Books to help explain Australia’s history to kids

The immense popularity of Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu: A Truer History has demonstrated a thirst for true and balanced accounts of Australian history. Here are some of our favourite books to help explain Australian history to kids.


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Young Dark Emu: A Truer History by Bruce Pascoe

This young reader’s version of Bruce Pascoe’s seminal and award-winning work Dark Emu explains that Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the time of British colonisation were not only hunter-gatherers, but also made agricultural use of their land. They settled and built villages – something the British denied in order to establish their own claim over the land. Young Dark Emu: A Truer History uses diary entries from settlers, well-pitched text, fascinating illustrative material and a colourful graphic design to explore farming methods, aquaculture, food storage, housing, sustainability and the devastating effects of European colonisation. This book is the perfect way to start conversations about pre-colonised Australia, First Nations history and cultures, and frontier conflict.

For ages 9 and up


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Sorry Day by Coral Vass & Dub Leffler

This moving picture book follows two timelines to explore the ramifications of the Australian government’s removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and homes. Maggie and her mum listen as Prime Minister Rudd delivers the landmark apology to the Stolen Generations. Scenes of Maggie accidentally letting go of her mum’s hand and becoming lost in the crowd are interspersed with resonant historical scenes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children running away from the white men who want to take them away from their families.

For ages 5 and up


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Papunya School Book of Country and History by Nadia Wheatley & Ken Searle

This wonderful picture book zooms in on the fascinating history of Western Desert communities. It tells the story of how Anangu from five different language groups came to live together at Papunya, 250km north-west of Alice Springs – from the time of first contacts with explorers, missionaries and pastoralists, through to the Papunya art movement and the Warumpi Band, to the development of the unique educational environment that is Papunya School. This book was a collaboration involving the staff and students of Papunya School, working together with children’s writer Nadia Wheatley and artist Ken Searle. First published in 2003, it has since won many awards.

For ages 8 and up


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Wilam: A Birrarung Story by Aunty Joy Murphy, Andrew Kelly & Lisa Kennedy

Take a trip down Birrarung (the Yarra River) and through time – from pre-history to the present day – in this beautiful picture book by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy (of Welcome to Country fame), together with Yarra River keeper Andrew Kelly. This stunning story depicts the many creatures who call Birrarung home, as we slowly wind from the mountains to the bay. Wilam: A Birrarung Story is ideal for kids who love natural history. It explores wildlife, Woiwurrung language, history and the importance of the river to animals and the Wurundjeri-Woiwurrung people and other tribes of the Kulin nation.

For ages 4 and up


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Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris (Garimara) Pilkington

This is the true account of author Doris (Garimara) Pilkington’s mother Molly, who led her two sisters on an extraordinary 1,600 kilometre walk home in 1931. They had been taken from their families at Jigalong on the edge of the Little Sandy Desert, and transported halfway across the state to the Native Settlement at Moore River, north of Perth. The three girls – aged 8, 11 and 14 – managed to escape from the settlement’s repressive conditions and brutal treatment. Barefoot, without provisions or maps, they set out to find the rabbit-proof fence, knowing it passed near their home in the north. Tracked by Native Police and search planes, they hid in terror, surviving on bush tucker, desperate to return to the world they knew.

For ages 12 and up


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Welcome to My Country by Laklak Burarrwanga & Family

Laklak Burarrwanga is a Datiwuy Elder, Caretaker for the Gumatj clan and a teacher at Bawaka in north-east Arnhem Land. She shares her deep knowledge of Yolngu culture in this warm and engaging book that combines Dreamtime stories, and scenes from daily life in Bawaka, with artwork and photos. Burarrwanga’s personal history is extraordinary and takes in some of the most pivotal moments in Aboriginal history. Her family were key players in fighting an aluminium ore mine on Yolngu land, creating the famous Bark Petitions that asserted native title, and bringing the first native title case to the Northern Territory Supreme Court. Steeped in culture, knowledge and politics, this is an illuminating book for young Australians.

For ages 12 and up


Leanne Hall is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids. She also writes books for children and young adults.

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Young Dark Emu: A Truer History

Young Dark Emu: A Truer History

Bruce Pascoe

$24.99Buy now

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