After being so successful with Notes From A Small Island about Britain, Bill Bryson has now written a travel book about his journey around Australia. I find I always laugh at his books and this one was certainly no exception. Another great thing about it is the fact that it is also a good way to find out about the history of Australia as he goes into quite a bit of detail and gives the facts rather than just his opinion.
Being such a vast country he needed to do a lot of the trip by car, although there were some parts were he managed to use public transport. While he was on the train and visiting the Cities he took the opportunity to talk to a lot of Australians about a lot of things including the lifestyle out there. Mainly he wanted to get them to talk about their country and the things that made it special, while he also added in his own observations.
As ever the book made me laugh a lot and although I don't think it has convinced me that I want to go to Australia it was interesting and I feel that I know a lot more about Australia and Australians past and present.
He has split the book up into 3 sections the first one being "Into the Outback" which covers the journey from Sydney to Perth. This part is mainly made up of the history of Australia and some funny stories about early settlers.
Next is "Civilised Australia" and this is a more in depth catalogue of Australia's history and goes back to the discovery of the country. Most of the journey here covers the area between Brisbane and Adelaide and ends when he arrives at Surfers Paradise.
The final part see a friend of his join him - Allan Sherwin - and they travel to the Great Barrier Reef and Bill is given the unusual offer of Allan's urine in case they get lost and need something to drink. In this final part they visit Uluru and Alice Springs.
As with a lot of Bill Bryson's books I have read it a couple of times and while I can't say new things jump out at me I do still laugh out loud in certain parts. It is an easy to read book as he has a style of writing that seems to appeal to so many. I felt it was helped by him opening up about his own views such as his concerns about the snakes and other animals.
464 pages in paperback
Publisher: Black Swan 6 Aug 2001
Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 3 cm
Amazon presently has this book for sale at £6.74
Very few writers have ever made me literally laugh out loud - but Bryson is one of them. While this may not be one of his very best works, it still has quite a lot going for it.
I might not have chosen to read this title but for a slightly dog-eared copy which had been lying around for some time on one of our shelves. Also, I had in the past enjoyed similar books by this most popular of authors. It's fair to say that Australia has never really been one of my prime interests, though I do just about remember the emigration programme back in the 60s, the original (1959) Flying Doctor TV series and also Rolf Harris being in the charts for the first time. Still, this was by Bryson so I was prepared to give it a try...
Someone once described most people's view of the Iberian peninsula as 'like a polo mint' - with nothing in the middle (and everything of interest around the coast). That might actually be a more accurate description of Bryson's Australia. We're certainly left with a lasting impression of the vast emptiness of the outback. But there's more, much more here.
~~A tale of two trips~~
Originally published in 2000, this paperback edition dates from 2001. It is a personal account of the author's second and third trips to Australia. He had been asked to file a report on the country for The Mail on Sunday magazine, so his expenses were already covered and he certainly travelled far and wide. In common with Bryson's other travel books, this is not a guide as such. It has been aptly described as a travelogue, in which the author recounts places visited and experiences had on his travels throughout the land of Oz.
At times travelling solo and sometimes with companions, Bryson regales us with anecdotes and facts galore. At one point he describes his process of observation as 'poking about journalistically'. This seems part serendipity and part research. The extent of his background reading is evident here, as elsewhere in his work, but somehow I found this excessively didactic. Perhaps it was the subject matter, with so much natural history in particular, and the recurring themes of lethal flora and fauna.
~~The wit of Bryson~~
Luckily the book is just saved by the author's easy wit - the light touch so much in evidence in Bryson's writing. This is wit in both senses: intelligence and humour. Without it, the sheer volume of factual information would probably be quite indigestible.
Bryson has a gift for the neat turn of phrase. It's his economy of words that lets him cram so much in. There are so many facts and anecdotes here related to Australia's unique natural history, geography, social history, politics etc. The scene is set on page one as we hear that 'in 1967 the Prime Minister [...] was strolling along a beach when he plunged into the surf and vanished'. Apparently he was never seen again. Bryson is doubly astonished by the story and the fact that it was news to him! This establishes a sense of lurking dangers, which becomes a theme verging on the obsession throughout the book. It also seems to hint at alienation and remoteness.
