In Review – Down Under, by Bill Bryson

It is always interesting to read other people’s thoughts about the country you live in. Generally, the things that matter most to you are the things that others find least interesting. Or to put it another way, the things you take for granted; Those things that you live with every day, and that you often never think twice about unless you have to, are precisely the things that others find most fascinating.

Things like the kangaroo, platypus, koalas, wombats, and echidnas just for starters. Then there are some of the deadliest snakes on the planet, sharks, freshwater crocodiles, funnel-web spiders, box jellyfish, and the blue-ringed octopus.

The other pleasure is discovering the wealth of interesting information that writers like Bryson are able to discover during their research, which they later include in their books.

For example, until I read ‘Down Under’, I didn’t know that the Simpson Desert was named, in 1929 or 1932, depending on the font you choose, after Alfred Simpson, a manufacturer of washing machines. What what? Apparently Simpson funded an aerial survey of the area and named the desert after him as a result!

Thanks Bill, I will never see my old Simpson washing machine the same way again.

Good writers also notice strange quirks that locals have long forgotten or simply don’t “see” anymore. Like when Bryson writes:

“Two of the leading explorers of the 19th century were named Sturt and Stuart and their names are all over the place too, so you have to constantly stop and think, usually at busy intersections where an instant decision is required, ‘Now do I want the Sturt Highway or Stuart Highway? Since both roads start in Adelaide and end in places 3,994 kilometers apart, this can make a difference, believe me. “

You are right, of course. And since I live in Adelaide myself, I have to make a mental note of that to make sure I don’t end up in Alice Springs the next time I want to drive to Sydney.

I was delighted to discover that Bill Bryson and I share a common interest, and that is the habit we both have of buying the local newspaper in whatever city or community we are passing through. As Bryson says:

“What a comfort to find a nation preoccupied with issues that have no consequences for oneself. I love reading about scandals involving ministers I’ve never heard of, murder hunts in communities whose names sound dusty and remote, articles about artists. revered and thinkers whose achievements have never reached my ears, whose talents I must embrace in faith. “

One of the things that Bill Bryson excels at is the humor he brings to his writing. He seems to have the ability to see the funny side of a nation with many quirks and no faith, and Australia is no different. His description of listening to a cricket match while driving from Sydney to Adelaide is one of the funniest I have ever read.

I won’t attempt to quote the book, as that would spoil the fun for you, if you haven’t read Down Under yet. Suffice it to say that I had to put the book aside because I was laughing uncontrollably.

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and after living for many years in Great Britain with his English wife and four children he moved to the United States. He is the best-selling author of ‘The Lost Continent’, ‘Made in America’, ‘A Walk in the Woods’ and many other great travel books.

If you haven’t read Bryson Down Under, you should put it on your reading list now. Even though it was published in 2000, it has never been out of print, so you won’t have a problem finding a copy, whether it’s at your local bookstore, the online store of your choice, or good second-hand book resellers.

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