15 must-read books by Aboriginal Australians

For last year’s NAIDOC Week we put together a collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories, both fiction and non-fiction, that tell Indigenous stories with Indigenous voices.

View the whole list on the library catalogue or click individual titles below, or check them out on your favourite library ebook and eAudiobook app.

Australia Day / Stan Grant 

As uncomfortable as it is, we need to reckon with our history. On January 26, no Australian can really look away. These are the hard questions we ask of ourselves on Australia Day.

Since publishing his critically acclaimed, Walkley Award-winning, bestselling memoir Talking to My Country in early 2016, Stan Grant has been crossing the country, talking to huge crowds everywhere about how racism is at the heart of our history and the Australian dream. But Stan knows this is not where the story ends.

Australia Day by Stan Grant

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia / Anita Heiss [editor] 

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.

Growing up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss
Not just black and white : a conversation between a mother and daughter / Lesley Williams

Not just black and white: a conversation between a mother and daughter / Lesley Williams

Lesley Williams was forced to leave the Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement and her family at a young age to work as a domestic servant. Apart from pocket money, Lesley never saw her wages – they were kept ‘safe’ for her and for countless others just like her.

She was taught not to question her life, until desperation made her start to wonder, where is all that money she earned? And so began a nine-year journey for answers.

Welcome to Country : A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia / Marcia Langton

Welcome to Country : A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia / Marcia Langton

Welcome to Country is a curated guidebook to Indigenous Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. Author Professor Marcia Langton offers fascinating insights into Indigenous languages and customs, history, native title, art and dance, storytelling, and cultural awareness and etiquette for visitors.

Noongar bush medicine : medicinal plants of the South-West of Western Australia / Vivienne Hansen and John Horsfall

For over 50,000 years before colonisation, the Noongar people were much healthier than most Aboriginal Australians are today. Living in the open, in a land largely free from disease, they benefited from a better diet, more exercise, less stress and a supportive community.

In Noongar Bush Medicine, the authors have recorded information on many of the medicinal plants that were regularly used by the Noongar people of the south-west of Western Australia. They hope it will ensure that the traditional knowledge is not lost forever with the passing of elders and traditional healers.

Noongar bush medicine : medicinal plants of the South-West of Western Australia / Vivienne Hansen and John Horsfall

Warren Mundine in Black + White / Warren Mundine

Overcoming segregation, discrimination, personal hardship and political betrayal, Nyunggai Warren Mundine tells it all in black and white. Warren’s raw, intimate success story shines a bright and inspiring light, showing there is no limit to what you can achieve. His curriculum vitae runs into pages of honours, appointments and awards.

So it’s extraordinary to consider that, as an Aboriginal boy in the 1950s, he was a second-class citizen, born into a world of segregation and discrimination that few Australians today are truly aware of.

Warren Mundine in Black + White / Warren Mundine
Dark emu / Bruce Pascoe

Dark emu : Aboriginal Australia and the birth of agriculture / 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. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing: behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag.

Black is the new white / Nakkiah Lui

Black is the new white / Nakkiah Lui

Nakkiah Lui’s newest play, coming off the back of her success as a writer and star in the ABC’s Black Comedy, is a lighthearted family comedy with Aboriginal characters.

The Guardian said: “In this play and its twinkling take on the romcom form, she throws an erratic but big-hearted spotlight on upper-class entitlement and guilt; black identity and pride (and separatism); sexual repression; women’s oppression; the responsibility or consequence of success; and, more broadly, the politics of culture and identity.”

Too much lip / Melissa Lucashenko

Wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she takes a Harley and heads south to Durrongo.

Kerry’s plan is to spend twenty-four hours, tops, over the border. She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people.

Too much lip / Melissa Lucashenko

Catching teller crow / Ambelin Kwaymullina, Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Nothing’s been the same for Beth Teller since she died. Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her – and he’s drowning in grief. But now they have a mystery to solve together.

Who is Isobel Catching, and what’s her connection to the fire that killed a man? What happened to the people who haven’t been seen since the fire? As Beth unravels the mystery, she finds a shocking story lurking beneath the surface of a small town, and a friendship that lasts beyond one life and into another.

Catching teller crow / Ambelin Kwaymullina, Ezekiel Kwaymullina
After the carnage / Tara June Winch

After the carnage / Tara June Winch

A single mother resorts to extreme measures to protect her young son. A Nigerian student undertakes a United Nations internship in the hope of a better future. A recently divorced man starts a running group with members of an online forum for recovering addicts.

Ranging from New York to Istanbul, from Pakistan to Australia, these stories chart the distances in their characters’ lives – whether they have grown apart from the ones they love, been displaced from their homeland, or are struggling to reconcile their dreams with reality.

Barbed wire and cherry blossoms by Anita Heiss

Barbed wire and cherry blossoms / Anita Heiss

5 AUGUST, 1944: Over 1000 Japanese soldiers break out of the No.12 Prisoner of War compound on the fringes of Cowra. In the carnage, hundreds are killed, many are recaptured, and some take their own lives rather than suffer the humiliation of ongoing defeat.

But one soldier, Hiroshi, manages to escape. At nearby Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission, Banjo Williams, father of five and proud man of his community, discovers Hiroshi, distraught and on the run.

Taboo / Kim Scott

Taboo takes place in the present day, in the rural South-West of Western Australia, and tells the story of a group of Noongar people who revisit, for the first time in many decades, a taboo place: the site of a massacre that followed the assassination, by these Noongar’s ancestors, of a white man who had stolen a black woman.

They come at the invitation of Dan Horton, the elderly owner of the farm on which the massacres unfolded. He hopes that by hosting the group, he will satisfy his wife’s dying wishes and cleanse some moral stain from the ground on which he and his family have lived for generations. But the sins of the past will not be so easily expunged.

Taboo by Kim Scott

Terra nullius / Claire G. Coleman

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.This is an incredible debut from a striking new Australian Aboriginal voice.

Terra nullius / Claire G. Coleman
Becoming Kirrali Lewis / Jane Harrison

Becoming Kirrali Lewis / Jane Harrison

Adopted at birth by a white family, Kirrali doesn’t question her cultural roots until a series of life-changing events force her to face up to her true identify.

Her decision to search for her biological parents sparks off a political awakening that no-one sees coming, least of all Kirrali herself as she discovers her mother is white and her father is a radical black activist.

This list was originally compiled by Leah for the post NAIDOC Week 2019: Fifteen must-read books by Aboriginal Australians