Down Under (book)

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Down Under
Black Swan, Bill Bryson, 2000, Down Under book cover.jpg
Cover of 2001 Black Swan paperback edition
Author Bill Bryson
Illustrator Neil Gower
Cover artist David Cook
Country Great Britain
Language English
Subject Australia
Genre Travel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 319
ISBN 0-552-99703-X
OCLC 46662535
Preceded by Notes from a Big Country
Followed by Bill Bryson's African Diary

Down Under is the British title of a 2000 travelogue book about Australia written by best-selling travel writer Bill Bryson. In the United States and Canada it was published titled In a Sunburned Country, a title taken from the famous Australian poem, "My Country". It was also published as part of Walk About, which included Down Under and another of Bryson's books, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, in one volume.


Bill Bryson describes his travels by railway and car throughout Australia, his conversations with people in all walks of life about the history, geography, unusual plants and animals of the country, and his wry impressions of the life, culture and amenities (or lack thereof) in each locality.

In a style similar to his book A Walk in the Woods, or William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, Bryson's research enabled him to include many stories about Australia's 19th-century explorers and settlers who suffered extreme deprivations, as well as details about its natural resources, culture, and economy. His writings are intertwined with recurring humorous themes, notably, in the chapter Crossing Australia he makes constant reference to drinking of urine to survive, as was done by many 19th century explorers. He jokingly adds, about a certain explorer "...I daresay he drank some of his own urine" and "They drank their own and their horse's urine"


The book consists of three parts.

1. Into the Outback

The book starts off with the author wondering who the current Prime Minister of Australia is, as he feels that it is a difficult country to keep track of.

The first part of the book mainly describes the journey taken by Bryson aboard the Indian Pacific railway from Sydney to Perth. He is accompanied on this journey by a young English photographer named Trevor Ray Hart. The author describes his experiences on the train, the places the train passes through on its way to Perth such as the Blue Mountains and White Cliffs. The author also supplies plenty of humor in the form of historical accounts of early explorers and settlers of Australia.

View of Jamison Valley from north escarpment, outside Katoomba: Three Sisters far left; Mt Solitary left of centre; Narrowneck Plateau, far right, all part of the Blue Mountains region

2. Civilized Australia (The Boomerang Coast)

This section of the book starts off with historical accounts from the time when Australia was discovered and goes on to illustrate how the Australians built a dynamic and prosperous society from a modest and unpropitious beginning. The rest of this section is devoted to the author's account of what he considers to be Civilized Australia – the lower right-hand corner of the country, extending from Brisbane in the north to Adelaide in the south and west. Bryson describes his journey, the people and their cities as he drives through Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide. The section ends with Bryson's account of a brief visit to Myall Creek and Surfers Paradise.

3. Around the edges

This section of the book begins with Allan Sherwin, Bryson's friend and temporary travelling companion on this part of the journey, offering all his urine in case they got lost while crossing the arid wastes of Australia's interior. This part of the journey covers the Great Barrier Reef, Alice Springs and the mighty monolithic rock Uluru.

A panorama of Uluru around sunset, showing its distinctive red colouration at dusk.