As Australian media stalwart Phillip Adams so eloquently put it: “Books are the sleepers on the railway of life, the pickets in the fence of your history, the bricks with which you’ve built your brain.”
Thanks to authors such as Ruth Park, Patrick White, Tim Winton and even John Marsden, Australian stories have made their way into our hearts and minds for more than a century.
But for those who think Red Dog and Rabbit Proof Fence were films first, the team from ABC1’s First Tuesday Book Club are bringing you the ultimate cheat sheet to Australian literature.
Over the past year, host Jennifer Byrne and the producers of the show — in accordance with the National Year of Reading — have been compiling a list of popular books and checking it twice over to bring viewers tonight’s 2012 special finale “10 Aussie Books to Read Before You Die”.
“We spoke to about 120 Australians first up and we got a shortlist of 50 which we thought would help people,” an excited Byrne says over the phone from Sydney.
An array of famous Aussies from actors including Jacqui Weaver and Brendan Cowell to sporting icons such as Layne Beachley were asked to list their favourite Australian novels.
From there, a shortlist was created purely as a guide and thousands of members of the public placed their votes online to produce the top 10.
“All the top 10 books ended up being on that top 50 because it was a pretty accurate list,” Byrne says.
“We didn’t really know until a week before we filmed the show what number nine and 10 were going to be — they were still jumping around.
“We’re going to publish the whole list so people can see where they were.”
The catalogue of Aussie classics was mostly unbound by rules other than each individual author only being allowed to have a maximum of two books in the final list.
“I never liked anything where they said you have to have people from all the States — it was nothing like that.
“They come from everywhere. They are both men and women and it ranges from a book nearly 100 years old to a book just a couple of years old,” Byrne explains.
“It’s very representative of time, gender, geography, type of book and so on.
“It’s just a celebration. If they didn’t make the top 10, it’s not like they don’t deserve to be discussed.”
However, one group of authors who have a noticeable presence in the final 10 hail from WA.
“The disproportionate representation is West Australians. The WA presence was noticeable,” Byrne says.
“I just think you’ve got excellent writers there.
“They are books which are typical if not representative of Australia. It’s the classic West spirit.
“My brother lives there and I visit him quite a bit and there’s a great spirit from the idyllically blue and orange north and the mine sites down to the ancient forests of the (great south right round to the whaling story in Albany.”
Fittingly, WA author and former Home and Away star Judy Nunn will join Byrne and regular panellists Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy on tonight’s show along with publisher Michael Williams.
“We asked her very early — about halfway through the year — before we knew how well WA was going to do in the list,” Byrne says.
“We’ve never had Judy on the show and we thought she’d be perfect for this because she is a broad reader, she’s generous. There was a lot more reading than for the normal club and she was so generous and enthusiastic about that.
“Because she’s a writer of popular books I think she’s really in touch.
“We didn’t want to have some academic analysis or discussion, we wanted to have a celebration.”10 Aussie Books to Read Before You Die airs today at 9.30pm on ABC1.