Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie novels titled with place names

I was searching around for a light, fun idea for this week’s Monday Musings, as life is a bit busy at present, when up popped in my inbox Tony (from Tony’s Book World)’s post on novels with city or town names in their titles. That seemed like just the thing: it demanded a little thinking but not a huge amount of research, and you can all join in with your favourite books (from anywhere in the world).

Tony explained his post by saying that “fiction allows you to travel throughout the world without leaving your own house.” A cliché, he admits, but I’d respond that it’s a cliché because it contains a truth, n’est-ce pas? Tony’s list included fictional towns, but I’m going to stick to real Aussie places – and I’m using “place” here rather than city or town to allow more flexibility. Because I like to have some order, I’m listing my books alphabetically by the name of the place.

Alice Springs

Nevil Shute, A town like AliceNevil Shute, as some of you know by now, was one of my favourite writers in my youth. I particularly loved his World War 2 stories, of which A town like Alice (1950) is his most famous. Alice Springs is the second largest town in Australia’s Northern Territory, and the closest to one of our most famous tourist attractions, Uluru. However, what it is not is the main setting of Shute’s novel. The story concerns young English POW Jean who migrates to Australia to find Aussie soldier and POW Joe whom she’d met during the war. She visits Alice Springs, which impresses her, but ends up in a fictional town which she’d like to make – yes, wait for it – “like Alice”.


Alexis Wright, CarpentariaCarpentaria, in northwest Queensland, is a shire named for the Gulf of Carpentaria on which it is located. It also provides the one-word title for Alexis Wright’s Miles Franklin award-winning novel, Carpentaria (2005) (my review). However, although the novel is set in a real shire called Carpentaria, it largely takes place in a fictional town called Desperance. You can probably guess, from that, why she made up the town name. The novel explores black-white relations in the town – relations between the indigenous inhabitants and white settlers, and between the town’s different indigenous groups. It’s about dispossession and its ongoing, destructive impact on people, generation after generation.


Kerry Greenwood, The Castlemaine murdersCastlemaine is a small city a little north of Melbourne in Victoria. Like many places in Victoria it made its name as a city during the 1850s gold rush and now sports many historic buildings, as well as an active cultural life. The book which features it is in a genre that I don’t read much – but if I did, it would provide, I think, more titles for this post than any other genre. I’m talking crime, and the book is Kerry Greenwood’s The Castlemaine murders (2003). It’s in her popular Phryne Fisher series, which has been made even more popular by a gorgeous (delicious-to-watch) television series.


Melissa Lucashenko, MullumbimbyI haven’t read Melissa Lucashenko’s Mulllumbimby (2015), but I have read (and reviewed) the short story which preceded (and I think is incorporated in) the novel, “The silent majority”. Mullumbimby – I love the sound of it – is a small town in the northeastern rivers region of New South Wales. According to Wikipedia, its name is of indigneous origin and means “small round hill”. Lucashenko, in her story, exposes some of the town’s struggles, particularly for poorer people and indigenous people. Her character Jo considers the town’s early white settlers who “had tried to slash and burn their way to freedom here”, and wonders what the place was like before these settlers came.

Surfers Paradise

Helen Garner, Postcards from SurfersAs its name suggests, Surfers Paradise is a seaside resort. Technically it’s a suburb in a city called the Gold Coast, which is the closest thing Australia has to the retirement areas of Miami, Florida. Helen Garner, who primarily focuses on Australia’s southern states, published a collection of short stories titled Postcards from Surfers (1985) (my review). The titular story is about an adult woman coming to visit her retired parents and aunt at Surfers Paradise, having left a broken relationship and a not fully successful life behind her. She, beautifully, as I recollect anyhow, evokes the retired life of her parents and aunt.


Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of SydneySydney is not, as many think, Australia’s capital but the capital of New South Wales. It is, though, where white settlement in Australia commenced. There are several books with Sydney in their titles, but the first that came to my mind was Christina Stead’s Seven poor men of Sydney (1934), her first novel and one I would like to read some time. Luckily, Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has read it. Stead wrote vividly about Sydney in For love alone, which I’ve reviewed here, but that novel moved overseas, whereas this first novel is fully set in Sydney, and particularly explores its poorer side. I gather it focuses on the tenuous lives of workers, much like Mena Calthorpe did in her Sydney-based (but not titled!) novel, The dyehouse (my review).