Much of Bryson's humour may be quite childish - as with his obsession with explorers driven to drinking their own urine - but I was particularly amused by his inimitable description of his own snoring tendencies. He goes into hilariously graphic detail as he dozes off whilst being driven, in a somewhat jet-lagged state. This starts as follows:
'I snore hugely and helplessly, like a cartoon character, with rubbery flapping lips and prolonged steam-valve exhalations.'
And ends with:
'... all children under eight [...] clutching their mothers' hems.'
The author repeatedly states how much he comes to like Australia and its people. But I was still left with a feeling of slight 'disconnect'. When he does engage with the locals, this may be exceptional; mostly he seems to spend hours and days behind the wheels of hire cars driving through endless vast empty desert space or sitting in bars drinking copious amounts of beer and wine. So, when he does come across something (or someone) of interest this inevitably becomes a highlight!
I found his descriptions of Uluru ('Ayers Rock') and other sights interesting, along with his accounts of exploration and immigration, and to some extent his wildlife observations. But his view of tourists at times verges on the patronising. What distinguishes the seasoned 'traveller' from the tourist, I wonder? His attitude to Aborigines has been described as ambivalent too, though basically sympathetic.
~~A land of extremes and contrasts~~
Bryson describes a country/continent of extremes, great contrasts and paradoxes. Perhaps the most telling anecdote is that of the alleged atomic explosion which is said to have taken place in the vast empty spaces of the outback, but not even detected or reported at the time. Certainly gives you a sense of scale and remoteness! Even Bryson, originally from the wide expanses of the United States, holds this in awe.
The book vividly conveys the contrast between the extreme inhospitable desert of the outback, lush tropical areas and the even more surprising bits in between. We hear about all manner of extraordinary wildlife, mostly dangerous and unique to Australia. If you find any of this intriguing, you will probably enjoy the story.
If you're somehow not yet familiar with Bryson's work, perhaps start with something like his autobiographical The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid instead of this(?) But it depends entirely on what interests you. As Bryson has written quite widely, including works on language, science and social history, in addition to his well-known travelogues.
Having said that, this book is still well worth trying. It's another witty and entertaining read from Bryson, though perhaps not one of his greatest.
~~Availability & price~~
The paperback edition retails at around £6 but discounted deals are available from under £4, Kindle and audio versions are also available. Check (e.g.) Amazon for full details.
400 pages (including extensive bibliography and maps)
Publisher: Black Swan, 2001
[© SteveS001 2011. A version of this original review may appear on other review sites]
It's not often that I have trouble in finishing a book but Bill Bryson's book Down Under is one of the Worst books I have ever read. I can't believe that anyone would want to read an account of a man travelling ALONE around a country (even one as interesting as Australia) who seems to spend more than 80% of his time drinking beers in a pub (alone) and reading old history books that seem to have little reference to important events in Australia's history. He doesn't visit any major Australian tourist attractions (except the Great Barrier Reef, although this could hardly be counted as he doesn't even bother to get off his bottom and go in the water) and he has strange obbsesions including explorers drinking their own urine... (he mentions this particular event at least 10 times during the book, if not more). As a travel novel this is the most useless one I have ever read as when you have finished you find yourself wondering what the hell would be the point going to Australia, when of course there are many great reasons. Honestly, Bill Bryson, you have ashamed us (and especially Aborigines who are a part of our culture).
Bill Bryson used to be my neighbour. He did y'know! well, he used to live about 2 miles away. And I met him on many occasions! I did to! well, he shopped in waitrose and so I stalked him and I swear he walked past me holding his hand to the side of his face and muttering something like "bloody woman" under his breath. Anyway I digress, this was supposed to be a book review, not a review of my celebrity obsessive stalkerish tendancies.
I first came across Bill Bryson when my dad started to read his books many years ago. As you couldn't fail to be aware if you have been awake for the last 12 literary years, Brysons written genre is in Travel. Basically he travels the world and, erm, "appraises" for want of a better word, the places that he visits. Without any shadow of a doubt he is hilarious. Brysons writing style is one of such intense observation and witicism that it never fails to amaze. But that observation extends much further than "Australia is lovely with lots of sheep, very hot and lots of places to get lost" aka the usual Australia review, to as far as "Australia somehow manages to loose its presidents without trace, has the ability to make you cease to be for an entire 24 hour period whilst travelling there and has the highest amount of things that can kill you in a very nasty way, oh and the coffee shop at the end of the street is fantastic, try it!". Bryson is dry, searching and frequently laugh out loud funny.
