In the second half of the nineteenth century, largely due to the Victorian gold rushes, Melbourne became the richest city in the world, earning the nickname ‘Marvellous Melbourne’. Rapid urban development accompanied the city’s social and cultural expansion. Many of the colony’s most remarkable novelists emerged from this bustling metropolis, including Marcus Clarke, Rolf Boldrewood and Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson who wrote as Henry Handel Richardson, author of several renowned books including The Getting of Wisdom [B0131], set in turn-of-the-century Melbourne. Famous international writers came to see this expanding new society. One of them, Fergus Hume, set his best-selling mystery novel A Mystery of Hansom Cab (1886) entirely in Melbourne. Another was the great Mark Twain, who visited Australia in 1895. After attending the Melbourne Cup, Twain wrote in Following the Equator (1897): “The grand-stands make a brilliant and wonderful spectacle, a delirium of colour, a vision of beauty. The champagne flows, everybody is vivacious, excited, happy.” In the following decades, as the national capital of a brand new country, Melbourne saw the flowering of its own remarkable literary culture. Nowadays the city has the magnificent Wheeler Centre, a premier destination for thinkers, writers and leaders to share books, writing and ideas.


Here are a few of our favourite novels set in Melbourne:



The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, by C J Dennis

Bill, a larrikin, meets young Doreen. The story of their courtship and marriage, and Bill’s transformation from thuggish gang member to contented husband and father.


The Getting of Wisdom, by Henry Handel Richardson [B0131]

A coming-of-age story of a spontaneous heroine who finds herself ensconced in the rigidity of a turn-of-the-century boarding school.


The Great Melbourne Cup Mystery, by Arthur Upfield

Someone has killed the horse that would have won the Melbourne Cup. For what motive? Profit, blackmail, a betting scam? Only Tom Pink, the rider of the murdered horse can find out.


Lucinda Brayford, by Martin Boyd

Born into a wealthy Melbourne family, Lucinda spurns the love of a distinguished family friend to marry a dashing aide-de-camp to the Governor. Then she realises he has married her for her money, and he has a mistress.


Power Without Glory, by Frank Hardy

A tale of corruption stretching from street corner SP bookmaking to the most influential men in the land, and the terrible personal cost of the power such corruption brings.


My Brother Jack, by George Johnston

The story of two brothers: a man who loses his soul as he gains worldly success, and that of a tough, honest Aussie battler, whose greatest ambition is to serve his country in wartime.


Monkey Grip, by Helen Garner

A novel that shines a light on a time and a place and a way of living never before presented in Australian literature.


The Children’s Bach, by Helen Garner [B0569]

Winner of the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature, a captivating and deeply personal novel from one of Australia’s most respected authors.


Three Dollars, by Elliot Perlman [B1581]

The ground-breaking novel about economic rationalism and its effect on good, honest people.


Café Scheherazade, by Arnold Zable [B1620]

A haunting meditation on displacement, and the way the effects of war linger in the minds of its survivors.

The Art of the Engine Driver, by Stephen Carroll [B1674]

The story of the neighbourhood unfolds the old and the new, diesel and steam, town and country.

The Slap, by Cristos Tsiolkas [B2034]

A powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity that family can arouse.

Truth, by Peter Temple [B2083]

A novel about a man, a family, a city; a novel of violence, murder, love, corruption, honour and deceit.

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion [B2182]

Don Tillman is getting married. He just doesn’t know who to yet. But he has designed the Wife Project, using a sixteen-page questionnaire to help him find the perfect partner.


What do you think? Have we missed any? There are some beautifully written crime novels set in Melbourne.

How about the Phrynne Fisher novels of Kerry Greenwood in Melbourne of the roaring 1920s

or the Murray Whelan novels of Shane Maloney? [B1484, B1577, B1978]

or the Jack Irish novels of the late Peter Temple? [B1799 and B1853]