I knew before my first (and only) visit to Australia that the country was teeming with a bunch of stuff that could kill me quickly and, often, rather painfully. But as many tourists are wont to do, I didn’t take the potential threats as seriously as I should have, and figured something bad probably would never happen to me.
And then I read Bill Bryson’s book In a Sunburned Country, a book about his experiences in Australia, and I couldn’t help but stop reading on many occasions to wonder at my own stupidity when I was touring the country. People may say “ignorance is bliss,” but for those visiting the land Down Under, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to give more of a warning: “ignorance is bliss except when you’re in Australia in which case ignorance could mean death.”
Bryson almost seems to delight in sharing just a few of I’m sure countless stories of people coming to their unfortunate demises. There are tales of drownings, mysterious disappearances and many, many deaths in the ruthless outback (and yes, they nearly all drank their own pee to try to survive – this comes up often in the book). It’s almost enough to make you never want to step foot in such a perilous country.
Here’s a quote to give you just one example:
No one knows, incidentally, why Australia’s spiders are so extravagantly toxic; capturing small insects and injecting them with enough poison to drop a horse would appear to be the most literal case of overkill. Still, it does mean that everyone gives them lots of space.”
My own seemingly blissful ignorance of the thousands of things that could kill me at least gave me the ability to enjoy myself while there. Had I known what I know now I probably wouldn’t have even left my hostel. Or if I had, I would have tiptoed my way around the country suspiciously glancing about for any creature ready to attack me. Thankfully I emerged alive.
Looking back, I do think about just how many times I could’ve ended up another statistic and wonder if my own seemingly innocent dips in the ocean or wanderings in the northern jungles had put me at risk of either being stung by a deadly jellyfish or snatched in a flash by a hungry crocodile. *Shudder.* A scary thought, indeed.
Be assured, though, Australia’s not that scary. And Bryson tempers his gruesome stories with plenty of good stuff, telling us countless times how much he adores the country and the people. In my own time there, while I didn’t see nearly as much of the country as he did (he pretty much went everywhere it was humanly possible to go without risking imminent death in the bush), I also thoroughly enjoyed myself and am actually rather excited to go back (though next time I’ll pay more respect to the very real threats of basically everything in the ocean and, for that matter, on land, too).
Bryson tells lots of other stories about all kinds of things and gives plenty of history lessons, the latter of which I might consider difficult to get through (much as I’d like to care about history, I have a helluva time wanting to learn it). But when narrated by Bryson I actually found myself eager to keep reading. He even describes his visits to museums I would normally have zero interest in visiting in such a way that I almost wish I could go there myself just to see what he was talking about.
If you’re at all curious about Australia, then In a Sunburned Country is a terrific read. If you could care less about the country, but want a funny, entertaining and educational read, well this is good for that, too.