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In a Sunburned Country [Anglais] [Broché]

Bill Bryson
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Descriptions du produit

Extrait

Chapter 1

i

flying into australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is. I am forever doing this with the Australian prime minister—committing the name to memory, forgetting it (generally more or less instantly), then feeling terribly guilty. My thinking is that there ought to be one person outside Australia who knows.

But then Australia is such a difficult country to keep track of. On my first visit, some years ago, I passed the time on the long flight reading a history of Australian politics in the twentieth century, wherein I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 the prime minister, Harold Holt, was strolling along a beach in Victoria when he plunged into the surf and vanished. No trace of the poor man was ever seen again. This seemed doubly astounding to me—first that Australia could just lose a prime minister (I mean, come on) and second that news of this had never reached me.

The fact is, of course, we pay shamefully scant attention to our dear cousins Down Under—not entirely without reason, of course. Australia is after all mostly empty and a long way away. Its population, just over 18 million, is small by world standards—China grows by a larger amount each year—and its place in the world economy is consequently peripheral; as an economic entity, it ranks about level with Illinois. Its sports are of little interest to us and the last television series it made that we watched with avidity was Skippy. From time to time it sends us useful things—opals, merino wool, Errol Flynn, the boomerang—but nothing we can’t actually do without. Above all, Australia doesn’t misbehave. It is stable and peaceful and good. 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.

But even allowing for all this, our neglect of Australian affairs is curious. Just before I set off on this trip I went to my local library in New Hampshire and looked Australia up in the New York Times Index to see how much it had engaged our attention in recent years. I began with the 1997 volume for no other reason than that it was open on the table. In that year across the full range of possible interests—politics, sports, travel, the coming Olympics in Sydney, food and wine, the arts, obituaries, and so on—the Times ran 20 articles that were predominantly on or about Australian affairs. In the same period, for purposes of comparison, the Times ran 120 articles on Peru, 150 or so on Albania and a similar number on Cambodia, more than 300 on each of the Koreas, and well over 500 on Israel. As a place that caught our interest Australia ranked about level with Belarus and Burundi. Among the general subjects that outstripped it were balloons and balloonists, the Church of Scientology, dogs (though not dog sledding), Barneys, Inc., and Pamela Harriman, the former ambassador and socialite who died in February 1997, a misfortune that evidently required recording 22 times in the Times. Put in the crudest terms, Australia was slightly more important to us in 1997 than bananas, but not nearly as important as ice cream.

As it turns out, 1997 was actually quite a good year for Australian news. In 1996 the country was the subject of just nine news reports and in 1998 a mere six. Australians can’t bear it that we pay so little attention to them, and I don’t blame them. This is a country where interesting things happen, and all the time.

Consider just one of those stories that did make it into the Times in 1997, though buried away in the odd-sock drawer of Section C. In January of that year, according to a report written in America by a Times reporter, scientists were seriously investigating the possibility that a mysterious seismic disturbance in the remote Australian outback almost four years earlier had been a nuclear explosion set off by members of the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo.

It happens that at 11:03 p.m. local time on May 28, 1993, seismograph needles all over the Pacific region twitched and scribbled in response to a very large-scale disturbance near a place called Banjawarn Station in the Great Victoria Desert of Western Australia. Some long-distance truckers and prospectors, virtually the only people out in that lonely expanse, reported seeing a sudden flash in the sky and hearing or feeling the boom of a mighty but far-off explosion. One reported that a can of beer had danced off the table in his tent.

The problem was that there was no obvious explanation. The seismograph traces didn’t fit the profile for an earthquake or mining explosion, and anyway the blast was 170 times more power- ful than the most powerful mining explosion ever recorded in Western Australia. The shock was consistent with a large meteorite strike, but the impact would have blown a crater hundreds of feet in circumference, and no such crater could be found. The upshot is that scientists puzzled over the incident for a day or two, then filed it away as an unexplained curiosity—the sort of thing that presumably happens from time to time.

Then in 1995 Aum Shinrikyo gained sudden notoriety when it released extravagant quantities of the nerve gas sarin into the Tokyo subway system, killing twelve people. In the investigations that followed, it emerged that Aum’s substantial holdings included a 500,000-acre desert property in Western Australia very near the site of the mystery event. There, authorities found a laboratory of unusual sophistication and focus, and evidence that cult members had been mining uranium. It separately emerged that Aum had recruited into its ranks two nuclear engineers from the former Soviet Union. The group’s avowed aim was the destruction of the world, and it appears that the event in the desert may have been a dry run for blowing up Tokyo.

