Separating Sydney from the Sunburned Country

In The Art of Travel Spring 2018, 11. Second book, Sydney by Brennan1 Comment

What struck me about Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country was the section about Sydney; I saw truth in his description of the relaxed yet active environment of the city. In fact, I’ve often been told by locals that Sydney is known as being the most fast-paced, stressful, “typical city” in Australia. This struck me as odd, as I could not imagine how this beach-y locale could be anything other than chill. Even the busiest folks in the Central Business District cannot compare to the rat race and chaos that is standard in New York City.

Perhaps this is why Bill Bryson says he doesn’t feel like he knows Sydney well, despite having visited multiple times. The multitude of activities Sydney has to offer (and the sheer expanse of land) makes it impossible to fully get to know the city and its various neighborhoods in such a short time. Even after his brief, packed trip where he accomplished most of the highlights of Sydney, the author says, “I can’t say I was a great deal closer to feeling that I had actually seen Sydney than I had been before” (Bryson 19). I can definitely relate to this sentiment; even living here for over two months has not given me enough time to explore everything. Often, I find myself trapped in the same limited patterns of going to the same restaurants, coffee shops, or areas due to convenience and the desire to create a routine for myself. While I find routine necessary to function normally while going to school and living a stable life for a few months, I also think this detracts from the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone.

However, Bill Bryson doesn’t just stick to talking about Sydney; although to me this city encapsulates the majority of my experience here, the enormity of Australia exists separately from its token metropolis. In fact, the beauty of this country-continent is that there are diverse landscapes teeming with wildlife specific to Australia. Much of the land is uninhabited, but holds a deep history from one of the earliest civilizations in the world. No matter where you turn, the country is filled with unique inhabitants, scenic views, and heritage.

It is also a country notorious for danger. Prior to coming to Australia, one of my friends sat me down and forced me to watch a Youtube video highlighting all of the treacherous animals that could leave me a corpse 10,000 miles from home. I laughed it off, finding it silly to be fearful of a rare species of poisonous snail or refuse to go surfing just in case there happened to be a Great White lurking beneath the waves. Bill Bryson himself has a run-in with a bluebottle jellyfish at Manly Beach (one of my personal favorite spots in Sydney, incidentally), using the humorous tone that makes In a Sunburned Country unique to deftly recreate his fear. Meanwhile, his companion (a local Aussie named Deirdre) shakes off the imminent danger of the situation in a casual, “‘might be uncomfortable’ but this is not life or death” kind of way.

Fortunately for my safety, Sydney is largely devoid of venomous spiders or snakes. The built up city safeguards my health, yet also keeps me confined within a somewhat boring landscape of manmade structures. While I appreciate not having to live in constant fear, I do wish there was more opportunity to see wildlife that is actually in the wild. I had pictured a land with kangaroos hopping around nonchalantly, koalas resting in eucalyptus trees, and perhaps even some wombats sniffing around in the bush. Perhaps I simply need to follow Bill Bryson’s lead and venture into the Outback. 

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(Image: View from Sydney Harbor; Source: Brennan Hart)


  1. Hi Brennan,

    I really enjoyed reading this! I like what wrote about Sydney being “impossible to fully know.” I feel the same way. Though I’ve been in Sydney for almost three months, I’ve only seen a fraction of what Sydney has to offer—I’m busy with school and work, it’s hard to get around here, and it’s difficult to tell which places are worth checking out. In this sense, it’s difficult to grasp the essence of Sydney: the city feels fragmented, some areas a monotonous business hub and others a luscious beach.

    Still, I’ve enjoyed being in Sydney. I think this because I’ve learned that a situation which doesn’t match up to my expectations can still be enjoyable and rewarding. When I thought of coming to Australia, I pictured that ‘wildness’ that you talk about, and I wanted it (though maybe not the venomous creatures). I pictured road trips through the outback and kangaroos hanging out like squirrels. Instead, I look out my window and I see skyline no different, though maybe a little less beautiful, than the one I see every day when I’m in New York. Though this isn’t what I expected, I’ve come to find that it can still be a great experience!


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