An image of Indigenous writer and musician Archie Roach.

Top Indigenous Australian Writers to Add to Your Reading List

Reading fiction and non-fiction is an imaginative and enjoyable way to immerse ourselves in the stories and experiences of others. So, this year, add some Indigenous Australian writers to your reading list. We have compiled a list of books below that will excite, challenge, and amaze you written by Indigenous voices.

It is important to read fiction and non-fiction from various communities, particularly minority voices. It increases our awareness and empathy. Our reading lists in schools and book shops often feature writers or stories from white backgrounds and experiences. When you read Indigenous writers, you learn about their lived experiences and support their art.

Reading literature from Indigenous writers does not directly affect Indigenous rights and isn’t activism. However, they will open your mind and your world. Changing attitudes and awareness begins with education and understanding. The Indigenous history of all cultures is everyone’s history.

The list below features Indigenous writers who tell stories and shape the world with both their lives and their art.

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

A picture of Indigenous writer Kim Scott next to a picture of the cover of That Deadman Dance.

Kim Scott is a brilliant Indigenous writer from Western Australia. That Deadman Dance is his third novel, and it won the 2011 Regional Commonwealth Writers Prize. Additionally, it won the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award and several other prominent Australian writing prizes. It is now an Australian Literary classic and a historical contribution to Indigenous literature.

That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in a region that is now Western Australia. It describes the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and their first interactions with American and European settlers. Specifically, American whalers who began to inundate the area.

The novel is from the perspective of a young Noongar man, Bobby Wabalanginy. As Bobby interacts with the new settlers, he joins them in whale hunting, exploring and establishing their colonies. However, Bobby and his community are not aware that the settlers will drastically change their world. Slowly and over time, they begin to see the negative impact of the European presence in unsettling ways. Stocks mysteriously start to disappear; crops die; there are ‘accidents’ and injuries.

To ‘keep the peace’, the colonists impose rules and regulations, and the Noongar people take a stand. Bobby is faced with the crisis of being caught between two worlds. He does not know whether to immerse himself in his relationship with the settlers or reject their way of life.

The novel explores the early relationship and tensions between these two worlds. Kim Scott walks us through a fragile time in history. A time when his ancestors did not yet comprehend colonization’s devastating effects. It is a beautiful, powerful novel.

Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

A portrait photo of Indigenous writer Alexis Wright.

This critically acclaimed second novel by Indigenous writer Alexis Wright is a joy to read. Since its publication in 2006, it is now a modern classic. Alexis Wright is a land rights activist from the Waanyi nation who fights to restore sacred lands to traditional owners.

The novel tells interconnected stories of several inhabitants of the fictional town of Desperance, in Australia’s north, Queensland. There, the Aboriginal people of the Pricklebush clan are engaged in several argumentative conflicts with various enemies in the community. Including the white inhabitants of Desperance. Moreover, there is a conflict between local law enforcement and government officials. Finally, a large multinational mining company has established itself on sacred Indigenous land.

The story focuses on three primary characters and their relationship in this unstable environment. Firstly, Normal Phantom is wise and practical. Secondly, the nomadic, shamanic practitioner of the Aboriginal traditional religion, Mozzie Fishman. Lastly, Norm’s son, Will Phantom, deserts his father’s house to undertake a cross-country spiritual journey with Fishman.

Carpentaria is a significant and beautiful contribution to Indigenous literature that you will struggle to put down. It is beautiful story-telling in its own right. However, it is a way to learn about the struggle Indigenous people still face to this day regarding land rights. Alexis Wright is an Indigenous writer to pay attention to.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture is an award-winning non-fiction book by Indigenous writer Bruce Pasco. First published in 2014, it has also won many literary awards and has had a huge cultural impact.

There was a damaging narrative that Indigenous Australians were wholly nomadic for hundreds of years. As a result, colonial impressions of Indigenous people were that they did not cultivate the land or own the land. Instead, they would move from place to place and use resources as they went. Consequently, colonists assumed that the land was unclaimed and ready to be taken.

However, settlers assumed this out of ignorance. They could not properly see Indigenous culture and land practices as valid as they did not fit within European conventions. As a result, Europeans declared the land terra nullius, which means ‘no-one’s land.’

In Dark Emu, Pasco reexamines colonial accounts of Indigenous people. He cites evidence of pre-colonial agriculture, engineering, and construction in many Indigenous nations.

Pasco highlights evidence that Indigenous people did have land management and a deep and complex understanding of controlling the environment. In addition, they used dams, crops, engineering, and constructed buildings.

If you prefer non-fiction and want insight into Indigenous history, Bruce Paco uses story-telling narratives to highlight his research.

The White Girl by Tony Birch

Book cover of The White Girl, by Tony Birch.

Tony Birch is an Indigenous writer, academic, and activist. Birch spent much of his life as a firefighter. However, when he was 30 years old, he decided to attend The University of Melbourne and change his career path. He would win the Chancellor’s Medal for the best PhD in Arts. Further, he would become a research fellow at Victorian University. Today he is a writer, an academic, and heavily engaged with Indigenous community issues.

The White Girl tells the story of Odette, who spends her whole life on the fringes of a country town. Her daughter disappears and leaves her with her granddaughter Sissy to raise her on her own. Odette has to try to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities. The authorities are removing fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. However, a new police officer arrives in town, determined to enforce the law. Odette must risk everything to save Sissy and protect everything she loves.

