Bill Bryson’s “Down Under”
Just imagine the American president, British prime minister or German chancellor stepping into the sea and disappearing, never to be seen again, and no one own, outside their home countries, is writing about it. Well, that’s what happened to Harold Holt, Australian Prime Minister in 1967. He stepped into the surf near Melbourne and drowned. How can a country lose its prime minister you might wonder? Bill Bryson asked himself the very same question and thus set out to discover Australia and its people in four separate trips.
The first journey leads the author to step into the perilous surf in Sydney and then along the Indian Pacific Railway to Perth. The second trip leads him back to Sydney and then along the Boomerang Coast to Melbourne . The third trip leads Bryson into the Outback and out to the Great Barrier Reef with his old friend and travel companion Stephen Katz. And finally, Bryson arrives on the west coast where he explores the tallest trees and discovers some of earth’s most elusive species.
“So it’s not the sight of stromatolites that makes them exciting. It’s the idea of them – and in this respect they are peerless.“
There are many highlights in Bryson’s Down Under, his descriptions of Australia’s myriad of dangerous animals, his encounter with a vicious dog and the many ways he has to find to describe Australia’s vast beauty, among much else.
“Life cannot offer many places finer to stand at eight thirty on a summery weekday morning than Circular Quay in Sydney.”
But the best part of Down Under is still the chapter on cricket radio broadcasts. I am not a fan of cricket, nor can I say that I understand how it works but if real cricket radio broadcasts are anything like Bryson describes them, then sign me up for the next best cricket radio station. If, however, you know how cricket works, then maybe skip that chapter.
“It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect.”
If you like big lobsters, sharp observations about a country and its people and scarily detailed descriptions about the 101 ways that you might die in Australia, then you will love this book.
“You see, Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that is really all I’m saying.”