Literary Victoria

Victoria in story, memory, and the imagination. A guide to stories and works about Victoria and Victorians in fiction, personal narratives and non fiction works.

Introduction

Nonfiction has played an important role in Victoria's history, from the early newspapers and periodicals of the Port Phillip District, to the essays and autobiographies of the mid-twentieth century and seminal historical works by historians such as Geoffrey Blainey and Weston Bate. 

These days, it's fair to say that nonfiction is having 'a moment', with the huge rise in narrative or creative nonfiction, and the enormous popularity of the true crime genre. This guide will help you find nonfiction in the Library.

Finding Australian nonfiction in the Library

You can find Australian nonfiction works in the La Trobe Reading Room ("the Dome") on level 3. Books in the Dome have the letters LT (for La Trobe) preceding their call number, eg

 

Larger, folio-sized books have a prefix of LTF (for La Trobe Folio) and are located in a separate sequence to the main LT collection, eg

Popular call numbers for Australian nonfiction include: 364 True crime; 819.9 Literary journals, including Meanjin, Overland, Quadrant, SoutherlyA824.3 Essays, including Best Australian essays series; 940 World War History; 994 Australian History and 994.5 Victorian History. 

The majority of our collections are in onsite storage, so to browse the Library's full range of Australian nonfiction, you will need to use the Library catalogue. You can search for specific titles or authors, or you can browse search by Subject, AuthorTitle or Call number. See our Help pages for tips on how to search.

Forms of nonfiction

Nonfiction comes in a wide variety of forms, including autobiography, creative (or narrative) nonfiction, essays, historical nonfiction and true crime. See the tabs along the top of this box to discover some of the different types of nonfiction you can find in the Library. 

 

[Spectacles lying on an open book, row of books behind] [picture]. Photograph by Jack CatoH98.150/112

An autobiography is an account of a person's life written by his or her self. A biography, on the other hand, is an account or study of a person's life written by somebody else. Both of these types of literature are popular forms of nonfiction.

The Library's Australian autobiographies and biographies are not found together in one section.This is because they are shelved according to their subject rather than their form. For example, an autobiography by an Australian sportsman will be found in the call number range of LT 796 (under the subject of Sport), whilst a biography about Australian author Elizabeth Jolley will be found in the LT A820s (under the subject of Australian literature).  

To find a biography or autobiography of a particular person, use a keyword search in the Library catalogue. For example: elizabeth jolley biography. You can also use a subject search, such as: Women authors, Australian -- Biography.

See our Help pages for more tips on searching the catalogue.

Useful reference works

Artful histories : modern Australian autobiography 
Artful Histories is an original account of modern Australian autobiography which radically revises current theories of autobiography and discusses a remarkably broad range of popular and literary texts written since Hal Porter's 1963 autobiography The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony.

The Oxford companion to Australian literature
This book offers a comprehensive account of Australian writing from European settlement in 1788 to the 1990s. Considerable attention is paid to nonfictional prose in journals, diaries, biographies and autobiographies.

The Penguin new literary history of Australia 
A joint project of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature and Australian literary studies. Contains an informative essay on Australian autobiographies by poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe from p 560.

Macquarie PEN anthology of Australian literature
A landmark anthology of Australian literary writing across all genres from over two centuries, this is an authoritative collection more than six years in the making, providing a window into Australian culture. 

Creative nonfiction, also known as narrative nonfiction or literary nonfiction, employs narrative techniques that have traditionally been associated with fiction writing, such as theme, action-oriented scenes, dialogue, evocative description, characterisation and point-of-view.  Creative nonfiction uses personal and/or private moments to convey the significance of a factual event and may affect its readers in an emotional way. There is an emphasis on fine storytelling and fine writing. 

Whilst prestigious Australian writers, such as David Marr and Helen Garner (cited in Joseph, S. Behind the Text, p. xiv), argue that creative nonfiction has always existed, the genre is widely regarded as being relatively new. It is taught as a separate subject in creative writing courses, both in Australia and internationally. 

Examples of Australian creative nonfiction titles from recent years include: The tall man by Chloe Hooper, Stasiland by Anna Funder, This house of grief by Helen Garner, and The trauma cleaner : one woman's extraordinary life in death, decay & disaster by Sarah Krasnostein. 

You can find creative nonfiction in the Library using a simple keyword search in the catalogue. For example, to find Chloe Hooper's book The Arsonist: a mind on fire, entering keywords: hooper arsonist in the Search box will be enough. 

You can read more about Australian creative nonfiction writers in Sue Joseph's book: Behind the text : candid conversations with Australian creative nonfiction writers.

The Library has an extensive collection of nonfiction essays by Australian writers. Some of these are in the La Trobe Reading Room ("the Dome") around call number LT A823.4, a few are in the Redmond Barry Reading Room, and many more are located in onsite storage.