Down under is, as the name suggests, a book about Australia. Funny that. Starting with a whistlestop tour of Sydney before proceeding across the country city by city (if you call an australian sprawling metropolis a city I've no idea) by means of the curiously named "indian state" railway line. Throughout his travels Bryson points out to us elements of Australian culture and history in a manner that keeps us entirely hooked throughout. indeed i found myself eagerly awaiting the next australian fact that could not be found in any encyclopedia/wikipedia/google search anywhere, ever. Infact where Bryson gets these facts himself I have absolutely no idea. He either spends the entirity of his non travelling time buried in the archives of various embassies reading 200 years worth of microfische spools or has an exceptionally active imagination and most of the facts are in fact fiction. All i know is that he presents these facts in such an amusing manner I have frequently produced loud and pig like snorts of laughter in the middle of a silent and packed rest room, leading my colleagues to asume i am madder than they already think.
I purchased my copy of this book new, from the waterstones website. and it set me back an entire 599 pennies. The printed price is £8.99 so I gained a massive discount in going against my personal grain of not purchasing on line. Amazon has copies of this book from 2p second hand and in a used condition
In short. You won't be disppointed with this book. Even if travel literature isnt necessarily your bag, give it a go. I guarantee you will read this book cover to cover in 2 days flat. Bryson at his finest.
Other titles by Bryson include "Notes from a big country", a selection of editions of a newspaper column written by Bryson in america and most certainly his funniest book to date.
"Notes from a small island" detailing Brysons younger aged tours around our lovely country of the UK. Again highly recommended.
...And many more
'Down Under' is Bill Bryson's travel account of his time spent exploring Australia. It was written in 2000, and is 394 pages long. It is available in hardback and paperback - the paperback is on sale on Amazon for £5.39.
Having already read several other Bryson's books, when I spotted this one in my local library, I was extremely keen to read it. I was not disappointed.
The book begins with several maps of Australia, each map indicating Bryson's different trips and journeys across what is a extremely large country. I found this inclusion particularly useful - when reading the book, you can easily refer back to the maps to clarify exactly where he is. It also gives you an idea of the immensity of some of his trips-i.e. Sidney to Perth. For anyone not familiar with the exact geography of Australia, the maps are a godsend. From there, the book is divided into 3 parts, with a total of 17 chapters. As a general rule, each chapter signifies a new place that Bryson is visiting. This makes the progression of the book logical and easy to follow.
The amount of ground Bryson covers is impressive - he not only visits most major cities in Australia (Melbourne, Sidney, Perth, etc) but he also visits the Great Barrier Reef, and ventures into the "outback" to such significant landmarks as Ayers Rock. What I feel is a particular strength of Brysons, is that he not only describes these places, but he actually tells you about the journey to get to each one. His train journey to Perth and 4WD adventures across the outback are fascinating reading.
Stylistically, Bryson is bang on form. His writing is personal, and his viewpoint is clearly expressed humorously, and in a wonderfully observational style. He manages to see the funny side to everything- there is a excellent part where he enters a museum tour, where each new joiner is handed a large yellow carrier bag of leaflets - completely useless and undesirable to all who recieve them, and he hilariously describes how each new tourist tries to discreetly dispose of them. These are the kind of funny anecdotes that so many travel writers would fail to include, but actually bring a real comic sense of realism to the work.
From an informative point of view, Bryson has clearly done his homework. Throughout the book he continuously makes reference to Australia's history and founding, its natural flora and fauna, some of its astonishing wildlife. Near the beginning of the book he explains that Australia is a bit of a forgotten land - we all know it's there, but what we know and hear about it is relatively little. However, one read of this book changes that. All the facts and figures Bryson informs the reader of are carefully embedded within the book's narrative - i.e. a trip to the sea encourages Bryson to discuss sharks. He carefully chooses fascinating stories from Australia's history - from crocodile attacks, to tourists getting stranded on the Barrier Reef. You can guarantee, you will not of heard these tales before.