The White Girl saw Tony Birch become a Miles-Franklin-shortlisted writer. The novel shines a spotlight on the 1960s and the devastating government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families. Not only is this an example of writing, but an insight into one of the darkest periods of Indigenous history.

Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music by Archie Roach

An image of Indigenous writer and musician Archie Roach.

Archibald Roach is an Indigenous Australian musician and icon. He is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and campaigner for the rights of Indigenous Australians and now a writer. His memoir, Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and Music, tells the story of his incredible life.

At the age of two, Roach and his sisters were forcibly removed from their family by the Australian government. Like many Indigenous children, they were placed in an orphanage.

The removal of Indigenous children from their communities was a part of a racist white assimilation policy. After two awful placements in foster care, Roach was eventually taken in by a Scottish family. Their eldest daughter Mary Cox would sing church hymns and teach Roach the guitar and keyboards. It was at this time that Roach began to learn about music.

Finally, when Roach was 15, he was contacted by his long-lost sister, who told him their mother had just died. Devastated, he spent the next fourteen years on the streets, battling alcoholism.

However, Roach would overcome this and become an influential Indigenous musician. His music told his own stories of loss and being displaced as a child. The album Charcol Lane became one of the most influential songs in Australia’s contemporary history.

Archie Roach’s story is at once devastating and inspirational.

My Tidda, My Sister by Marlee Silva

A portrait photo of Marlee Silva sitting on a bed and looking out the window in front of her.

Marlee Silva is a proud Gamilaroi and Dunghutti woman born and writer raised in Dharrawal, south of Sydney. In 2018, she launched an Instagram page dedicated to celebrating Indigenous women and girls called ‘Tiddas 4 Tiddas’.

The positive stories of success and aspiration the page showcases quickly amassed an online following in the thousands. Eventually, it led to a podcast of the same name. The Tiddas 4 Tiddas community tells the stories of the Aboriginal women in the family with whom she was raised. They were the driving inspirations behind Marlee’s debut book, My Tidda, My Sister.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and society have existed on this continent for millennia. The longevity of Indigenous culture tells tales of beauty and resilience. It’s also a culture that its women have consistently led.

My Tidda, My Sister shares the experiences of many Indigenous women and girls. Marlee Silva brings their stories together on the Tiddas 4 Tiddas podcast. For non-Indigenous women, it demonstrates the diversity of what success can look like for Indigenous women. Further, it offers an insight into the lives of their Indigenous sisters and peers.

My Tidda, My Sister is a remarkable book that gives insight into the strength of Indigenous women.

Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia by Victor Steffensen

Book cover of Fire Country by an Indigenous writer, Victor Steffensen.

Victor Steffensen is an Indigenous writer, filmmaker, musician, and consultant. He also applies traditional knowledge in a contemporary context through workshops and projects. He is a descendant of the Tagalaka people through his mothers’ connections from the Gulf Country of north Queensland.

Fire Country is a powerful account from Indigenous land management expert Victor Steffensen on the revival of Indigenous fire practices. These practices include improved’ reading’ of the country and undertaking’ cool burns’, which could help restore the nation.

Steffensen has worked for 27 years on reviving traditional knowledge and values, especially for land management. For example, indigenous peoples use a method of traditional burning. He spends much of his time mentoring other Indigenous peoples about traditional land management through his many workshops. He is also the co-founder of the National Indigenous Fire Workshops.

Indigenous Australians used cultural practices to manage the environment around them. For example, these practices controlled fires during dry seasons. Additionally, it saw wild animals protected and the land cultivated for food.

Steffensen’s book is a beautiful insight into how Indigenous people manage the land and how they keep this tradition alive.

Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

Photo of Indigenous author Nardi Simpson.

Nardi Simpson is a Yuwaalaraay musician, writer, and founder of Stiff Gins’ Indigenous folk group. Her beautiful novel Song of the Crocodile, was published in 2020. Simpson is a rising literary voice.

In Song of the Crocodile, Darnmoor is the home of the Billymil family, three generations who have lived here. Race relations between Indigenous and settler families are fraught. However, this is enforced through rigid social conventions and unspoken laws rather than explicit violence. Nevertheless, the community is under constant subtle threat.

As the Indigenous community fight back, Darnmoor and its surroundings undergo rapid social and environmental changes. As a result, the Billymil family are watched and sometimes visited by the recently deceased’s ancestral spirits. The spirits lookout for their descendants and attempt to help them on the right path.

Beautifully written and artfully told, this is a story about the effects of intergenerational trauma and the impacts of colonization.


We should all aim to read fiction or non-fiction by minority groups all year round. Literature and writing have always been about inserting oneself into perspective. Books have the unique advantage of inserting us into stories, lived experiences, emotions, and characters’ thought processes.

This can be an emphatic and emotional way to learn about different cultures and experiences from our own. Moreover, we should not read books by Indigenous writers just for this reason, but also because they are excellent books.

This list is a great starting point to get some exposure to major Indigenous writers and learn about their culture along the way. Expanding our horizons and challenging ourselves to read in a more diverse way is a exciting.

Reading books by POC authors generally means they are free of bias and outside cultural assumptions. Moreover, buying books by Indigenous authors shows the demand for more of this literature within the publishing industry. Literature from all experiences and cultures will also mean greater representation for that community.

For example, many literary classics that feature Indigenous characters often depict them as supporting figures viewed through a white-Australian lens. Indigenous writers need to be given the recognition they deserve as artists and the ability to tell their own stories.

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