Literary Tourism: Sydney, Australia

I’ve never been to Sydney but it’s tops on my travel bucket list. In the meantime, I’ve been doing some virtual tourism. Sydney has an incredibly rich literary history and culture, enough for several posts. But here’s a start:


The State Library of New South Wales, the oldest library in Australia, is a world class facility with major strengths in Australian history, culture and literature. It has free tours, permanent art galleries, a book shop and a cafe. Their Curio app streams facts, stories, and multimedia directly to your mobile device as you roam around.



On the other side of the library spectrum is the Coogee Beach Library, a laid back offering on one of Sydney’s gorgeous beaches. It holds 1000 novels, nonfiction, children’s, and foreign language books. Perfect for a day at the beach.




Gertrude and Alice’s Cafe Bookstore (after Stein and Toklas, of course). Order a pot of their famous Chai tea, grab a book and settle in. The owners strive to break down the food/book barrier, so nobody worries if you get a little pesto egg on a page (although I suspect trying to eat a book wouldn’t go over well).


The architecture of the Surry Hills Library, built in 2009, is too stunning to skip. It is an unusual multi-purpose facility, housing a child care center, community center, teaching kitchen, and yoga spaces. The library specializes in fashion and design titles, as well as having a significant LGBTQI collection. The library’s east side, on Crown Street, is a frameless glass facade where people on the ground floor can lounge in white leather sofas, sipping coffee while reading books.


No post on bookish things in Sydney would be complete without including Gould’s Book Arcade, located in the suburb of Newtown. It’s the largest retailer of used, rare and out-of-print books in Australia. Books are stacked basically willy-nilly in a shop the size of two tennis courts. My Australian friends tell me it can be slightly grimy but with patience, you can find just about anything there.


If you’d like to shop in a more organized environment, there’s Better Read Than Dead, also in Newtown. This shop prides itself on its curation and the knowledge of its staff. It has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a sky-lit mezzanine level. Their specialist children’s buyer, Amelia, even has her own website, Better Read Kids.


The Sydney Writers Walk is a series of plaques from around the International Passenger Terminal on West Circular Quay, down to the ferry jetties and train station, and on to the Sydney Opera House forecourt on East Circular Quay. It includes Australian writers, like Colleen McCullough, Oodgeroo Noonucca, and PL Travers (born in Australia), plus writers who lived and worked in Australia, like D H Lawrence, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, and Germaine Greer. The plaques contain an excerpt of the author’s writing as well as a brief biography.




The Customs House Library, also on the Quay, has the largest range of local and international newspapers and magazines in an Australian public library and a beautiful and quiet Grand Reading Room. The interior is modern and sleek, but the building is a historic landmark built in 1845.




The Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts is home of the longest running lending library in Australia, with a specialty in fiction. Located in the Sydney Central Business District, it houses the the Tom Keneally Centre. Keneally is perhaps best known for writing Schindler’s Ark, which was be the basis of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. It houses Keneally’s research collection, copies of his own works, and some items from his private collection of photographs and memorabilia. The staff has a book review site. My favorite part is probably the 8 week lending period.



Temperance Society Bar


Ready for a drink? The Temperance Society Bar in Summer Hill has an upstairs reading room/lending library. They offer, in their own words, “craft beer, a cracking wine list and cheeky cocktails accompanied with cheese and charcuterie.” I would love to try one of their deconstructed botanic Australis G&Ts.





SydneyLFL2Last but certainly not least, my friend Vassiliki Veros, digital info scholar, librarian and blogger extraordinaire, not only helped me with ideas for this post, but volunteered to take photos of local Little Free Libraries. (All errors are mine, of course.) The red one is in Hurlstone Park, built by the local council’s Men’s Shed. The other is on Myrtle Street, Chippendale, and is run by the street community.

Sadly, since I don’t have an actual trip planned, I’ll have to content myself with virtual tourism and reading Sydney-set books like What Alice Forgot, The BatSaving Francesca, and Ten Hail Marys.

We have a $500 Barnes and Noble gift card to giveaway. Click here to enter, or just click the image below: