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In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country (2000)

by Bill Bryson

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6,696172559 (3.98)189
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Rollicking trips through parts of Australia, since the author had to make several research trips to write the book which in turn led to him making up numerous new verses of "Waltzing Matilda" while driving along a tedious stretch of highway. Sunscreen would be a good investment if you're going to walk ten miles and don't wish to sport a painful burn. The author shares his adventures with you, many times in a humorous fashion and at others with a sense of wonder. When it comes to the health and welfare of the Aborigines he becomes very serious as they are the invisible people without a voice in Australia who have been traumatized since the coming of the Europeans. What the answer is even the author can't say. I had hoped that he was going to cover Brisbane as that's where a number of people from my grandmother's town settled but he only managed to make it to Surfers Paradise. A very interesting book where you learn of explorers who wouldn't give up the boat even if it meant dragging them through a desert. ( )
  lisa.schureman | Nov 21, 2015 |
This is the first Bill Bryson book I've read, and I have to say I enjoyed it. Bill is hilarious and infuriating at the same time, which surprisingly to me makes for a very entertaining combination. I'm sure he's not telling the full story in this book -- its just not possible for someone so ill prepared to not just die in the outback somewhere. Take his visit to Canberra for example -- he drives down from Sydney, hits the first hotel he finds and then spends three days there. No wonder he's bored. Eventually he bothers to drive for another five minutes and finds there is more to the city than one hotel. On the other hand, he maligns my home town in such a hilarious manner I just can't be angry at him.

I loved this book, highly recommended.

http://www.stillhq.com/book/Bill_Bryson/In_A_Sunburned_Country.html ( )
  mikal | Jun 1, 2015 |
I decided to give Bill Bryson another try, as I enjoyed his writing style in [A Walk in the Woods]. In this travel memoir, Bryson heads to Australia, providing readers with his experiences and a bit of history concerning a country that (the author argues) goes fairly "unnoticed." Unfortunately, I had such high hopes for this book, but my expectations seem to have fallen flat. While the narration is good, and the history of the country is interesting to read about, I am so disappointed by the meat of Bryson's personal experiences. In my opinion, the bulk of the personal portion of his book is simply him wandering from town to town, trying to find pubs and decent hotels. Although he does spend some time sharing the information he learns about in various museums/displays/etc., I was hoping for more about his experience traveling in the country. I give him credit for going to the Great Barrier Reef, but the experience he shares is essentially him sputtering about like he is drowning, deciding he is unable to snorkel, and sunbathing instead. Seriously?!! Although he talks about the wildlife, he doesn't go out of his way to see any of it himself. He doesn't really spend any time in the Bush, or with Aborigines - although he does give the history of these subjects. All in all, a disappointment. I guess I was expecting something more. ( )
  skrouhan | May 28, 2015 |
Bill Bryson tackles Australia, in all its vast emptiness and cheerful friendliness, in his novel, In a Sunburned Country. Far from hitting the "big ones" (everyone knows Sydney; a few hard-pressed ones may be able to name Melbourne and Perth; and I doubt a solitary soul would be able to name Darwin), Bryson visits the small towns and lonesome outback towns that people call home.

Bryson, of course, relishes a chance to deliver an acerbic commentary on the downfalls of the places he visits, much to the delight of lovers of wit everywhere. (As a sidenote, it is both a disappointment and a relief that he has not, so far as I know of, tackled Texas in any of his books.) However, even Bryson is not immune to the singular charm of Australia; quite the opposite, in fact, he loves every bit of it.

He explores Sydney and Perth and Melbourne, of course, but also visits Canberra and Darwin and Alice Springs, paying childish delight to the roadside novelties like giant lobsters and the provincial, often deeply weird and focused, museums that dot the landscape. Interspersed with random anecdotes, a bit of history - though one might be inclined to believe that Australia somehow skipped from the 1800s to the 1950s, given the facts he chooses to relate, and some geography, he paints a loving picture of a hopelessly lovable place.

His amazement at the sheer vastness, and the sheer emptiness of that vastness, is palpable. Most Americans by now probably have a vagueish disconnected idea that Australia has two parts: Sydney, the city that looks not too different from any other city in the world, and the outback, a dry desert devoid of life and scorchingly hot. Bryson can certainly verify these, but disabuses one of the notion that there is not much else. Among other things, he mentions the treetop canopy walk, which sounds utterly delightful; the lush description of Queensland; and Darwin, which quite frankly, I only know because every single crocodile attack seems to take place there. I am half under the impression that if you announced you were moving to Darwin, it could be ruled as attempted suicide. (See: Cage of Death)

The point is, Australia is big and weird and full of things that can kill you*, but also of some truly wonderful things as well. Platypuses and koalas and kangaroos, yes, but also giant worms that reach up to 12 feet in length, and the deadly but strangely compelling box jellyfish, the grouper, the list goes on. And Bryson shows the same delight and enjoyment at learning about these isolated evolutionary anomalies as one should.

