In a Sunburned Country

ISBN: 0767903862
ISBN 13: 9780767903868
By: Bill Bryson

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About this book

This work is Bryson's report on what he found in Australia, the country that doubles as a continent, and a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet.

Reader's Thoughts


I re-read this one in preparation for my move to Australia, and, for the first time, realized that there was a good possibility that I could be eaten by a crocodile while working in the rivers here! The book also alerted me to the many other dangerous creatures and long-distance driving that have now become a normal part of my life. Oh, and he was dead on with his description of Canberra. Most boring city ever (though, surprisingly, there are good Ethiopian restaurants there. Yum!). Thanks, Bill Bryson! In general, Bill Bryson is hilarious and informative at the same time. I have read several of his books. This, along with A Walk in the Woods, is at the top of my list.


In 1986, a friend and I threw maple leaves on our backpacks and, with a few hotels booked and Eurorail passes in hand, made our way around Europe. While in Paris, we met a fellow traveller who happened to hail from Australia, and over a modest dinner in a cozy café, we asked him about his homeland and we answered his questions about what it was like to be from Canada -- this was a time when Reagan was in his second term and, with the Iran-Contra stuff coming to light, the invasion of tiny Grenada, and his government trying to force our country to become a launching base for ICBMs against the USSR, we expressed the viewpoint common amongst our University-student friends: we were scared to death of America and lived in fear of the war-machine crouching just to the south of the longest unprotected border in the world. After a pleasant meal and discovering how much more we had in common with this Australian than with our North American partners, our conversation was interrupted by two quite beautiful young women and, standing with their backs to me and my friend and addressing the Australian only, one of them said, "We have met many smart and friendly Canadians on our trip. Maybe one day you will, too." As these Americans strode haughtily out, I was mildly stung by the words that they had obviously rehearsed to put us in our place, but I remember spreading my hands in a gesture of explication and saying, "You see what bullies Americans are? They could have tried to join our conversation and correct anything we got wrong but they dropped a bomb and moved on." Our newfound friendship none the worse for wear, we continued to talk and discover all of the political and cultural commonalities we had between our two Commonwealth nations. After we left the café, I remember how we taught each other our national anthems and walked the cobblestoned streets of the Left Bank belting out, "Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free!" (And I should pause to say that I no longer fear America and wish Americans nothing but the best.)Okay, so I'm not a travel writer, but Bill Bryson is, and with In a Sunburned Country he does a great job of making Australia sound like the most fascinating place that a person could visit -- he hit all of the major cities, a few off-the-beaten-path towns, and remote tourist destinations like the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru; humorously and exhaustively describing each from a tourist's perspective. With obvious affection for the landscape and the people he meets, Bryson uses a story-telling tone to blend history and science with his eyewitness accounts, keeping everything light and fun but also very informative. As for this information, Bryson quotes from so many different books that he maintains a tone of authority, but he curiously includes this common misrepresentation: Australia is the only island that is also a continent, and the only continent that is also a country. I was also taught this in school, but I'm sure the other countries in the continent of "Australia" (Tasmania, New Guinea, Seram, possibly Timor, and neighbouring islands) are as tired of being left out as the Central American and Caribbean countries must be of being left out of the official list of North American countries (and when I was in school, North America was just Canada and the U.S. on maps. Mexico was later added, but even now, who can name all 23 independent states? And what about New Zealand? Why am I only now discovering that it exists on its own submerged continent of Zealandia? Why didn't Bryson tell me that?) That pet peeve aside, I was constantly amused during this book by the way that Bryson seemed to regard the Australians he met as an entirely different species -- whether describing them as merely quirky or "as mad as cut snakes", the strangest attributes of their culture were the ones which were simply the least American (like watching cricket or having a Parliamentary system of government with a Governor General) and again I was reminded of how compatible my friend and I were with the Australian we met in Paris. Bryson's few stories about Australia's Aboriginal peoples were fascinating -- so often overlooked, these original inhabitants likely sailed to Australia ages ago (tens of thousands of years before any other peoples were braving the seas) with a viable breeding community and eked out a living in one of the most inhospitable landscapes on Earth, giving them the longest continuous culture in the history of the world. Without pottery or agriculture or iron tools or settlements, the Aboriginals thrived before European contact, but were hunted down and marginalised and had their children taken from them by the government "for their own betterment". That's such a shameful history (so similar to ours in Canada) that it's a pity that Bryson didn't attempt to talk to some Aboriginals to get their own perspective. As for the humour, Bryson keeps his tone entertaining but periodically dips into the hyperbolic self-deprecation when talking about himself that I found so tiresome in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. A random example: Dogs don't like me. It is a simple law of the universe, like gravity. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never passed a dog that didn't act as if it thought I was about to take its Alpo. Dogs that have not moved from the sofa in years will, at the sniff of me passing outside, rise in fury and hurl themselves at shut windows. I have seen tiny dogs, no bigger than a fluffy slipper, jerk little old ladies off their feet and drag them over open ground in a quest to get at my blood and sinew. Every dog on the face of the earth wants me dead. If you find that funny, then you'll have no worries, mate (and if you don't, it doesn't happen too often). Overall, this was a light summer read that I hope Australians would agree shows off their country favourably (if one can forget that the ten most lethal creatures on Earth are all found there, it sounds like a lovely place to visit). And maybe it's an American thing, but Bryson concludes with the point that it's unfair that the rest of the world never thinks about, much less hears about, Australia. As this book was written before the Crocodile Hunter and the Wiggles became bona fide superstars, maybe he had a point, but this was also long after Crocodile Dundee, Midnight Oil, and "put another shrimp on the barbie", so who in the Northern Hemisphere didn't have some basic consciousness of the Land Down Under in 1999? Either way, it's a worthwhile note on which to conclude: Australia is mostly empty and a long way away. Its population is small and its role in the world consequently peripheral. It doesn't have coups, recklessly overfish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities, or throw its weight around in a brash and unseemly manner. It is stable and peaceful and good. It doesn't need watching, and so we don't. But I will tell you this: the loss is entirely ours. I would give In a Sunburned Country 3.5 stars if I could, so consider the 4 a rounding up.


