Read These Books & Watch These Movies Before You Travel To Australia



The country-continent Australia may only have a population of 23 million (compared to the U.S.’s 318 million), but it is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Films and books are an ideal way to begin to understand the history and society of this grog guzzling, coffee-obsessed, friendly country, even before you embark on your trip. This is absolutely not an exhaustive list, but I chose some of the most informative and entertaining for me. I’ve put an * on my favorites.


*Tracks A 2013 film starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir Tracks. The film follows the story of a young woman who treks solo through the Australian outback in 1977, where she confronts physical as well as emotional challenges. This film is not only one of the  most aesthetically beautiful works of art, but gives the viewer an understanding of the dangers, distance and isolation of the outback. Robyn has to handle sexism, a changing tourism industry and the wisdom of local indigenous people she comes across.

Red Dog A friend at the mine told me, “Everything you need to know about the Pilbara, you can learn by watching Red Dog.” While I do think this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, this 2011 film will inform you about the 20th century European immigration,  the mining industry and the inhospitable region of Western Australia, all while making you laugh and cry.

Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures This 2001-2 mockumentary series starring Glenn Robbins was also recommended to me while working at the mine. The hilarious take on the travel genre gives viewers insight into the outback and Australian slang and humor.

The Castle This 1997 comedy focuses on one family who is faced with the threat of being kicked off their property. Viewers get an understanding of some of the most quintessential Australian values, including supporting the underdog. In 2010, 37% of Aussies chose this movie as representative of them.

Muriel’s Wedding Toni Collette’s first major role is of Muriel, an underappreciated girl in society and in her family. Muriel takes a journey from her home in Queensland to Sydney where she starts a new life and seeks to find the love her life. This movies gives a fictitious look at Queensland in the 90s.

*Prison Songs One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen (no expert here, but it’s amazing), it’s not just a documentary but a musical documentary. The filmmakers capture the lives of the prisoners of Berrimah Prison in Northern Territory, mixing sad histories with comedic interpretations of their present circumstances. It takes viewers into the complications of being indigenous, highlighting domestic violence, identity, alcoholism and tradition.

*Stingray Sisters Stingray Sisters is a (very) recently released documentary series that follows three half-indigenous, half-white Australian sisters in the indigenous community of Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. The sisters showcase the confusions of having multiple identities and the grassroots struggle of modern day aboriginal land rights. Buy the series on their website. Trailer below.

Chasing Asylum Is a startling 2016 documentary that examines the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. They are detained indefinitely on Australia’s offshore detention centers on Christmas, Nauru and Manus Islands. This is a film that anyone with interest in current migration issues needs to see.


In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson Bill Bryson shares his tales of traveling through Australia, giving insight into social issues, history and travel. This book is a great way to get overview of the Australian character

*Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over, by Geraldine Brooks A lovely memoir of Brooks’s journey from being a child in a working class neighborhood in Sydney and dreaming of exotic locations, to her adulthood as a foreign correspondent and reconnecting with her childhood pen pals. Brooks teaches her readers about working class Australian life and gives a first-person look at Australia’s changing cultural scene with the influx of European immigrants in the last half of the 20th century.

*Different White People: Radical Activism for Aboriginal Rights 1946-1972, by Deborah Wilson An adaptation of Wilson’s doctoral thesis, this dense (yet fascinatingly informative) recount of the aboriginal rights movement and its relationship to the communist party of Australia. This book teaches about Australian history, politics and aboriginal land rights through a rarely examined lens.

*Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton One of Winton’s most famous novels, Cloudstreet tells the story of two families during the span of 2o years, 1943-1963. These families, coming from rural and working class backgrounds, live through the end of the war and the transformation of post-war society in Perth. This novel teaches readers of fundamental Australian themes and Australian vernacular English while Winton writes in profoundly lyrical language. (Note from a non-literary critic: I love this book in part because it reminds of Latin American magical realism.)

*The Crocodile Hotel, by Julie Janson Anyone traveling or living in the Northern Territory or other primarily indigenous populated areas would be interested to understand the identity, marginalization and history of indigenous communities in colonized Australia discussed in this novel. The main character, a half-indigenous single mother, who by her appearance passes as a white Australian, leaves Sydney in the 1970s and accepts a teaching position in a remote aboriginal community hours from Katherine. There, she encounters disgusting racism and sexism, becomes involved in the land rights movement and faces intense personal struggles. This beautifully written novel gives so much inspiration to work to combat the issues we still encounter today.

Praise, by Andrew McGahan Reading Praise feels a bit like reading The Catcher in the Rye or even On the Road. Not much happens. There’s a lot of doing nothing. Of contemplating. Of taking drugs and feeling worthless. But that’s just the point. The book explains that the 1990s in Australia was “A time when the dole was easier to get than a job, when heroin was better known than ecstasy, and when ambition was the dirtiest of words. A time when, for two hopeless souls, sex and dependence were the only lifelines.” What I liked about reading this book was that even though it was written in the 1990s, I saw so many parallels between the attitude of the characters and some millennial Australians I met. It was like they were a misinterpreted version of relaxed Australian attitudes, that instead of being ‘chill’ formed into utterly lazy people.

