18 books on Australian Indigenous histories & cultures that will move and shake you

Koskela believes in a reconciled Australia.

We have an Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan that aims to recognise, respect and highlight the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.

Koskela’s vision for reconciliation is that the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and their cultures, are recognised, respected and consulted. 

2020 so far has been a hotbed of discourse around racism. As a non-indigenous organization, we do not want our voice to overshadow Australian indigenous voices sharing their experiences of racial oppression.

We believe Koskela can be a more effective ally by continuing to use our design and production skills to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and makers. Koskela has been partnering with Aboriginal-owned and governed community art centres since 2009 when we created Yuta Badayala with the artists from Elcho Island Arts. With these product collaborations we hope to play a small part in supporting cultural resurgence for First Nation peoples and shaping our national identity.

Koskela has been active in this space for over 10 years now and will never stop learning. It’s a profound journey and one we would encourage every non-indigenous Australian to go on. The best place to start? Pick up a book!

We have put together a list of 18 brilliant books that have the power to completely change your perspective on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories. Keep scrolling for a bonus list of seven children's books!

Stock levels can vary, but you can purchase many of these titles directly from Koskela. Check out our BOOKS collection to shop.

18 books on Australian Indigenous histories & cultures

1. Benevolence by Julie Janson

For perhaps the first time in novel form, Benevolence presents an important era in Australia’s history from an Aboriginal perspective. Benevolence is told from the perspective of Darug woman, Muraging (Mary James), born around 1813. Mary’s was one of the earliest Darug generations to experience the impact of British colonisation. At an early age Muraging is given over to the Parramatta Native School by her Darug father. From here she embarks on a journey of discovery and a search for a safe place to make her home.

The novel spans the years 1816-35 and is set around the Hawkesbury River area, the home of the Darug people, Parramatta and Sydney. The author interweaves historical events and characters — she shatters stereotypes and puts a human face to this Aboriginal perspective.

 

2. On Red Earth Walking by Anne Scrimgeour

In 1946 Aboriginal people walked off pastoral stations in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, withdrawing their labour from the economically-important wool industry to demand improvements in wages and conditions. Their strike lasted three years. On Red Earth Walking is the first comprehensive account of this significant, unique, and understudied episode of Australian history.

 

3. The Little Red Yellow Black Book published by AIATSIS

Originally published in 1994, The Little Red Yellow Black Book has established itself as the perfect starting point for those who want to learn about the rich cultures and histories of Australia's First Peoples. Written from an Indigenous perspective, this highly illustrated and accessible introduction covers a range of topics from history, culture and the Arts, through to activism and reconciliation.

 

4. Hidden in Plain View by Paul Irish

Contrary to what you may think, local Aboriginal people did not lose their culture and die out within decades of Governor Phillip's arrival in Sydney in 1788.

Aboriginal people are prominent in accounts of early colonial Sydney, yet we seem to skip a century as they disappear from the historical record, re-emerging early in the twentieth century. What happened to Sydney's indigenous people between the devastating impact of white settlement and increased government intervention a century later?

Hidden in Plain View shows that Aboriginal people did not disappear. They may have been ignored in colonial narratives but maintained a strong bond with the coast and its resources and tried to live on their own terms.

 

5. Living in Hope by Frank Byrne

A memoir of boyhood by a man who was removed as a child - from country, from culture and language, from family, from his mother.

Filled with surprises and unlikely fun, this is more than just a story of surviving. From hiding out from the Japanese in spring-fed caves in the deep Kimberley, to being let loose in a paddock just like a poddy calf at Moola Bulla, to cowboy comics at the Beagle Bay mission.

A story of white bosses, of priest bosses, of black stockmen and of staying out of trouble.

With honesty and unexpected graciousness, Frank reminds us of a not-so-distant past and of how things happened for Aboriginal people in the North West.

 

6. Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

In the near future Australia is about to experience colonisation once more. What have we learned from our past? A daring debut novel from the winner of the 2016 black&write! writing fellowship.

The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.

This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This Terra Nullius is something new, but all too familiar. An incredible debut from a striking new Australian Aboriginal voice.

 

7. Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia by Anita Heiss

What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, attempts to showcase as many diverse voices, experiences and stories as possible in order to answer that question. Each account reveals, to some degree, the impacts of invasion and colonisation – on language, on country, on ways of life, and on how people are treated daily in the community, the education system, the workplace and friendship groups.

