About this time five years ago I was preparing my big trip to Australia – to spend three and a half weeks on my own in a continent where I knew no-one over Christmas and New Year. A good reading list was essential to wile away the two very long flights, as well as the train journey from Melbourne to Sydney and on to Brisbane and Cairns.
Down Under by Bill Bryson was the perfect way to get started on the plane. I love Bill Bryson, he combines being so intelligent with being hilariously funny and highly knowledgeable, and it’s always an absolute pleasure to settle down into his latest offering. Down Under captured the quirky nature of travelling around Australia and I loved his obsession with the many types of animals that can kill you in Australia. Later when on a boat looking for saltwater crocodiles in northern Queensland and staying in a rainforest hut where I had a near miss with a very large snake and a poisonous spider, I began to feel that he had a point.
I had enjoyed Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang some years before my trip and really enjoyed reading Oscar and Lucinda on my travels. The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale was also excellent, another historical tale of the lives of those embarking for Australia in the 1850s and 60s. It made much more sense seeing the old parts of Sydney after reading these.
I met lots of friends of friends along the way, and it was at a dinner party that I was kindly invited to in Melbourne that I was recommended The Great World by David Malouf and Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan. The Great World is a beautifully written book about Australia’s experience of war and spans seventy years. It has the best description of a prisoner of war experience I have read and made me want to visit the Thai- Burma railway, which I did the following year.
I spent Christmas Day in Australia white water rafting and had been contemplating doing an extended white water rafting holiday, that was until I read Death of a River Guide. Fantastic book. No five day rafting trip for me now though.
Writing this is making me very much want to go back to Australia and to sample the latest great Australian writing.