It is an environment that wants you dead – II of III

Part I – “Australia’s curious sense of disconnectedness” is about the Aussie people, a “beguiling fusion of America and Britain” – 11 Sept 2014

Part III – “Unaccountably overlooked and packed with unappreciated wonders” – is about Aborigines,
earth’s oldest culture and stromatolites – earth’s oldest life form – 25 Sept 2014

In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson writes about the Australian continent’s vast emptiness. “You cannot say you have been to Australia until you have crossed the Outback,” declares Bryson. “It is an Outback australia1 p_shoppedenvironment that wants you dead.”

It is almost not possible to exaggerate the punishing nature of Australia’s interior. For nineteenth-century explorers it wasn’t just the inexpressible heat and constant scarcity of water, but a thousand other miseries. Stinging ants swarmed over them wherever they rested. Natives sometimes attacked with spears. The landscape was full of thorny bushes and merciless spinifex [grass] whose silicate pricks nearly always grew infected from sweat and dirt. Scurvy was a constant plague. Hygiene was impossible… For human and animal alike, nearly every breathing moment was a living hell. And yet over and over the explorers returned.

Bryson calls the mighty Nullarbor Plain, an arid region in southern Australia, “one of the most forbidding expanses on earth.”

In an area four times the size of Belgium, there is not a scrap of shade. For hundreds of miles the landscape is as flat as a calm sea and unrelievedly barren—just glowing red soil, tussocky clumps of bluebush and spinifex, and scattered rocks the color of bad teeth.

Bryson and traveling companion, Allan Sherwin, motor one thousand miles from tropical Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, a relative stone’s throw from the Indonesian Archipelago, to Alice Springs (pop. 25,000), a “sort of antipodean Timbuktu” in the heart of the country, titillatingly isolated, in the back of beyond. Bryson points out tourism’s quandary. Too much destroys the attraction that prompts it in the first place.

“Today [Alice] is full of visitors—350,000 of them a year—which is of course the whole problem. A community that was once famous for being remote now attracts thousands of visitors who come to see how remote it no longer is.”

Alice is the jumping off point for Ayers Rock. Uluru is its preferred Aboriginal name. Bryson and Sherwin have come to see this symbol of Australia, though not a day has passed that they have not seen its picture, more than once, “on postcards, on travel agents’ posters, [and] the cover of souvenir books.” Still, Uluru is “totally arresting.” This monolithic rock, “1,150 feet high, a mile and a half long, five and a half miles around,” provokes a rare, other worldly moment that gives travellers inexplicable and paradoxically troubling peace of mind.

You know this rock. You know it in way that has nothing to do with calendars and the covers of souvenir books. Your knowledge of this rock is grounded in something much more elemental. Somewhere in the deep sediment of your being, some long-dormant fragment of primordial memory, some little severed tail of DNA has twitched or stirred. It is a motion much too faint to be understood or interpreted, but somehow you feel certain that this large, brooding, hypnotic presence has an importance to you at the species level—perhaps even at a sort of tadpole level—and that in some way your visit here is more than happenstance.

— Tucker Cox – Zeteo Contributing Writer

View the hilarious, award-winning, internationally acclaimed, Australian animated short (10:41 – worth every minute) by the Lampshade Collective, “The Nullarbor – Australia’s longest, straightest, treeless stretch of desert road.” Click here

Watch an informative, scenic road trip from Darwin to Alice Springs, following Bryson’s and Sherwin’s route. This video of 10:40 shows urban sights of Darwin and Alice, tropical forest and water falls of Australia’s Northern Territory, plant, insect, animal and avian life, and Australia’s world-famous road trains. It even includes a stop at the Daly Waters Pub where Bryson and Sherwin partied and Devil’s Marble, an awesome array of rock formations Bryson praised. The track is pleasant music. There is no voice over. Worth viewing. Click here.



  1. Pingback: Australia’s curious sense of disconnectedness | Z e t e o

  2. Pingback: Unaccountably overlooked and packed with unappreciated wonders | Z e t e o

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