Just in time for Sydney’s upcoming Olympic games, this travel narrative from veteran wanderer Bryson (I’m a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.) provides an appreciative, informative, and hilarious portrait of the land Down Under.
“And so once more to the wandering road,” declares Bryson—which is music to the ears of his many deserving fans. This time it is Australia, a country tailor-made to surrender just the kind of amusing facts Bryson loves. It was here, after all, that the Prime Minister dove into the surf of Victoria one day and simply disappeared—the prime minister, mind you. There are more things here to kill you than anywhere else in the world: all of the ten most poisonous snakes, sharks and crocodiles in abundance, the paralytic tick, and venomous seashells that will “not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you.” A place harsh and hostile to life, “staggeringly empty yet packed with stuff. Interesting stuff, ancient stuff, stuff not readily explained.” And Bryson finds it everywhere: in the Aborigines (who evidently invented and mastered oceangoing craft 30,000 years before anyone else, then promptly forgot all about the sea), in the Outback (“where men are men and sheep are nervous”), in stories from the days of early European exploration (of such horrific proportions they can be appreciated only as farce), and in the numerous rural pubs (where Bryson learns the true meaning of a hangover). Bryson is still open to wonder at the end of his pilgrimage: the grand and noble Uluru (once known as Ayer’s Rock) reaches right down into his primordial memory and gives it a stir. “I’m just observing that if I were looking for an ancient starship this is where I would start digging. That’s all I'm saying.”
Bryson is a real traveler, the kind of guy who can be entertained by (and be entertaining about) a featureless landscape scattered with “rocks the color of bad teeth.” Fortunately for him and for us, there’s a lot more to Australia than that.