This book took me a while to finish, mostly because I didn't want to gloss over one word of it. Bryson superbly communicates the awe, bemusement, frustration, wonder, and glee that he experienced in Australia. I almost feel like I have been there myself because he describes everything so thoroughly and vividly. He would also make an excellent travel partner-- I can't help but respect a man who never misses a happy hour, even when in a strange country.

Maria M. Elmvang

Some authors have an amazing way with words, and Bill Bryson is definitely one of them. After a single false start, he proceeded to make me utterly homesick for a country I've in large part never visited at all (three weeks total in Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney is nowhere near enough). I learned a bunch of new things about Australia and new places I want to visit. Bill Bryson's love for the country is unmistakable, and makes this not only a fascinating memoir and travel-account, but also an adoring ode to a soul country.Interesting things I learned from "Down Under":- The concept of "Tomorrow, When the War Began" (John Marsden) wasn't actually as farfetched as I originally thought, but could have been based on a very real threat during WW2.- Racism is alive and well in Australia - the Aboriginals don't seem to be very accepted at all, and as late as 1970 their children was still considered wards of the state rather than of their parents and could be removed at will.- As of the time of writing, there was still a single territory that had declined becoming a state of Australia... meaning that though they could vote for elections, their votes didn't actually count for anything.- Australia is unique both from a geological and a botanical viewpoint and HUGE parts of it haven't been properly surveyed... if surveyed at all. Also, it has the coolest names for places, plants and animals :D- I WANT TO GO!!!

Alex Ristea

It's a good thing I was already on a flight to Australia when I finished reading this, because I would have booked a ticket immediately.I've read a lot of travel writing in my time (blogs, books, you name it), but I have never encountered someone as witty and charming as Bill Bryson.This may be one of the most hilarious things I've ever read—In a Sunburned Country is foreign travels as they were meant to be written.Even if you have no plans to visit Australia, or if you've never read a travel book before, I want you to pick up this short book and give it a go.


Even if you have absolutely no intention of going anywhere near Australia (and you may not, once you’ve read it) this is hilarious.


