"Do you know how sometimes on very fine days, the sun will shine with a particular intensity that makes the most mundane objects in the landscape glow with an unusual radiance, so that buildings and structures you normally pass without a glance become arresting, even beautiful? Well, they seem to have that light in Australia nearly all the time."
There are certain things I associate with Australia. Constant sunshine, tarantulas, Neighbours (its... a TV programme, not my actual neighbours. Although, having said that, the lady who lives next door is actually from Australia!), Heath Ledger, lifeguards, and long plane journeys. I think, in fact, I'd always considered the long plane journey the main factor for why I'd probably never actually see Australia, because, beautiful and hot and excellent as it might be, it's just too. Damn. Far. Away.
I think Bill Bryson has changed that for me, and also made it onto the list of things I'm just going to have to associate with Australia. This is a weird thing for me to add him to, because I absolutely think of him as 'that man who lived in England and then moved back to the US, and also is very grumpy', but there you go. A whole new category for him. And, interestingly, in Down Under, he is almost never grumpy. I don't know what it is- maybe it was the near-constant sunshine, or the goddamn awesomeness of the Australian people (you're welcome, Kayleigh), but Bryson writes about Australia with the kind of positivity that he normally only reserves for writing about science.
Not that there isn't any science in Down Under. As you'd expect from any Bryson book, there's a mix of science, natural history, history-history, drinking, anecdoting, and just general juicy travelogue goodness that he really knows how to deliver on. And, whilst he doesn't give Australia a completely easy ride (he takes the piss out of it's political system, for one, and also spends a good chunk of time focusing on the poor treatment, even today, of the aborigine people) his love for the country and its people really shines through, and, well, I'm damned if I don't want to get on a plane right now and nip on over to Australia.
Because. As Bryson says, it's a country of all the extremes- the hottest, the driest, the least livablest, the deadliest (are any of these -ests convincing you yet?) but it has things that can't be found anywhere else on the planet, including the oldest living creatures and oh, hello, The Great Barrier Reef (which I'm now obsessed with, by the way.) And whilst I've never completely ruled out going to Australia (because that would be INSANE) now I can think of at least 20 things I want to see there, just off the top of my head, and more than that, I know some of the history behind these things, too. I also know that I have absolutely no interest in going to Canberra, but that's another matter entirely.
Just as an example of just how convincing Bryson is, here's an example for you (as if this whole review isn't an example!). I feel like I've been aware of Uluru (or, Ayers Rock for the culturally insenstive among us) for just about my whole life, but I've never once felt the urge to go and see it. I mean... it's literally just this huge rock in the Australian outback. Why would I want to see it? But. Bill Bryson makes it sound like literally the most incredible thing you could possibly see ever in the world, and, well, I'm convinced and now I'm desperate to see it. I don't know if this is just because I'm really easy to persuade (I could be!) or if it's because Bryson doesn't mince words when it comes to its epicness, but... Well, just read this:
"It's not that Uluru is bigger than you had supposed or more perfectly formed or in any way different from the impression you had created in your mind, but the very opposite. It is exactly what you expected it to be. You know this rock. You know it in a way that has nothing to do with calendars and the covers of souvenir books. Your knowledge of this rock is grounded in something much more elemental.
In some odd way that you don't understand and can't begin to articulate you feel an acquaintance with it- a familiarity on an unfamiliar level. Somewhere in the deep sediment of your being some long-dormant fragment of primordial memory, some little severed tail of DNA, has twitched or stirred. It is a motion much too faint to be understood or interpreted, but somehow you feel certain that this large, brooding, hypnotic presence has an importance to you at the species level- perhaps even at a sort of tadpole level- and that in some way your visit here is more than happenstance.
I'm not saying that any of this is so. I'm just saying that this is how you feel."Basically... If I get to Uluru, and it isn't that amazing? I'm gonna be pissed, because actually getting there? Sounds like a BITCH.
And really, Bryson talks about most of Australia with this much enthusiasm, if not quite so much reverence. Towards the end of the book, I was really just turning over pages for places I wanted to visit, because that's how excellent he makes everything sound. Essentially- I liked this book a lot, but not nearly as much as I now love Australia. Which, I guess, was kind of the point of the whole thing anyway. So, well played Bryson. Again.
