A sharp-eyed British traveler recalls his greatest adventure.
Twenty-five years ago, accompanied by his Australian-born wife, Jacobson (Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It, 2012, etc.) journeyed far and wide by bus, car, train and camper around Australia, feeling, he admits “near anguish…the whole time I was there.” “Potholes. Savage, twisting bends. Not enough room for more than 1 ½ cars in either direction,” he complained about one long drive. “Thorny cork-screw trees….Extreme chromatic monotony. Gnarled, evil-tempered landscape,” his wife replied. As Jacobson unhappily discovered, roads in the Outback were treacherous, when they existed at all, and a driver might well encounter a “mesmerized kangaroo” or marauding dingo along the way. “STAY WITH THE VEHICLE,” the Royal Automobile Association warned. When a search party eventually is sent, the safety literature added, “vehicles will be far easier to find than isolated human beings in the vastness of the Outback landscape.” As for the landscape, often it was bleak: dry, dusty, flat and barren. Some towns along the way had been gentrified, with tacky souvenir shops and kitschy restaurants. About Australians, Jacobson can be acerbic, especially when confronted with small-minded provincialism and racism directed at Aborigines. There were enough high points, though, to elicit his praise: “There is no more variously beautiful country,” he finally admits: the orange hills and hidden valleys of Kununurra, for example, and Ayers Rock, described by one 19th-century traveler as “an immense pebble” but appearing to Jacobson “in every way more surprising” than what he expected. “Close up,” he writes, “its texture is like the skin of an animal—creased and enfolded and a little weary, but also soft to the touch.”
Witty, at times self-deprecating, and always shrewdly observant, Jacobson offers a wry, revealing portrait of a land and its people.