Bryson also describes his encounters with the locals - from the friendly settlers in the Outback, to the "crazy" folk of north Queensland. Bryson continuously makes reference to his love of Australia, and such encounters with the local residents express this in a very genuine and endearing manner.
I would really recommend this book - it is easy to read, laugh out loud funny, and extremely informative - you will find yourself learning copious amounts about Australia without even trying. And yes - you will want to go and experience it all yourself.
Last Thursday night I was scurrying round the Trafford Centre desperately looking for some Coconut Oil, (another story) when I felt the irresistible pull of WH Smiths. Now I wasnt there to splurge on books, but what can you do when you feel the force. Before I knew it I had made a number of completely unnecessary purchases one of which being the delightful Down Under by Bill Bryson.
I hadnt read any of Brysons other work before this but I knew I was going to like it straight away. Its the subject matter you see; Im drawn to all things Australian after my round Oz trip earlier this year, and although I was fairly sure I would enjoy the book that didnt necessarily mean it was going to be a quality book or a humorous yet realistic look at the vast land that is Oz.. The only way to discover this was to get stuck in, so I did, the very same night,
Bryson travelled round the country in a fractured fashion, starting in Sydney and exploring the south eastern corner including Melbourne and Adelaide and much in between. He makes much of the fact that eighty percent of Australias population is concentrated in this peninsula and yet he can still drive for many miles without much in the way of anything at all. Few vehicles, animals or people caused him any detraction on his journey. He really gives the reader a true flavour of what this part of the country looks and feels like and I found many of my own descriptions of the area coming off the page at me. I of course, loved this and now feel like a proper traveller. The Ozzie character was also well portrayed and people are generally welcoming, friendly and easy going, its not just a stereotype as Bryson quite rightly points out.
The second part of the trip, up the east coast to Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef was done a while after the first and Bryson had a companion along. I enjoyed very much the repartee between the two men and the authors delight at some of the reactions of his companion in certain situations. I have never been this far north so cant comment on the authors view of what he found. Al l I can say is that I enjoyed it and I will be adding this part of the country to my itinerary next time Im there.
One of the other things Bryson really wanted to share with us is just how perilous Australian Flora and Fauna can be. This is something that captivates most travellers to the country and one cant help but simile at Brysons description of a seashell that will go for you. What with the Crocodiles and the Box Jellyfish and the myriad other horrors just waiting to get you Brysons emphasis of the dangers is entirely justifiable.
The subject of Australias indigenous people, the Aborigines is touched upon and Bryson tries to understand how they have ended up in poverty, poorly educated and why it is not a popular topic of conversation with other Australians. Hes doesnt really do the topic justice but my own feeling is that he doesnt try to. This is ultimately a travel book and any political observations will and should always be secondary. Australian political history and identity and history of previous Prime Ministers also gets a light dusting and Bryson marvels at how much of what goes on in this country is completely unnoticed by the rest of the world.
The exploration continues to Darwin, or the Top End as the locals call it, then onto Western Australia, which is quite beautiful and faithfully recreated in your imagination thanks to Brysons efforts.
As I mentioned earlier, I bought this book on Thursday night and here I am 395 pages and 2 days later writing a review. That must mean this book is pretty addictive and although my sides werent splitting it raised more that the odd smile and roused many pleasant memories of the time I spent there.
Its safe to say this is a really good book. I enjoyed it immensely and couldnt put it down. I would recommend this book even if you have never been Down Under and dont plan to go. It stands on its own two feet as an enjoyable and easy read.
I paid £7.99 for this, which is a bit on the pricey side. Had I taken the time to bother I could have found it for as little as £1.99 on ebay or Amazon Marketplace which would have made it great value for money.
Now, wheres that credit card? Im off to book a flight.