Great Australian Ghost Stories, by Richard Davis This suggestion is coming from the unabashed ghost tour participant. These short stories are sometimes scary, sometimes boring but most of all historically interesting, giving readers a glimpse into Australian culture and colonial rhetoric. Especially interesting for those residing in Victoria and New South Wales, as many of the scary stories come from those states.

As seen on my road trip from Brisbane to Cairns.

Are you Australian or lived in Australia? What books and films would you recommend to visitors? 

Featured photo: a tree with fabric hanging out of it, taken along the Red Center Way near King’s Canyon.

Want to learn more about Australia? Check out these resources for visiting or living in Melbourne:
where to learn something new,
websites to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening around the city, and
how to find feminist events.


Character Tuesday: Barrow Creek Pub Barman


I walked up to Barrow Creek Pub stuffing Tim Tams in my mouth. I saw a balding, middle-aged man in a casual T-shirt in front of me. I licked the melting chocolate off the finger of my right hand and held out the sleeve of biscuits in the other. “Do you want a Tim Tam?” I asked him. “No, thank you,” he said as he went inside the door.

On my way in, I said hello to two people in denim outfits sitting at the table outside, drinking cans of beer. There were dim neon lights bringing a subtle glow to the woman’s face, framed by a short box-cut hairdo. I noticed she was stocky and serious, her greeting was warm.  As I followed him in to find my friends, I saw him grab a can a beer. No Tim Tams necessary here. 

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Inside Barrow Creek Roadhouse

It was by accident that my travel mates and I made our way there. We needed gas and considering the isolation and uncertainty of the outback, considered it a safe bet to top up before the 88km it would take to reach Ti Tree. We joked that this was the time we were going to be brutally murdered in the outback, stopping at dusk in a town that was only as a big as its telegraph station. But as soon as I walked through the door of the roadhouse and scanned my eyes around the room, I realized that we were not going to get murdered here but instead be one of the thousands and thousands of tourists who are lucky to meet Michael. The man who refused my Tim Tams. (I guess if you’re Australian they’re not such a novelty…)

While I was out stuffing my face, he had already started to impress the German boys I was traveling with. Name dropping important German figures and spitting off soccer statistics and beating their knowledge of German history, my mates stood smiling, almost incredulous. He pointed to German paraphernalia and took out souvenirs that – after over 40 years of tourists gifting things the pub – had amassed into shelves and drawers of excess. He walked us over to the back of the pub, where above the doorway he hung a license plate from West Berlin.

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He finished talking to the Germans and asked where I was from. “How well do you know your presidents?” he followed up. I mentally covered my face in my hands because I knew this was going to be another time when I was shown up on my own country’s history by someone who’s never even visited. He spoke passionately and quickly about conspiracy theories involving JFK and Lincoln, the Freemasons and who’s really going to be on the face of the U.S. bank notes.

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It only took me five minutes of sauntering around the pub to judge him as the man who appears to hold endless knowledge. The man who is friends with everyone but sits alone behind you at trivia and answers questions like, “What was the second name of the platypus’s third cousin in the children’s book written in Boise, Idaho in 1957 but later remade into a one-hit wonder in 1988 and referenced in the most recent Tarentino movie?”

He stood behind the counter, taking coins and notes from different countries, quizzing me on what I knew about all 50 states. He was the only moving figure around a seeming trash dump of still memories – snakes in jars above the mantle, two panties from Nigerian women hanging off the wall, worn-down passport photos of tourists who probably look nothing like they once did when they passed through these doors.

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He works behind the same counter, day after day, year after year. He’s seen thousands of tourists. Yet still, he was full of energy, excitement and pride. He struck me as the person who doesn’t talk all the time, but when prompted, can give a spontaneous 20 minute monologue. Working behind that counter, his life is surrounded by cowboys, skippies (kangaroos) and cattle stations. He may stay in the physical confines of Barrow Creek, but he has the awareness of the entire world reverberating all around him.

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Read more about the Barrow Creek Pub and its history here.

Featured photo: The Barrow Creek Roadhouse view from the bathroom. Two locals listen to music and drink beer at the end of the day. 

This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Photo Friday: Naughty Signs Of The Outback

Based on the attitudes and sass of the people I met on the outback, there should be more signs than just four. But given the remoteness of the roadhouses, gas stations and towns, four is a good number.

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Taken in Byron Bay.

This isn’t technically the outback, it’s Byron Bay. Regardless, it’s fitting because what sort of Beach Apartments advertise their vacancies via a threatening sign? You may recognize the picture from this post about the mine camp.

Taken at Barrow Creek, Northern Territory.

If you’re naughty, they stick you in the cage. It’s like adult time out for public humiliation. You also may recognize this from this post about mine camps, where it was equally fitting.

Photo Taken in Camooweal, Queensland.

Just like people all over Europe  and even in Southeast Asia love to draw penises everywhere, this sign taken just over the Queensland/Northern Territory border showed me that rural people of Australia also enjoy the sport. Instead of this sign communicating that here you are allowed to walk your dog, it also gives people permission to have boners while they’re doing it. Thanks!

Taken at Mt. Surprise, Queensland.

Because every other form of making a burger now is messed up, as this sign insinuates. “Stuffed them up” means f*cked them up. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to” can be said by any middle aged person about almost anything, so I am hesitant to ever believe its veracity.