In a Sunburned Country

How often does a book you are told about turn out to be as good as the person thought who recommended it to you? That was the case as I read Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country,” in which he provides fascinating details about a place most people in the US know nothing about, Australia.

A prime minister named Harold Holt took a walk on a beach, alone in 1967. He ventured out into the ocean and never came back. Disappeared, no body recovered. Later they named a swimming pool after him.

Bryson is an explorer, an asker of questions, so he gets so many great facts from taciturn Aussies. We learn about what it was like to fly to Australia from England in 1954, in the Lockheed Constellation airplane. Turbulence for three days of flying, it was called the “Kangaroo route,” bouncing all the way down to Sydney. Or they would undertake a five-week sea cruise for 12,000 miles.

I’ve visited down under twice and I found that most of Bryson’s points are well taken. I too like the way Australia is a merging of England and the US. A very young country with not a lot of people, with open space both in mind and in their surroundings.

There have been civilizations here for 30,000 years, which makes the country’s celebration of Captain Cook, who came in the 1770s, a newcomer, laughable. The aborigines go back so far.