“Australia is mostly empty and a long way away. Its population is small and its role in the world consequently peripheral. It doesn’t have coups, recklessly overfish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities, or throw its weight around in a brash and unseemly manner. It is stable and peaceful and good. It doesn’t need watching, and so we don’t. But I will tell you this: the loss is entirely ours.”–Bill Bryson, In A Sunburned Country
When I was eighteen, my English godmother invited me to a cricket match. It was her birthday and my family was visiting her in London. Being American, my family had neither seen a match before nor had we bothered ourselves with even learning the rules. My plan was to stumble in, hang the sense of it all, and keep myself occupied while pilfering gin and tonics from mum and pops.
At the match there were cricket players wearing pads, cricket fans wearing three-piece suits, and a general air of snootiness and discontent. I discovered later that the last part is just characteristic of England in general. Everyone had a blast — everyone, that is, but me. I hated every second of being of that match. Too long. Too slow. Dreadfully boring. And when I was finally allowed to leave, changing back into my regular teenager clothes to go off to the pub felt weird and elitist.
Thankfully I’m not the only person to have these sorts of thoughts. Bill Bryson agrees with me. Bill’s an American who made the move to the United Kingdom after graduating from university. He’s also a writer I’ve taken the liberty of mentioning now several times on this site. And I’m going to talk about him here again. Sorry, these are just the things that happen when you have a favorite author.
“It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. …It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as the players more if they are moderately restless.” –In A Sunburned Country
Alright, so aside from being a writer, Bill’s also an extensive traveler and he’s a keen observer of cultural absurdities and an outspoken criticism of the game of cricket — which is probably why I love him so much. And his book, In A Sunburned Country, covers all these bases.
“I don’t wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game,” Bryson writes. “It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as player — more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.”
Now, In A Sunburned Country isn’t exclusively about bashing the United Kingdom’s stick-and-ball nonsense. That’s just a connection I’ll always make with it. In fact, it doesn’t even take place in the Queen’s Country. Rather, it’s set in England’s estranged cousin’s place: Australia.
“Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.”–In A Sunburned Country
Bryson’s spent a significant amount of his life bouncing around the globe, recording his travels, and he can’t say enough good things about what he’s coined the “Sunburned Country.” The people are likable. The cities are clean are nearly always built on water. It has a society that is prosperous, well ordered and isn’t reluctant to enjoy a cold beer — or five. He even believes Australians would fix cricket’s shortcomings if given the chance. “I’m quite certain that if the rest of the world vanished overnight and the development of cricket were left in Australian hands,” he writes. “Within a generation, the players would be wearing shorts and using bats to hit each other, and the thing is, it’d be a much better game for it.”
It’s a lighter read but it’s fucking brilliant. Bryson’s language is hilarious in a tongue-in-cheek, snarky, sort of way and his ability to communicate even the most complex situations with ease is second to none. In A Sunburned Coutnry by Bill Bryson. It’s an older book so you can still find even hardcovers for cheap. It’s 394 pages. You can handle it. Read it on your flight over to Brisbane for the Quiky Pro. Read it as you sit at home this weekend and think about how you wish you could go to the Quiky Pro. Read it if you hate everything about the Quiky Pro but just want to find out more about Australia. Either way, expand your mind.–James Royce
You can get your hands on it here.