Bryson's at his best when he's being irreverent and iconoclastic. He allows himself free rein to do this when he's on home turf ? ie in the UK or the States. But I feel he's pulling his punches a little here, for fear of offending his hosts. He rightly highlights the correct PC issues - ie aboriginals' 'invisibility', and predictably focuses on the vastness of the land and the strangeness of the fauna. But ultimately, you feel Bill either likes the place too much to really let rip, or does not want to be accused of xenophobia. He puts in a few typically self-deprecating comic set-pieces - his falling-asleep routine, and his chased-by-an-inivisible-dog scenes are hilarious. But I longed for him to have a real go at some of the country's foibles. In the end, he's too reverent. Down Under is immensely readable, well-written and diligently researched. However, seek out his early books for the no-holds-barred Bryson.
As anyone who has read any of his books will already know, Bill Bryson specialises in going to countries and returning with travelogues that are comically cynical but still affectionate. His unique style is helpful in that strangest of continents, Australia.
After tales from the USA and Britain, Bill Bryson turns his roving eye to Australia, the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country.
**From the Back Cover**
'It is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents and still Australia teems with life - a large proportion of it quite deadly. In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in a very nasty way than anywhere else.'
One of the recurring themes in the book is the weird and usually highly dangerous flora and fauna. Lethal animals, deadly jellyfish, murderous reptiles, poisonous spiders, carniverous insects and killer SHRUBS!..... Did I mention SHARKS?
He certainly has plenty of material to work from, of course.
His informative and entertaining portrayal is of a terrain that is mind-bogglingly vast, extreme in it's climate and very inhospitable to humans.
But here's the paradox.
If the country is so hostile how come the people are so laid back and relaxed? Bryson searches from state to state, seeking the answer to the Australian character and finds it in it's colourful past; convicts, explorers, gold diggers and outlaws. Bryson promptly fell in love with the country, and who can blame him? The people are cheerful, the cities safe and clean, the food is excellent, the beer is cold and the sun nearly always shines.
Excerpts from Down Under by Bill Bryson. Copyright © 2001.
Reading a hi
story of Australian politics in the twentieth century, I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 the Prime Minister, Harold Holt, was strolling along a beach in Victoria when he plunged into the surf and vanished. No trace of the poor man was ever seen again. This seemed doubly astounding to me - first that Australia
could just lose a Prime Minister (I mean, come on) and second that news of this had never reached me. The fact is, of course, we pay shamefully scant attention to our dear cousins Down Under - though not
entirely without reason, I suppose. Australia is, after all, mostly empty and a long way away.
Australia doesn't misbehave. It is stable and peaceful and good. It doesn't have coups, recklessly overfish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities or throw its weight around in a brash and
I particularly like the way Bryson presents stories from Australia's history (a lot of which were new to me); his cheerful and conversational style allows you to learn much more than from conventional history books.
One of the weakest and most puzzling aspects of this book however, is its treatment of the Aborigines. He starts to write about Oz's first people but it goes nowhere. I don't know why.
This is certainly not a bad book, but it's not as packed with light-hearted anecdotes and quips as most of its predecessors. Don't choose this as your FIRST Bill Bryson book.
I suspect that even the most well-read Australian will learn a great deal about his or her country from this richly-detailed travelogue. It contains countless affectionate and warm witty and wise insights into the country and its people.
Will you enjoy DOWN UNDER? No worries, mate.
Thanks for reading
An Interesting read, because as far as I am aware, this is the first book Bill Bryson has written where he is recording his first impressions as they are formed. All the other Books are either topics he knows well ( Language, the US) or a revisitation of places or ideas. The problem with recording first impressions, is that you record feelings as facts - and in this book he seems to have quite a bit wrong. Take Canberra, for instance - nothing was open, no food etc etc. This is the urban myth about Canberra. It actually has more restaurants per head of population than anywhere else in the southern hemisphere. If he had asked a taxi driver, he would have found that out. There are other instances I found in the book which were inaccurate too - but that one in particular stuck in my mind, maybe because I lived in Canberra for 20 years. To list the other instances I would have to read the book again. I did enjoy the book - much the same way as I enjoyed Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. An interesting idea with some pointed observations of human behaviour, but I would be bloody careful using it as a guide to Australians or Australia.