Like most avid readers, I have a large TBR pile. Most of this pile is pertinent to what I do in some way (writing and art), and much of it is training and study material I should complete yesterday. Quite by accident I strayed across Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country (a rather morbid story I’ll not relate here), his book about his travels across Australia. It’s a book that’s had me almost completely sidetracked. This is one of those books that’s best read when it falls into your lap as a break from other books. One day you’re slogging your way through a tome of ungodly proportions, wondering how in God’s name this book ever got published, when a book like IASC falls into your lap and you pounce on it with the enthusiasm of a bobcat devouring a goat. Soon you find you must shirk all of your daily duties until the book is finished. This, people, is not only the mark of a good book, it is the mark of a good travel book. Even better is one that makes you want to visit Australia—which is remarkable when you consider Australia has more imaginative and horrible ways to kill you than pretty much any other place on earth. It’s the second most inhospitable climate on earth (the first is Antarctica). But all Antartica can do is kill you with its cold. Australia is home to fluffy caterpillars that can kill you, species of spiders that can kill you with just a pinprick of venom, and the world’s deadliest snake: the taipan. (Interesting fact: the taipan is fifty times more venomous than the world’s second deadliest snake, the cobra. You get bit by a taipan and it’s bye bye baby, goodbye.) (Little show tune humor there you’ll (hopefully) appreciate when you read the book.) Not to mention, there are sharks, poisonous jellyfish (“blueys”), and man-eating crocodiles. And desert. Lots and lots of unforgiving desert. While most Australians aren’t bothered by the rest of the lot, the crocodiles even scare them. That said, Bryson makes Australia—a country, he notes, to which Americans pay little attention (Russell Crowe notwithstanding)—sound like the world’s friendliest and warmest place on planet Earth. Australians do sound like a very friendly and welcoming folk. That they managed to make a country at all is to their immense credit, though, according to Bryson, they’ll not thank you for mentioning that their country essentially started off as a penal colony. (The “criminals,” by the way, were not at all a bad lot; many were only there because of harsh sentences that were common for the lower classes in England at the time. If you stole five cucumbers, you could choose between your own hanging or … a move to Australia.)There were many places in the book where Bryson made me burst out laughing. I tried to read a passage to a friend, but I could barely get it out because I was laughing too hard. And he’s not just good as a humorist, either. He’s great at the factual stuff. What otherwise might be dry and sleep-inducing comes alive in Bryson’s writing, and he kept me as riveted as any high-octane novelist. He truly is a delight to read, and I can’t wait to read more of his books. Highly recommended.


The book is really funny with little interesting anecdotes about Australia, a most-interesting country. (Did you know they actually LOST a Prime Minister back in 1967? Or that a bunch of crazy Japanese terrorists may have test-tried a nuclear bomb in its outback? Or that a harmless jellyfish can kill you in utter agony? Or that that is only one of the several species found all over that can? Or that they have living creatures from three and a half million years ago? You get my point.) Stories of beer and drunkenness and the general niceness of Australians are interspersed with stories of horrible deaths. Makes a very interesting read.

Robert Beveridge

Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country (Broadway, 2000)I originally encountered the writing of Bill Bryson in a small article he wrote for National Geographic on the Orkney Islands a year or so ago. By the time I had finished the article, I was (and still am, to an extent) seriously considering relocating to the Orkney Islands. Well, I've now finished In a Sunburned Country, Bryson's travelogue of Australia-- and I never, ever want to go there.Bryson gives us the world's forgotten continent (really, how many of you who don't live there can name Australia's Prime Minister?), mixing personal experience, history, and bewilderment in roughly equal doses. While the history does bog down in places, I found myself-- especially in the book's first section-- glad that I was the only person in the room while reading it, since I might well have been committed involuntarily for laughing so hard in stretches. The most disturbing thing is that I was laughing about the sheer number of things in Australia which are capable of killing human beings. This is not a place you should go if you fear death. "The sea snakes are especially unnerving, not because they are aggressive, but because they are inquisitive. Stray into their territory and they'll come to check you out, all but rubbing against you in the manner of cats seeking affection. They are the most sweet-tempered creatures in existence. But cross them or alarm them and they can hit you with enough venom to kill three grown men." Not only will the unfriendly creatures kill you, the friendly ones will as well!Those who have read more Bryson than I have hastened to say that this is a less humorous book than his others. I'm not sure I could stand the others, for I might die of asphyxia before reaching the end of chapter one. This is good stuff, funny most of the time, sobering on rare occasions, and always edifying. And don't be concerned if you forget three quarters of what's in here by the time you're finished, including the name of Australia's present prime minister (or the name of the silicon-tipped grass I've been wracking my brain for for a week now). According to Bryson, there's something about Australia that causes people to forget it exists, so as long as you remember there are seven continents on this planet, you're ahead of the game. ***

April West

This book is so funny, so well-written, and so interesting I couldn't stop reading it, even when I had to use a caver's headlamp and stuff my pillow into my mouth to keep from waking my family with my laughter. Bryson is a master writer, and hilarious. His tour of Australia is interesting, and he does not gloss over the "problem" of the relationship between European Australians and the Aborigines. Though I was occasionally put off by seemingly random sexist comments, I still enjoyed the heck out of this book and can't wait to read more of his stuff... which says a lot, as I usually avoid non-fiction like the very plague!

