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

Terri Jacobson

This book is a funny and delightful look at the world "Down Under." Before I read this book I knew shockingly little about Australia. From this book I learned a lot of interesting facts about Australia, its history, and what a challenging continent it can be. The long distances, the bush and the outback, the metropolitan cities with gorgeous beaches. the top ten most lethal snakes in the world--Bill Bryson describes it all with great good humor and a real eye for detail. Quite a fun book to read.


Bill Bryson is an excellent author. He brings subjects to life--even subjects that previously had little interest to me. And, this book is a great example of that. Here is a travelogue through Australia. Bryson manages to make every page into a fascinating occasion. He does this by blending the most interesting aspects of sites and people in Australia with a subtle, dry humor that bowls me over.Bryson ties his book together with two main themes; Australia is a big, big country, full of wonderful sites and people. Enormous discoveries are made even in recent times, because many places are largely unexplored. Australia is a dangerous country, full of animals and desert landscapes that can hurt you.Bryson has a talent for finding interest and humor in everyday locations and situations. And when he finds a truly fascinating travel site, he knows how to bring the reader into his point of view, and take notice.Actually, I didn't read this book--I listened to it as an audiobook, which was read by the author. Usually, authors do not make good audiobook readers, but this one is a welcome exception.


If you have not yet tried Bryson, you probably should seek psychiatric help. He's funny and informative; travel-writing (if you can call it that) at its best. His Walk in the Woods is a classic, and while this book about his visit to Australia is not as uproariously funny - the country is, after all, home to the ten most poisonous animals in the world - his descriptions of Australian institutions will delight you. His description of cricket, a game that has nothing wrong with it that "the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry," is a good example. "It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect." It is a very popular sport (?) that's "enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which the spectators burn as many calories as players - more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning." The pitcher runs at the batter (decked out with a riding hat and "heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioisotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg,") and throws the ball at his ankles. This can go on indefinitely until he is "coaxed into a mis-stroke that leads to his being put out [at which time] all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called. . . ." This usually goes on until your library books are all overdue and autumn has become winter. Of course, listening to cricket on the radio is truly something else: "That's right, Clive. I haven't known anyone start his delivery that far back since Stopcock caught his sleeve on the reversing mirror of a number 11 bus during the third test at Brisbane in 1957 and ended up in Goondiwindi four days later owing to some frightful confusion over a changed timetable at Toowoomba Junction." There are long silences during which the announcers have time to run some errands. "So we break for second luncheon, and with 11,200 balls remaining, Australia are 962 for two not half and England are four for a duck and hoping for rain."Australia remade itself as a country following the Second World War. It realized that with such a small population, it could not afford to rely forever on Britain for its defense and it began to encourage immigration, "that if it didn't use all that empty land and fill those empty spaces someone from the outside might do it for them." They threw open their doors and the population more than doubled in the years following 1945. They welcomed people from all over Europe and "suddenly Australia was full of people who liked wine and good coffee and olives and eggplants, and realized that spaghetti didn't have to be a vivid orange and come from cans." By 1970, they also realized they had become an Asian nation and were no longer predominantly European and they simply eliminated the color bar they previously had used to ban "undesirables." "In a single generation, Australia remade itself. It went from being a half-forgotten outpost of Britain, provincial, dull, and culturally dependent, to being a nation infinitely more sophisticated, confident, interesting and outward-looking. And it did all this, by and large, without discord or disturbance, or serious mistakes - indeed often with a kind of grace."Of course, if you are an Aborigine, the outlook is somewhat different and Bryson, to his credit, does not overlook the truly horrible discrimination and crimes committed against this venerable and ancient people - their history is truly astonishing. Whites in Australia had a tendency to treat them the way whites in this country treated the buffalo.The vastness of Australia cannot be underestimated, and it's a naturalist's paradise with new species being discovered - and probably made extinct - almost daily. The mineral wealth is enormous and barely tapped, not to mention a biodiversity that includes living fossils. There is a species of living rock that dates back to the early eons of the earth and is worth a visit halfway around the world just to see it - if you can avoid the most venomous animals in the world, the sharks, the crocodiles and all the other poisonous stuff. A marvelous book.


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.


