Bill Bryson has been living the dream. He writes about history, travel, science. And he gets to travel the world to spread his wisdom. Even as such a prominent writer and traveler, Bryson admits at the start of In a Sunburned Country that Australia is not so often on his mind. He states, “The fact is, of course, we pay shamefully scant attention to our dear cousins Down Under—not entirely without reason, of course” (1). Bryson mentions the fact that very little news about Australia reaches the rest of the world, and how the population is very small and the country is not a big member of the world economy. In reality, Australia is very much a mystery to other parts of the world, like America. Bryson’s analysis reminded me of a recent conversation I had with my best friends from home. I described to them the political atmosphere of the country, and the fact that I find it to be a little behind-the-times here in terms of political correctness. Just like I had felt first-hand during my first few weeks in Sydney, my friends were shocked. We had all painted this picture of Australia as being some sort of physical, social, and political paradise; the place one would escape to if something unfathomable (say, an unpredictable TV personality becoming president) happened in their own country. The reason we do this is because we don’t hear anything about the place. We just know very generally about the beaches, the surfers, the barbecues, the animals. It is easy to forget that Australia is a massive continent with complicated politics, controversial history, diverse culture, and all the same problems we may have, just on a different scale. And yet, “there’s no place in the world like it” (7).
The first leg of Bryson’s trip across Australia, the premise of In a Sunburned Country, is Sydney. He explains how although it isn’t his first time in the city, he still hasn’t really gotten to know it. In just one day, he sees the Museum of Sydney, enjoys coffee at a café (a huge aspect of Sydney culture), goes to Circular Quay, takes a ferry to Taronga Zoo, boogie-boards at Manly, sees a dangerous jellyfish, and goes to a major club, witnessing the drinking and gambling culture common in Sydney. I can attest to this fact that you never really know where you will end up in Sydney. Whether you have a plan or not, there is so much to do and see that your day easily becomes filled up. Something he notices, and I have noticed to, is that Sydneysiders are very calm and collected, but have a Energizer bunny attitude. They are constantly going. Not in the frantic way that New Yorkers are, but in a relaxed “Let’s see where the day takes me!” kind of way. At the end of his very short time in Sydney, Bryson states, “I had survived the perils of the sea, been to a palatial club, helped to win ﬁfteen dollars, and made two new friends. I can’t say I was a great deal closer to feeling that I had actually seen Sydney than I had been before, but that day would come” (19). Even though Bryson had accomplished so much during his trip to Sydney, he still hadn’t seen enough. I can say that even with being here for three months, Sydney is something I haven’t seen enough of. It is so vast and different all around. I still spend all my bus rides gazing out the window in awe of all the new things I see. In the same way that Australia is a bit of a mystery to the rest of the world, the cities within it can be a mystery even to its inhabitants. You just can’t get enough of it.
- Sydney Ferry at Taronga Zoo: Panoramio