Anthony Bidulka

Began reading this book on the long flights to the Sunburned Country and throughout the trip. Bryson is an unmatchable wit. What I particularly liked is that while I was laughing I was also learning about this wild and varied and interesting country. I even learned facts that lifelong Aussies did not know. This book was released in 2000, so I wondered if all the facts and figures were very accurate anymore. Also, I found the book flagged a bit at the end, so i did find myself skipping some bits. But overall, a highly enjoyable read and good for more than a few out loud chuckles.


I had never read Bill Bryson before. I'd seen copies of A Walk in the Woods and I'm a Stranger Here Myself and they just didn't seem appealing. However, I now have a contact in Australia and I've been shoveling up books to find out more about the country.As an American I was taught two things about Australia that I remember from school: it started as a penal colony for Britain so all the original settlers were convicts; there's an incredible wasteland in the middle of it called The Outback that is only populated by people who run immense sheep ranches and try to keep from dying in the desert. Most of the films that had Australian themes reinforced these stereotypes as well.So I was astonished to find how different the areas of Australia are. Bryson's travels and stories show how much he loves this country and he's made me love it too. From the cosmopolitan Sydney to the "Death Valley" areas, he finds something sympathetic and loveable about it all. Sydney is blossoming with flowers, avoids the extreme heat/cold of most of the continent and is very modern. However, Bryson makes Canberra, the capital, seem like a stodgy British old maid. He constantly comes back to how many poisonous "things" live on the continent: snakes, spiders, insects, animals (I discovered even the awkward platypus male has a poisoned spike on his hind leg!). But, somehow, he never seems to actually SEE any of them. He is delightful in his description of the people as well. He claims that Australians are the friendliest people in the world and then goes on to show us how those who live in Darwin on the northern edge, have no sense of humor, no sense of hospitality, no sense of responsibility and no customer service skills. He still manages to make all this seem funny.And because he is a writer, his travels are actually work, so he searches out sights to see and most often finds marvelous gems he shares. He visited Macksville, the site of an incredible Aborigine slaughter in the 19th century; he finds a desert museum (how can you have a museum to a DESERT? he wonders) that shows three types of desert found in Australia and turns out to be fascinating; he visits the area where the Kelley Gang was famous and manages to talk with historians to get "the real story; he visits The Giant Worm (a real "animal") and comments how Australians seem to need to have a Giant something everywhere. Complete with restaurant and gift shop: Giant Kangaroo, Giant Crocodile, etc. I can't begin to list all the interesting little museums, botanical gardens, national parks that he saw and made me want to see. And he details history too. Not pedantically but refreshingly. South Australia is proud of the fact that it was NOT settled by convicts; it was a free settlers area. Bryson points out, however, that its concept and its promotion was done by a convict who figured he could make a great deal of money bringing people in and selling them land.For all these reasons and just because Bryson is a really good writer, you should pick this book up. You'll learn a lot about an area of the world that most of us never think about. And in spite of my new Australian friend, I STILL can't wrap my head around the fact that she's in the middle of winter in July.......


