Australian Children's Non-Fiction

March 2014 update

This is a list of suggestions for nonfiction titles about Australia for elementary and secondary school. Books on Australian Animals and Australian Indigenous Peoples have not been included because we have compiled separate lists on these subjects. See the website   Please take the age suggestions as a rough guide.

All prices are in Australian dollars and include 10% GST tax. However this GST does not apply to exports from Australia.

Titles newly included are marked with •

If you would like to order any of the books on the list, send the orders to Austral Ed by email to   Payment can be made by direct bank transfer or bank cheques in Australian dollars or by Credit card especially for private purchases.   Freight is sent by the most economical method within Australia or overseas, depending on urgency.

Recommended by Kate Shepherd and Mandy Clarke


Australian Backyard Explorer by Peter Macinnis pb 9780642276841 $29.95
This is a fascinating book with a very different and detailed look at explorers in Australia. Filled with interesting anecdotes and varied questions such as how did explorers calculate the height of mountains? In the section on Journals and Notebooks, there are different entries made on the same day by James Cook and Joseph Banks showing a different perspective on their journey. Filled with illustrations and paintings of the period and also many photos and journal extracts, there are also many interesting activities and projects that students can undertake in their own backyard. Activities such as how to find water, collect plants, or make a shelter. There are sections on measuring distance, mapping and navigating by the stars as well as the difficulty of finding water and of making it fit to drink and coping with disasters. (10 years up)  KS


 • Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline   by Tania McCartney pb  9780642277459  $19.99

This is an extended timeline with many photographs and illustrations of showing Australia’s history from millions of years ago to the present day.  There is very little detail in the text but it does provide images of plants and animals, people, events and achievements and so would be a helpful addition to the Library.  (8 – 11 years)  KS


• Australians All:  A History of Growing Up From the Ice Age to the Apology  by Nadia Wheatley &  Ken Searle (illus) hardback 9781741146370  $49.99

This is a history of Australia from two main perspectives: from the perspective of the original Indigenous inhabitants and also of the many people who have come and settled this country.  The emphasis is on the history of young people for she also tells the stories of about eighty young Australian boys and girls from all walks of life who lived through this period.   Since the stories are about children they unfortunately finish when the children are about eleven to fourteen years old.  However there are additional informative notes about what happened to these children when they grew older at the end of the book.  Nadia was determined to provide a strong, simple chronological structure to the book.  This structure is reinforced through informative time lists at the end of each chapter.  These provide a summary of the main events of each period covered.  The book is beautifully illustrated with large and small paintings by Ken Searle.  It contains a Bibliography, an Index and a Glossary and is a most informative large hardback book of 280 pages.  (11 years up) KS

•  The Big Book of Australian History by Peter Macinnis hardback 9780642278326  $39.95

This is a more traditional history endeavouring to describe events from the earliest times of geological formation, through the life of Indigenous Peoples, exploration and early settlement.  Contents include Federation, the ANZACS, the Great Depression, Defending Australia, Disasters, Sport, Controversial Issues and Multiculturalism and Science, Culture and Entertainment.  It is a mammoth task and the book forms a very helpful introduction and basic reference.  However what makes this book so different and interesting is its very extensive use of paintings, illustrations, posters and photos from the various periods.  It has been published by the National Library of Australia and they obviously had access to an extraordinary range of illustrative materials which add greatly to its interest.  It will be a very welcome addition to the elementary and secondary library.  (10 – 15 years)  KS

Black Snake: The Daring of Ned Kelly by Carole Wilkinson pb 9781876372934 $18.99
Ned Kelly was a bushranger in Australia in the 1870s. He robbed banks, stole horses and cattle but is regarded by many as a folk hero a bit like Robyn Hood. To others he was a murderer who deserved his sentence of death by hanging for his crimes. Here Ned Kelly's life is described factually but is interspersed by short fictional personal accounts by various people who knew Ned Kelly or who were there at the scene of his crimes. (8 - 12 years)  KS

