Sunday, June 15, 2008

In a Sunburned Country

In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
$10.17 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 0767903862
Travel memoirs have always been a favorite of mine: they're a way to experience the fun of visiting some exotic location but without the inconvenience of a trans-Pacific flight. Bill Bryson has written several, and since I know very little about Australia, it was the first one I picked up.
Most of the world, apparently, knows little about Australia. In fact, its Prime Minister drowned in 1967 and virtually no one outside the country was aware it had happened.
Australia is the only country that it also a continent. It has more deadly animals than anyplace else on earth: poisonous snakes, jellyfish, scorpions, ants, and even giant worms. It has a population of only 18 million (China grows by more than this amount each year), so that most of its territory is largely unexplored and uninhabited.
It hosts the largest living thing in the world: the Great Barrier Reef. Its major railroad, the Indian-Pacific, stretching from Sydney to Perth, travels through parched 120o temperatures for hundreds of miles without so much as a curve in the track.
Bryson begins his journey in Sydney, and divides his time between big cities, small towns, and regions of untouched natural beauty. He writes very briefly on Australian politics, history, art, and culture, but most of his time is spent exploring just as a tourist might. He has a delightful visit in a town called Surfer's Paradise, renowned for its outstanding beaches and reputation for attracting daredevils. There's also a lot of time spent in microscopically small towns with surprising stories. The first solo flight across the Pacific was performed by an unheard of Australian, just a few years after Charles Lindbergh. Adelaide was a well-known haven for great artists and intellectuals.
In a Sunburned Country was an exciting odyssey which got me wanting to visit Australia myself, something I'd never considered before. Bryson has a gift for charming anecdotes which keep the reader engaged, and informing without becoming boring. He constantly stressed how big and dangerous the country was, but that it was interesting and beautiful enough to be worth the disadvantages. If you're not too familiar with this magnificent country and would enjoy a casual introduction, this book gets top marks.


Franco said...

Australia's population is not 180 million. It has about 20 million. Most of the continent is desert, and has little or no life at all. Yet the standard of living is good for whites, but the native original population, suffers from emotional and social damage. Caused by the white population's dreadful treatment of them. Some attemps are now being made to help them, and to offer them hope.

Hansisgreat said...

My bad about the population. It was a typo which I've corrected. Thanks for pointing it out, Franco!
It sounds like a rough situation for the aborigines, with no easy answers. Similar to the plight of Native americans here in the US. Bryson does mention them from time to time in his book, but doesn't dwell on it. Most of his book is upbeat and funny.
Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment. You rock!