This groundbreaking anthology aims to enlighten, inspire and educate about the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today.

 

8. The Yield by Tara June Winch

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert 'Poppy' Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather's death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land - a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

 

9. Talking To My Country by Stan Grant

In Talking To My Country, Grant draws on his own life and community to respond to the ongoing racism that he sees around him. He writes with passion and striking candour of the sorrow, shame, anger, and hardship of being an indigenous man. Forthright and unblinking, Stan reaches beyond his own heritage to show how the effects of colonialism and racism are everyday realities that still shape our world, and how we should never grow complacent in the fight to overcome them.

 

10. Talking Sideways by Reg Dodd

Reg Dodd grew up at Finniss Springs, on striking desert country bordering South Australia's Lake Eyre. For the Arabunna and for many other Aboriginal people, Finniss Springs has been a homeland and a refuge. It has also been a cattle station, an Aboriginal mission, a battlefield, a place of learning and a living museum. With his long-time friend and filmmaker Malcolm McKinnon, Dodd reflects on his upbringing in a cross-cultural environment that defied social conventions of the time.

They also write candidly about the tensions surrounding power, authority and Indigenous knowledge that have defined the recent decades of this resource-rich area. Talking Sideways is part history, part memoir and part cultural road-map. 

 

11. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the 'hunter-gatherer' tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession. Accomplished author Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers that suggests that systems of food production and land management have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history, and that a new look at Australia’s past is required.

 

12. The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper 

The Tall Man is the story of Palm Island, the tropical paradise where one morning Cameron Doomadgee swore at a policeman and forty minutes later lay dead in a watch-house cell. It is the story of that policeman, the tall, enigmatic Christopher Hurley who chose to work in some of the toughest and wildest places in Australia, and of the struggle to bring him to trial. Above all, it is a story in luminous detail of two worlds clashing—and a haunting moral puzzle that no reader will forget.

The death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody is also explored in the SBS documentary series of the same name.

 

13. Us Women Our Ways

A collection of writings on women and Aboriginal identity from 14 senior Indigenous academics and community leaders. The collection engages with questions such as: What makes Aboriginal women strong? Why are grandmothers so important (even ones never met)? How is the connection to country different for Aboriginal people compared to non-Aboriginal people's love of nature or sense of belonging to an area? What is Aboriginal spirituality?

These writings are generous, inclusive and considerate of the non-Aboriginal reader's feelings. They are hopeful for the future, with an emphasis on acknowledging, joining with, collaborating and caring.

Edited by Darlene Oxenham, Jeannie Herbert, Jill Milroy and Pat Dudgeon. 

 

14. The Biggest Estate On Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage

For over a decade, Gammage has examined written and visual records of the Australian landscape. He has uncovered an extraordinarily complex system of land management using fire and the life cycles of native plants to ensure plentiful wildlife and plant foods throughout the year. The Biggest Estate on Earth rewrites the history of this continent, with huge implications for us today. Once Aboriginal people were no longer able to tend their country, it became overgrown and vulnerable to the hugely damaging bushfires we now experience. And what we think of as virgin bush in a national park is nothing of the kind.

 

15. Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari

The ngangkari are the traditional healers of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Lands, encompassing 350,000 square kilometres of the remote western desert. For thousands of years the ngangkari have nurtured the physical, emotional and social well-being of their people. To increase understanding and encourage collaboration with mainstream health services and the wider community, the ngangkari have forged a rare partnership with health professionals and practitioners of Western medicine. Experience the world of the ngangkari as they share their wisdom, natural healing techniques and cultural history through life stories, spectacular photography and artwork. 

Produced by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council Aboriginal Corporation.

 

16. Ngarra: the Texta drawings

A mesmerising collection of texta drawings by one of remote Australia's most significant artists. Ngarra was the senior lawman for ceremonies throughout a vast swathe of the Kimberley. Turning to art in 1994, Ngarra developed an electrifying and sophisticated style of painting and drawing, producing works in ochre, acrylic and texta. A brilliant colourist and a great inventor of form, Ngarra boldly combined his unparalleled cultural knowledge with a unique artistic vision.