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

Nana Hadji

Mετά το A Short History of Νearly Εverything, o Bill Bryson καθιερώθηκε ως ο αγαπημένος μου συγγραφέας non fiction. To χιούμορ και η ζωντάνια στην αφήγηση του μπορούν να μετατρέψουν οποιοδήποτε φαινομενικά βαρετό θέμα όπως π.χ. ο oρυκτός πλούτος της Αυστραλίας ή οι διατροφικές συνήθειες των μαρσιποφόρων σε ξεκαρδιστικά αστείες και εξαιρετικά ενδιαφέρουσες ιστορίες που διαβάζονται το ίδιο ευχάριστα όσο μια συλλογή από ανέκδοτα. Για να γράψει τον συγκεκριμένο ταξιδιωτικό οδηγό, ο συγγραφέας διασχίζει την αχανή και κατά το μεγαλύτερο μέρος της άγονη ήπειρο της Αυστραλίας, για να μας περιγράψει όσα θαυμαστά και ευτράπελα βρίσκει στον δρόμο του: εξωτικές παραλίες, εντυπωσιακά λιμάνια, μοναδικά γεωλογικά φαινόμενα, παραγνωρισμένα μουσεία, ατελείωτες ερήμους, δηλητηριώδη ζώα, γραφικές πόλεις στη μέση του πουθενά και εξαιρετικά φιλικούς τόπακες.Το μόνο μου παράπονο είναι πως θα προτιμούσα να είχα μάθει περισσότερα πράγματα για την ιστορία της Αυστραλίας, και ειδικά για τους Αβορίγινες, παρά για το ντεκόρ των παμπ όπου μπεκρόπινε κάθε βράδυ ο Bryson.

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!!!


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...


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.

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.


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.


I developed a taste for Bill Bryson last year when I read his Short History of Nearly Everything, an ambitious attempt to trace the history of life, the universe and everything in just 574 pages. While many of the scientific discoveries outlined in the book were a little beyond me, I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's descriptions of the larger-than-life personalities behind the discoveries, which really brought the science described to life. So when I found out that he had also written a travelogue of a journey across the country I may soon call home -- Australia -- I simply had to read it.Australia, for those of you who have never been there, is one of the most colourful places on earth. It has a history so bizarre that it makes China's seem normal by comparison. It has insane expanses of the most arid desert imaginable, as well as some of the world's most beautiful beaches, where unfortunately you can't swim due to the prevalence of sharks, crocs, box jellyfish, stingrays and murderous rip currents. It houses beyond a shadow of a doubt the world's most interesting flora and fauna, including twelve-foot earthworms and living fossils. (And you thought kangaroos were exotic. Ha.) And if all that weren't interesting enough, the locals are slightly mad. They eat meat pies floating in pea soup, are crazy about cricket and consider shorts and knee-length socks proper attire for middle-aged bus drivers. In short, it's a unique place and I love it. I look forward to moving there in a few months' time.Bill Bryson also loves Australia, and it shows. While he likes to remind his readers of the country's amazing collection of deathly animals (over and over again) and poke fun at the locals and their weird habits, his affection for the place shines through in every chapter, and it's quite infectious. By describing his own travels and those of early settlers, explorers and naturalists, he provides the reader with an appreciation for how vast and unwelcoming the country is, and how utterly unique. He provides background information on events of which few non-Australians will have heard (such as the fact that a nuclear bomb may have been detonated in the outback without anyone noticing, and that an Australian Prime Minister once vanished, never to be seen again), waxes lyrical on trees and animals so bizarre that you'll want to hop on the first plane to Australia to check them out for yourself (again, kangaroos are only the beginning), explains why you should go and see Ayers Rock even if you've already seen hundreds of photos of it, and intersperses all this useful information with a winning combination of self-deprecating humour, bizarre anecdotes, absurd dialogue and entertaining accounts of encounters with fellow travellers and locals. The resulting book is not only completely recognisable to anyone who has visited Australia, but hugely appealing to anyone who hasn't. I doubt anyone can read this book without wishing to book a flight to Oz immediately afterwards.If I have any complaint about Down Under, it is that there is too little of it. While Bryson's writing is entertaining and informative, his choice of places to visit and describe seems rather random and limited. I wish he had done more travelling, gone further into the interior of the country and left all traces of luxury behind him for a while, so as to emulate the pioneers and explorers whose exploits he relates with such gusto. I also think the book would have benefited from slightly more rigorous editing, as parts of it seem rather hastily written. For all its small flaws, though, Down Under (released in the US as In a Sunburned Country) is a fascinating read which has whetted my appetite for more Bryson travelogues. And for a return to Oz, but that's another story.


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.

Carl Nelson

Thanks to the beautiful descriptions of Australia, his fondness for its friendly residents, and his sense of wonder at the country's expanses, "In a Sunburned Country" is my favorite Bryson to date. What Bryson does perfectly in this book is to make a foreign place that I've never visited both seem as welcoming as home and exotically fascinating; Australia seems to be a land of hidden wonders still ripe for exploration and discovery.While the landscape, flora, and fauna may be inhospitable, the people he describes are completely the opposite--warm, accepting, and friendly. Bryson strikes the ideal balance of describing cultural foibles while not making fun of them--truly laughing with them rather than at them. I also thought he did a fair job of describing the plight of the Aborigines and the atrocities of their treatment; their culture and history seems all the more fascinating for being largely a total mystery."In a Sunburned Country" was a pleasure to read, rich with description and information, and it made me feel as if it's a place totally worth a visit.


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.

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