‘Down Under’ by Bill Bryson


Nonfiction – paperback; Black Swan; 398 pages; 2001.

Bill Bryson’s Down Under is a hilarious romp across the world’s “driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents”.

As an Australian I had expected to take offence at this travelogue given the caning Bryson received from British reviewers when the hardcover came out, but I was pleasantly surprised, finding myself nodding in agreement one minute, laughing uproariously the next. I particularly liked his chapter on Canberra because it cut so close to the bone:

When a man as outstandingly colourless as John Howard turns his nose up at a place you know it must be worth a look. I couldn’t wait to see it.

My only gripe is that Bryson tended, on occasion, to gloss over certain locations (the Great Ocean Road barely gets a mention, and there’s no explanation as to how he got from there to the Mornington Peninsula on the other side of Port Phillip Bay), but he more than makes up for it with his funny observations and biting sarcasm. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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