Bill Bryson is one of the most humorous travel writers I have read. He always combines wit and regional knowledge (political, historical, geographical, biological) in his writing which keeps the reader learning about a place and entertained. In this book he travels to Australia, to the cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Darwin) and also into the outback. As with all his writing its always entertaining to read about his encounters and sometimes a little exaggerated descriptions which leave you laughing, see this excerpt “Between the merciless sun and the isolation, outback people are not always the most gifted of communicators. We had heard of one shopkeeper who, upon being asked by a smiling visitor from Sydney where the fish were biting, stared at the man incredulously for a long moment and replied, “In the fucking river, mate, where do you think?”
Throughout the book, he sets up a historical background then delves into his travel experience there. I enjoyed his description and emphasis on finding and writing about Aboriginal peoples, whom he describes as the most unjustly treated people on earth. He describes the rampant alcoholism among Aborigines that is commonly found- guess where else? -among native Americans in the reserves. Why, you may ask? It is the same throughout the world, the minute you destroy/disrupt a peoples way of life and introduce a new way of thinking in effect you are destroying those people, some may make it but the majority are left hopeless. Especially, if you do so by trying to decimate them and if that fails, by setting up “laws” that in effect teaches them that everything they knew before is wrong.
Of course, Australia is a unique country/continent, in that over the millions of years it has evolved creatures not found anywhere else on earth due to its isolation- some extremely deadly e.g. stingrays, box jellyfish, sharks, 12 foot earth worms, kangaroos e.t.c . Bryson does not hesitate to play some the fears associated with these creatures into his tales such as this ”What’s a bluey?” I asked appalled to discover that there was some additional danger I hadn’t been told about. “A bluebottle,” she explained, and pointed to a small jellyfish of the type (as I later learned from browsing through a fat book titled, if I recall, Things That Will Kill You Horribly in Australia, volume 19) known elsewhere as a Portuguese man-of-war. I squinted at it as it drifted past. It looked unprepossessing, like a blue condom with strings attached.”
My only criticism of this book is that towards the end, the editorial work begins to get a little sloppy. It appears as though he tries to condense everything he wants to say at the end thus appearing a bit rushed, that some of the details are lost. But don’t let that discourage you, it is a great book!