During my first few years of teaching the majority of my days were spent studying Australian History alongside Year 9 students. At the time I was teaching in a secondary school where the students represented over 90 nationalities. Their attitudes towards Australia varied depending on personal experiences.
I had always been interested in Australian history, but during this time I developed a strong passion for helping students understand the history of our unique and wonderful country. In our discussions together I acknowledged the fact that not all elements of our history had been wonderful. However with honesty, recognition and discussion I believe the ugly parts of our history have and can help us become a better nation. I believe having a rounded knowledge of our history helps us to be grateful and proactive citizens.
I first started compiling this list a little under a year ago when a reader contacting me asking for suggestions on history books to read to toddlers. I am excited to share this amazing list with you just in time for Australia Day. It is full of wonderful resources covering a wide range of topics. Many of the books below are picture books or historical fiction books based on true events, while others are non-fiction books. Each has been written for children and provides them with the opportunity to explore and discuss periods of time, events, historical figures and government policies.
I have also included some poems and songs which I think give us a great insight into Australian history through their language and themes. Because of their rhyme and rhythm they are great for reading aloud to babies too.
It’s never too early to introduce history to your children and I’m sure you’ll find something here to interest them.
You might be interested in browsing some of our other Aussie Book Lists.
Authors: Anh and Suzanne Do
Illustrator: Bruce Whatley
Format : Hardback
Publisher : Allen & Unwin, September 2011
This is a feel-good story which tackles the serious and topical issue of refugees. Told through the eyes of a child, and in a light-hearted and friendly tone, The Little Refugee is a great way to help children understand the reality of refugees and their plight.
In the early pages, Anh describes life in Vietnam and the impact that ‘losing’ the war had on his family’s safety. He describes the journey to Australia and the hardships he and his family continued to face once they arrived.
At times it is a frightening story with mentions of giant waves, hunger, thirst and pirates. But mostly it is an inspirational story full of hope and happiness. Bruce Whatley has also captured the cheeky personality of Anh so well.
Anh and Suzanne are donating 100 per cent of profits to Loreto Vietnam-Australia Program.
Suitable for ages 4+ (★★★★★)
Author/Illustrator: Peter Carnavas
Publisher: New Frontier Publishing, May 2011
RRP: $24.95 (aud)
This is a story of five children. Each of them has a special role to play as they cross the playground to deliver a cake from Mum to Grandma. Their story is inspired by the story of Burke and Wills, the first Europeans to cross Australia from south to north.
Peter Carnavas has successfully made this historic account accessible to very young readers in an innovative and entertaining way. It is a wonderful introduction to Australia’s early exploration history.
Suitable for ages 2+. (★★★★★). Read our full review here
By Susan Hall and Ben Guy
Publisher: National Library of Australia, May 2011
This slipcase includes four stories, each narrated by a different Australian Animal who finds itself in danger. Set in the early settlement period of Australia the stories show what little understanding early settlers (called Uprights by the animals) had of native Australian animals. Each story shows how the Europeans came to learn about these native animals. Included at the back of each book is a description of the animal and original interpretations of the animals drawn by the early settlers.
Suitable for ages 4+. (★★★★)
The books are also available individually for $14.95
The Tale of Kaz Kangaroo (The Uprights initially think of a kangaroo as a dog or a deer. They learn that kangaroos can hop with their young in its pouch)
The Tale of Kyla Koala (The Uprights initially mistake the koala for a bear. They learn that Koalas consume gum leaves, not milk.)
The Tale of Wil Wombat (The Uprights learn that wombats, even young ones, have long claws that make them expert diggers.)
The Tale of Peek Platypus (Initially confusing the platypus with a duck or a mole, the Uprights learn that a platypus needs water to breathe.)
By John Marsden and Shaun Tan
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books (Hachette), September 2010
This is the book that introduced me to Shaun Tan, and it remains one of my favourite picture books not only because of its powerful message but because of its thoughtful and clever approach to the topic of European arrival.
John Marsden has cleverly uses the story of rabbits (considered a damaging pest in Australia) as a metaphor for European arrival to Australia. The metaphor allows parents to read the story to younger children, whereas older children can start to make comparisons with actual historic events.
This poignant account highlights the differences in language, culture, lifestyle and food of the Indigenous people and the new settlers. More importantly, it shows the clashes that arose as a result of differing values, respect and use of the land and the effects of such dramatic changes.
