Down Under is the eighth book written by Bill Bryson in which he takes a tour of Australia. This tour was largely caused by the death of a long time friend in Melbourne (I think…) and he realised that although he had been to the country various times he had never actually seen it.
The journey he makes is broken into stages as he has to meet other obligations. However, this does not spoil the flow of the book and it reads as if there were no real interruptions.
As with all of his travel books, he meets up with a few old friends along the way, drinks large amounts of beer, and in this book he develops an obsession with all the creatures: spiders, snakes, fish, crocodiles, everything really, that can kill him.
On one occasion he was persuaded to go body boarding for an Australian paper. After being dragged along the sea bed repeatedly for a few hundred meters (they discovered that he actually sunk instead of floating), he spotted a strange blobby shape floating past him. It was a box jellyfish, and he realised he was in the midst of a large number of them. He was advised to leave the water, quickly. He claims to have found this difficult as he had almost excreted a house brick into his shorts.
He also got drunk, frequently. This resulted in him making lots of friends and promising to participate in a house swap with a man from North Korea in the summer, which he doesn’t remember planning.
He visited every major city in Australia, along with many places and attractions which aren't so well known. He gives a useful and amusing guide to every city
- 'there are no pubs to be found anywhere in Canberra'
He also trys to find things which are funny because of what they are - such as place names:
'Mullumbimby Ewylamartup, Jiggalong, and the supremely satisfying Tittybong,'
This is a truly funny book, and also has well researched and written history of Australia and its people and some of its more interesting times (which would be almost all of them).