As most of you know, I went on a walkabout for 2 weeks in the territory. A combination of things made me go on the walkabout. Work sucked at the time. I got itchy feet (not from Tinea). Winter was upon the city of Perth. I hadn’t been on a holiday for 4 months. I needed to get some Vitamin D into me.
So I booked everything and headed off, telling only my family and my immediate work group. But before I could head off, I needed to equip myself with some knowledge of the Aussie Outback. I assumed my knowledge of the African outback might have been too “hardcore” for the Aussie Outback (don’t need to protect self against roaming buffaloes) so I needed to dumb it down. By reading Down Under (no offence Bill).
It’s my first book from the Bill Bryson range. Before this book, I admit I’ve never heard of him (bit of a travel literacy noob). My brother has, but doesn’t like his writing style or sense of humour so that didn’t help.
So, Down Under is all about Bill’s adventures around Australia back in 2000. It wasn’t his first time in Australia and he speaks fondly of this big, wide country.
He starts off with a few weird and wonderful facts about the country. Things like, Australia is home to the largest living thing on earth (Great Barrier Reef); is home to five of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes; is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile (in the agricultural sense, not population although Australia is #161 on the fertility-by-country table) and climatically aggressive of the inhabited continents; has BIG things; and is very old.
As he travels on the southern east coast, he delves into the unspoken competition between Sydney and Melbourne (Melbourne is better in my opinion). Apparently Melbourne used to overshadow Sydney, and it was only when Melbourne was awarded the Olympics in 1956 that Sydney got its arse into gear with building up the city into what it is today; Opera House, Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge (Sydney was awarded the Olympics in 2000).
A quick stop in Canberra and he has a terrible time (I could have told him that). He jokingly tries to come up with the next tourism slogan during one drunken night alone. His attempts include ‘Canberra awfully boring place. Beer cold, though’ and ‘Canberra – Gateway to Everywhere Else’.
Onwards and upwards to giant Queensland and has a blast travelling up the coast despite the monsoonal weather, and then he was finally onto the part about the Top End. The part I was interested in.
During the first few pages about Darwin, he battles with the bad staff at some of Darwin’s hotels. Something I was not looking forward to. Then he starts his adventure down to Alice Springs, along with Stuart Highway. Passing by all the places I was going to too; Katherine, Daly Waters and Tennant Creek. He speaks about the importance of WWII and the aviation industry, the varse surroundings, the uselessness of the spinifex plant and coming close to running out of fuel.
Reading it made me question my choice of holiday destination. Why did I want to go to a place where I could be eaten by a crocodile? Where we could be stuck in the middle of nowhere if the bus ran out of fuel? Where I would see the racism between Aborigines and Australian first hand? What was I getting myself into?
Overall, the fun was funny, witty, daunting and confronting at the same time. Funny and witty in the way he uses humour to sugar-coat serious issues, daunting in the way he describes the (many) bad experiences he had and confronting in the way he knows more about Australia and Australian history than I do. I need to brush up on my Australian history.
This is a must-read if you’re thinking of coming down under!
(Note: I had a great time up there and didn’t let his book dampen my excitement)
[Disclaimer: I am affiliated with The Book Depository and will gain a commission if you decide to buy the book. Thanking you in advance if you do. No obligations.]