Years ago, a good friend recommended that I read a book on Australia called In a Sunburned Country. It was written by Bill Bryson whose most famous travel book is Into the Woods, the best seller on the Appalachian Trail. Bryson was born in Iowa but lived for 20 years in England. Despite the book’s age (it was published in 2001), I had an enjoyable time plowing through it—mostly because Australia is such a fascinating country and Bill Bryson is such a descriptive and humorous writer. Let’s begin with a few facts from Bryson.
Australia is the world’s sixth largest country and its largest island. With a current population of about 27 million, Australia is slightly smaller than mainland U.S.A. It’s the only continent that is also a country and the only country that began as a prison. Australia is home to the largest living thing on earth, The Great Barrier Reef, and one of the largest monoliths, Uluru Rock. But Bryson warns of something else Australia is home to: “It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian.” He goes on to list a number of other lethal creatures including extremely aggressive crocodiles, sharks, the funnel web spider, the box jellyfish, a fluffy caterpillar, and deadly creatures that lurk inside innocent-looking seashells strewn along the beach.
But despite those dangers, “There’s no place in the world like Australia,” says Bryson. For example, 80% of all that lives in Australia, plant (think eucalyptus) and animal (think kangaroo and koala), lives nowhere else. After five trips to Australia, Bryson finds the people “immensely likeable—cheerful, extrovert, quick witted, and unfailing obliging.” Their cities are safe and clean, their government is stable, their food is excellent, their beer is cold, they have 10,685 beaches, and the sun almost always shines. Who would not want to go there?
While reading the book, I was struck again and again by the vastness of the country. One ranch in the Outback is as big as Belgium! Another example: Bryson was driving from Sidney to Brisbane which looked like “neighbors” on his map. He had assumed it would be a three or four hour drive. In reality, it turned out to be a couple of days’ drive. Says Bryson, “In Australia, neighborliness is of course a relative concept.” The trip from Sidney to Brisbane was 1,000 kilometers, “much of it along a cheerfully poky two-lane road.”
Bryson devotes a small section to the Aboriginal people. Their ancestors somehow managed to get to Australia between 30,000 and 60,000 years ago! Bryson calls their arrival, “a staggering momentous accomplishment.” For the first 99.7% of Australia’s inhabited history, the Aborigines “had Australia to themselves.” Upon their arrival, they “mastered the continent,” spreading quickly into every extreme landscape from drenched rain forests to the driest deserts. These people have the “oldest continuously maintained culture in the world, complete with language, arts, and systems of belief.”
Unfortunately, the treatment of the Aborigines by the Europeans mirrors the brutal treatment by the Whites toward the Native Americans in our own country: Mass killings, forced removal from their ancestral lands, and organized attempts to eradicate their native culture. This part of the book was very difficult to read.
As Bryson navigates the land, he visits many historic and tourist sites, engaging in conversations with the locals along the way. The book is filled with all kinds of facts and stories. Here’s a fact: During WWII, in northern Australia, Allied Forces had 60 airfields and 35 hospitals, and housed over 100,000 U.S. troops. What an impact that had on the War in the Pacific! Here’s a story: Australia became over run with rabbits when a landowner in1859 imported 24 rabbits and released them into the bush for sport. By 1880, those rabbits and their descendants had picked clean 2 million acres of greenery in Victoria. Since then, various control measures have been enacted—poison, building fences, etc.—but none has been completely effective.
I happen to have relatives in Australia. After the Communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, my father’s first cousin and her young husband escaped across the border one night, eventually ending up in Perth. Maybe that’s another reason I’m drawn to this unique country. In conclusion, if you would like to go to Australia but can’t afford the money or the time it would take to experience even a small part of this incredible country, then reading In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson might help.
Did anything stand out for you today?
I know I have many readers in Australia. Would you like to say anything about your country?
If you have visited Australia, is there something you would like to add?
PS: Zoom Retreat: I will be giving a short zoom retreat Sept. 29th Friday evening (6:30-8:00 Central) and Sept. 30th Saturday morning (9:30-11:30 Central). The theme is: “Celebrating Three Gifts of Autumn: Wonder, Letting Go, and Peace” and is sponsored by the Sophia Retreat Center in Atchison, KS. See the sidebar on the right of this page toward the top. Visit their website for more details or simply search for their place online, click on scheduled retreats, and this retreat comes up. I hope some of you can make this mini-retreat. Bring a friend!
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I’ve chosen the Australian National Anthem for our video today. This versions captures the beauty, uniqueness, and the vastness of the land. Let us pray for this special country and its people.
I welcome your comments below. Thank you!