Next week, I might look at novels with fictional places in their titles. For one thing, they seem more numerous. I’m not sure that this (if my little hypothesis is right) means that more books are set in fictional places, but it feels like fictional places are more comfortable title material.

So now, over to you? What novels with place names in their titles do you like?

64 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie novels titled with place names

  1. I’ll play! But I’ll limit myself to Australian place names. Picnic at Hanging Rock (for reasons obvious). Long Bay (because it’s a terrific novel, written by a lovely friend). We of the Never Never (although which came first in the popular imagination – the title or the place name?). Ivanhoe (although that one feels like cheating!) One of the 2016 Hardcopy participants has a novel due for release about now called Wimmera. And I’d rate Mullumbimby as one of my favourite novels, so worth mentioning a second time. I’ll confess I found it easier to think of titles that included imaginary place names (like Wuthering Heights).

    • Yes, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Long Bay are great. I didn’t include these because I was trying to focus more on cities/towns rather than natural features or institutions, but my commenters aren’t bound by my self-imposed rules! A book about the Wimmera appeals to me – will look out for that.

      And, I’m glad that the fictional names popped into your mind more easily too. I am thinking it says something – perhaps it’s simply that, really, we are talking fiction!

    • I have been combing my brain trying to the of the title of Wimmera, which is what led me to this page. THANK YOU for sorting my brain bug out!

  2. Not a novel but my favourite collection of memories in the form of short stories, Stories From Suburban Rd by TAG Hungerford. (Suburban Rd is now called Mill Point Rd in South Perth).

      • No, I just mean place names – cities and towns. But it could morph into something else once we’ve exhausted the meme and can’t think of any more books. (I think you should have a rule about having to have read the book.)

        • It’s certainly nicer I think if people have read the books they list in their memes. I think we’d run out of place names pretty quickly unless we did make it all sorts of places – real and fictional. But I’m not sure I’m up to tying myself down to another blog commitment at present. I have too many blogs I’m involved in or responsible for in some way (three group blogs as well my own). But, if you wanted to do it, I wouldn’t be offended!

  3. Alice Springs also name of novel by Nikki Gemmell. And for Michelle, I have been trying update Wikipedia with first use of Never Never, Baynton indicates it may have been 1870s.

      • Not that I’m having problems (updating Never Never in Wikipedia), though I’m not competent enough to do ‘references’, but just that I’m still on the look-out for earlier usages of the expression.
        Alice Springs by NG first published as Cleave

        • I wondered if that was what you meant. I can help you with the references once you are ready to go because it would be great to have that in there. I can try to show/tell you how. It’s not hard once you get the hang of it because there are templates for different types of references. Or you could add the info and then give me the reference to add. Either way.

        • Oops, and yes, I’d heard of Cleave, so now it falls into place. Are these different titles in different countries or she just decided to change the name?

        • My impression was that she, or the publishers, changed the name. Wiki says Cleave ‘published in USA as A/Springs’, but I think – without any supporting data! – that the Australian title changed to A/Springs as well

    • Show-off! But exciting. I haven’t been there since 1980. I could be one of those people who say “but you should have seen it back then when there were fewer tourists” etc etc, except every tourist has been told that about pretty much every place since travelling began I reckon. I certainly was. So I’ll just say enjoy!

  4. I’ve read everything you listed here – and I’m now flashing back to Australiana. It’s so unique to read in literature. And I grew up in Alice Springs, so it is also very nostalgic for me… On a side note I have a book “Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else – The Stories Behind Australia’s Weird and Wonderful Place Names” it captures our humour and history all in one… in a name.
    Always love your posts 🙂

    • Oops, Casey, that wasn’t supposed to be sent. I was going to continue that I’d love to have that book. Must check to see if it is still available.

      And I totally understand being nostalgic about growing up in Alice. Not the same but I spent three childhood year, just around puberty, in Mt Isa. They were wonderful, formative, and I’ll never forget them, but the Alice would be something else.

    • I’ve just bought the e-book! I usually buy Aussie books in paper but as this is a bit reference-like and is also one I’d love on road trips, I decided the e-version would be perfect. But, really, it doesn’t have an index! What were they thinking?

      Looks like great fun to read, dip into.