Many essays written by Australian writers are found in Australian literary journals. Anthologies of essays are also popular. The series Best Australian essays, which has been published annually by Black Inc since 1998, features a selection of the best essays by Australian authors from any given year. You can find this series in the Dome at call number  LT A824.308 B46C‎. The series has also been available to as an ebook since 2016. 

Find out more about our ebooks in our research guide, Ebooks: using our ebook collection.

To browse the Library's full collection of essays by Australian authors, you will need to use the catalogue. If you know the writer you are looking for, you can use a simple keyword search, for example:

 malouf essay*. 
(Hint: The asterisk will search for essay and essays).

"clive james" essay*
(Hint: the inverted commas will search for the author's name as a phrase)

The following subject searches are also useful:

Australian essays
Australian essays--20th century
Australian essays--21st century

The Library's collection of historical works is vast and includes many seminal works by Australian historians, journalists and authors.

Prominent Australian historians featured in our collection include Weston BateGeoffrey Serle, Michael Cannon, Clare Wright, Ken Inglis, Graeme Davison, Manning Clark, Andrew Brown May and Gary Presland, to name just a few. We have works by journalists such as Edmund Finn (aka Garryowen), John Stanley James (aka "the Vagabond"),  C.E.W.BeanGideon Haigh and Peter Fitzsimons,  as well as many excellent histories written by talented Australian writers, such as Marcus Clarke,  Robyn Annear, Thomas Keneally and David Sornig. 

You can find works by many of these authors on the shelves of the La Trobe Reading Room in the call number ranges of LT 994 (Australian History) and LT 994.5 (Victorian History).

You can browse our full collection of historical works using the catalogue. A large number of items are in onsite storage, and some are available as eresources. If you would like to access our full collection, you will need to join the Library. 

"True crime" is a nonfiction genre of literature which comprises accounts of real crimes. The true crime genre differs from crime fiction in that it purports to be based on 'real' or 'true' events, although there is some crossover with creative nonfiction, as narrative techniques are sometimes used to enhance the story.

Whilst it is tempting to see the current popularity of the true crime genre as a modern phenomenon, sensational stories of grisly murders and other appalling crimes have always been popular with the public. As far back as 1818, Michael Howe: the last and worst of the bushrangers of Van Diemens Land was published from 'Authentic sources of information'. The authentic source was in fact convict, Thomas Wells, but convicts were not allowed to publish works of literature so the book was published anonymously. 

In the 1940s, pulp fiction presses recounted sordid true crime stories such as the Gun Alley rape and murder of 12 year old Alma Tirtschke, the Pyjama Girl, the Shark Arm case, and the Brown Out serial killer, to name just a few. Invincible Press published its True Australian Crime Series in 1947, Dr Watson's case book: studies in mystery and crime was published in 1944, and well-known Melbourne reporter Hugh Buggy published Hugh Buggy's Murder Book: true crime stories by a famous reporter in 1948.

In the fifties, Famous detective stories, a monthly magazine devoted to true crime stories from Australia and New Zealand, complete with lurid illustrations, was popular. 

Sadly, the never-ending supply of subjects for true crime novels shows no signs of letting up. You can read more about the true crime genre in Australia in Continent of mystery: a thematic history of Australian crime fiction by Stephen Knight. See also: Dark places: true crime writing in Australia by Rosalind Smith.

Finding true crime in the Library

You can find a selection of Australian true crime novels in the La Trobe Reading Room at call number LT 364 and sometimes in the Redmond Barry Reading Room at call number B 364. You can browse our full selection using the catalogue.

The following subject searches are also useful:

True crime stories 
Crime -- Australia
Criminal behavior -- Australia
Criminal investigation -- Australia
Crime -- Australia -- Case studies
Criminal investigation -- Australia -- Case studies

Newspapers & periodicals

 Newspapers played an important role in the early days of the Port Phillip District, providing newly arrived immigrants with essential information such as where to find accommodation, information about the mail and what was happening abroad. 

Melbourne's first newspaper, the Melbourne Advertiser, was published on 1 January 1838 by Melbourne's co-founder John Pascoe Fawkner. In typically audacious fashion, Fawkner handwrote the newspaper himself on four foolscap pages and displayed it at his pub, then named the Shakespeare Hotel, for everyone to read.

Oil painting of Melbourne from the South Bank of the Yarra, 1840 by Eleanor McGlinn. You can see the distinctive roof line of John Pascoe Fawkner's hotel (then known as the Shakespeare Hotel) on the hill; H265

It was to be a short-lived affair. Fawkner had never attained a licence, and was forced to close. True to form he was undeterred, launching the Port Phillip Patriot soon after.  The Port Phillip Gazette (edited by George Arden and printed by Thomas Strode) began publication on 27 October 1838.  The Geelong Advertiser came on the scene in 1840, and in June 1846 the Melbourne Argus entered the fray. The Age was first published on 17 October 1854, just six weeks prior to the Eureka rebellion. 

