Australia Day 2015: Jason Steger picks his top 10 Australian novels

Margaret Pomeranz’s Top 10 Australian filmsSteve Kilbey’s Top 10 Australian songsElizabeth Ann MacGregor’s top 10 contemporary artworks  The Man who Loved Children, Christina Stead, 1940
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Sam Pollitt is the father, a coruscating picture of Christina Stead’s own, whose sentimentality and narcissism wreak havoc in his family. Stead’s original Sydney setting was transposed to Washington for international publication but this nevertheless remains a startling portrait of an utterly dysfunctional Australian family, its idiosyncrasies and its cruelties.        Voss, Patrick White, 1957

Patrick White’s masterpiece is an extraordinary novel with explorer Voss and Sydney girl Laura Trevelyan retaining some sort of  spiritual connection as he wanders fruitlessly and fatally with his 1845 expeditioners in the desert. White is, of course, the only Australian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.         Cloudstreet, Tim Winton, 1991

Tim Winton’s brilliant, batty and benign saga of two families – Lambs and Pickles – who share a rickety old house in Perth is written in his unique way with words and will make you laugh and cry. It is a literary work that regularly features at the top of  polls for the most popular Australian novel.        The Watch Tower, Elizabeth Harrower, 1966

Elizabeth Harrower’s 1966 novel fell out of print until a couple of years ago but was greeted with acclaim on its return and Harrower has since published a fifth novel that she had long suppressed. In Felix Shaw she has created a masterful picture of a suburban psychopath who delights in his power over two sisters he is ostensibly helping.       True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey, 2000

Peter Carey’s brilliant iteration of Ned Kelly, for which he won his second Booker Prize, is a masterful piece of literary ventriloquilism that takes its lead from Kelly’s own Jerilderie Letter. Captures in vivid language the man who stands ambiguously at the heart of one of Australia’s great legends.         For The Term Of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke, 1874

Marcus Clarke’s melodramatic account of convict life through the unjustly transported figure of Richard Devicen (aka Rufs Dawes). It’s a bleak, despairing picture first published in complete form in 1874. The most famous Australian novel of the 19th century remains powerful and confronting.      My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin, 1901

The novel for which Miles Franklin is best known tells the story of the spirited Sybilla Melvyn, a teenage girl at the turn of the century who won’t kowtow to the traditional mores of the times. She wants her independence, she wants to write – what she doesn’t want is to be married off. It’s an early feminist novel energised by its sparky protagonist.       Monkey Grip, Helen Garner, 1977

Helen Garner is these days known more for her non-fiction but her first book, a novel that tooks its inspiration from her own life and diaries of the time, chronicled single parent Nora’s life in a shared house in Fitzroy and her relationship with the drug-addled Javo. It was hugely influential at the time and remains much loved.      The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard, 1980

Shirley Hazzard, who has lived overseas since 1947, won the Miles Franklin award in 2004 for The Great Fire but the book she wrote 20 years earlier remains her best and the one for which she is best-known. It’s a strangely old-fashioned sort of novel but Hazzard’s writing is stunning  and an absolutely joy to encounter. Rarely can short sentences carry such weight.        The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan, 2013

Richard Flanagan’s novel about prisoners on the Burma Railway and the flawed doctor who shares their predicament is written with his heart on his sleeve and a compassion that one rarely encounters on the page. It deservedly won the Man Booker prize last year and has won several awards in Australia. So many more: Picking only 10 great Australian novels is a wretched task because there so many that miss out, so many novels that deserve to be read. Where, you might ask, are Elizabeth Jolley, Martin Boyd, Henry Handel Richardson, Christos Tsiolkas? What about Kim Scott, where’s Kate Grenville, Murray Bail, Sonya Hartnett, David Malouf, Alex Miller? All deserve a mention, all deserve to be read. Tell us who you think should be on the list.

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