Books, poems, and other great free reading

Like many of our readers, the SUP team will be working remotely as much as possible while the covid-19 situation develops. For readers spending a lot of time at home, we’ve compiled some of our favourite free online reading materials, from our own open access collection and from around the world. From history to great Australian poetry to classic children’s picture books, we hope you find something to add to your reading pile.

(We know that we are lucky to be able to work remotely, and we’re grateful for the frontline and other essential workers who can’t.)

Sydney Open Library

In our Sydney Open Library, you’ll find all of SUP’s open access books, including history, biography, politics, literary criticism, public health and more, all free to read.

Cover image of Night Skies of Aboriginal Australia

In Night Skies of Aboriginal Australia, Dianne Johnson explores how Aboriginal peoples have seen and responded to the stars and planets over millennia. In Contemporary Australian Literature, Nicholas Birns asks how Australian writers have grappled with questions of distance, history and globalisation, from Patrick White to Hannah Kent, Christos Tsiolkas and Alexis Wright. In Fighting Nature, Peta Tait traces the rise of animal circuses and travelling menageries in the 19th century against the backdrop of expanding empires.

There are many more titles in the Sydney Open Library, all reflecting SUP’s mission to publish books that “engage, inspire, and stimulate debate”.




University of Sydney Library

Cover image from 1987 Honi Soit, depicting photograph of young man in blue jeans and black jumper, with the words "Honi Soit" across his chest. He is sitting down, resting one side of his face against his hand and looks glumly down at the ground.

The University Library’s digital collections include treasures that could keep you reading for weeks. Find out what student newspaper Honi Soit was saying in 1987. Dip into an annotated first edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia. Or brush up on your science knowledge with the comic strip “Frontiers of Science”. First published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1961, this daily short comic explored big scientific questions. It was a hit with readers and at its peak was syndicated in over 600 newspapers around the world. As well as providing an accessible introduction to concepts such as relativity and radiation, it gives a fascinating insight into what was on scientists’ and readers’ minds at the height of the Cold War. (Is there life on Venus, and will the Russians get there first?)  

Australian Poetry Library

Created by the University of Sydney and the Australian Copyright Agency, the Australian Poetry Library hosts tens of thousands of poems by Australian writers, plus recordings of poets reading their work. You can browse themed collections such as cat poems, sister poems, school poems and “missing you” poems, or curate your own collection of favourites. There’s also a handy glossary of poetical terms, from alexandrine to villanelle. 

Indigenous Music of Australia

Several books in our Indigenous Music of Australia series have companion websites, where you can learn about the music of Indigenous communities and stream audio and video recordings of musicians performing their songs. Cover image of Songs from the StationsFor the Sake of a Song focuses on wangga, public dance-songs from the Daly region of north-western Australia. Songs from the Stations documents wajarra, public songs of the Gurindji people in the Northern Territory. The most recent book in the series, Archival Returns, is available open access. It explores how Aboriginal communities, museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions are collaborating to return cultural materials to the communities who created them.


More from around the web...

For more free online reading, check out these other great resources from around the internet:

World Digital Library: free ebooks and audiobooks, including classics, history, science, medicine, biographies, children’s books and more.

International Children’s Library: a huge selection of books for children in English and 19 other languages, focusing on “books that help children understand the world around them and the global society in which they live”.

Open Culture: free audio and ebooks, from Aeschylus to Z.

Readprint: classics, poetry, history and more. You can create reading lists to keep track of the books you’ve read and those you want to read next.

The National Library of Australia has an impressive collection of ebooks, and of course is host to Trove: If you are holed-up at home, now might be the time to research that quirky corner of history that you’ve always wondered about. Search for your street, your local pub, or your mysterious great-aunt Ethel’s name in Trove’s extensive collection of digital newspapers and see what surprising histories you discover.

Lastly, for those days when you need to step away from the books, Google Street View can take you to amazing galleries and museums, artists’ studios, and theatres, while NPR’s list of free things that weren’t free before coronavirus includes Broadway shows, concerts, classes, fitness activities and more.

Take care, everyone.