If I Could Read Only One Book …

Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding (1918)

If I could read only one book it would undoubtedly be James Joyce’s Ulysses, because it’s the best. On the other hand, if I had to name a favourite book, I would be torn between the sly wit (and happy ending) of Pride and Prejudice and Eve Langley’s The Pea Pickers with its poetic evocation of the Australian bush and Steve’s heartbreaking struggle to reconcile her femininity with her need for independence.

But, what I actually set out to write was a list, If I Could Read Only One (Australian) Book from each year of the first half of the C20th. So here goes.

1901 Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career* (discussed here)

1902 Barbara Baynton, Bush Studies* (review)

1903 Joseph Furphy, Such is Life* (discussed here)

1904 Steele Rudd, Sandy’s Selection* (author biography)

1905 Joseph Furphy, Rigby’s Romance*

1906 a lean year and we have to choose between Catherine Martin, The Old Roof-Tree;  AB Paterson, An Outback Marriage; and Rosa Praed, The Lost Earl of Ellan

1907 Barbara Baynton, Human Toll* (author biography) (review)

1908 Henry Handel Richardson, Maurice Guest*. There’s also Mrs Gunn’s We of the Never Never* which I loathe.

1909 Miles Franklin, Some Everyday Folk and Dawn – another lean year! (review)

1910 Henry Handel Richardson, The Getting of Wisdom*. Also Catherine Helen Spence: An Autobiography, which I would love to get hold of.

1911 Louis Stone, Jonah*

1912 Norman Lindsay, Norman Lindsay’s Book No.1

1913 Norman Lindsay, A Curate in Bohemia; or KS Prichard, Clovelly Verses

1914 an even leaner year in a lean decade. Try Ruth Bedford & Dorothea Mackellar, Two’s Company; or maybe Nettie Palmer, The South Wind (verse)

1915 CJ Dennis, The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke*; KS Prichard, The Pioneers (review)

1916 Sumner Locke, Samaritan Mary

1917 Henry Handel Richardson, Australia Felix*

1918 a good year for kids! Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding*; May Gibbs, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie*

1919 Beatrice Grimshaw, The Coral Queen. Grimshaw (1879-1953) was a university educated, widely travelled journalist, an explicitly anti-feminist feminist, a plantation manager in New Guinea, and a best-selling author favourably compared with RL Stevenson and Joseph Conrad.

1920 AH Adams, The Australians; though I’d probably rather read Lionel Lindsay on Conrad Martens and The Art of Hans Heysen.

1921 KS Prichard, Black Opal; but also CEW Bean, the first two volumes of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918*; and Mary Fullerton, Bark House Days (discussed here).

1922 Vance Palmer, The Boss of Killara (I suppose I had to include one Vance Palmer)

1923 DH Lawrence, Kangaroo*

1924 DH Lawrence & Mollie Skinner, The Boy in the Bush* (review)

1925 Henry Handel Richardson, The Way Home*

1926 Martin Boyd, Brangane (supposedly based on Barbara Baynton – author autobiography); but also KS Prichard, Working Bullocks*; and Steele Rudd, The Miserable Clerk (not ‘Dad and Dave’ at all, but stories from his years in the Qld public service).

1927 then you get a year with nothing! At your own peril try something from the ‘prolific and sentimental’ Marie Bjelke-Petersen, The Moon Minstrel. (She won the King’s Jubilee medal for literature in 1935).

1928 Martin Boyd, The Montforts*; or Miles Franklin, Up the Country* (review)

1929 M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built*; KS Prichard, Coonardoo*; Henry Handel Richardson, Ultima Thule*; James Tucker, Ralph Rashleigh* (review); Arthur Upfield, The Barakee Mystery (the first Napoleon Bonaparte detective novel). How do you choose!

1930 Miles Franklin, Ten Creeks Run* (review); but also HM Green, An Outline of Australian Literature* or KS Prichard, Haxby’s Circus (which I don’t like). Also, the HHR trilogy, Australia Felix, Ultima Thule, The Way Home, was published as The Fortunes of Richard Mahony*.

