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Reading up on Oz

And here is the thing about them men they was Australians they knew full well the terror of unyielding law the historic memory of UNFAIRNESS were in their blood and a man might be a bank clerk or an overseer he might never have been lagged for nothing but still he knew in his heart what it were to be forced to wear the white hood in prison he knew what it were to be lashed for looking a warder in the eye and even a posh fellow like the Moth had breathed that air so the knowledge of unfairness were deep in his bone and marrow. In the hut at Faithfull’s Creek I seen proof that if a man could tell his true history to Australians he might be believed it is the clearest sight I ever seen and soon Joe seen it too.

— Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang

By Lisa Richardson

It might not be a date marked on your calendar, but if you’re anywhere near the Longhorn Saloon on Jan. 26, you’ll fast become aware it’s Australia Day. A proportion of Whistler’s working class will be out there, chest-beating and drinking themselves senseless, to celebrate… umm… well, they probably don’t really know either. But it’s good to be patriotic, mate.

Here’s a quick primer then on Australian culture for the more literary minded. Because the sum of Australia’s artistic output is, in fact, more than Neighbours and the Crocodile Hunter. So here’s Pique’s top six must-reads, to gain a little insight as to why people might drape themselves in their flag, drink Bundaberg rum by the gallon and run naked around the village. It’s as random and personally biased as any list will be, and likely to have missed out a hundred equal candidates. But nevertheless, it’s a quick and affordable way to take a tour of the Great Southern Land (read any of the following to a soundtrack of Midnight Oil and Powderfinger), especially if you say g’day to your local librarian.

Peter Carey: True History of the Kelly Gang

Carey nabbed the Booker in 2001 for this recreation of the life of one of Australia’s greatest icons. To take on a cult figure of history and dare to rewrite his story appropriating the voice of Ned Kelly, bushranger, is bold. But Carey deserved the swag of accolades he reeled in with True History — it is genius. Painstakingly researched, he takes you down into a history that, for an Australian, is vaguely familiar, but rendered fresh and in a voice so authentic I recognized it in every larrikin and layabout I’ve ever known. Apparently, all Carey had to work with of Ned Kelly’s hand was a single letter. But I think he might have been doing a bit of channeling.

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