Australia: unaccountably overlooked and packed with unappreciated wonders – Part III 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 II – “It is an environment that wants your dead”  – Bryson writes
about his travels through the Australian Outback – 18 Sept 2014


BillBryson barnes noble PS

Mr. Bryson at Barnes & Noble bookstore, location not known, 2013

They are “unaccountably overlooked,” in this land “packed with unappreciated wonders,” Bill Bryson comments on Australia’s Aborigines. In a Sunburned Country Bryson humorously, seriously, and poignantly writes about the great continent Down Under’s people, cities, towns, and Outback. He discusses Australia’s flora, fauna, seas, and minerals.

Bryson says the Aborigines are Australia’s “forgotten people,” members of the “oldest continuously maintained culture on earth.”

It is thought by some — the respected prehistorian John Mulvaney, for instance — that the Australian language family may be the world’s oldest. Aborigines’ art and stories and systems of beliefs are among the oldest on earth… They seemed not to perceive the world in the way of other people. No Aboriginal language, for instance, had any words for “yesterday” or “tomorrow” — extraordinary omissions in any culture. They had no chiefs or governing councils, wore no clothes, built no houses or other permanent structures, sowed no crops, herded no animals, made no pottery, possessed almost no sense of property.

Bryson briefly chronicles Australia’s historical treatment of their indigenous peoples. It is a thoughtful departure from his commonsensical humor and captivating narrative. His readers pause, aware that every journey gives the traveler opportunities to question their own stereotyping. Australians’ “single radiant virtue,” if they have only one, is belief in “the fundamental rightness of common justice.”  Since the early 1950s, Bryson implies, Australia has strived to correct the disenfranchisement of their native population by making sure all have a “fair go” at the country’s superior quality of life.

Older by billions of years then the Aborigines, whose ancestors arrived on the continent a mere 60,000 years ago, are stromatolites. These “colonies of lichenlike formations quietly but perfectly replicate conditions on earth when life was in its infancy.” Bryson comes upon them at Shark Bay, on the Indian Ocean coast of Western Australia. He is “about as far from the main population centers as you can get.”

Stromatolites are so primitive of nature that they don’t even adopt regular shapes. They just sort of, as it were, blob out. Nearer the shore they formed large, slightly undulant platforms — rather like very old, poorly laid asphalt. Farther out they were arrayed as individual clumps that brought to mind very large cow pies… So it’s not the sight of stromatolites that makes them exciting. It’s the idea of them… For 2 billion years this is all the life there was on earth, but in that time the stromatolites raised the oxygen level in the atmosphere to 20 percent — enough to allow the development of other, more complex life-forms…

“Australia is just so full of surprises,” declares Bryson. There are walks “at exhilarating heights” through the canopies of “some of the world’s most beautiful and imposing trees.” There is one of global tourism’s most extraordinary and panoramic drives along the Great Ocean Road, a “spectacularly scenic coastal highway… as gorgeous as the guidebooks had promised.”

And there is more; but the nature of reading online, constrained in part by word count, limits the telling. Get this enjoyable book. It belongs in every traveler’s library.

— Tucker Cox – Zeteo Contributing Writer


Photo of Mr. Bryson from Wikipedia

Want to know more about the stromatolites of Shark Bay? Click here for an informative, audiovisual lecture on YouTube

If you are seriously serious about traveling to Australia, check out the assortment of blogs at Australia Travel Blogs. The Thorn Tree Forum Australia from Lonely has some excellent advice, though at times given curmudgeonly. 

One comment

  1. Pingback: It is an environment that wants you dead – II of III | Z e t e o

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