When I was a junior in high school I took AP Lang and one of the books we had to read over the summer was Bill Bryson’s A Walk In the Woods. I had never read any travel literature or anything by Bill Bryson before, and I found myself completely enamored with the genre and the author I discovered it with. Since then I have made it a goal to read all of Bill Brysons books and have yet to find one that has disagreed with me.
One of my favorite books of his, In a Sunburned Country details his travels around Australia and had me laughing out loud the first time I read it. I added it to my Christmas List one year and received two copies from different people. I brought one of those copies with me to Australia but Justin took it home with him when he left, and then my friend Jordan told me to keep his copy when I asked to borrow it to write this entry, because he didn’t want it. In my absence my mother bought a copy of her own to read while she planned my family’s Australian adventure. So I have two copies of this book to my name, but three in my family. Needless to say, I’m a fan.
When I first read the book my freshman year of college I remember the chapter on Canberra as being particularly hilarious. Having now travelled to Canberra I can say with full authority that everything Bill Bryson said about it was 100% correct, and so for my blog entries on Canberra I am going to quote him and invite you to laugh along with me at my favorite grumpy travel writer who couldn’t have been more correct in his observations about this odd little town.
Justin and I woke up (or rather Justin woke up and then fought me out of my sleeping state) around 6am on Friday morning to catch our 7am bus from central station to Canberra. We were both groggy and grumpy but made our bus on time without incident and then promptly went back to sleep. The bus ride was around three hours long and once we got out of Sydney the scenery was filled with lots of mountains and odd looking trees. When we got off the bus Angela, Justin’s friend from the Citadel, was there to greet us and walk us to her apartment where we would be staying for the weekend. Angela is currently working on her masters degree in peace and conflict studies (somewhat ironic since she went to a military school for her undergraduate degree) and when she heard that Justin was going to be in Australia demanded that he spend a weekend in Canberra.
As Justin and I surveyed the landscape on our walk from the bus stop to Angie’s apartment we were very underwhelmed. It was around 11 am on a Friday morning and nobody seemed to be around. Things were eerily quiet. All the buildings we saw were sleek and modern looking, but devoid of any real character. Already we were judging.
Angie had glowing things to say about the city, but it is the only Australian city she has visited, and she spends most of her time in it studying. I think Canberra would be a very good place to work on a masters or doctorate degree since there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of distractions in the city. I would think you would find plenty of time to study because the city doesn’t give you many other options.
A little history on this odd little place from Mr. Bryson:
In the end, “Canberra” won more or less by default. At an official ceremony to mark the decision, the wife of the governor-general stood up before a gathering of dignitaries and, “in a querulous voice,” announced that the winning name was the one that had been in use all along. Unfortunately no one had thought to brief her, and she mispronounced it. Never mind, the young nation had a site for a capital and a name for it and it had taken them just eleven years since union to get there. At this blistering pace, all being well, they might get a city going within half a century or so. In fact, it would take rather longer. Although Canberra is now the sixth largest metropolis in the nation and one of the most important planned communities on earth, it remains Australia’s greatest obscurity. As national capitals go, it is still not an easy place to get to. It lies forty miles off the main road from Sydney to Melbourne, The Hume Highway, and is similarly spurned by the principal railway lines. Its main road to the south doesn’t go anywhere much and the city has no approach at all from the west other than on a dirt track from the little town of Tumut.”
- Bill Bryson
The history of this location is very exemplary of the reality of it.
Justin and I hung out with Angie for a bit in her apartment and then she gave us a quick walking tour of some of the sites nearby before handing us a map so we could do some exploring of our own. Since she had a paper due by midnight she said she would take us out on the town Saturday but needed to work till then. When she gave us the map she cautioned, “things look like they are close together on the map, but when you start walking you will see that it takes forever to get anywhere”
Bill Bryson had this to say about that:
Being that it was around 3pm when we set out, Justin and I set our sights on walking up Capital Hill to see the Parliament building, which seemed reasonable to accomplish before it closed at 5. We walked for about 25 minutes before realizing that it was much further away that we originally thought, and not easily accessible on foot. We walked across the bridge over Lake Burley and found that in order to get to where we wanted to be, we would have to dash across four lanes of highway traffic, leap-frog a set of jersey barriers and then scale a fairly steep hill covered in bushes. We decided against this.
After this failed expedition we headed back into the center of town and found a quaint local bookstore where we ordered hot beverages and rested for a few minutes. With grumbling tummies we soon left the bookstore in search of dinner. We found a large shopping mall where we got wraps and salad and then wandered into a Borders Books to try and find a copy of Bill Brysons book so we could compare our experiences to his.
Justin had been trying very hard to stay positive about the city, but when I read him this quote from Bill Bryson he cracked up and couldn’t help but to finally admit that this city was in fact quite crap.