 

17. Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum

This catalogue provides a stunning visual record of the 149 rare, historic objects from the collection of the British Museum Exhibition alongside more recent artworks and artefacts made in communities of origin. It reveals how these objects are deeply enmeshed in contemporary lives of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people and continue to be embraced in their culture today. 

 

18. True Girt - The Unauthorised History of Australia Volume 2 by David Hunt

In this sequel to his best-selling history, Girt, author David Hunt takes us to the Australian frontier. With plenty of wit and supporting historical documents he explores the founding of new colonies, the growth of agriculture, the gold rushes, trial by jury and the relentless expansion of white settlement. Hunt also describes numerous episodes of conflict between the European colonists and the Aboriginal people. He digs up evidence of shocking colonist attitudes, such as after the killing of about 30 Wirrayaraay people and trial of their murderers The Sydney Morning Herald wrote, “the whole gang of black animals are not worth the money the colonists will have to pay for printing the silly court documents on which we have already wasted too much time’’.

 

Bonus extra! 7 children’s books

As important as it is to educate yourself, it’s equally important to educate your children. Introduce them to the wonders and complexities of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander histories and cultures with the following books.

1. Remembering Lionsville by Bronwyn Bancroft

A unique picture book for the whole family. Renowned artist Bronwyn Bancroft tells her inspiring story of growing up in country New South Wales.

Come with me to my family's old house in Lionsville. It's full of memories. It's a special place. Uncle Pat calls it a secret place. We played in that old tin cubby, swam in the creek with the catfish, and fell asleep to the ribbip of frogs at night. And around the red cedar table we listened to the old people's stories. We learned a lot that way.

 

2. My Place by Sally Morgan

My Place begins with Sally Morgan tracing the experiences of her own life, growing up in suburban Perth in the fifties and sixties. Through the memories and images of her childhood and adolescence, vague hints and echoes begin to emerge, hidden knowledge is uncovered, and a fascinating story unfolds – a mystery of identity, complete with clues and suggested solutions. My Place is a deeply moving account of a search for truth, into which a whole family is gradually drawn; finally freeing the tongues of the author's mother and grandmother, allowing them to tell their own stories.

 

3. The Toast Tree by Corina Martin

Every day, Ella and Mia’s grandpa comes home from work with a treat from the toast tree - a tree that grows the best tasting toast in the world! Ella and Mia start searching high and low for the magical tree in the sand hills surrounding their beach-side town. Written by Corina Martin and beautifully illustrated by Fern Martins, The Toast Tree is about family, and the search for magic through the power of a child’s imagination.

 

4. The Outback by Annaliese Porter

Annaliese Porter was only eight years old when she wrote The Outback. She has captured the Australian outback in all its moods in this moving bush ballad about the country’s vast interior. Illustrated by respected Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft, The Outback depicts recognisable Australian landscapes and animals such as Uluru, dingoes, cockatoos, snakes and goannas.

 

5. Moonglue by Daisy Utemorrah

The tale of two children who are advised by their mother not to lay awake at night and watch the moon. From the late Wunambal Elder, Daisy Utemorrah of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, this is a cautionary tale about what might happen to children when they do not listen to their parents. Beautifully illustrated by Susan Wyatt. 

 

6. How The Birds Got Their Colours by Pamela Lofts and Mary Albert

This book is based on a story told by Mary Albert, of the Bardi people, to Aboriginal children living in Broome, Western Australia. The illustrations are adapted from their paintings of the story. Mary Albert said, "Would you like to hear a story from long ago? My mother used to tell me lots of stories, but this story I loved the best, because I loved the birds."

 

7. The Rainbow by Ros Moriarty

A perfect read-aloud story which revels in the kaleidoscopic colours of the Australian landscape featuring Indigenous art by Balarinji.

The land bakes...RED. The sun sets...ORANGE. The dawn glows...GOLD. The flowers burst...YELLOW. A joyous serenade to colours that show country before a storm, illustrated by Balarinji, Australia's leading Indigenous design studio. Ros Moriarty, author of the acclaimed memoir Listening to Country, is also the founder of Indi Kindi early learning program.

 

Stock levels can vary, but you can purchase many of these titles directly from Koskela. Check out our BOOKS collection to shop.

For more books and research focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, history and cultures we highly encourage you to check out Reconciliation Australia's list of Recommended Reading.

 

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