1931 Frank Dalby Davidson, Man Shy*; Mile Franklin, Old Blastus of Bandicoot* (review); and two interesting ‘lives’ – Henry Lawson by Bertha Lawson and (Mitchell Librarian) John Brereton (review); and Henry Bourne Higgins by Nettie Palmer.

1932 Ion Idriess, Flynn of the Inland*; or maybe KS Prichard, Kiss on the Lips (short stories). I’m guessing Leonard Mann’s Flesh in Armour is the best of the few novels on offer, or maybe Vance Palmer, Daybreak.

1933 Norman Lindsay, Saturdee; Frank Clune, Try Anything Once*

1934 Christina Stead, The Salzburg Tales (review) and Seven Poor Men of Sydney* (author biography); Henry Handel Richardson, The End of Childhood* (review). Though you would have to be tempted by Mary Mitchell, A Warning to Wantons.

1935 Kylie Tennant, Tiburon*

1936 Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau* (review); Miles Franklin, All That Swagger* (review)

1937 Ernestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness* (author biography); also Eleanor Dark, Sun Across the Sky and KS Prichard, Intimate Strangers, neither of which I know.

1938 Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines* (discussed here)(review); Christina Stead, House of All Nations

1939 Henry Handel Richardson, The Young Cosima* (review). Some people may attach some importance to Patrick White’s first, Happy Valley.

1940 Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children*

1941 Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land*; but also Ernestine Hill, My Love Must Wait*; Ion Idriess, Nemarluck* (review); Kylie Tennant, The Battlers; and Patrick White, The Living and the Dead.

1942 Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers* (review)

1943 Kylie Tennant, Ride On Stranger* (review); but maybe also Majorie Barnard, The Persimmon Tree

1944 Christina Stead, For Love Alone*; Stead dominates the second half of this list but I’m planning a review of Kate Baker & Miles Franklin, Joseph Furphy* (review); and would love to have Alice Henry (ed. Nettie Palmer), Memoirs.

1945 Norman Lindsay, The Cousin from Fiji*

1946 Martin Boyd, Lucinda Brayford*; Miles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung* (review); Christina Stead, Letty Fox, Her Luck* (review)

1947 M Barnard Eldershaw, Tomorrow and Tomorrow

1948 Patrick White, The Aunt’s Story*

1949 Ruth Park, Poor Man’s Orange*

1950 Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice*; another thin year but there’s also KS Prichard, Winged Seeds*(3rd of the Goldfields trilogy) and Nettie Palmer, Henry Handel Richardson which Lisa of ANZLL reviewed (here) and which I am currently borrowing – I used it in my review of The Young Cosima above. And if you’re as old as I am, there’s Gwen Meredith, Blue Hills* from which was derived the famous, interminable ABC radio serial of the same name.

By my count there are 98 books listed above (or an even 100 including Ulysses and P&P). Of these I have read just fewer than half; there are 5 or 6 which I own and haven’t got to yet; and when I pack up my father’s books later this month I’ll get my grandfather’s multi volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 which I may never read.

Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd Ed., OUP, Melbourne, 1992

Wilde, Hooton, Andrews, The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, 2nd Ed., OUP, Melbourne, 1994

* The books I already own, I think! I’ve just discovered I have a copy of Jungfrau.

18 thoughts on “If I Could Read Only One Book …

  1. Wow, *happy dance!*, this is just what I needed to fulfil my mini quest to read one Oz book for each year of the 20th century!
    Now to find the books to fill my gaps, looking forward to scouring Brotherhood Books and other second-hand sources, I do love a little quest like this:)
    If you can asterisk the ones you want, I can look out for those too:)
    Thank you!


    • I was looking through my shelves for Mack, which I don’t have (tho I do have dad’s Readers), and found Gwen Meredith, but I’ll take advantage of your kind offer. BTW I did answer your query at the time, and have a couple of books to lend you.


    • Perversely I’ve marked the ones I already own. I think I said I would bring Sandy’s Selection and Rigby’s Romance when I come over (21-27 Jan) but let me know if you would like any others.Like you, I would very much like to find a copy of Brangane. And I think MF’s Some Everyday Folk and Dawn is probably unobtainable, I read it at the Mitchell Library.