I have been reading Bryson's work since I was at School - the chapter about swearwords in 'Mother Tongue' was required reading set by my English teacher! But, 'Down Under' is his best yet - it reduced my whole family to tears - in a good way, including my 84 year Grandma, who has visited our Australian relatives in Sydney on a number of occasions. We all felt the book to be an accurate, affectionate and truly evocative piece of writing. I had never laughed so much in my life, until I read the section about Bryson getting lost and chased by dogs! As other reviewers have explored, Bryson's work is often anecdotal, drawing on his own experiences, i.e. on asking a local drinker 'Where are the fish biting?', he gets the exasperated reply 'In the f****** river mate', revealing the true character of Australia, at least as Bryson perceives it to be. He also makes liberal use of the writings of other travellers (often writing in earlier times), which he uses to 'set the scene' as well as to document the changes Australia as a nation and culture have undergone in recent years. I would recommend it to anyone - you don't need first-hand experience of Australian culture to truly appreciate it - Bryson can bring even the most remote and seemingly bizarre aspects of humanity to life. Although it is an affectionate portrait of Australia and Australians, Bryson certainly doesn't shy away from some of the more unpleasant events in History - writing sympthetically and emotively about the appalling treatment of Aborigines in the nineteenth-century and the experiences of the first European settlers. A must for all lovers of Bryson's work and travel writing.
It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud at a book. Perhaps it's because slapstick appeals more and it is just so much easier to be wooed by visual comedy. Bill Bryson has changed all this forever. He writes as if he is talking directly to you, as if having a one to one conversation in a bar. Within the first 2 pages of 'Down Under', his description of his own sleeping patterns had me rolling out of my hammock. As you might expect, 'Down Under' is a travelogue of a trip (several trips in fact) Bryson took in Australia. The journey took him from Sydney in the south east to Perth on the other side of the world's largest island and back again. He travels to the continent on several occasions each time mapping out a different corner in his own inquisitive way. It is obvious from his writings that the man loves the place and that it loves him back. What better partners to have than two self depreciating, humorous yet extremely warm and spirited entities. Bryson's journey initially takes him on the fabled Indian Pacific train. The Indian Pacific line is the second longest in the world after the trans-Siberian with a normal journey time of 3 days. For Bryson and his photographer there would be several side trips into the outback to see the real Australia. The first adventure would begin a day into the journey at a town called Menindee built on the Darling river. From there Bryson travelled into no-mans land to a town with a population of eighty called White Cliffs. Its remoteness is easily illustrated by the fact that the inhabitants of White Cliffs only got electricity in 1993. The luxuries of expensive hotels is something that Bryson is accustomed to so it is rewarding to see him recoil in horror when he is met with below 3 star accommodation. After his railroad experiences Bryson, as his nature, sets about journeying again from Sydney, but this ti
me by car and working his way along the south east coast. Along the way he spends time in Canberra and rather typically finds the place to be as flat as a glass of ribena. If you were to take his acerbic comments at face value then a duller capital you are unlikely to find anywhere in the world. Bryson is more stimulated by the cities of Adelaide and Melbourne however. He cites his love for the latter because this is where he landed on his maiden voyage. At the time he had braced himself for a type of southern California but his preconceptions were smashed almost straight away. He was so taken by the place that he pined for a more thorough visit. With his friends Alan and Carmel Howe the author spends time in the lush countryside that lies in Eastern Victoria where the couple have a country retreat. From there the threesome decide to spend a day in Glenrowan, the place where the infamous insurgent Ned Kelly was killed. One local attraction, a puppet show, called Ned Kelly's Last Stand turns out to be monumentally bad. Bryson's observations are infectious. I read the page several times, each time giggling at what the trio had to go through. Bryson is a man for whom the words laid back could be redefined. He can happily sit alone in a crowded Adelaide bar while reading such obscurities as 'Crocodile Attack In Australia'. His conclusions on how the Oz psyche should work based on the dangers that lay under every desert rock are outlandish to say the least. Truth is he is just being himself, the amusing armchair psychologist. Bryson's adventures are broken up by sojourns spent at home and in Britain on business. Each time he returns he decides that another patch of the continent must be conquered. The biggest challenge arrives as he tackles Australia's vast deserted interior. A place so hot that people have been known to cook while trying to make it b
