Published: Random House, Australia, 2001
Bill Bryson needs little introduction, his travel guides are bestsellers and his sarcastic sense of humour sometimes masks the quality of his research and his insights. In this book, he travels the continent of Australia, exploring from an outsider’s perspective and seeking to understand what makes Australia and Australians so unique.
I found ‘Down Under’ not only funny, but also informative. I learnt a lot about Australian history, and enjoyed Bill Bryson’s perspective. He is not afraid to examine his own behaviour and biases and employ some self-deprecating humour along the way. As with so many newcomers to Australia, Bryson focused on the many dangers of the Australian flora and fauna and used this medium to examine the classic characteristic of Australians – that of understatement. On a day of boogie boarding in Sydney he asked his host “What about sharks?” The response was, “Oh it’s been ages since someone was killed by a shark…Couple of months at least”, and to his question about bluebottles, “Are they dangerous?” the response “No. But don’t brush against it. Might be a bit uncomfortable”. Bryson’s reaction to such understatement reminded me how much we take such a laconic and laid back attitude for granted. For Australians sharks and bluebottles are a fact of life, but we still go swimming! It’s wonderful to have an outsider like Bryson hold up a mirror and show us how unique we are and confirm that we do have our own distinct culture, and that we can be proud of it.
Tamerlaine – BI Managing Director’s review:
I really enjoyed this book. It’s so hard to see your own culture from the perspective of an outsider, and Bill Bryson ensures a fun time is had along the way. His wry sense of humour, astute observations and often cutting wit ensure a great read.