      • I have an electronic edition of Some everyday folk and dawn, and have started reading it several times, but keep getting distracted.

        I’ve read about a quarter of what you’ve chosen here, but like you and Lisa would like to fill in gaps and read more of our earlier works. I have read and reviewed Jungfrau and you may remember. An interesting read.

        And, may I recommend The persimmon tree. It’s a great read, and unusually for a book of short stories, one I’ve read twice, but both times before blogging.


      • I have read in the last couple of days that Virago republished SEF&Dawn around 1980 and certainly I’ll take your recommendation re Persimmon Tree. There are so few novels published up to 1950, well maybe 1000, but perhaps I could establish a page with links to our reviews.


  2. I’ve made myself an Excel file to keep track of this (and discovered in the process that I had some dates of first publication wrong, some typos but others from relying on Goodreads or Wikipedia, I guess. I have fixed them using your post as an authority:)
    For 1918 I have Over There with the Australians by R Hugh Knyvett which is rather good in a rather British sort of way – I have never been able to establish for sure that he was Australian rather than British….
    Also for 1903 I’ve read Ada Cambridge’s Thirty Years in Australia which I found fascinating. But again, I am not confident of the date…


    • I can’t find Knyvett in the Annals or in The Oxford Companion. Do you have someone young (and patient!) to whom you might read Snugglepot & Cuddlepie? As for Cambridge, the date is right. I overlooked it because it’s marked A for autobiography, and also who would not read Such is Life? In passing, the Annals put Rigby’s Romance at 1905, the year it was serialised by the Barrier Truth. It was published abridged in ’21 and in full in ’46.


      • I tried Trove for Knyvett too, but again, it’s ambiguous. He says he served with the Anzacs, but he may have been a British officer.
        S&C? I read bits of it to The Smalls was I was a T-L but it is long…. No children in my life now, I have a grand-dog instead….
        Dates of lots of old publications are difficult, I find, because of serialisations, so I try not to get tense about it. Can’t say I’m very excited about reading romance from any era!


      • Don’t worry about R’s Romance, nothing Furphy writes means what you first think. Romance definitely ironic, perhaps intended as a dig at his polite lady contemporaries. After all one of the horses is named Tasma.


  3. OK. I always knew I was not well read but now you’ve confirmed it. Of those on your (excellent) list I think I can count on one hand the number I’ve read…


    • I’m sure you are well read, although at 52 books per year you might be dropping behind, we’re just different ages with different eras of specialisation. Which reminds me: WG wrote yesterday about Louise Mack, a commenter said there was a Mack extract in the Victorian Sixth Reader. I checked it out and found a very funny story by CEW Bean about how merinos came to Australia. Apparently a vain Spanish lady exchanged them for carriage horses.


      • Um, no. A Dutch widow in Cape Town, pissed off that her loyal husband had been driven to his death (maybe suicide, can’t remember off hand) deliberately sold her Spanish sheep to the ‘enemy’ in contravention of the existing laws. She sold them in the 1790s to the English Lt Waterhouse, who was on a food collecting mission from Sydney and who took the sheep back to Oz. It was a kind of an ‘up yours’ gesture and these were the first ‘merinos’ to arrive (they were actually probably cross bred). Your Spanish lady may perhaps be the source of some of the smuggled out Spanish merinos Banks kept in the King’s flock at Kew. Some of those came out to Oz with John Macarthur in 1804.
        Oh God. I’ve turned into a sheep nerd.


  4. Wow! This is a seriously impressive list. Like MST, my reading is seriously lacking… Just don’t make me choose from 1918 – LOVE both of those books and both have happy childhood memories for me (including one year when all I wanted for Christmas was a large format, cloth bound May Gibbs collection – my wish was granted and I still have it).


    • My lot got a boxed pair from an aunt and now my grandkids (5 and 6) make me read a few pages whenever I drop in.
      Anyway, hope you get to read Stead, and Dark, and Furphy, and of course My Brilliant Career, I think they may be the highlights.


  5. What a great list! Intrigued you loathe We of the Never Never; I have a copy I was planning to read this year. Why do you hate it so much? Poorly written? Or terrible content?


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