I confess that toward the end of the book, my interest lagged. The stromatolites are built up to somewhat absurd heights. At one point he quotes paleontologist Richard Fortey as saying, "This is truly time travelling, and if the world were attuned to its real wonders this sight would be as well-known as the pyramids of Giza" (298). I am afraid that I am woefully untuned, because I can't seem to muster enthusiasm over gray blobs that occasionally let out streams of bubbles, any more than I can about testing yeast.

He also has an additional appendix devoted to the Olympic Games, which I have never much had an interest in - thankfully, neither does he, it seems, other than to admire the Australian people in their generosity, efficiency, and general amiability, and make some trenchant comments regarding the spirit of the games themselves.

Perhaps most engagingly, Bryson paints a picture of how truly wonderful the continent is: the diversity of life, the history made there, and the compelling thought that here is a landmass which has been known for quite some time, and there are still portions of it uncharted. That is amazing to me, and evidently to Bryson as well.

He cynically notes that "it seems that an awfully large part of travel these days is to see things while you still can" (279) that particularly struck me. While reading about his adventures, about the cafes and the people and the disappearing landscapes under masses of careless tourism and bungling bureaucracies, there is a definite pang of loss there - if I were to go there, would the town still be homey and comfortable? What happened to Mike and Val Cantrall - are they still there or happily wandering around? Will the Great Barrier Reef look the same if I hopped on a plane today?

It is some comfort, at least, to know that books such as these preserve - in writing, if nothing else - a snapshot of what things looked like then.

*To this note, Bryson has written my second favorite line about Australia: "... as I later learned from browsing through a fat book titled, if I recall, Things That Will Kill You Horridly in Australia, volume 19". The first will always go to a certain section in The Lost Continent by Terry Pratchett. ( )
  kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
Ok, this one was pretty good. Still more about Bryson than about the peoples & places, but at least this time he wasn't whining. Or should I say whinging - as I've been given to understand (elsewhere) Aussies dot it. I am discussing the book on Aussie Readers before I return it to the library. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
After my break from reading Bryson i was expecting to return and find him as funny as others do, unfortunately i dont. An ok read ( )
  Tony2704 | Mar 23, 2015 |
Really interesting and humorous book about Australia, packed with a lot of facts. I learned a lot, but probably no longer want to visit there: harsh climate, lost of poisonous plants and animals. Would definitely read another Bill Bryson book; I like his sense of humor. ( )
  cindyb29 | Jan 13, 2015 |
This is a really diverting account of white Australian life today and the history of the white settlers. The absence of encounters with any aboriginees is somewhat obvious, but not unexpected. As travelogues go, this is an entertaining one. ( )
  Mothwing | Jan 4, 2015 |
Bryson is at his trademarked wittiest here and yet his observations do not lift the text as much as in, say, A Short History of Nearly Everything. Compared to Sven Lindqvist's superior Terra Nullius, it also does not serve as an enormously informative book, giving very little time to discussing the Aboriginal question. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Nov 8, 2014 |
Australia is a terrifying and wonderful place. At least, that's the conclusion I came to after reading Bryson's hilarious travel narrative about his exploration of the country/continent (it's complicated). I knew Australia was huge, deadly, and endlessly fascinating, but I did not know the extent of any of these things until I read this book. It made me want to pack my bags and go on my own adventure across the country, even though I hate the heat, am terrified of bugs, and have next to no backpacking or camping skills.

Bryson writes about Australia with obvious love and reverence, and is quick to point out all the quirky charms that make the place great. I feel like I would love traveling with him, since we both share a fondness for seemingly boring novelty museums and kitschy tourist traps. He traveled through the big cities, like Sydney, but also explored the barren and lonely outback, where you can drive on the same stretch of highway for thousands of miles and literally not see anything but the flat desert land around you (I can't even fathom that, being from California). But Bryson somehow makes it all seem beautiful, which I love. He also delves into the strange, and often hilarious, history of the founding and exploration of Australia. Another thing I liked was his discussion on the Aboriginies, the indigenous people of Australia, who unfortunately have been virtually ignored in history books, media, policy, etc. not only in Australia but everywhere else in the world. However, I am lowering my grade for this book by half a star because I think this topic deserved a whole chapter or two instead of a few pages here and there (and because Bryson took a few too many jabs at overweight people, which I thought was in poor taste).

I have the edition with the added appendix on the Sydney Olympics, which was pretty interesting. Everything seemed to go extraordinarily well, especially when you consider the Winter Games that just happened in Sochi...

