Fun Facts About Australia According to Bill Bryson

by Michelle on February 27, 2011 · 15 comments

Since “69 Fun Facts About Germany” generated so much excitement (although I speculate it is mainly because of that ab-licious photo of Michael Ballack) I’ve decided to create a similar post about Australia, which is one of my favourite countries. Having read and loved Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country (Also known as Down Under to Brits and Aussies, and Frühstück mit Kängurus to the Germans) I decided to base these fun facts from what Mr. Bryson shares with us in his delightful novel. While I did not entirely enjoy Bryson’s earlier work Neither Here Nor There, I found him to be highly entertaining in this memoir, as he shares many exciting facts about the land Down Under. I highly recommend this book as it definitely does an amazing job of capturing the spirit of this sunny nation. Here are some of my favourite facts from this book:

  • As many of you already know, the Brits sent their convicts to Australia in the late eighteenth century. While the voyage took 252 days they were lucky – upon landing, the Brits spotted two French ships in the horizon. Meaning, had they taken a day longer to arrive, Australia would have been a French colony (49).
  • The Opera House was designed by the Danish architect, Joern Utzon. Utzon, surprisingly , never ended up seeing his prized creation, after leaving the project due to disputes about its rising costs, and returned to Denmark (55).
  • Sir Eugene Goossens, the man who came up with the idea to build the Opera House, never saw the final creation either – while passing customs in Sydney, he was discovered carrying a large collection of porn and was asked to leave the country (55).
  • Lachlan Macquarie, the Scottish governor of the colony in the beginning of the nineteenth century,  was nearly successful at attempting to name every object in the continent after himself. As a result, there is the Macquarie Harbour, Macquarie Island, Macquarie  Marsh, Macquarie River, Macquarie Fields, Macquarie Pass, Macquarie’s Chair, Macquarie’s Point and a Macquarie town. Macquarie is also a bank, university, the national dictionary, a shopping centre, an ice rink, and countless roads, streets and avenues. And that doesn’t even include all the places named after his first name Lachlan… (66).
  • A suggested name for the nation’s capital Canberra was “Sydmeladperbrisho” (using the first syllables of the state capitals) (86).
  • Canberra is considered so boring that the 1996 Prime Minister John Howard declined to live there after winning the election. Instead, he announced he would commute from Sydney to Canberra as duties required (86).
  • Australians enjoy building big things in the shape of other things. These big structures would include a cafe and gift shop inside, and became a good way of making a generous profit. Some of these big constructions include a Big Lobster, a Big Prawn, a Big Koala, a Big Oyster, a Big Lawn Mower, and a Big Orange, amongst many others (133).
  • Not a fun fact, but something to show the darker side of Australian history – the first time white Australians were executed for the murder of Aboriginals happened in June 1838, at Myall Creek, where white settlers tied an encampment of Aboriginals into a giant ball (twenty-eight men, women and children) and led them through the countryside for hours before mercilessly murdering them with rifles and swords (191).
  • Surfer’s Paradise was originally named Elston, but was renamed to promote tourism (197).
  • In 1857, naturalist Gerard Krefft caught two very rare pig-footed Bandicoots in the outback. Unfortunately, Krefft grew hungry and ate them. As far as anyone could tell – they were the last of their species (262).
  • Krefft also was later appointed head of the Australian Museum in Sydney – unfortunately he was asked to seek employment elsewhere when it was discovered that he was selling pornographic postcards to supplement his salary (262).
  • Charles Kingsford Smith was the greatest Australian aviator (possibly the best aviator in the world) and held more records than anyone else. Despite this, after his death in 1935, he was notably remembered in Australia (the Sydney airport is named after him) but not abroad. For instance, in 1998, the American writer Scott Berg wrote a six hundred page book on the history of aviation history – there was no single mention of Charles Kingford Smith (266).

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole Jeannette February 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Oh how interesting! I'll have to check it out! Great blog!

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ashley February 27, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Okay… A little embarrassed. I didn't know half of these and I'm Australian. Whoops!

Loving your blog x

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thefancyflea February 28, 2011 at 2:17 am

Haha Ashley, was about to say the same thing! 😛

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Jenna February 28, 2011 at 3:38 am

Haha, I love this and I love Bill Bryson's sarcastic humour… too great. I haven't visited Australia yet, but it is high on my list and I have a lot of friends either from there or living there.

Thanks for sharing! – Can't wait for you to announce the winner of the giveaway 🙂

xoxo
Jenna

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Red Nomad OZ February 28, 2011 at 6:08 am

Ah, c'mon! You don't actually BELIEVE all of that do you?? Sadly, though, the Big Koala IS for real and can be viewed on my blog – where there's also a trip round the world! Head on downunder for a vist and see for yourself!!

PS OK, you've got me. What's the literal translation of Frühstück mit Kängurus?

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Shalyn February 28, 2011 at 10:56 am

I love your blog, this was so neat to read! The first fact was my favorite. What great timing!

Will definitely be back!

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Ambyr February 28, 2011 at 11:50 am

Haha love these facts. I've had a random LOVE of Australia since the 4th grade, I need to get out and explore. My friend lives in Brisbane, so hopefully I can go soon.
Good post today!

http://www.thewrittenrunway.com

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Michelle (Confessed Travelholic) March 1, 2011 at 1:05 am

Nicole Jeanette – thanks! 🙂

Ashley – Thanks! You're so lucky to be from such an awesome country!

Thefancyflea – ditto 😛

Jenna – Sarcastic humour is the best. Australia is amazing! And, I will announce the winner tomorrow! Stay tuned 🙂

Red Nomad OZ – It means "Breakfast with Kangaroos" Haha, a bit of a weird title!

Shalyn – Thanks! 🙂

Ambyr – You'll love Australia! (not many people don't!) I actually stayed a really long time in Brisbane. Probably my fav city in the world 🙂

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Akseli Koskela March 1, 2011 at 7:30 am

I agree Bill Bryson's books are generally very entertaining! And Canberra is incredibly boring.

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Kenan Lucas March 2, 2011 at 5:03 am

I am from Australia and a fan of Bill Bryson although I have not read this book in question. Interesting points.

With respect to the first fact: imagine if it was a French colony! I would be speaking French right now.

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Michelle (Confessed Travelholic) March 2, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Aksell Koskela – my travel guide book even told me to avoid Canberra, haha. Although can't be as boring as Ottawa!

Kenan Lucas – Haha, oui oui. and there wouldn't be any Woolworths 🙁

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Akseli Koskela March 3, 2011 at 1:42 am

Oh come on! Ottawa vs Canberra??? Canberra wins hands down in the boring stakes! Ottawa is a bi-lingual city for one thing and the Parliament House there doesn't look like an enormous hobbit-hole.

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Michelle (Confessed Travelholic) March 3, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Aksell – Well I see them very similar in the fact that neither cities are very "international." Most people assume the capital of Australia is either Sydney or Melbourne, which is the same as Canada, where people assume it to be Toronto or Montreal. Canberra and Ottawa are also in between these big cities, and are often overlooked. Although a reason could be that Canada and Australia aren't really countries that are talked about much in international politics.

Of course, I've never been to Canberra, and have only visited Ottawa once a few years back, but they both have that image of being "pleasant but boring"

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Kai Elan March 6, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I returned from Australia a few weeks ago, and I love it there. The 69 fun facts are cool because it is a history of a young country. It adds a certain kind of pizazz to Australia.

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