  5. At first I could only think of fictional place titles. I wondered if My Place by Sally Morgan would pass – I don’t think so. After I looked on my book shelf I saw old novels, Dick Lester of Kurrajong and The Twins of Emu Plains, both by Mary Grant Bruce. Postcards from Surfers by Helen Garner, and Brigalow by R S Porteous.

    • Haha, Meg, no I think that’s a cheat… But a good one, actually!

      Mary Grant Bruce is a great suggestion though. And Kurrajong is another of those lovely words isn’t it. I don’t know Bigelow.

      BTW interesting again how the fictional places pop up easily.

  6. I kept thinking about this ‘challenge’ into the wee small hours, and – possibly with the assistance of wine – came up with some more cheats… Mr Darwin’s Shooter. East of Eden. Poor Man’s Orange. I’m still giggling like an idiot about that last one!

    • Oh dear I’m sorry I kept you awake, Michelle, but love your answers so perhaps I’m not sorry after all. I did think about Ruth Park but didn’t leap to such a cheeky idea!

  7. Pingback: A meme: Novels with Place Names | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  8. What fun all these replies have been!

    Richard Neville, he of Oz fame (or was that infamy?) died last year. But he had a sister who was a novelist and she is all but forgotten nowadays. Glenda Adams suffered a similar fate until Text revived her Dancing on Coral, which is an interesting novel…

    Anyway, Jill Neville wrote a novel called Last Ferry to Manly. I haven’t read it all, but I unearthed it one day in the central library of my alma mater (University of Western Australia) and read a fair-sized chunk of it one afternoon, lying on my stomach between the shelves (I do this rather a lot). One day I’ll finish the whole thing. As a native-born sandgroper who’s never spent much time in the Emerald City, it has become a place of mythology for me…Patrick White and Old Money and Double Bay and the Bridge and the condos and the slopes down to that amazing, sun-drenched. windswept harbour…

    • Thanks Glen, yes, the replies have been fun haven’t they.

      I liked Dancing on Coral. It was one of the early books in reading group’s history in fact. She was another writer we lost too soon, in fact, wasn’t she?

      I had heard of Jill Neville but hadn’t read her, and didn’t know of the connection. Thanks. I don’t think I’ve heard of Last ferry to Manly. I do love though your image of Sydney as a place of mythology for you. I’ll have to try to put my head into that space. Too hard, I’m too familiar with the ‘burbs to fully engage with your mythology but I do love, these days, to visit Sydney where we can stay in the centre and enjoy it as a tourist rather than as a resident coping with the hassles of living and working there!

    • Thanks Brona. I thought of those too. I should have added Coal Creek but decided to stop at 5 or 6, so I’m glad you mentioned it.

      I decided to limit myself to fiction so passed up Montebello on that count – but it’s a book on my TBR that I’d love to find time to read. I do like Drewe.

    • Good try Tony, but sorry, it isn’t. It’s a house. In fact Tim Winton was hopeless for this because, besides the fact that his titles tend not to be places, his places tend to be fictional.

      But that’s another idea – houses. Cloudstreet, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park (I think that’s a house but maybe a place as well?), Bleak House. Oh, houses could be fun I think.

    • Scottish fiction uses place names a lot. Weir Of Hermiston, Heart Of Midlothian, Lanark (Alistair Gray), Garnethill (the excellent crime novelist Denise Mina) and probably many others my brain refuses to dredge up!

      • That’s an interesting observation Ian. It seems that Australian fiction doesn’t – and when it does it is more often generic like “The secret river” or “My place” or “Drylands” rather than specific names.

  9. This was fun! Apparently I am not much on reading books set in real places, the only I can find after looking through three years of reading is a memoir called The Gardener of Versailles by a man who was, well, a gardener at Versailles 🙂

  10. Oh this is fun. I knew that the Shute novel wasn’t really set in Alice Springs but I never made the association with the words ‘like Alice’ in the title. Mullumbimby is a place I have heard of purely on the basis that two of my friends have relatives there and they go off to visit them every year – sometimes working with the local theatre group. They were chuffed to find there is a book with the place name in the title.

    I looked at my list of reviews going back five years and found a few to add to the mix

    Cannery Row – Steinbeck
    Nagasaki – Erik Faye
    Paris Nocturne by Patrick Modiano
    The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

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