Suitable for ages 6+. (★★★★★)
Author and Illustrator: Glenda Kane and Lisa Allen
Publisher: Penguin, March 2010
Publisher’s description: A poignant look at war through the eyes of a former member of the 18th Battalion. Told in rhyme it takes place on Anzac Day when an old man and a young boy meet – the young boy wide-eyed and wanting to hear the glories of war and death; the old man quietly sad to remember the reality of what was faced. Suitable for ages 6+
Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins
Publisher: Walker Books Australia, July 2009
Publisher’s description: Discover, or rediscover, a ‘time machine’ which takes the reader back into the past. It depicts the history of one particular piece of land in Sydney from 1788 to 1988 through the stories of the various children who have lived there.
This anniversary edition includes a new timeline tracing the history of the characters in the book as well as the history of Australia, and is right up to date with reference to Australia’s apology to Indigenous Australians. Suitable for ages 7+
Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac
Publisher: Walker Books Australia, March 2008
Set during World War I, Simpson and his Donkey is a child friendly story about the difficult topic of war and the heroes that arise from it.
Suitable for ages 5+. (★★★★) Read our full review here.
By Catriona Hoy
Publisher: Hachette Australia, February 2008
This is a simple and emotive story that shows how war service can bring generations together.
It is a story of a young girl who participates in formal Anzac Day events with her father and grandfather. Readers walk away from the book with a strong need to remember and pass on the stories of our national servicemen and women.
My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day includes a detailed foreword about Anzac day and the ode.
Suitable for ages 4+. (★★★★)
By Corinne Fenton and Peter Gouldthorpe
Publisher: Black Dog Books (Walker Books), July 2008
Publisher’s description: The Dog on the Tuckerbox is the story of Lady and her master Bill. It is the story of Australia’s pioneers; the bullockies who worked the rough tracks, and of one dog’s unwavering loyalty to her master. Suitable for ages 2+
Author: Leonie Norrington
Illustrator: Dee Huxley
Publisher: Working Title Press, June 2007
Publisher’s description: At the edge of a northern Australian city, where river and mangroves reach the sea, two young boys join Uncle Tobias for a day of fishing and hunting. This story create a world in which the old and new cultures exist comfortably together and children move easily between them.
Read a full review at The Book Chook
By Jan Ormerod
ISBN : 978-1921272462
Format : Paperback and CD
Publisher : Little Hare (Hardie Grant Egmont), 2004
A lovely story that highlights that children (regardless of era or living conditions) share innocent and beautiful qualities, particularly one of imagination.
Set in the early 1900s, Lizzie’s story is one of living in the isolated outback with snakes, bland food and a father who has long period of absences away from home. The one thing that stops Lizzie and her mum from going crazy when her father is away is the use of their wild imaginations.
It is really beautiful to see the family reunited upon the father’s return. Much of Lizzie’s playing and pretending is based on what she hears her father say to her mum. She obviously idolises him and loves the stories he shares.
Suitable for ages 3+. (★★★★)
By Trina Saffioti and Norma McDonald
Publisher: Magabala Books
Publisher’s Description: Stolen Girl is a fictionalised account of the now universally known story of the Stolen Generation and tells of an Aboriginal girl taken from her family by the government and sent to a children’s home.
Each night she sings, and dreams of her mother and the life they once shared — of sitting on the veranda of their corrugated-iron home, cooking damper and hunting goanna.But each morning she is woken by the bell to the harsh reality of the children’s home, until finally one day she puts into action her carefully crafted plan — unlocking the door and taking her first step back toward home. Suitable for ages 5+
Read a review on Kids Book Review
Publisher: Little Hare Books (Hardie Grant Egmont)
Publisher’s description: The Australian outback of 1930 is Audrey’s backyard. Audrey is a girl with a lot on her mind. Her dad has gone away to work, her brother Price thinks he’s too old for games, and little Dougie likes pretending to be a bird. Suitable for ages 6+
By Tracey Hawkins and Jacqui Grantford
Publisher: New Frontier Pty Ltd, 2011
This is the story of Australia’s first female sailor. I was initially unsure whether this book would maintain my two year old daughter’s interest, but she was hooked from the first page when the story read like a picture book with Nancy Bentley ‘twirling and whirling’. This picture book is based on a true story. A brief biography, photo and copy of Nancy’s certificate of service are included at the back of the book.
