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In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country (2000)

by Bill Bryson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Bill Bryson's Travels (5)

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7,534198721 (3.98)276

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English (188)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (196)
Showing 1-5 of 188 (next | show all)
I freely admit that I wasn't really interested in Australia before reading this book, and Bryson definitely got me very intrigued, and now I'd very much like to travel there.

It was really good, but I wish I'd heard more about the Aborigines. He definitely talked about them, but I wish there'd been more. ( )
  xiaomarlo | Apr 17, 2019 |
Bryson bases the title of his book on the famous and much beloved Australian poem "Core of My Heart" by Dorothea Mackellar where she states that "I love a sunburnt country/A land of sweeping plains,/ Of ragged mountain ranges/ Of droughts and flooding rains." It pretty much sums up Australia. And yes, Bryson realizes that the line is sunburnt and he made it sunburned. Its a play on words. He does get sunburned once during his time there. This review is hard to write because, like Australia, this book covers a vast amount of interesting stuff. It's hard to know where to start.

Australians are the nicest group of people you are likely to meet. They have no history of having a revolution or a despot leading their government or of anything really bad. Which is how they get forgotten so easily. But the true forgotten people are the indigenous people of Australia the Aborigines. They traveled to Australia by boat when people weren't really using boats to travel and somehow made it to Australia some 60,000 years ago. And they are the oldest living continuous culture. For a long time after the whites arrived, it was okay to kill them or lynch them without consequence. Then in June 1838 in Myall, some cattle were rustled and then blamed on the Aborigines. They gathered the men, women, and children up in a ball and played with them for hours before killing them with rifles and swords. The city was outraged and put the men on trial and was at first acquited but a second trial found them guilty and they were then found guilty and hung. This, however, did not end the violence against the Aborigines it just made it go underground. And this was by no means the worse atrocity committed to Aborigines. It just happened to be the only time that whites were brought to trial and found guilty for it. There's not much to see in Myall. Most people go there to hunt for minerals. The events there long forgotten.

The only time that they ran into rude or otherwise uncooperative Australians was in a little town in the Northern Territories called Darwin. But a museum there more than made up for any inconvenience they received from the locals. It contained an exhibit of the tragedy of Cyclone Tracy which came through in 1974 and leveled the place. Included was a recording made by a priest of the cyclone which is very eerie and creepy. The cyclone flattened nine thousand homes and killed sixty-four people. Also included were stuffed animals from the area's diverse background that can probably kill you with the crocodile "Sweetheart" a male crock that killed fifteen boats before being accidentally killed when being moved to another area. He was seventeen feet and seventeen hundred pounds. But what he came here to see was the dead box jellyfish that was on display. It is the most dangerous creature known to man. The sea snake is also an interesting animal in that it is an inquisitive creature with a sweet nature but cross them and they can kill you three times over. This is a nation where 80% of the world's most venomous plants and creatures live. Also, animals and plants not native to the area have a way of thriving and trying to take over. For example, the rabbit that some Englishmen brought over to hunt and got loose and overtook Australia eating up foliage in the process. On top of that, the prickly pear was introduced to the Northern Territory and nearly took up every available space until it was destroyed.

Australia is a vast and empty land filled with all sorts of things and people as this book shows. But a huge portion of the land has not been explored not to mention the plants and animals that haven't been cataloged. This book is part travelogue, part history story. You'll be traveling down a road in Canberra or Melbourne, or Alice Springs, or any number of small tiny towns he stops to overnight while driving to different cities and he'll wander down a side street and discover some unknown place or about some unknown people like the Prime Minister who in the 1960s wandered out into the surf of the Queensland and disappeared and how those of Queensland is crazier than a bag of cut snakes. But that people of Queensland feel they are misunderstood by their fellow Aussies. To me, it seems like the Florida of Australia. Where crazy things happen all the time for no discernable reason. Also included is a series of articles that he wrote about the Sydney 2000 Olympics, which is highly entertaining. I really loved this book and give it five out of five stars.


After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn’t fix in a hurry. It is not ture that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavours look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don’t wish to denegrade a sport that is played by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incoporporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as the players—more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.

-Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country p 105-6)

No, the mystery of cricket is not that Australians play it well, but that they play it at all. It has always seemed to me a game much too restrained for the rough-and-tumble Australian temperament. Australians much prefer games in which brawny men in scanty clothing bloody each other’s noses. I am quite certain that if the rest of the world vanished overnight and the development of cricket was left in Australian hands, within a generation the players would be wearing shorts and using bats to hit each other. And the thing is, it would be a much better game for it.

-Bill Bryson (In A Sunburned Country p 108)

“Are bushfires a big worry?” “Well, they are when they happen. Sometimes they’re colossal. Gum trees just want to burn, you know. It’s part of their strategy. How they outcompete other plants. They’re full of oil, and once they catch fire they’re a bugger to put out.”

-Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country p 162-3)

I often use alcohol as an artificial check on my pool-playing skills. It’s a way for me to help strangers gain confidence in their abilities and get in touch with my inner wallet.

-Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country p 242)

When even camels can’t manage a desert, you know you’ve found a tough part of the world.

-on the Outback Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country p 245)

I don’t know why, but every Olympics these days has a mascot. Moscow had a bear called Mischa. Nagano had cute snowflake creatures. Atlanta, I believe had a person being shot on a street corner.

-Bill Bryson (In A Sunburned Country p 319)

A cynic might conclude that our policy toward drugs in America is to send users either to prison or to the Olympics.

-Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country p 324) ( )
1 vote nicolewbrown | Apr 1, 2019 |
Book on CD narrated by the author

Bryson turns his journalistic skills to an exploration of the only continent that is also a country, and an island.

I loved the small details that he included, was enthralled by his adventures (whether in person or through research), and really felt that I got a good sense of the country, the people, the customs and the landscape (varied doesn’t begin to describe the latter aspect). I felt as giddy as a child discovering a new wonder when I read about one obscure fact after another, or imagined myself traversing the outback in a four-wheel-drive vehicle (with TWO extra containers of petrol) with hardly a person, gas station, shelter or convenience store in sight. I could feel the cooling sea breezes, was just as annoyed as Bryson by the flies, delighted in the droll explanations of the locals, was warmed by his descriptions of desert-heat, and longed to witness the marvels of nature he depicted.

It’s a wonderful memoir / travel journal. If Australia weren’t already on my bucket list, it certainly would be now.

Bryson narrates the audiobook himself. I found his delivery rather dry and somewhat slow-paced; he hardly sounded excited about any of the sites he saw. I wound up reading at least half the book in text format, and found I preferred the “voice in my head” to the author’s actual voice on the audio. ( )
  BookConcierge | Mar 11, 2019 |
Bill Bryson takes on Australia and gives us an account of his wanderings, mixed with his own fascinating version of its history. Fun, funny (laugh-out-loud hilarious in parts), clever (but in Bryson's distinctly sweet-and-humble way), and of course wonderfully well written, as always. Highly recommended. ( )
  scaifea | Nov 25, 2018 |
I laughed a lot. Don't know how I managed to not read any Bill Bryson over the years. This will end now. ( )
  CSDaley | Mar 28, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 188 (next | show all)
Boisterous and contagious, Bryson’s writing is a constant affectionate tease aimed at prodding the reader as much as the society and place that he is describing. Bryson loves Australia and he wants you to share his enthusiasm for it. Wherever Bryson is: gaping at a giant stuffed lobster on the roadside in the middle of the Australian outback, cursing himself as he tries to snorkel unsuccessfully in the Great Barrier Reef, or admiring Sydney’s harbor he writes with a love and a ruthlessness that only a sibling or best friend would dare to use.
added by mikeg2 | editYale University, Noam Schimmel (Jun 10, 2001)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bill Brysonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davids, TinkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gower, NeilIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To David, Felicity, Catherine, and Sam
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Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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published in Britain as "Down Under"
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Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
The author of "A Walk in the Woods" now chronicles his exploration of Australia. This good-humoured traveller relates his outback adventures with anecdotes
about the history and local inhabitants. Describes the harsh terrain and hostile wildlife including crocodiles, poisonous snakes, and attacking seashells.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767903862, Paperback)

Bill Bryson follows his Appalachian amble, A Walk in the Woods, with the story of his exploits in Australia, where A-bombs go off unnoticed, prime ministers disappear into the surf, and cheery citizens coexist with the world's deadliest creatures: toxic caterpillars, aggressive seashells, crocodiles, sharks, snakes, and the deadliest of them all, the dreaded box jellyfish. And that's just the beginning, as Bryson treks through sunbaked deserts and up endless coastlines, crisscrossing the "under-discovered" Down Under in search of all things interesting.

Bryson, who could make a pile of dirt compelling--and yes, Australia is mostly dirt--finds no shortage of curiosities. When he isn't dodging Portuguese man-of-wars or considering the virtues of the remarkable platypus, he visits southwest Gippsland, home of the world's largest earthworms (up to 12 feet in length). He discovers that Australia, which began nationhood as a prison, contains the longest straight stretch of railroad track in the world (297 miles), as well as the world's largest monolith (the majestic Uluru) and largest living thing (the Great Barrier Reef). He finds ridiculous place names: "Mullumbimby Ewylamartup, Jiggalong, and the supremely satisfying Tittybong," and manages to catch a cricket game on the radio, which is like

listening to two men sitting in a rowboat on a large, placid lake on a day when the fish aren't biting; it's like having a nap without losing consciousness. It actually helps not to know quite what's going on. In such a rarefied world of contentment and inactivity, comprehension would become a distraction.

"You see," Bryson observes, "Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I'm saying." Of course, Bryson--who is as much a travel writer here as a humorist, naturalist, and historian--says much more, and does so with generous amounts of wit and hilarity. Australia may be "mostly empty and a long way away," but it's a little closer now. --Rob McDonald

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:14 -0400)

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The author takes readers on a tour of the land Down Under that goes far beyond packaged-tour routes.

» see all 14 descriptions

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