All in all, a very entertaining and humorous book that shows what a fascinating place Australia is. I'm excited to read more of Bryson's stuff. ( )
2 vote kaylaraeintheway | May 1, 2014 |
I enjoyed this book enormously. Although I had read quite a bit about Australia previously, I learned a huge amount about what it would actually be like to travel around its vast distances and spend time there. Bill Bryson is informative but also of course very funny in places. The few pages in which he reflects on cricket had me literally weeping with laughter. Highly recommended. ( )
  Matt_B | Mar 4, 2014 |
Hugely funny! I'm glad he did the traveling for me. Wonderful writer. Great wit. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
3.5 stars.

This book follows Bryson as he travels around Australia.

It was good, but this was the audio book (my first audio book), and I’m fairly certain I would have liked it more if I’d read it as a real book. As a result, my review is almost as much reviewing an audio book, as it will review this particular book. I found I got distracted fairly easily – depending what I was doing as I listened – and so I ended up missing things. It was more effort than it was worth most of the time to back up and try to find where I was when my mind first wandered.

Back to the book – Bryson adds a lot of history and interesting tidbits of information along the way as well. He did go to some interesting places, and he is humourous in his writing. Overall, I guess I enjoyed it, but it’s just too hard to separate the book from the audio. ( )
  LibraryCin | Feb 11, 2014 |
Pleasant and mildly entertaining. I was surprised to hear many of the topics in the book (e.g., dissolution of the government by the queen's representative in the 1970s) surface in ordinary conversations with Australians during my trip. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
made me want to move to Australia ( )
  Jessi.Rhodes | Dec 31, 2013 |
After about half way into this book, I have been saying the same thing whenever I get the chance: "I'm never going to Australia!" This is usually followed by a re-telling of some of the stories Bryson writes about in this brilliantly humorous and well-written book. (My favorite humorous parts are his description of how he passes out in a car due to jet lag at the beginning of the book, and the red snapper discussion he has with his friend Allan and a waitress from Tassie.) I think Bryson is an exceptionally jolly traveler, a curious yet laid-back guy, who just likes to poke around, chat with the locals, go to museums no matter that they are displaying, and have a few cold beers watching the sun set. And if there is the added bonus of a bouncing marsupial in the distant horizon, or a monotreme passing by somehow, or giant testicles swinging up top, dangling off of a giant metal animal sculpture, all the better. So reading what Bryson managed to do in Australia was fun, hilarious, laugh-out-loud good.

Now, reading about the vast and unrelenting deserts that seem a bit too easy to get lost in and perhaps a bit too easy to die in, and the jelly fish that can kill you in a matter of seconds, not to mention the spiders and the snakes and the crocodiles and and and... Oh, my! Above all, the remoteness of the cities from each other and the very new, shiny history they have to offer... I don't know... As much as Bryson had fun and looooooooved the people and places he visited, I loved him writing about them rather than the actual places. Certainly, it seems very beautiful and unique. It also seems rather dangerous, dry, dehydrating, unnerving, and frankly, very suburban.

So I will probably never pay to travel to Australia after reading Bryson's book. I will, however, read more books by him for sure, and I will have to read more about the Aborigines, their origins as well as their very unique mythology. (I would also like to read about the maritime history relating to the escapades of white man who bumped into Australia by Giles Milton, so Mr. Milton, please write this book soon.) ( )
  bluepigeon | Dec 27, 2013 |
This account of the improbable and extravagant things one can find in Australia is greatly enhanced by the author's own voice reading it, even though the iconic associations one imagines are actually rather few. Now I feel I would like to pop down there for a month or two myself to take a look around. ( )
  rmagahiz | Dec 21, 2013 |
My globe-trotting sister bought me this book just before going to work a season or two as a veterinarian in New South Wales. I thought Down Under (first released as In a Sunburned Country) was simply the most enjoyable travel book I had ever read. When I finished it, I promptly read it through a second time, with no less enjoyment.

Among Bryson’s observations about what makes Australia unique:
  • It’s the only country where a prime minister can go for a swim and just disappear without a trace.
  • It has more deadly animals per square meter than anyplace else on earth.
  • Cult members apparently set off a nuclear bomb in the desert, but it took years for anyone else to notice.
  • It contains Uluru, the world’s most inexplicably arresting landmark: “Go to the third planet and fly around till you see the big red rock. You can’t miss it.”
( )
  Muscogulus | Oct 25, 2013 |
If you have not yet tried Bryson, you probably should seek psychiatric help. He's funny and informative; travel-writing (if you can call it that) at its best. His Walk in the Woods is a classic, and while this book about his visit to Australia is not as uproariously funny - the country is, after all, home to the ten most poisonous animals in the world - his descriptions of Australian institutions will delight you. His description of cricket, a game that has nothing wrong with it that "the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry," is a good example. "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." It is a very popular sport (?) that's "enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which the spectators burn as many calories as 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." The pitcher runs at the batter (decked out with a riding hat and "heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioisotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg,") and throws the ball at his ankles. This can go on indefinitely until he is "coaxed into a mis-stroke that leads to his being put out [at which time] all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called. . . ." This usually goes on until your library books are all overdue and autumn has become winter. Of course, listening to cricket on the radio is truly something else: "That's right, Clive. I haven't known anyone start his delivery that far back since Stopcock caught his sleeve on the reversing mirror of a number 11 bus during the third test at Brisbane in 1957 and ended up in Goondiwindi four days later owing to some frightful confusion over a changed timetable at Toowoomba Junction." There are long silences during which the announcers have time to run some errands. "So we break for second luncheon, and with 11,200 balls remaining, Australia are 962 for two not half and England are four for a duck and hoping for rain."