After being bitten by a snake and falling gravely ill, the Captain of the HMAS Sydney is forced to enlist six year old Nancy into the Navy allowing her to board the ship and seek medical attention from the ship’s doctor, as females were not allowed onto a Navy ship in 1920.She received a Good Conduct Medal and was treated to a sailor’s uniform, chocolates and trip to the theatre in Hobart.
My two year old was certainly fascinated by this story. Sometimes it’s the little stories about the everyday people that can get us hooked on Australian history.
Suitable for ages 3+. (★★★★★)
By Stephanie Owen Reeder
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2011
This is the story of a group of young Australians including a 16 year old Grace Bussell, who help to save the lives of the passengers and crew of the Georgette which beached itself on the coast on Western Australia.
The book is presented in an interesting format: Broken into chapters, it chronicles the events that took place. Interspersed between the chapters are sub-chapters of information about Australia in the late 1800s including: pioneering, shipwrecks and rescues and Christmas in the Colonies.
Quirky, interesting and informative snippets of primary resources and illustrations clipped from newspapers, personal letters and the National Library of Australia are also found throughout the book.
This is a wonderful book suited to children that enjoy reading non-fiction books and piecing together historical information.
Suitable for ages 10+ (★★★★)
Illustrator: Pat Reynolds
Publisher: New Frontier Publishing, November 2011
Suitable for ages 9+
Publisher’s description: Fred grew up in rural New Zealand. As a kid he wanted to change things. He qualified as an eye doctor and moved to Australia. Fred gave ‘vision’ to more than a million people. He worked in remote and Aboriginal communities providing much needed aid, often for free. Suitable for ages 9+
Author: Gabiann Marin
Illustrator: Rae Dale
Publisher: New Frontier Publishing
Publisher’s description: Six-year-old Helen Porter just wanted to sing on stage. As a child, and then a teenager, she continued to pursue her dream of being a great opera star. In 1886, aged 25
she left Melbourne for the bright lights of London. Born Helen Porter Mitchel, she changed her name to reflect her Melbourne heritage. In 1887 Nellie Melba made her operatic debut. She went on to sing in all the great opera houses of Europe. During World War 1 Nellie Melba worked tirelessly holding many fundraising concerts for the war effort. Nellie Melba was the first great Australian diva. Suitable for ages 9+
Author: Hazel Edwards
Illustrator: Pat Reynolds
Publisher: New Frontier Publishing, March 2011
Publisher’s description: Ernie Dunlop was determined to become a doctor from an early age.
Born in Melbourne, he was fascinated with both medical science and physical challenges. Whilst studying medicine he earned the nickname ‘Weary’ and gained a reputation as a dedicated doctor and sportsman.
In November 1939, after the outbreak of World War II, Weary signed up for the Australian Army. In April 1942, Weary and his men were captured and became prisoners of war. During this time Weary became known for his leadership and communication skills with the enemy. After the war Weary was committed to caring for war veterans. Suitable for ages 9+
Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac
Publisher: Walker Books, February 2011
Publisher’s description: This is the story of the greatest escape artist of Australia’s convict era – the legend of Moondyne Joe. There wasn’t a cell built that could contain him, and Joe often led the troopers on wild chases through the Moondyne Hills of Western Australia. Suitable for ages 7+
Read a full review by Trevor Cairney at Literacy, Families and Learning.
Publisher: Walker Books Australia, July 2008
Publisher’s description: A beautifully illustrated and inspiring account of the life of Donald Bradman to mark the centenary of his birth.
Sir Donald Bradman is one of the best known and most respected cricketers in the history of the game. Published to mark the centenary of Bradman’s birth, Robert Ingpen charts the history of the legend, from his early years in his Bowral backyard, through the infamous bodyline series, and to his post-war comeback with his trademark detailed and thoughtful illustrations. Suitable for all ages.
Read a full review by Trevor Cairney at Literacy, Families and Learning.
Publisher: Walker Books
Publisher’s description: A narrative non-fiction picture book about the life of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang, Australia’s most infamous bushrangers. Backed by detailed research, the story focuses on Ned as a young man and the little known story of the green sash. The text also includes brief biographies and fact files on the Kelly Gang, the true story behind the green sash and a detailed list of sources. Suitable for ages 8+
Publisher HarperCollins, Australia
Published Australia, 01 June 1994
Publisher’s description: In this book , the words and music of Australia′s National anthem are accompanied by paintings from some of Australia′s finest artists: Fredrick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, Margaret Preston, Russel Drysdale, Albert Namatjira and others.