Can't beat a little Bryson for making you want to take off and see ALL THE THINGS. When I first read 'A Walk in the Woods' at the age of about 11, for example, having thrown a fit every time my parents suggested going for a couple of hours' walk in the Peak District, I was suddenly convinced that going and walking the Appalachian Trail was an awesome and totally doable idea. SUCH IS THE POWER OF BRYSON. So, yeah... if you decide to go see the big rock, book a second ticket. With two of us there we could even set up hourly watches so we don't get ambushed by any plate-sized spiders. Just in case... :DReplyDelete
OH MY GOD, A Walk In The Woods TOTALLY made me want to hike the AT! (I love the idea so much that I get to call it the 'AT' with some disturbing degree of familiarity...) Also I'm reading Wild at the moment, and in THAT, she's hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and now I want to do THAT, too! (I do like walking, but, let's face it, I would DIE on either of those trails...)Delete
Anyway! Yes! Let's go to Australia and then also to the AT and do ALL THE BRYSON THINGS. And be all grumpy, because that's a Bryson thing toooo!
My Dad and brother used be obsessed with Bryson to the point that every room in my house had one of his books in 'just in case'. So it's actually kinda weird that I've got this far without reading any. I feel I ought to start really.ReplyDelete
I have to say though that I will avoid this one. I'm very easily influenced by books that say things are good and no offence to all the lovely Australians out there but Australia is the only country I don't really want to visit. It looks amazing an all but, come on, the spiders?! Urgh. Can't deal with that. I'd be a jibbering, twitching, sweaty wreck. I really don't deal with spiders. Kinda harsh though, I suppose, writing off a whole country because of its wildlife but still, not going to happen.
That's so cool that there was a Bryson book in every room of your house! I might need to start this up in my own house! (There are like 5 rooms in my house and 2 are already covered. This is awesome).Delete
That is totally harsh, but hey, you makes your choices! Bryson (and I) definitely come down on the side of, you know, 'yeah, there're are spiders, but HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT ALL THIS OTHER COOL STUFF?!' and I'm definitely all for seeing the cool stuff. Also I'm not that bad about spiders, so it's all ok haha. But you definitely shouldn't read this if you DON'T want to be convinced to go to Australia, cause it totally does that!
Dude that's not a compliment, it's just stating fact. But thank you all the same.ReplyDelete
It's a pretty swell country. If you were planning on moving here I'd give you a run down on omfg the politics and the mistreatment of the indigenous population etc etc, but as a place to visit? Yeah, it's pretty god damn good.
And while everyone jokes about how many things can kill you in Australia, unless you go walkabout out bush you will not see a spider that you wouldn't find overseas, you will rarely see crocodiles (unless you're on a tour or in NT because they own that shit), snakes exist in the more rural areas, but you'll be unlucky if you see anything worse than a python and sharks aren't about to sneak up on you.
I have yet to go to Uluru (it's a fair hike from everywhere) but everyone I know who has been has said it's amazing.
In summation, yeah Australia! Come visit!!
Yeah, but they can't ALL be awesome, right? OR ARE YOU ALL THE BEST?! You probably are.Delete
Australia sounds like the swellest place to visit, but ALSO it sounds like a pretty fine place to live! I mean... I'd probably melt to death, but apart from THAT?! Seems fine! (Seriously, I got sunburnt today and I don't think it even made it to 20ºC. I would die.)
All of this is true, BUT there are still a lot more things that would kill you in Aus than, like, here for example. But, as I have said to you before, THE GREAT BARRIER REEF trumps everything (and, now, for me, Uluru. Apparently.)
Uluru sounds SO FAR from civilisation that it's ridiculous. Like, Alice Springs is the nearest town and that's 300 miles away. 300 miles is A LOT OF MILES. So, you can drive right? Cause we can just hire a car and drive to that baby in like 5 hours. It'll be awesome. BIG ROCK, KAYLEIGH! How can you refuse?!
Do you work for the Australian tourist board now? You really should!!
Ah, see, because I was super scared of the wildlife, but your comment makes me feel a bit better. Because I can't really do spiders and snakes and things. There was a spider in my apartment this morning, and it took me half an hour and a roll of paper towel between us for me to squish it. Freaking spiders.Delete
I really should, and while I'm in "Australia, F Yeah" mode I'm going to push Tasmania on you. Seriously, you NEED to take a trip to Tasmania. I feel like people usually skip it, but it's so beautiful it makes my heart hurt.Delete
We can definitely drive! For his honeymoon, my uncle and his wife drove around Australia and they said it was the greatest ever experience. So yes, let's do it.
