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

I’ve done two Monday Musings posts inspired by Tony (from Tony’s Book World) – one on novels with real place names in their titles and one with fictional. To complete the trifecta, I thought why not look at Australian novels with foreign place names in their titles.

This turned out to be rather fun to do. Many Australian writers have set books overseas – more perhaps than I had superficially expected. They include, to name just a few that sprang to mind, Sara Dowse’s Schemetime (Los Angeles), Kate Grenville’s Dreamhouse (Tuscany and Milan, with the film adaptation set in Vietnam), Eva Hornung’s Dog boy (Moscow), Hannah Kent’s Burial rites (Iceland), Henry Handel Richardson’s Maurice Guest (Leipzig), Christina Stead’s For love alone (Sydney and London), Tim Winton’s The riders (Ireland, mostly), and Marcus Zusak’s The book thief (Germany). The list goes on and on in fact. It’s probably not surprising, therefore, that I found it relatively easy to find books titled with foreign place names, but I’ve limited myself to six.

I’ve read four of the books I list here – and, as with the first post in this series, I’m listing them alphabetically by the name of the place.


Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in AmericaWhen talking place names, it would be hard to get bigger than a country, so here I am starting the list with a very well-known country in the title of a book by a well-known Australian author, Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America (my review). Not only is America in the title, but America is very definitely the book’s subject because what Carey explores here is that country’s grand experiment with democracy. The epigraph is: “Can it be believed that the democracy which had overthrown the feudal system and vanquished kings will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists? (Alexis de Tocqueville)”.


Roslyn Russell, Maria Returns Barbados to Mansfield ParkMy second place-name is another country, Barbados in the West Indies. It’s probably not the first place that would spring to mind as one an Australian author would write about, but Roslyn Russell’s Maria returns: Barbados to Mansfield Park (my review) does, in fact, make perfect sense. Russell is a museum professional who has spent a goodly amount of time working in Barbados. She is also a Jane Austen fan, and if you know your Jane Austen well, you’ll know that there are references to slavery in Mansfield Park. It was, as they say, a match made in heaven and Russell found herself irresistibly drawn to writing a piece of historical fiction drawing on these two enthusiasms of hers.


Gail Jones. A guide to BerlinFrom countries we move to cities, and a good example is Gail Jones’ recent, well-reviewed A guide to Berlin. Its title is that of a short story by Vladimir Nabokov. It is, as you’d expect – though you know I’m sure that this expectation of titles can’t always be relied on – set in Berlin. It’s about six international travellers, from various countries and all Nabokov lovers, who meet in empty apartments in Berlin where they share stories. It’s still on my to-read list.


Anita Heiss Paris DreamingOf all the places authors might choose to write about, that most romantic of cities, Paris, would surely have to be up there, and sure enough I found one quickly, one, in fact, that I’ve read, Anita Heiss’ Paris dreaming (my review). It’s a delightful piece of chick-lit (or, as Heiss calls it, choc-lit) and is about a young museum professional who goes to Paris to mount an exhibition of indigenous Australian art. It’s an aspirational book as well as a fun read. Heiss fans will also be aware that she has written another book titled with a foreign place-name, Manhattan dreaming.


Brian Castro, Shanghai dancingShanghai is one of the most exotic places on this list, depending of course on what each of us means by exotic! Hong Kong-born Australian writer Brian Castro’s Shanghai dancing is, I believe, set mostly there. Castro, in an Author Note, describes it as follows: ”Shanghai Dancing is a fictional autobiography. Told from an Australian perspective and loosely based on my family’s life in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Macau from the 1930s to the 1960s.”


Andrew O'Connor, TuvaluRemember what I said under Berlin regarding expectations of titles? Well, Andrew O’Connor’s Vogel Prize-winning Tuvalu, which I read a couple of years before blogging, is a perfect example. It is, in fact, set primarily in Japan, not in Tuvalu which is a Polynesian island nation in the Pacific. Indeed, as I recollect, the characters, never go to Tuvalu. It is, instead, the dream-place or goal, the place where you imagine your life will be best and which therefore acts as a motivator to keep you going. I can’t think of a better place or concept on which to end this list of novels titled with places other than one’s own!

So now, once again, over to you. Can you add to my list of Aussie books with foreign places in their titles, or tell us about books from your country’s writers titled with places from elsewhere?

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

Last week, inspired by Tony (from Tony’s Book World)’s post, I posted on novels with places in their titles. I limited my titles then to “real” places, but in my research I came across many books with fictional places in their titles, so, well, you know what I decided to do with that!

There are good reasons for making up a place. For a start, readers can’t complain about inaccuracies – about a street being in the wrong place, for example. Moreover, it gives writers the opportunity to create place names that mean something thereby contributing to the work’s overall meaning.

Last week, I listed my small selection of books by the name of the place, but here I’ll list under the author’s name. I’ve read four of my five chosen books, but have only blogged two, unfortunately.

Thea Astley

Thea Astley, DrylandsDrylands (1999, my review) is set in

a God-forgotten tree-stump of a town halfway to nowhere whose population (two hundred and seventy-four) was tucked for leisure either in the bar of the Legless Lizard or in front of television screens, videos, Internet adult movies or PlayStation games for the kiddies.

Such an evocative fictional town name suits Astley’s purposes for her dystopian novel about desiccating lives. It’s one of those books I haven’t forgotten, and would willingly read again.