Australia remade itself as a country following the Second World War. It realized that with such a small population, it could not afford to rely forever on Britain for its defense and it began to encourage immigration, "that if it didn't use all that empty land and fill those empty spaces someone from the outside might do it for them." They threw open their doors and the population more than doubled in the years following 1945. They welcomed people from all over Europe and "suddenly Australia was full of people who liked wine and good coffee and olives and eggplants, and realized that spaghetti didn't have to be a vivid orange and come from cans." By 1970, they also realized they had become an Asian nation and were no longer predominantly European and they simply eliminated the color bar they previously had used to ban "undesirables." "In a single generation, Australia remade itself. It went from being a half-forgotten outpost of Britain, provincial, dull, and culturally dependent, to being a nation infinitely more sophisticated, confident, interesting and outward-looking. And it did all this, by and large, without discord or disturbance, or serious mistakes - indeed often with a kind of grace."

Of course, if you are an Aborigine, the outlook is somewhat different and Bryson, to his credit, does not overlook the truly horrible discrimination and crimes committed against this venerable and ancient people - their history is truly astonishing. Whites in Australia had a tendency to treat them the way whites in this country treated the buffalo.

The vastness of Australia cannot be underestimated, and it's a naturalist's paradise with new species being discovered - and probably made extinct - almost daily. The mineral wealth is enormous and barely tapped, not to mention a biodiversity that includes living fossils. There is a species of living rock that dates back to the early eons of the earth and is worth a visit halfway around the world just to see it - if you can avoid the most venomous animals in the world, the sharks, the crocodiles and all the other poisonous stuff. A marvelous book. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
People had been telling me to read this book for a long time. Perhaps because I don't usually find non-fiction very interesting, I put it off for a long time. Having finally gotten around to it, I wish I had started sooner.

Bryson is a great writer who injects wit, humor and adventure into this interesting take on the history, geography, people and wildlife of Australia. It's a very accessible read that feels a lot like listening to a good friend over a couple of pints. His humor is self-deprecating and oddly British, reminding me a bit of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series. Only, intriguingly enough, Bryson's fascinating guide describes a real place.

Give it a read if you're curious about Australia or just looking for a good laugh. In a Sunburned Country will not disappoint. ( )
  wethewatched | Sep 24, 2013 |
Very funny audiobook. I can't decide at the end whether I really want to visit Austrailia or am absolutely terrified. Probably visit. ( )
  renrav | Sep 22, 2013 |
Entertaining and informative, with Bryson's narration putting a humorous slant on many ways of life down under, and his wide-ranging curiosity delving into a host of subjects. ( )
  wdwilson3 | Sep 13, 2013 |
Absolutely hilarious! Even though the author gets seriously sunburnt and runs into terrifying creatures, he somehow still makes you want to visit Australia. I'd recommend (and have recommended) this book to anyone planning a trip down under. A pure joy to read...I was sorry to reach the last page. ( )
1 vote StephMWard | Sep 6, 2013 |
It's not easy to write a travel book and keep it interesting enough to hold the reader. But Bryson manages this with aplomb. I really enjoyed reading his account of Australia, and appreciated the way he intertwines, historical stories, descriptions and anecdotes. Having just visited Australia and been to some of the same places, I can say that Bryson manages to put into words many of thoughts and observations that Mindy and I had about the country and its ambience. Recommending reading for anyone considering a visit! ( )
  jvgravy | Aug 29, 2013 |
Bill Bryson tours around Australia and reports back on its people, places, history, and terrifying beasties what will eat you. Quintessential Bryson at his informative, tangential, morbid, awed, side-splitting best. I've never read a Bryson I didn't like (though At Home kind of hangs out at a sad bottom of the list), but this one and A Short History of Nearly Everything would battle it out for the honor of Best Bryson Ever (of those I've read--which is almost, but not all, of them). Recommended unreservedly. ( )
  lycomayflower | Aug 24, 2013 |
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