Bill Bryson’s first visit to Australia is not a long one, but it is enough to whet his appetite for another visit. In a Sunburned Country is the result of a weeks-long road trip through metropolitan cities, the bush, and thousands of miles of the “outback” that makes up most of the world’s wildest continent.
Could I love this book more?
I think Lonely Planet (of travel guidebook fame) should hire Bryson as their head writer; who else could make a country known for its stifling heat, desert landscape, and high percentage of poisonous and deadly wildlife seem like the ideal place to spend a vacation?
This book has the flavor of At Home, with its combination of history, modernity, and travel, with the added bonus of even more human (a good deal of it racy). In a Sunburned Country is a personal account, and so there’s more room for Bryson’s dry wit to sparkle throughout.
Sydney, Australia is 8700 miles away from my home state of Texas, and even further away from Americans’ consciousness. If you can name Australia’s Prime Minister, the location of Melbourne, and a piece of recent local news (without Googling), you may actually be Australian — no one else seems to know.
The country Bryson describes is remote, almost alien, and full of wonderful people and things. Australia is a land of impossibles — species thought to be extinct for centuries are stumbled upon by accident, and fossilized “missing links” are uncovered when someone nudges a rock with his toe while eating lunch in the shade of a rocky outcropping.
Nowhere else on earth does modern city living end so abruptly in thousands of miles of punishing deserts. Nowhere else on earth does living history crawl over tree trunks in your flashlight’s beam.
Still doubting Australia’s uniqueness? Nowhere else on earth does the platypus live.
In a Sunburned Country is part history book, part travel book, part humor and sorrow, and entirely a love story to an under-appreciated, amazing country. Just read it.