You take my point, of course. This is a country that loses a prime minister and that is so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world’s first nongovernmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years would pass before anyone noticed.* Clearly this is a place worth getting to know.

* Interestingly, no Australian newspapers seem to have picked up on this story and the New York Times never returned to it, so what happened in the desert remains a mystery. Aum Shinrikyo sold its desert property in August 1994, fifteen months after the mysterious blast but seven months before it gained notoriety with its sarin attack in the Tokyo subway system. If any investigating authority took the obvious step of measuring the area around Banjawarn Station for increased levels of radiation, it has not been reported.

and so, because we know so little about it, perhaps a few facts would be in order:

Australia is the world’s sixth largest country and its largest island. It is the only island that is also a continent, and the only continent that is also a country. It was the first continent conquered from the sea, and the last. It is the only nation that began as a prison.

It is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the largest monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now-official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures—the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish—are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. Pick up an innocuous cone shell from a Queensland beach, as innocent tourists are all too wont to do, and you will discover that the little fellow inside is not just astoundingly swift and testy but exceedingly venomous. If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.

And it is old. For 60 million years since the formation of the Great Dividing Range, the low but deeply fetching mountains that run down its eastern flank, Australia has been all but silent geologically. In consequence, things, once created, have tended just to lie there. So many of the oldest objects ever found on earth— the most ancient rocks and fossils, the earliest animal tracks and riverbeds, the first faint signs of life itself—have come from Australia.

At some undetermined point in the great immensity of its past—perhaps 45,000 years ago, perhaps 60,000, but certainly before there were modern humans in the Americas or Europe—it was quietly invaded by a deeply inscrutable people, the Aborigines, who have no clearly evident racial or linguistic kinship to their neighbors in the region, and whose presence in Australia can only be explained by positing that they invented and mastered ocean- going craft at least 30,000 years in advance of anyone else, in order to undertake an exodus, then forgot or abandoned nearly all that they had learned and scarcely ever bothered with the open sea again.

It is an accomplishment so singular and extraordinary, so uncomfortable with scrutiny, that most histories breeze over it in a paragraph or two, then move on to the second, more explicable invasion—the one that begins with the arrival of Captain James Cook and his doughty little ship HMS Endeavour in Botany Bay in 1770. Never mind that Captain Cook didn’t discover Australia and that he wasn’t even yet a captain at the time of his visit. For most people, including most Australians, this is where the story begins.

The world those first Englishmen found was famously inverted—its seasons back to front, its constellations upside down—and unlike anything any of them had seen before even in the near latitudes of the Pacific. Its creatures seemed to have evolved as if they had misread the manual. The most characteristic of them didn’t run or lope or canter, but bounced across the landscape, like dropped balls. The continent teemed with unlikely life. It contained a fish that could climb trees; a fox that flew (it was actually a very large bat); crustaceans so large that a grown man could climb inside their shells.

In short, there was no place in the world like it. There still isn’t. Eighty percent of all that lives in Australia, plant and animal, exists nowhere else. More than this, it exists in an abundance that seems incompatible with the harshness of the environment. Australia is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile, and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents. (Only Antarctica is more hostile to life.) This is a place so inert that even the soil is, technically speaking, a fossil. And yet it teems with life in numbers uncounted. For insects alone, scientists haven’t the faintest idea whether the total number of species is 100,000 or more than twice that. As many as a third of those species remain entirely unknown to science. For spiders, the proportion rises to 80 percent.

I mention insects in particular because I have a story about a little bug called Nothomyrmecia macrops that I think illustrates perfectly, if a bit obliquely, what an exceptional country this is. It’s a slightly involved tale but a good one, so bear with me, please.

In 1931 on the Cape Arid peninsula in Western Australia, some amateur naturalists were poking about in the scrubby wastes when they found an insect none had seen before. It looked vaguely like an ant, but was an unusual pale yellow and had strange, staring, distinctly unsettling eyes. Some specimens were collected and these found their way to the desk of an expert at the National Museum of Victoria in Melbourne, who identified the insect at once as Nothomyrmecia. The discovery caused great excitement because, as far as anyone knew, nothing like it had existed on earth for a hundred million years. Nothomyrmecia was a proto-ant, a living relic from a time when ants were evolving from wasps. In entomological terms, it was as extraordinary as if someone had found a herd of triceratops grazing on some distant grassy plain.

An expedition was organized at once, but despite the most scrupulous searching, no one could find the Cape Arid colony. Subsequent searches came up equally empty-handed. Almost half a century later, when word got out that a team of American scientists was planning to search for the ant, almost certainly with the kind of high-tech gadgetry that would make the Australians look amateurish and underorganized, government scientists in Canberra decided to make one final, preemptive effort to find the ants alive. So a party of them set off in convoy across the country.

On the second day out, while driving across the South Australia desert, one of their vehicles began to smoke and sputter, and they were forced to make an unscheduled overnight stop at a lonely pause in the highway called Poochera. During the evening one of the scientists, a man named Bob Taylor, stepped out for a breath of air and idly played his flashlight over the surrounding terrain. You may imagine his astonishment when he discovered, crawling over the trunk of a eucalyptus beside their campsite, a thriving colony of none other than Nothomyrmecia.

Now consider the probabilities. Taylor and his colleagues were eight hundred miles from their intended search site. In the almost 3 million square miles of emptiness that is Australia, one of the handful of people able to identify it had just found one of the rarest, most sought-after insects on earth—an insect seen alive just once, almost half a century earlier—and all because their van had broken down where it did. Nothomyrmecia, incidentally, has still never been found at its original site.

You take my point again, I’m sure. This is a country that is at once staggeringly empty and yet packed with stuff. Interesting stuff, ancient stuff, stuff not readily explained. Stuff yet to be found.

Trust me, this is an interesting place.

Revue de presse

"What the indefatigable, keenly observant Bryson did a few years back for the Applachian Trail with A Walk in the Woods... he does now for the generally undiscovered land Down Under."
Chicago Tribune

"Vastly entertaining... If there is one book with which to get oriented before departure or en route to Australia, this is it."
New York Times

Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 352 pages
  • Editeur : Broadway Books; Édition : 1st Broadway Books Trade Pbk. Ed (15 mai 2001)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0767903862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767903868
  • Dimensions du produit: 20,3 x 13,4 x 2,6 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.5 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (20 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 90.935 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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FLYING INTO AUSTRALIA, I realized with a sign that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Extrait | Quatrième de couverture
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4.5 étoiles sur 5
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10 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 On s'y croirait ! 20 juillet 2004
Format:Broché
J'ai découvert ce livre de retour en France après quelques années à Sydney.
Un seul conseil à tous ceux que ce vaste continent attire : ruez-vous sur cet excellent et truculent livre de Bryson.
Bill excelle à recréer des atmosphères éphémères qu'un touriste normal ne perçoit pas. Des descriptions fort justes, des portraits ciselés au choix des mots, un humour décapant qui vous fait rire au larme devant l'étalage de tant d'anecdotes (toutes vraies ! je confirme !). Un portrait de l'Australie fort juste, depuis ses milieux urbains, bien sûr, qui réunissent l'essentiel de la population, mais aussi ses paysages du bush, sa chaleur, ses odeurs, son multiculturalisme, son chardonnay frais, ses crevettes grillées, ses rouleaux de surf, ses musées aborigènes, ses couchers de soleil, ses eucalyptus aromatiques, sa faune d'origine et sa gastronomie remarquable.
Tout est là ! Avec l'érudition sans affectation, et l'humour sans lourdeur.
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2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Très bonne lecture 29 octobre 2006
Par Jonaten
Format:Broché
Mariant une grande érudition, un style fluide et sympathique, et un humour plein de gentilles moqueries et d'autodérision, Bryson offre une vision de l'Australie pleine de vérité et d'anecdotes passionantes. Ce pays est insuffisamment connu, même s'il a pris plus de place ces dernières décades dans les médias et l'intérêt du public. Il mérite pourtant d'être connu de nous, européens, car il est un intéressant mélange d'Europe et d'exotisme comme il n'y en a nulle part ailleurs, ce que Bryson montre avec brio. Pas seulement informatif pour un éventuel voyage, mais plein d'aventures distrayantes et étonnantes. Un grand plaisir.
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6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 voyage dans un fauteuil 23 juillet 2002
Par Un client
Format:Poche
Un livre comme il en existe peu aujourd'hui. On suit l'auteur à la découverte de l'Australie et on s'émerveille en même temps que lui ! En plus, Bill a un fantastique sens de l'humour. On n'a qu'une envie : acheter son billet pour les terres australes...
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Down under and beyond 21 mars 2009
Format:Poche
I really loved all these short stories about Australia. But beneath the main subject lies a story about the real life of a travelling writer full of loneliness, boredom - would you spend your time going to a museum when you're bored in the middle of nowhere... or would you just leave the place ? - and a tendancy to alcoholism (alcohol makes him happy in unhappy environments... a situation which happens quite frequently in this book)... ;-)
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Insightful! 6 septembre 2010
Par A. Tauzin
Format:Poche
Ce livre est un parfait aperçu de la vraie Australie! D'un point de vue américain bien sûr, mais tout de même du point de vue d'un voyageur invétéré qui semble avoir le recul nécessaire pour nous donner une idée magnifiquement drôle et rusée de ce que ce serait de se retrouver au fin fond du pays d'Oz (je peux vous le dire, j'y étais!).
J'aime l'écriture de Bryson et j'adore ce pays; ce livre est donc pour moi une lecture incontournable! ENJOY!
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Down Under de Bill Bryson 24 avril 2014
Format:Poche|Achat vérifié
Lorsque ma fille est partie s'installer en Australie, je me suis précipitée sur ce live que j'ai adoré.
J'ai beaucoup appris sur ce pays fascinant. J'ai beaucoup ri aussi.
Dans ses chroniques australiennes, Bill Bryson aborde les thèmes les plus divers : la flore, la faune et la population, mais aussi l’histoire très singulière de l'exploration et de la colonisation de ce pays, sans oublier la "question aborigène". Journaliste d'investigation à l'humour décapant, l'auteur nous donne envie d'aller rendre visite à "Nos voisins du dessous".
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 super 16 janvier 2014
Par livre78
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
beaucoup d'humour, il a donné à un de mes fils le désir d'aller en Australie et d'y rester. Par contre ce n'est pas un guide de voyage ( l'Australie est parcourue à la vitesse américaine!).
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 nikel 26 décembre 2013
Format:Poche|Achat vérifié
bien arrivé et de bonne qualité, je n'ai malheureusement eu le temps de lire que mes 2 permiers chapitres mais ils sont déjà très intéressant !
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Bill Bryson et l'Australie
Je connais bien cet auteur. Son humour est a chaque ligne et il n'oublie pas de nous faire visiter le pays.
Publié il y a 13 mois par Lili Von
5.0 étoiles sur 5 BILL BRYSON - DOWN UNDER
EXCELLENT BOOK WHICH GIVES AN INTERESTING AND HUMORISTIC INSIGHT OF AUSTRALIA, AUSTRALIANS AND THEIR HISTORY (INCLUDING THAT OF THE ABORIGINES WHO ARE, IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMIND,... Lire la suite
Publié il y a 15 mois par CAILLET CLAUDINE
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Pour les aventuriers
Ce livre sur l'Australie est très particulier. En effet, Bill Bryson nous montre l'autre face de ce pays lointain. Il voyage dans les zones rurales et lointaines. Lire la suite
Publié il y a 18 mois par Mont23
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A lire absolument en cas de voyage en Australie (et même si on n'y va...
Une très bonne lecture qui vous épargnera l'achat d'un guide touristique... L'auteur y décrit avec humour et pertinence son voyage en Australie, ses... Lire la suite
Publié il y a 18 mois par M. Matthieu
4.0 étoiles sur 5 L'Australie vue du coeur
Je pars en Australie pour 1 mois, et Down Under de Bill BRYSON m'a permis d'apprendre et de comprendre mille faits sur la géographie, l'histoire, la société,... Lire la suite
Publié il y a 20 mois par DE BEAUMONT Philippe
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent
Un recit et un guide de voyage raconté avec beaucoup d'humer. Bien que pas très recent, toujours d'acualité, à lire absolument avant de visiter... Lire la suite
Publié il y a 20 mois par Judith Nagy
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Bonne découverte de l'Australie
Ce livre très agréable à lire donne envie de visiter ce pays. Il alterne des éléments historiques et les impressions de l'auteur.
Publié il y a 21 mois par Amazon Customer
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Bill
loved it! gonna do the same trip thanks to old bill . train seems a bit expensive compared to a 16000km us tour with amtrak or the 7000 km of siberian express we already done but... Lire la suite
Publié il y a 23 mois par canpau
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Très vivifiant récit de voyage au coeur de l'Australie
Il ne s'agit d'un ènième récit d'aventures, mais du récit d'un voyageur au regard particulièrement exercé. Lire la suite
Publié le 27 février 2011 par chchristine
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