By the end of Governor La Trobe's tenure in 1854, more than 40 newspapers had been produced in the Port Phillip District, although only a handful went on to survive.  You can read more about the history of Victoria's newspapers in the following resources:

Finding newspapers in the Library

State Library Victoria collects every newspaper published in Victoria. Many of these are available on microfilm in the Family History and Newspapers Rooms. A large number have also been digitised and are available online through Historic Australian Newspapers. 

To find historic newspapers in the library, see our research guide:  How to find newspapers.  We also have a guide to help you find specific articles: How to find items in newspapers.

Magazines were popular luxury items in the Port Phillip District. International titles were in demand, providing newly arrived immigrants with a fix of the arts and cultural scenes they had left behind. Enterprising colonists launched their own rival versions in the hope of cornering the local market, but skilled labour was scant, as was machinery. 

The first periodical in the Port Phillip District was the Port Phillip magazine, which was published by William Kerr in 1843. Others followed, including the Illustrated Australian magazine (1850-52), the Melbourne Monthly magazine (1855) and the Journal of Australasia (1856-58). Magazines typically contained a mixture of articles on local and general subjects, as well as fiction, poetry and limited international content. 

Melbourne Punch [cover] [art original]. Drawing by William Ilsley; H89.49/1

By the second half of the nineteenth century, Melbourne was the primary producer of locally-produced periodicals, although its output declined sharply following the depression of the 1890s. Notable periodicals that survived into the twentieth century include: the Australian Journal (1865-1962) which was noted for its championing of Australian writers, Melbourne Punch (1855-1925), Table Talk (1885-1939) and the Melbourne Bulletin (first published in 1880). 

Literary journals

From the mid thirties, "little magazines" emerged as a phenomenon in Australia, but they had been around overseas since World War I. "Little magazines" were designed for a limited audience, catering to specialised interests rather than the broader market.  Some of the first little magazines to appear in Victoria included the Meanjin Papers (now Meanjin, published in Brisbane from 1940-1944, and then in Melbourne from 1945 onwards) and Overland. 

These little magazines helped sow the seeds for Victoria's literary scene today.

Finding periodicals in the Library 

You can find periodicals in the library using the Library catalogue. Enter the title of the periodical you are looking for in the Search box (use inverted commas to search for the title as a phrase), and select 'Journals & newspaper titles' from the dropdown menu on the right. 

You can find many popular literary journals in the La Trobe Reading Room. If you are a Victorian resident and you join the Library, some are also available to read online from home.

Further reading

You can find more about the history of periodicals in Victoria in the following resources:

Eresources

You can find a wide variety of Australian non-fiction using the Library's eresources. If you are a Victorian resident and you join the Library, you can access many of these resources from home. 

Ebooks

The Library has an extensive range of ebooks, including a large number of nonfiction titles, to choose from. Finding ebooks in the Library catalogue is easy. Just enter a title, author's name, or keyword/s in the Search box, and select 'Ebooks' from the dropdown menu on the right.

Learn more in our research guide Ebooks: using our ebook collection.

Databases

Databases are generally composed of collections of  digitised journals and newspapers. They may also contain ebooks, and streamed audio and video content. Some databases include in long runs of specific titles.

Here are a few of our most useful databases for finding Australian non-fiction:

You can see a full list of our Literature databases at: A-Z databases: Literature. 

Hugh Buggy's murder book

Well-known crime reporter Hugh Buggy brought out this collection of true crime stories in 1948.

Blue lake

In his book Blue lake: finding Dudley Flats and the West Melbourne swamp, former State Library Victoria creative fellow, Dr David Sornig, examines how the once-fertile 8km-square wetland to the west of central Melbourne became the city's blind spot - passing through various incarnations- from boneyards and rubbish tips; through the Depression-era Dudley Flats shanty town; to the modern-day docks.

Literary journals & serials

The following literary journals and serials publish Australian nonfiction and are available through the Library:

Kill your darlings

Kill your darlings (KYD) is an independent online magazine dedicated to arts and culture. The journal publishes fiction, commentary, essays, memoir and criticism and more. Back issues are available in the Library from onsite storage, but current issues of the journal are only available online to subscribers. 

Meanjin

Meanjijn is one of Australia's best and oldest literary journals of literature and ideas.

The Monthly

Home to our finest thinkers, journalists and critics, including David Marr, Helen Garner, Don Watson and Anna Goldsworthy, the magazine offers a mix of investigative reportage, critical essays and thoughtful reviews. Also available to Victorian residents who are State Library members as an eresource from home.

Quarterly Essay

Australian journal of politics, culture and debate. 

Overland

Overland - Australia's only radical literary magazine – has been showcasing brilliant and progressive fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art since 1954.

The Saturday Paper

The Saturday Paper is a quality weekly newspaper, dedicated to narrative journalism. Also available to Victorian residents who are State Library members as an eresource from home.

Marcus Clarke at 20 years

Marcus Clarke at 20. From the Bread and Cheese Club portraitsH28050/54a