• Colonial People series by Carmel Reilly hardback $31.99 net each

Convict Labourers 9781420293623

Domestic Servants 9781420293630

Gold Diggers 9781420293647

Squatters 9781420293654

This series explores every day life from the point of view of various workers in Colonial Australia.   The text includes from a range of primary and secondary sources as well as short first person fictional narratives.  Many illustrations and photographs and paintings of the period are included as well as an index.   Upper Primary level. KS

Crash! The Search for the Stinson  by J Beck, D Blacklock and K Allan pb 9781862913783 $19.99
An absorbing account of a very famous air crash in 1937. A yong bushman found the wreckage after making his way thorugh almost impenetrable mountain bushland. How the survivors were brought down from the mountains makes fascinating reading. The story is presented in detail, chronoligcally, with many quotations from the rescuer and survivors, as well as colour and black and white photos, illustrations and newspaper extracts. An extraordinary story of courage and physical endurance which will appeal especially to those boys who prefer to read true accounts. (9 - 14 years)   KS

Gogo Fish! The Story of the Western Australian State Fossil Emblem  by John Long      pb $9.95

The fascinating story of how palaeontologist, John Long discovered a new type of fossil fish while studying Gogo fish fossils in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.  This fish later became the State emblem of Western Australia when a primary school class put forward a proposal that it would make a good emblem.  There is discussion of why we study fossils and excellent support material is included through illustrations, photographs, maps, glossary and index.    (8 - 11 years)   KS

* Gold Rushes series by Ann Parry pb $17.99 net each 
The Discovery of Gold 97814202297805
Everyday Life on the Goldfields 97814202297829
Gold Rush Journeys 97814202297799
Riots, Robberies and Rebellions 97814202297812 
This series presents four different perspectives on the people and places of the Australian gold rush era. (upper primary)  KS

Lost! A True Tale from the Bush  by Stephanie Owen Reeder hardbaack 9780642276865  $29.95

In 1864 three young children, Isaac 9 years old, Jane 7 and Frank nearly 4, got lost in the Australian bush and in trying to find their way home, they walked 100 kilometres and spent 9 long days and 8 very cold nights in the open.  Being lost in the bush is a particular Australian nightmare and this retelling gives a very believable description of the lost children and of the anxiety of the parents.  A search party was sent out immediately but was unable to track the children till some skilled Aboriginal trackers found the children close to death.  The story if retold well but the book is made so much more interesting by additional information about the daily life of the 1860s.  Beautiful watercolour paintings of the period by William Strutt and also many other illustrations and paintings document the book making it a fascinating and innovative way to tell this story.  (8 – 12 years)    KS

Also Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea hardback  9780642277435  $29.95

Grace Darling was just sixteen years old when the steamship Georgette was beached near her home in South West of Western Australia.  She put her life in danger when she and rode their horses into the surf to save as many of the passengers as they could.   Reeder’s imaginative retelling of this famous story is especially interesting because of her copious use of documents such as newspaper articles, personal letters, official reports and illustrations from the 18700s.   It gives a vivid account of life in country Western Australia and of the hazards of ship travel at that time.  She also points out how the various accounts of these historical events vary and how recollections and eyewitness accounts of historical events can change over time.   (8 – 14 years)  KS

• Meet Captain Cook by Rae Murdie & Chris Nixon (illus) hardback 9780857980175  $19.95  pb 9780857980182  $16.99 

This is a simple introduction in picture book format to the story of how Captain Cook discovered the east coast of Australia.  It contains brief details about Cook’s early life and how he was chosen to captain a ship to travel to Tahiti so that he could chart the transit of Venus across the sun and then to sail south in search of new lands.  Cook did find land and called it New South Wales.   There are descriptions of the new plants and animals discovered by Joseph Banks and of the calamitous near sinking of the ship on the Great Barrier Reef.   Striking illustrations show the ship and mountainous seas and also sea creatures.  At the end of the book, there is a detailed timeline of Cook’s life and all of his voyages and also a map of his voyage to Australia on the end pages.  (7 – 9 years) KS

Other titles in this series telling the true stories about men and women who have played an important part in the shaping of Australia’s history are:

• Meet Ned Kelly by Matt Adams & Janeen Brian (illus) hardback 9781742757186  $19.95  pb 9781742757193  $16.99

• Meet Mary MacKillop by Sonia Martinez & Sally Murphy (illus) hardback 9781742757216  $19.95  pb 9781742757223  $16.99

John Nicholson
The following titles are by John Nicholson. He has won a number of the Australian Children's Book of the year Awards for nonfiction and all his books are very highly regarded for their accessibility, excellent illustrations and informative text which is always interesting and inviting. He writes the text and also illustrates the book.

Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge pb 9781865082585 $15.95
Fascinating story of how the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built. Wonderfully detailed illustrations. (10 - 15 years)
Songlines and Stone Axes: Pre 1788 hardback 9781741750027 $29.95 This describes the amazing network of trade and ceremonial exchange between Aboriginal peoples that existed long before European came to Australia. Items of particular value that were carried sometimes over thousand of kilometres and exchanged were pearl shell from the Kimberley in WA, greenstone axeheads, belts made of human hair, outriggers for canoes, songs and dances, ochre, feathers and cloaks made of possum skin. The illustrations are beautifully detailed and extremely informative. (11 – 15 years)   KS 
Other titles in this series are:
Cedar, Seals and Whaling Ships 1788 – 1830s hardback 9781741750034 $29.95 
Wool, Wagons and Clipper Ships 1830s – 1880s hardback 9781741751987 $29.95
Steam, Steel and Speed 1850s – 1920 hardback 9781741750461 $29.95 
100 Years of Petrol Power 1900 – 2000 hardback 9781741750478 $29.95  (all 11 - 15 years)

One Small Island: The Story of Macquarie Island  by Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch hardback  9780670072361 $29.95

A beautiful book with a strong environmental message.  Through text and detailed illustrations, Coral Tulloch and Alison Lester have produced an excellent chronological record of this island in the Southern Ocean between Antarctica and New Zealand.  It begins with the geological history of the island and then describes the arrival of sealers who plundered the fur seals and later the elephant seals and penguins for their oil.  They also introduced pests such as mice, rats, wekas, feral cats and rabbits all of which had a devastating effect on the plant and bird life of the island.  The story is told simply through a text which runs across the bottom of most pages; above this there are detailed diagrams or extracts from sealers’ and sailors’ diaries, charts, maps and drawings of the plant and bird life on the island, giving a wealth of information.  Since the sealers left, there has been a sustained effort to rid the island of its introduced pests and to try to allow the island to return to a state closer to the way it was originally.  However the eradication of the cats caused the mice, rats and rabbits to multiply rapidly, further ravaging the vegetation.  Macquarie Island was given World Heritage listing in 1997.  A Glossary and a timeline are included.    (8 – 15 years).   KS

* Our Democracy series by Nicolas Brasch hardback $27.00 net each (2011) 
Australia’s Democratic History 9781420281330
Australia’s Electoral Process 9781420281347
Australia’s Federal Government 9781420281309
Australia’s Local Government 9781420281323
Australia’s Prime Ministers 9781420281354
Australia’s State and Territory Governments 9781420281316
A helpful series for information on the democratic system of government in Australia. Gives an overview of the history of the various governments and political parties. Each book includes contemporary and historical photos, tables, maps timelines and brief biographies of important peoples. Glossary and Index also included. (10 – 14 years)  KS

Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia by Danielle Clode pb 9780980381320 $24.95
Published by the Museum of Victoria this is a guide to the Australian megafauna of the Pleistocene – when humans shared the land with giant creatures. Gives details of many of the fossil discoveries.and then lists the various megafauna such as giant goannas, giant wombats and koalas and many others. As well as maps showing the fossil finds and possible distribution and photographs of fossil bones, there are beautiful paintings of these animals showing how they may have looked and lived. (11 years up)  KS

• Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Dead Heart by Narelle Oliver   pb 9781922077288   $16.95