ack to humanity. As it happens the worst rain in 30 years had him holed up in Cairns for longer than expected giving him ample time to frighten the bajasus out of his travelling partner with ravenous tales of attacks on people by Australia's most feared predators. For Bryson's, at times morbid, imagination Australia is a heaven sent barrage of deadly killers. From the man eating salt crocodiles to the poison tentacled box jellyfish this is one place where it would seems that each step should be taken with precision and the utmost of care. The author delights in the danger and spends an inordinate amount of time digging out nuggets of nastiness from long lost tomes. Before making the journey to Darwin Bryson takes a side trip to the Great Barrier Reef and is swept aside by its greatness. From Darwin he decides to rough by car to the centre of the continent Alice Springs fully 1,500 Kilometres away. Along the way the bleakness of the red earth is only rarely shattered by a passing juggernaut. The town at the centre of Australia holds much to sway the attention of the author including the magnificent Uluru (Ayers Rock). Bryson is a very well read traveller. His accounts of the histories of many of the small communities he visits are fascinating. Once there he finds countless other things to investigate, explore and finally come to an hilarious conclusion that it is either dead in the water or downright breathtaking. This is the motivation of the man, why be middle of the road when either extreme is much more interesting and ultimately funnier to read. Bill Bryson is a vivid and imaginative writer. 'Down Under' not only recounts the story of his travels but is punctuated by many historical accounts and facts. Some of his knowledge would probably even be new to Australians. For example he tells of ex prime minister Harold Holt's untimely death in the late
50's while swimming at Cheviot Beach (near Melbourne). The death shocked the nation so it was decided that a memorial would be built in his memory. To this day you can still swim in the Harold Hot swimming pool in Melbourne! The underlying humour that colours Bryson's adventures is fuelled by a boyish sense of curiosity (he is in his early fifties) to look beyond what is in front of his nose. He is a studied people watcher with a keen eye and love for the quirkier amongst us. He has an obvious talent for mingling and never provides anything less than engaging tittle tattle. 'Down Under' is an zany, yet informative read that provides the best endorsement of their country that the Australian tourist board could ever have hoped for. Bryson is such an enthused traveller he is likely that he has shunted more people to the southern hemisphere that any Oz soap ever has.
I received the Bill Bryson book for a Christmas present and although a avid book lover I had never read a travel book before, except if you can count the lonely planet guide to Austraila. I was the bought the book because I spent some time in Austraila and it was thought I would enjoy reading about the places I'd been. As soon as I picked up the book I was reluctant to put it down and found myself reading into the early hours of the morning, laughing out loud as Bill describes his journey around Austraila. The way he describes his journey is unique and his obsession with killer animals, especially sealife is humourous. Even though I had been to many places he visited, the book has made me want to go back as there are so many things I seem to have missed. Although he visits the big tourist attractions such as Aryes Rock, Sydney and Melbourne, he points out many attractions that the average traveller wouldn't neccessarily go. The way he interacts the history into the book is also well done, I really feel I learnt a lot about the country. I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a good read, whether you've travelled to Austraila or not. If you haven't been though be warned as you will want to. I found Bill's writing style very good and he always kept me interested. I am very keen to read further work by him.