Thea Ashley, It's raining in MangoIt’s raining in Mango (1987) is set in a completely different environment to Drylands – as the title itself makes clear – but all that rain doesn’t make it much cheerier! It’s set in the fictional town of Mango, in the tropical rainforest area of northern Queensland where Astley set several novels, including her first, Girl with a monkey. The novel follows the Laffey family through four generations, from the 1860s to the 1980s. It also tells the story of an indigenous family whose path crosses the Laffeys. Astley chronicles lawlessness, violence and dispossession, and yet, as I recollect from my long-ago reading, it has its warm, comic moments too. One I should read again.

David Malouf

David Malouf, The conversations at Curlow CreekThe conversations at Curlow Creek (1996) is not, I think, one of Malouf’s best known or most popular books, but I really liked it. It’s set in 1827, and concerns the conversations between two Irishmen, a prisoner, who is to hang in the morning, and the man guarding him. It has that mesmeric, reflective quality that I love in many of Malouf’s novels. As I was researching the book to see if I could find why Malouf chose this place name, I came across an interview with Malouf in which he says, “I’m aware of the number of times I really want to use the novel to stop time, to slow things up. You can slow up the narrative so that a second is something that can be explored maybe over pages. I like that play between movement and stillness in the novel.” I still haven’t found the origin of the name – perhaps it’s just intended to be an Irish-sounding name that was fairly typical in colonial Australia – but this statement tells me a lot about what drives his writing.

Kylie Tennant

Kylie Tennant, TiburonTiburon (1935), which won the S.H Prior Memorial Prize, was Tennant’s first novel. It is set in the fictional Australian country town of Tiburon during the Depression, and centres on the poor and unemployed. I’ve read a couple of Tennant’s novels, but not this one. She’s a great teller of stories about the lives of “ordinary” people, often in extraordinary times, like the Depression (here) and the War (Tell morning this, which I have read.) According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the man she ended up marrying obtained a job in the country, so Tennant walked hundreds of kilometres from Sydney to see him. “On the journey,” ADB says, “she witnessed the hardship and suffering of the rural unemployed. It was the first of the many arduous, punishing walking tours Tennant undertook in the early 1930s that would form the background to her rural Depression novel Tiburon.” Apparently, she based Tiburon on Canowindra, and the residents were none too happy!

Tennant, commenting on rumours of unhappiness in the town, suggested they could raise money for the following headstone for her:

KYLIE TENNANT. Once a student of Brighton College.
Unwisely wrote Tiburon and was speared by the natives of a town that does not exist.

Clearly, if you are going to make up a place, you should make it up good and proper!

Patrick White

Patrick White, Happy ValleyHappy Valley (1939, my review) is set in a fictional town called, yes, Happy Valley, in the Snowy Mountains-Monaro region of New South Wales where Patrick White had worked as a jackeroo for a year. The town’s name, as you’ve probably guessed, is ironic, because White’s people are rarely happy. Life, as I wrote in my review, tends to be, for his people, disappointing at best, sterile, depressing and/or meaningless at worst. In other words, like Thea Astley’s Drylands, White’s titling is pointed.

So now, over to you … do you have any favourite (or, even, not so favourite) novels titled with fictional places?

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?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Silly names for the silly season

Burrumbuttock sign

22 kms to Burrumbuttock (Courtesy: Carolyn I)

It’s nearing Christmas, and I’m getting busy, so today’s Monday musings will be short …

Ever since I started this blog series, I have wanted to write about Australian place names. We are not, I know, the only country to have interesting or fun place names – and I’d love it if you shared your favourites in the comments – but we do have some good’uns Downunder.

Names to make your tonsils chatter

(From “Patter”, by Ronald Oliver Brierley)

Oodnadatta and Parramatta are just the beginning. What about Cabramatta, Wangaratta and Coolangatta? And then there’s Woolloomooloo. You have to concentrate to spell that one! (It’s a bit like, I suppose, Mississippi, isn’t it?) Many of these places appear in Lucky Starr‘s tongue twisting “I’ve been everywhere” song. You can listen to it online if you like… I love all these names. They tend to sound silly and poetic at the same time, and because of this many of them have found (and still find) their way into Australian verse and song.

Kurri Kurri Hotel

Kurri Kurri Hotel, Kurri Kurri, NSW

But, there is a type of name that is rather endemic here, and that is the reduplicated place name. The best known one is probably Wagga Wagga – “Don’t call Wagga Wagga Wagga”* – but it’s just one of many. Here are some of my favourites: Bong Bong, Drik Drik, Gatum Gatum, Grong Grong, Kurri Kurri, Tilba Tilba and Woy Woy. You can find more in Wikipedia. English comedian Spike Milligan‘s parents moved to Woy Woy in the 1950s, and Spike wasn’t above making fun of the town. In his novel Puckoon, he wrote

There is, somewhere in the steaming bush of Australia, a waterside town called Woy Woy (Woy it is called Woy Woy Oi will never know).

Finally, in a related but somewhat different vein, is the poem, “The Integrated Adjective” about the great Australian adjective. If you don’t know what that is, you soon will. The poem was written by John O’Grady, who wrote, under the pseudonym Nino Culotta, the 1957 novel, They’re a weird mob, a comic tale of an Italian migrant’s struggles to understand and fit into his new country. Anyhow, “The Integrated Adjective” is set in a bar and is the narrator’s record of the bar-time talk he overhears:

“…. Been off the bloody booze,
Up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin’ kanga-bloody-roos.”

Now the bar was pretty quiet, and everybody heard
The peculiar integration of this adjectival word.

The town of course is really Tumbarumba, but do we let that spoil our story here? Abso-bloody-lutely not!

*Song by Greg Champion and Jim Haynes.