for very large groups at events.

The Mount Isa School of the Air Cookbook

Compiled by the Parents & Citizens Association of the Mount Isa School of the Air, late 1990s/early 2000s

A larger format book than usual, and it contains some personal and interesting writing by the principal, teachers, parents and students as well as drawings and photographs. Like many of these sorts of local books, the recipe contributor's names and stations are underneath the recipes. It's great to read some familiar names and this gives these types of cookbooks an especially personal edge. These sorts of fund raising books are available in shops in small towns across northern Australia, and as far as travel souvenirs go, they beat teaspoons, teatowels and tacky plastic crocodile fridge magnets, hands down.

The Best Tucker Ever — Recipes from the Kidman Camps & Kitchens

S. Kidman & Co employees, 2002

Sidney Kidman & Co, Adelaide (South Australia)

No-bull recipes from Kidman staff, with excellent aerial photos of a different Kidman station at the start of each chapter. My copy was a gift from friends who have worked for Kidmans for years, so it is extra special. I'm no great fan of corned beef, but I would queue up for Jussi's, it is the best I have ever eaten.

The Brief on Beef Cookbook - 175th Anniversary

AACo employees, 1999

AACo, Brisbane (Queensland)

A huge number of recipes from AACo staff, put together by Carmel Wagstaff while at Brunette Downs. The bookcover is cleverly decorated with Australian Agricultural Company station brands. There is a great list of contributors in the book but no names on the recipes, no doubt because it involved too much extra stuffing around, but it would have been great to know who provided which recipes. But Carmel put a huge amount of work into the book, including a glossary of culinary terms and comprehensive recipe index. Plus an alphabetical list of handy hints such as ‘cane toads do not like dettol’ and how to clean a camp oven (vital sort of info — if you don’t get it right, it rusts to bits quickly).

Simply Beef

Cattleman’s Union, Clermont Branch (Central Queensland), 1990s

A stack of practical and tasty beef recipes, with useful information on beef cuts, what cut is best for which recipe and cooking tips etc.

How to Cook when the Wife is Crook — A Handbook for the Harried Husband * Highly Recommended

Ron Edwards, 2002

Rams Skull Press, Kuranda (North Queensland)

Hilarious, Ron Edwards had a priceless sense of humour which begins with the title and continues right through the book, as evident from the index on page 3:
- vegie dishes
- potato dishes (spuds are too good to count as vegies)
- meat dishes
- sausages (just in case you don’t count them as meat dishes)
and his ‘Important Tips in Basic Kitchen Management’ are hilarious too. This book is a great present, as it is unique.

Outback Travel-Related Books

Safe Outback Travel * Highly recommended

Jack Absalom, 1976 then numerous reprints

The Five Mile Press, Fitzroy (Victoria)

Not some fancy slick publication slapped together by someone who has only left the suburbs in their top-of-the-range 4WD to tour around in air conditioned comfort. ‘Safe outback travel’ has excellent, practical information on travelling in remote areas written by a real bush character who is thoroughly familiar with his subject.

Outback Camping: Bush Camps & Rest Areas around Australia — Caravanners Guide to Highway One and the Sturt Highway

Paul Smedley, 1994 (revised edition has been reprinted since, I think)

Self published, Oaklands Park (South Australia)

Very handy book for travellers as it contains objective and comprehensive information, unlike many glossy expensively printed tourist brochures that only list places that have chosen to pay hefty advertising fees.

Northern Outback Plants & Geology: Geology & Landforms of the Kimberley — Bush Books Series

Ian Tyler, 1996

Department of Conservation & Land Management (CALM), Perth (Western Australia)

Excellent pocket-sized guide to the geology of the Kimberley region, arranged into a list of the most spectacular landforms, with clear explanations and diagrams. The fascinating Bungle Bungle Range is included.

Common Plants of the Kimberley — Bush Books Series

Various Authors, 1990s

Department of Conservation & Land Management (CALM), Perth (Western Australia)

Excellent pocket-sized guide to the most obvious Kimberley trees, bushes, shrubs etc; with excellent photos to aid identification.

Jawoyn Plant Identikit
Common Useful Plants in the Katherine Area of Northern Australia

Glenn Wightman & Jessie Brown, 1994

Published by the Conservation Commission

Excellent pocket-sized guide to ‘useful’ plants in the wider Katherine area; excellent photos.

Bush Tucker Identikit
Common Native Food Plants of Australia’s Top End

Glenn Wightman & Milton Andrews, 1990s

Published by the Conservation Commission

Excellent pocket-sized guide to bush tucker plants of the Kimberleys, Northern Territory and Queensland Gulf Country, with excellent photos.

Bush Medicine Identikit
Common Medicinal Plants of Australia

Glenn Wightman & Lynette Mills, 1990s

Published by the Conservation Commission

Excellent pocket-sized guide to bush medicine plants of the Kimberleys, Northern Territory and Queensland Gulf Country, with excellent photos.

Tucker in the Bush Books (Camp Cooking): The Glovebox Cookbook

Patricia Martin. Photographs by Howard Young, 1993

Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst (New South Wales)

Top travellers cookbook — perfectly simple but tasty tucker. Patricia Martin got her cooking experience in the Kimberleys on Home Valley, Fossil Downs, The Bush Camp and Carlton Hill station.

Outback Cooking in the Camp Oven * Highly recommended

Jack & Reg Absalom, photographs by Jocelyn Burt, 1976 (& reprinted)

The Five Mile Press, Fitzroy (Victoria)

Jack and his uncle Reg Absalom, who spent a lifetime as a shearer, station and camp cook. A top book, practical recipes and excellent photographs by Jocelyn Burt, it gives you the urge to head bush, camping. When in a stockcamp in 2007 the camp cook told me it was by far the most useful cookbook he had. More than 100,000 copies sold, so obviously a lot of other people liked it also.

© Copyright Fiona Lake

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