This picture book, originally published in 1999 has recently been reprinted.  The illustrations are striking linocuts in ochre colours and the texture gives the impression of the grainy sands and pebbles of the inland red desert of Australia.  Narelle Oliver uses short extracts from the diaries of a very well known Australian explorer, Charles Sturt, in order to contrast his impression of this Dead Centre with the wealth of life actually in the desert.  On his voyage north, instead of the inland sea he was hoping for Sturt found an endless waste of sand dunes and burning rocks.  At the bottom of each page Oliver sketches scenes from his despairing trip and contrasts these with the bold ochre coloured linocuts of desert scenes.  Oliver shows the wealth of life, of small creatures that shelter under the sand or rocks and come out at night to feed and hunt.   A beautifully simply written text complements the innovative illustrations.  She also explains that some Aboriginal groups living in the desert have known about this life in the desert for thousands of years and they survive by eating the plants and animals of the desert.  (8 – 13 years) Australian. KS

• * Stories from Australia’s History series by Melanie Guile 
These stories have proved to be very popular. The stories offer background and context to significant events ad explain their significance to Australia’s development as a nation. They include profiles, letters, quotes and newspaper extracts as well as graphic-style re-enactments which bring the stories to life.  KS

Set 1   hardback $27.00 net each
The ANZACS and the Battle for Gallipoli 9781420269086
Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet 9781420269048
Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic Expedition 9781420269055
Peter Lalor and the Eureka Stockade 9781420269062
Vida Goldstein’s Fight for Women’s Rights 9781420269079 
Vincent Lingiara and the Wave Hill Walkout 9781420269093

Set 2   hardback $27.00 net each
Burke and Wills Expedition to Cross Australia 9781420281132 
Charles Perkins and the Freedom Ridge 9781420281095
C Y O’Connor and the Goldfields Pipeline 9781420281118
Fanny Durack’s Olympic Quest 9781420281101
Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang 9781420281149
Weary Dunlop and the Burma Railway 9781420281125

Set 3  hardback $28.99 net each
Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson’s Crossing of the Blue Mountains
Captain Bligh and the Rum Rebellion 9781420293524
Captain Cook’s Voyage in the Endeavour 9781420293500
Eyre’s Expedition across the Nullabor 9781420293531
Mary MacKillop’s Path to Sainthood 9781420293494
The Story of Federation 9781420293517                                            (middle – to upper primary)       

Topsy-Turvy World:  How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers  by Kirsty Murray hardback 9780642277497  $29.95 .  When the early explorers drew these strange Australian animals they were unable to draw them accurately, instead they were drawn reflecting the animals that were already known to them from their familiar European world. Consequently the kangaroos look more like large rats and the koala looks a bit like a monkey. Murray describes the encounters of the first explorers with some 15 animals. As well as the very early illustrations of these animals she also includes diary entries, descriptions of the circumstances in which the animals were seen and the reactions of the explorers to the animals and also to the way the animals tasted when cooked!  For each animal there is a beautifully and accurately drawn illustration by a later artist. Also included is a page of factual information about each animal, its habitat and distribution. There is also a detailed list of all the illustrations and artists as well as a list and description of the early explorers and a glossary and an index.  (9 – 15 years)  KS

Upside Down World Maps in envelope   9781865001081    $14.95       Laminated $29.95
Drawn from the perspective of those living in the southern hemisphere, the Upside Down World Map is centred round the Pacific Ocean and of course Australia. It promotes some interesting dsicussion about cartography and give students a different geographical perspective.  KS

Tom the Outback Mailman by Kristin Weidenbach & Timothy Ide (ill.)  hardback 9780734412249  $28.99  

This is the story in picture book format of Tom Kruse who was the mailman on the Birdsville Track for twenty years, from 1936 - 1963. The Birdsville Track is a very challenging track running for 500 kilometres from Maree in the north of South Australia to Birdsville just over the border in Queensland.  For those twenty years, Tom Kruse delivered not just the mail but also food, medicine, petrol, friendship and even beer to many people living very isolated lives along the track.  And he did so over sand dunes and rough stony deserts and through all sorts of weather, whether it was the normal severe heat or floods. (5 – 10 years)  KS