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Born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951, Bill Bryson is one of the most highly esteemed travel writers of the present day. He was recently awarded the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order for all that he has contributed to literature. Currently, he and his wife and three children reside in the UK, after having lived in the States between 1995 and 2003. During the 1970's, Bryson worked for both the Times and the Independent, and more recently has been a full time author. His travels to places such as Australia, Africa, and all across Europe and the US, have been the basis of his books, along with his own brand of down-to-earth traditionalist views. He has been made fun of in some UK comedy shows for his desire to see all places preserved as they were and are, instead of becoming like everywhere else, but to me that is one of the finest things about him. As well as sidesplitting humour, there is also a very intelligent side to him as his various works on language and science prove.
Bryson always seems completely out of his depth when travelling around, and once again he somehow manages to get himself about a strange and hostile place without major incident. I have absolutely no idea how he does this, but always seems to end each adventure unscathed. Which is always good.
In this book, "Down Under", Bryson attempts to cover as much ground as possible, and in keeping with the tradition of many of his other travel books, seems to manage this really well.
How much would you say you really know about Australia?
I, for one, would have had to admit to being pretty much clueless before the Sydney Olympics, and then reading this book some time afterwards.Other than of course basic facts about it, and that it is not the sort of place you go if you have no desire to ever be eaten, bitten, stung, or otherwise seriously harmed by any number of nasty creatures.
And it is precisely this ignorance about many aspects of Australian life that the author aims to help relieve with this title.
On the face of it, this book is indeed enlightening to read, and there all kinds of little and not so little things that Bryson brings up from time to time as the book progresses that many of us are probably completely unaware of. Even some Australians would struggle to be able to fill you in on a lot of it i think!!
For example, on the very first page of chapter one, Bryson tells the sad story of former Prime Minister, Harold Holt. Apparently while still in office back in 1967, the afore mentioned Holt had been enjoying a day out at the beach with some close friends, and decided to go for a swim. Fair enough. But the poor guy has never been seen since!
And no one knows exactly what happened to him, apart from it being something that you would not expect to happen to a Prime Minister, one would imagine. Unfortunately, there are loads of anecdotes like this throughout the book, and although most of them are quite interesting, I did find the amount of these a little excessive.
Although, if you are the kind of person who likes reading about strange and mysterious incidents, then this would certainly be a really interesting read for you.
Bryson tells a lot of stories about the history of Australia from the earliest European expeditions to the country with all the discoveries made and the disasters encountered with the likes of captain Cook and his peers. He discusses the time when Britain sent its prisoners to Australia and the difficulties they endured upon reaching Australia completely unprepared for such a hostile environment. And how they eventually came to found cities for themselves.
While these stories are quite interesting and go a long way to helping the reader understand the history of Australia Bryson does tend to go on at length about them and I would have enjoyed the book more if Bryson spent a little less time on the history of the country and more time on his own adventure round the country. Although don't get me wrong, he does tell all about his own adventures in Australia as well.
His own travels take him across the whole country and he travels by train from sydney to perth on a journey that took three full days. He also travels in the outback by car. He meets up with contacts who show him around their wonderful country and spends time getting to know the real australia.
This is a humourosly written book that kept me reading til the end and I have returned to it several times. I would highly recommend it to anyone whether or not you have read any of Bryson's books before.