Before our trip to Australia, I tried to find a book that would give a good introduction to what we could expect to see and an insight into some of the history of the country. Having read Bill Bryson's books before, I thoroughly enjoyed his sense of humor and insight. I would loved to have found an Edward Rutherfurd book, but no such luck. And so it was In a Sunburned Country that would fill this role.
Reading the first chapter would scare anyone off as Bryson enumerates all the poisonous animals that one could encounter when traveling through the country side. With that admonition taken, Bryson embarks on a travelogue through the vast continent. His impressions about Australia are pretty "spot on." It was hard to imagine taking so long to travel from point A to point B until we spent hours on the coach doing it. His style, almost chatty, allowed so much information to be imparted without feeling overwhelmed.
In addition to the travel pointers and his discoveries in each of the areas to which he traveled, Bryson interspersed a lot of history in this book. It made so much more sense to have read about the design process of the Sydney Opera House when we were taking a tour there. His amazement of the size of Uluru really hit home when we saw the huge monolith.
One of the most well-known pieces of Australian history is the fact that the British used it as a penal colony. Bryson explains this in detail in the book. One of the lesser known facts about Australia known is the impact of the gold rush times. As we traveled through both Australia and New Zealand, the importance of these years became more clear. So much happened here because of the gold rush, including telegraph and transportation infrastructure. Not only did the economy boom, but the way the British viewed the country also was transformed.
The description of Canberra was enticing and I am sorry we did not get to visit the capital city. Here and in other cities the description of museums are complete and give insight as to what the highlights are. With Australia being a young country, the art and artifacts, save the Aboriginal art, are fairly modern.
Bryson is outspoken about the treatment of the Aboriginals and is so true. Although the government is trying to change the decades of mistreatment, change is hard to affect. With advances in medical support and wage and housing support, things may improve, but equality is not there yet.
The addendum on the Olympic Games was also interesting and perceptive.
In a Sunburned Country is a great read either before you go or when you return from a trip down under or if you want an understanding of the Land of Oz.