Being an Australian, I probably come at this book with a different perspective than most. For starters, I can tell you the name of the current Prime Minister as well as several of those preceeding her. The book is written from two separate trips Bill Bryson made to mainland Australia. While nominally broad, it's essentially held together by a few points - Australia is large and mostly empty. It's not nearly as empty as it seems. No one outside of Australia really cares.There are a couple of other themes that come out during the course of the book (so one doesn't assume Bryson's obsession with size is related to any insecurities on his part). One is that Bryson really does seem to like Australia and the people he meets here. The other is that he is terrified of the place. He is strangely obsessed with all the deadly animals that you can find in Australia. He writes like he has (reason to have) one eye constantly trained on his back just waiting for a crocodile or a poisonous snake to come creeping up and do him in. Yet, apart from one encounter with a jellyfish (no one comes close to getting hurt) Bryson doesn't actually see anything deadly and nothing happens. It's all sources he's read and the accounts of people he speaks to. It's rather boring actually. He's also obsessed with Aborigines, and while he does actually see some (better than his record with deadly animals) he just watches from afar and recounts what he's found out from research. While it may serve to make Bryson's point about how people handle the issue of Indigenous people in Australia, it also demonstrates one of the flaws in his travel writing. While Bryson writes what is for the most part a good book, it's not really about travelling. Down Under (sold as In a Sunburned Country in the US) is easy to read, wryly humourous and well researched. However, if it wasn't for the facts Bryson brings in from his research and the humour with which he treats his subject matter, it wouldn't make for interesting reading. He mostly drives everywhere, travels in an improvised manner, checks out a museum or otherwise spends his free time in bars having a beer or two (to be fair, so do Australians ) and writes about that. It doesn't seem like Bryson actually had much time on either journey. It's far from an in-depth account; he spends a day or two in a city, ventures to a couple of suburbs, and then makes big sweeping statements about the place and the people (Bryson is a big fan of sweeping statements) integrating whatever might be of interest from what he has read and researched. It's a bit of a disppointment that he didn't make it to Tasmania. If Australia is a forgotten continent, Tasmania is certainly the most often forgotten (or overlooked) part of it. And this made me wonder how much is really Bryson's own experiences in the places he visited and how much has been shaped to demonstrate what he has learnt through reading other resources? Still, it's a credit to him that he can make it interesting. And it was an interesting book. Bryson is a good writer, he takes you along with him on his journey and keeps you entertained for what is quite a broad and lengthy book. I learnt things about Australian history that I didn't know (not saying much, Australians aren't hugely well informed on our nation's history) and was reminded of many more things I had forgotten. I laughed, at Bryson's depictions of Australians, at Bryson himself. And I recognised those parts of my own country that I love and those parts that I'm deeply ashamed of... so all in all, it's probably as good a reflection of Australia as you're going to get.I felt more than a little bit weird reading a travelogue on Australia as an Australian while in Australia so, if nothing else, I can agree with Bryson that Australians are a very self-concious people...


Nelle ultime 4 settimane di giorno ho lavorato duro, la casa era un baraccamento vario per via del pittore che ritinteggiava, di sera "une petite fugue" di qualche pagina assieme a Bryson in giro per l'Australia. Ovviamente mi ha fatto venir una gran voglia di andarci, era anche il sogno di mio padre: affittare un camper e girarla un po'. Purtroppo é riamsto un sogno. Si viaggia per km in Australia fra vermoni giganti, anche tre metri e mezzo per un diametro di 15 cm (stento ad immaginarmelo, mi sa che é meglio così), meduse e serpenti e ragni stravelenosi, squali, stromatoliti ed echidne, barriera corallina (2000 km!) alberi che ammiri passeggiando su di una passerella posta fra le loro fronde, città con edifici che sfidano la gravità. 22 milioni di abitanti attualmente, densità per km quadrato: 2 e mezzo abitanti. Una buona parte del suo territorio non é nemmeno stato esplorato come si deve, viste le condizioni impossibili per viverci. E ha ragione Bryson dell'Australia si sente parlare poco, non si hanno grandi notizie nei nostri mass-media, l'ultima che ho sentito mi pare era che avevano finito la produzione di una crema da spalmare sul pane, o avevano finito una delle sue materie prime, e ciò stava causando non pochi problemi, niente di nuovo sotto il sole comunque anche qua da noi c'é stata una mezza rivolta alla notizia che i "cervelat" non potevano più essere insaccati nel budello di non so più quale mucca ma dovevamo ricorrere al budello di un altra razza. Insomma son problemi anche questi. Però Bryson qualche paginetta in più sugli aborigeni potevi anche mettercela, é l'unico appunto che mi sento di fare a questo bel racconto di viaggio.


Like most Americans, I have never really given much thought to Australia. It's an island where the seasons are backwards, there's a famous opera house, my ex husband's ex girlfriend is expating it up there, and there are loads of gorgeous men running around shirtless, drinking Fosters and saying "No worries, mate" in a delicious Crocodile Dundee sort of accent. Nothing too exciting, right?Wrong! Australia is fascinating, and Bill Bryson has done an excellent job of telling us why. This book touches on a little bit of everything; history, politics, people, geology, geography, biology ... It's all quite interesting. I, for one, had no idea that Australia teemed with such an amazing and unique class of flora and fauna. Or that so many of them can kill you in their own special way.I also had no earthly idea that Australia is so enormous. It is truly, truly massive. Stunningly so. After reading this book, I really want to travel to Australia at some point. It's now on my top five list of places to vacation. And I never would have known about it if Bill Bryson hadn't traveled through it so thoroughly and written about it so eloquently.

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