This book is a rarity for a travel book. It actually makes you want to visit the place. Okay most will say that that is the aim of all these books - but often all they do is give you a mass of opening times and lists of things to do. There isn't a single direction to a bus station, or recommendation of a pub- and the book is all the stronger for that. I like Bill Bryson anyway- I've read most of his books, but thought twice about this one, why? because it's about Australia, the only place on this planet that (up till now) I've had no desire to visit. I'd always wanted to go to New Zealand, Greenland, Tibet- even Luxembourg, but the thought of visiting Australia has always left me cold, (well obviously not cold in the physical sense) It just seemed so dull and lifeless, plains of desert and bronzed surfers. But not now. I see the attraction now, and isn't that what a travel book should do? Bryson lived in Britain for many years - maybe that's why he appeals so much to our sense of humour- I physically laugh when I read his stuff- and that is a rarity, you might smile at passage, or occasionally chuckle, but I rarely laugh out loud at a book. So what's it about? Australia naturally. Basically he goes for a drive round much of the country, stops off at interesting points, drinks and chats and most interestingly gives information about the history, flora and fauna of the place. It made me realise how little I know about the place, and how little emphasis their politics and society is given in our media. I never knew about the white immigration policy, or the atrocities against the aborigines. Neither had curiosity every struck me about how the aborigines ever got there. All life started in Africa I believe- so how did they end up there- and so deep in the continent too. He stresses time and time again how vast and uncharted the land is, the majority
of it isn't properly surveyed and there are many areas with just the scantiest map reference. People do die out there- you can run out of petrol with 400 miles to the nearest town. Imagine that - think of the town and cities within 400 miles here, but there- nothing. Also a major component is the variety of the wildlife- the country is so different from the rest of the world that things exist that don't elsewhere. Basically things that can kill you. If I ever did visit Australia I wouldn't go in the sea. Box Jellyfish- a look from these critters is bad enough-a slight touch and you are writhing in agony, crocodiles, 15 feet long, venomous spiders and snakes. All these things fascinate Bryson, he's like a child in a sweetshop, in his element hearing about the dangerous creatures. It just goes on and one, each page has a new creature that I've never heard about- or a mutation of an old favourite. Apparently worms up to 6 inch thick (yes thick, not long) exist in an isolated part of the outback- is he pulling our legs?, or is that left to the killer worms? All in all a voyage of discovery covering Sydney Canberra, Cape York Peninsula, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Perth, Darwin and many points in-between. Buy it if you fancy going to Australia, or even if you don't- or if you have a morbid interest in varied ways of death.
Bill Bryson has to be the best travel writer currently plying their trade. That is if, like me, you like a bit of humour injected into this type of writing. I came across him last year when browsing the shelves of my local bookstore. I like to just look at the covers and have a little look at anything that takes my fancy. As I scanned the titles I came across a book by an American who had written about his return to his native land after a period of time living in Britain. It took the format of short essays on the people and problems that he encountered as he tried to settle back into his homeland. I had a little delve and bought the book. I was instantly converted to the Bryson style. Down Under is the latest offering from Bryson and a thumping good read it is too. To explain the Bryson style, he is very much an everyman type. He is the sort of guy you would love to have as a friend. A man who can seemingly turn ordinary encounters into the most amusing stories that would keep you amused for hours down the pub. But alas as he is not among my friends I have to content myself with the books that the man turns out all too infrequently. Having already had a go at Britain and America Bill has arrived in Australia and sets out to explore it in his own inimitable way. He has a liking for the country and its inhabitants that shines through the writing. He is a keen observer of human nature and this was pointed out to me on a recent visit to the country. In the book Bryson makes the point that Australians seem to believe that they are inferior to the rest of the world because of the lack of interest that the rest of world shows them. I was reading the book on a flight from Cairns to Sydney when the flight attendant sat down in front of me during the takeoff. He enquired what the book was about and I told him. His first question was if Bryson was “having a go at the Aussies”. At that moment I knew that our man Bryson was spot on as usual in his
observations. The book is full of his adventures as he tours the big cities and entertains us with the stories of the people and places that he encounters on his journey. He also takes a trip into the outback and is astonished by the size and emptiness of this vast country. He has an almost childlike fascination with the various ways in which you can come to harm in Australia and everything from snakes to jellyfish are discussed and their methods of disposing of you should you be unfortunate to encounter them explained. This might sound a trifle morbid but the way that these facts are interwoven into the story of the journey sum up the style that makes the writer so easy to read and enjoy. Bryson tries to take a big bite out of a huge country and succeeds in informing and entertaining. He really does his research and has copious facts at his fingertips with regard to the country, its people and its history. This makes the book both entertaining and informative; you will come away knowing much more about the history, flora and fauna, politics and general attitudes of the people that you would expect to have gleaned from such a funny narrative. If you have never read any of Bryson's work then please try this but be warned you will not be able to put it down and will find yourself scouring the bookstores for further Bryson gems.
Australia has more things that can kill you than anywhere else. Nevertheless, Bill Bryson journeyed to the country and promptly fell in love with it. The people are cheerful, their cities are clean, the beer is cold and the sun nearly always shines.