Turn the pages through history and song, and advance Australia fair! Suitable for all ages.
Read a review at Kids Book Review:
Dorothea Mackellar and Freya Blackwood
Publisher: Omnibus Books (Scholastic), February 2010
An iconic and beautiful poem illustrated by one of my very favourite illustrators. The poem written in 1904 accurately describes the juxtaposing features of Australia. I bought this as a gift for my friend’s newborn son. Although now living in Canada, my friend grew up in a farming region of Gipplsand, Victoria. I knew this would be a perfect book for her to share with her son so he could learn about the wonderful country in which his mum was born.
Suitable for all ages. (★★★★★)
Christopher Cheng and Gregory Rogers
Publisher: Random House Australia, September 2009
Publisher’s Description: Australian poets have a wonderful way with words and their poems bring to life the iconic Aussie characters and unforgettable landscape that are part of our Australian heritage. Many of these – Mulga Bill, Clancy of the Overflow, The Ant Explorer, M’Dougal, The Shearer’s Wife and Mr Smith – are larger than life. And the poets who created them – AB Patterson, CJ Dennis, Thomas E Spencer, Louis Esson and DH Souter – have become heroic figures in our pantheon of stars.
The 60 poems in this collection appear in their original, or near original, form and are wide-ranging in their subject matter: animals, the countryside, the struggle of bush life, early transport, sport, growing old, being young and having fun with words! But whether they are humorous, serious or playful, they are simply a joy to read! Suitable for all ages.
Publisher: Scholastic Australia, 2008
This is a humorous book to share with your children. This is an Australian folk song which offers an insight into the work of shearers during the late 1800s. There’s also an array of some classic terminology (snagger, bare bellied yeo, ringer, tar boy, swag) to discuss with your children.
The illustrations are incredibly humorous depicting shearers as hair stylists. I dare you to read this book without breaking into a song.
Suitable for ages 3+. (★★★)
Bob Brown and Wally Johnson
Illustrator: Ben Wood
Publisher: Omnibus Books (Scholastic)
Charming and funny illustrations of koalas returning from a world-wide trip, together with a fun and catchy song make this book a fun one to read with the kids.
Although light-hearted and fun, I think this song accurately describes early settlement and reasons for migration to Australia. Many people have chosen Australia as their new home-both in the early 1880s to now- for space, freedom and a backyard of their own.
Suitable for ages 1+. (★★★★)
Banjo Paterson and Freya Blackwood
Publisher: Scholastic Australia, April 2007
Publisher’s description: He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet, He cleared the fallen timber in his stride, And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat- It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride There is no greater Australian bush hero than the man from Snowy River, and no greater bush legend than his famous downhill ride. When a valuable colt escapes and runs off with the mountain brumbies, the crack riders and stockmen of the region get together to bring it back. But the countryside is wild and rugged and only the toughest horse and rider can keep up with the wild bush horses.
Author: A.B. Paterson
Format: Disc & Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic Australia, October 2007
Publisher’s description: This ballad of the sheep-stealing swagman is known the world over. Here we are treated not just to the swagman’s story, but to the story of the shearers’ strikes of the time, of the squatter’s family, and of the dangers of outback travel in the nineteenth century. Suitable for ages 5+.
Clare Scott-Mitchell & Kathlyn Griffith
Publisher: Random House Australia, October 2002
Publisher’s description: From emus to magic puddings, this feast of Australian poems for children is both fresh and familiar. With beautiful illustrations from award-winning Gregory Rogers, this collection of favourite classics and contemporary gems shows us what is special about growing up in Australia. Suitable for all ages.
Margaret Warner and Susan Hamers
Illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione
Publisher: Little Hare, April 2012
Publisher’s Description: When a soldier on a World War I battlefield sends a pine cone home to his mother, he could not know that his simple gift would become a symbol of history and remembrance.
An extraordinary story that spans generations and brings an important message about the First World War to a new generation.
Publisher: National Library of Australia, April 2012
Publisher’s Description: Take a trip into the past––from the explosive beginnings of our planet through the formation of the Australian landscape, the deeply entrenched history of our Indigenous people and past the white-sailed ships of the First Fleet to modern day Australia, in this fascinating journey through time.
Illustrated with a striking collection of photographs and images from the NLA’s digital collection, this is history for children like never before. A fascinating snapshot of our country, Australian Story tells who we once where, who we are today . . . and where we are going. Suitable for ages 6+