@Kayleigh, I am also not a fan of spiders, but just think of all the kangaroos and koalas and sugar gliders and you'll be fine!
Tazzy! Bryson even skips Tasmania in his book, you know, but FORTUNATELY they went there on Masterchef Australia and it looked looooovely :).Delete
When you say WE can drive, you mean you, right? Because I can't drive. You'll have to do all the driving. Also I insist on travelling with about 20 litres of water per person because WHAT IF WE WERE STUCK IN THE OUTBACK WITH NO WATER OMG!!
Also, SUGAR GLIDERS!!! So cute!!
He skipped Tasmania? What. A. Dick. No, but I think most people do. Whatever, their loss.Delete
Why does no one in my life drive? Tom doesn't drive either, and it makes spontaneous roadtrips a lot less likely to happen. But I will drive. Or we can find another friend to bring along who can also drive, so that I can nap from time to time. Either way, let's do this!
"As you'd expect from any Bryson book, there's a mix of science, natural history, history-history, drinking, anecdoting, and just general juicy travelogue goodness that he really knows how to deliver on" - this is the best way to describe Bryson's books in general. Well this plus grumpiness (which you mentioned above, cos it can't be ignored). Excellent review!!ReplyDelete
This book does make me want to go see Australia. Why oh why does it have to be so damn far away?
Isn't he SO MUCH less grumpy in this book though?! It's kind of startling! And awww, thank you! I was a bit like 'ooer' about writing it because I feel like I haven't written a non-HP review for aaaaages, so I was like 'what am I even doing?!' So your praise has warmed my heart :)Delete
And DAMN YOU AUSTRALIA! Move nearer to us, FFS! Or... At least to one of us. Can't we just smoosh all the land in the world together and walk/drive to anywhere?!
YEAH! WTF tectonic plates, screwing up Pangea for everyone. Except the airline and boat industries who are probably behind the whole thing. I smell a conspiracyDelete
THERE IS TOTALLY A CONSPIRACY! I'll bet the boats send out shockwaves or something to KEEP US ALL APART! Omg, we've cracked this wide open (like Pangea was. Ooooh, connections. Or not!)Delete
Good lord I really need to read some Bryson.ReplyDelete
Yes, yes you do! Have you not read anything anything by him? Because you know how you like science and things? A Short History of Nearly Everything is REALLY GOOD. Like, really good.Delete
*Still* haven't read any Bryson, but that bit on Uluru? Gorgeous!ReplyDelete
Come ooooon Kayleigh! You can do it! I hadn't read any Bryson before I was a blogger (actually... ok, just his Shakespeare book) and I think Alley used to talk about him all the time and I had about 4 or 5 of his books... Anyway, one thing led to another, and now it's ALL ABOUT BRYSON. For reals.Delete
I admit to hating the Australian accent, but I'm hating it LESS after some years of living. So...there's that.ReplyDelete
I've wanted to visit since seeing Picnic at Hanging Rock, which seems to be a pretty similar rock experience (except no disappearing girls, so far as I can tell).
I'll read this, though. Yup.
Ohhhh, I forgot about your aversion to Aussie accents! There's this one particular accent I don't like, but other than that one... I really like them. But then I like most accents that aren't British, so yeah.Delete
I have not seen Picnic at Hanging Rock, but that kind of sounds awesome. I can neither confirm or deny whether any girls have disappeared on or around Uluru, but... I'll let you know.
YAY! READ ALL THE BRYSON! (That's my motto. Or possibly my battle cry. I haven't decided yet.)
Okay, so I also read and enjoyed this book (though under its American title; I guess Bryson pulled a reverse-Philosopher's Stone in that he used the fancy from-a-poem title for us Americans and just Down Under for you Brits), and I propose that we meet in Australia and hike to Uluru together. And then we can go get drunk at a weird bar, in true Bryson form.ReplyDelete
I love a sunburned country,Delete
a land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!
This is the only verse I know off the top of my head, but Dorothea Mackellar is one of my favourite lady Australians. I can't believe the UK got Down Under while the US got Dorothea!