Fantasy Vacation

Learning new things is interesting and satisfying in a way that goes beyond cocktail conversation. Traveling is one of the best ways to learn about geography, culture, language, food, climate and history of an unfamiliar region. However, flying, motoring, sailing, and train trips are tedious, expensive, uncomfortable and at times, dangerous.

I recently returned from a trip to Australia via Bill Bryson’s audiobook, In a Sunburned Country. I have to say, my opinion (what little I had) about Australia was dramatically altered through my safe, cozy, pleasant, and interesting virtual trip with Mr. Bryson. I was sad when the book ended, one mark of a good read/listen.

Bryson uses big words for adults, a challenge I accept. I looked up what antipodean means – opposite of, such as the other side of the world – and it makes perfect sense when thinking of Australia. To me, Australia was all outback, with a scattering of cities along the coast. It is that, but to be fair, it’s very much more. Texans like to talk about how big our state is, but we don’t compare to Australia, which is an island, a continent, and a country. A big country. Texas: 268,597 square miles, Australia: 2.97 MILLION square miles.

There are many interesting places to visit in Australia and they have a very diverse landscape; it just takes a long, long time to get from one place to another. Did you know there is a rainforest in Australia? Well, I didn’t. Bryson visits Daintree Rainforest near the NE coast of Queensland. This popular tourist site has a skywalk rigged up where people can walk above the forest canopy in order to preserve the forest bed. Daring, yet safe. Especially if you’re just reading about it.

He does make it into the Outback, and illustrates the drama about the region by recounting stories from early explorers who died, got lost, or were forever broken by their experiences. There is a running joke about drinking urine in these circumstances, but fortunately for Bryson, there seems to be enough stopover places to otherwise slake a traveler’s thirst.

Australia has a plethora of things that can kill you: the climate, birds, insects, jellyfish and sharks, to name a few. Rabbits played a disastrous role in the development of modern-day Australia, which continues to feel the impact of this little furry import. Despite this, the country seems to have a pull on people, and Australians are portrayed as positive, friendly and resilient people. An exception to this is the way indigenous people have been and are treated by the European immigrants. It’s likely a semi-familiar story for folks in the U.S.

Aboriginal people were treated like animals when white Europeans first immigrated and colonized Australia, and it was legal, and encouraged, to shoot native people. The story is horrifying. When Bryson visits the site where, for the first time, white people were punished for killing natives, he doesn’t find a marker, or any commemoration of the event. When he asked a park ranger about the omission, he’s told in effect, “If we marked all the sites where atrocities were committed, the landscape would be littered with monuments.” Bryson refers to Aborigines as “shadow people,” who largely exist on the fringes of the mainstream culture. Bryson explores Aboriginal history, which is very intriguing, and notes the startling lack of information available in their native Australia.

So now I have been to Australia. I didn’t perspire, spend money, or risk my life. Except maybe when changing CD discs while driving. I highly recommend the trip to others. Luckily, Mr. Bryson has been to a LOT of places, and I’m ready to go traveling again.

in-a-sunburned-country
Available on OverDrive

Terri Gibbs

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