Travel Books: Australia

Good books I read while I was there: 


It lives up to its epic billing. Be prepared for a long book – but I found it really interesting, offering a perspective on the political environment in England that precipitated “transportation”. The variety of different “criminals” that arrived in Australia: (some had only stolen bread). Plus how some wardens were mean, heartless pricks while others were more reasonable – and how the interaction between the convicts and their new land became the foundation for the country. Some stole and became outlaws (Ned Kelly), while others bared down and made the best out of what is a tough, and nearly impossible situation. It lays out what life was like under “transportation”, how it changed afterwards, and how that influenced where the country was headed. Far from sentimental, it reveals the cruelty endured by aborignes at the hands of settlers, plus the cruelty convicts experienced. Definitely worth a read as a primer on how Australia started.


I like Bill Bryson. He’s able to present facts in an interesting way, turning what might be boring and dull into something more intriguing. His story alone on describing how big Australia is by describing how a Japanese cult may have blown up a nuclear device and no one really knew about it – is reason enough to pick this up. If you yawn at history, but like reading memoirs – I think this will bridge the difference without making it feel like a slog.


This is entertaining pulp. Follows the story of two young Australian surfers learning from an older surfer off Australia’s surfing spots, and from his girlfriend who takes a liking to them. A bit dark, but thought it was a fun, breezy read.


And here you go. Pretty self-explanatory. It lays out the case that the brains behind the band are the Youngs who keep their inner circle tight, and push away anyone who doesn’t fit in. Will probably only appeal to someone who knows their music – but still an interesting story on how three brothers from Glasgow, Scotland arrived in Sydney and built a $100 million band.

Books that are on my list


Trip through Australia while relating how aborignes use music as part of their nomadic travel. I’m screwing up the description, but its meant to be good.


Considered by many a classic of Australian fiction – story of two diverging siblings, set around WW1.


Jasper Jones represents a challenge to his pal Charlie’s life. Where Charlie once saw things one way, his influence may make him consider things differently. I don’t know – that’s the gist I got from the blurbs anyhow. A coming of age story mixed with mystery.


Australian crime fiction. Got a bunch of accolades and meant to be good.


A series of short stories with characters from Tehran, Colombia, Vietnam and other spots – meant to be good with high praise as a young and upcoming writer.


Melbourne strolls and going down the road to watch waves roll


Sydney might be the smart, pretty, popular girl who liked team sports growing up and is now hiking up the corporate ladder on her way to being a VP in a bank. Melbourne on the other hand, leans more to a girl who preferred books, cigarettes, and sketching art in coffee shops as a teenager and now works as a graphic designer for a web company.

Broad strokes, I know – but I found the two cities definitely had their own distinct identities. This is fuelled, of course, by a friendly rivalry between them – or as is often mentioned moreso by Melburnians who, like any good underdog, enjoy poking holes in Sydney’s #1 status. (As a Canadian living above the US, I can empathize.)

However, things weren’t always this way, and signs suggest they’re headed for a change. In 1865 Melbourne had a higher population than Sydney and a mere 15 years later was one of the richest cities in the world, 2nd only to London, England.

This was all thanks to the Gold rush that also buoyed Sydney, higher North in the state of New South Wales, but in the state of Victoria – of which Melbourne is the capital – there was an even wilder time.

Eventually the high times levelled off after a Depression a decade later, but Melbourne stayed prosperous – and now is poised to have the largest population of any Australian city by 2050, as its currently growing 18% faster than the rest.

I’m not sure how that will change the city. For the time being, Rose and I could only see Melbourne in 2014.

Here’s how it went.

We rented an apartment on the edge of the business district, which put us almost right next door to the first spot we went: Queen Victoria Market. It was a neat spot – where we saw a huge group of people lining up in front of a Turkish deli, clamouring for a specific food that I can’t remember – but was a bit like Pide ( breaded meat or cheese and meat).

Seeing a huge crowd we basically acted according to crowd-think, and lined right up with them, not really knowing at the time what we were getting in line for.

As it turns out, while I forget the name, I remember the taste being a bit disappointing – however the price was great: $2 per – which probably explained the large crowds.

Anyway, our next move was to do what everyone suggested: walk the laneways in the downtown core:


Passing between graffittied walls:


we invariably popped out to see another coffee shop – something we learned Melburnians are very proud – and a ton of cafes along the alleyways.

We settled on a Greek spot for dinner, which, I later learned was not all that difficult as Melbourne has the largest Greek speaking population outside Europe.

(Thanks Wikipedia)

The food was awesome and we carried on our way. In total we were in the city for a week and we got into a bit of a routine, wandering into the core, finding some alleyways then a spot to eat and roaming around some more.

Another spot that was hard to miss was Chinatown, which again thanks to el oro – is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world as immigrants arrived in the thousands to find them shiny yella nuggets 150 years prior.

Sadly, our photographs are limited because I erased some by mistake thinking I had already saved them elsewhere. I know, not helpful to a blog.

Instead, you know that concept of a picture being a thousand words?

Can you think of it the other way? It’s asking a lot, I realize, but think it will make this go a lot better.


Next we wandered out of the core and found the nearby neighbourhood of Fitzroy – which again, fellow travellers had recommended. It reminded me a lot of an area in Toronto: Queen West West and the Southern stretch of Ossington street. Cafes, art shops, bookstores, restaurants, stores big enough for rows of clothes but seem to only have six T-shirts, and brew pubs.

We wandered in to a brew pub – and who was at the door greeting us with samples of a beer? A fellow Canadian, happily perpetuating the stereotype of Canadians and beer of which our presence alone was also doing the same.

In principle we were trying to eat on a budget, but as in Sydney, costs weren’t necessarily the cheapest. Still, we did our best, often treating our cultural experiences as walking through the streets and avoiding the cost of the big museums like the National gallery.

However one splurge we did do was go to the Australian Museum of Moving Image (ACMI), which seems like a long title to get across the point that we won’t see any books on display.

Within, Mad Max’s car was on view (here’s an example I “borrowed”).


Plus a history of the Australian film industry and some of its big actors including Melbourne’s own: Cate Blanchett.

I also learned in the museum that this video was shot in the city:

I like Ac/Dc. I’m not a diehard that’s combing newsgroups for 70s bootlegs and Ac/Dc dollars from their Razor’s Edge tour. But I plan to see them summer 2015 in Canada, and I’m fan enough that I wanted to see the lane dedicated to them in the city, which we walked past (again a borrowed image):


Later on we saw a comedy show with headliner – Tom Gleeson – who, later on we’d learn was a friend of another Australian we met in Thailand. Different concert, but here’s some of the same material we saw:

Type in “Melbourne things to do” in Google and one of the biggest things that comes up is something that you have to drive outside of the city and carry on driving for 234 kilometres to get the most out of it: the Great Ocean Road


It’s a pretty drive that we took four days to drive up and back on, which culminates in this popular view of what’s called the Twelve Apostles (one of the rocks over my shoulder):


Maybe one of the biggest highlights was driving off the route into a group of eucalyptus trees. As we went, we kept spotting koalas one after the other. We must have driven six kilometres into the woods, keeping our eyes on the trees:

“Look there’s another – that’s 12”.



After coming back in our finally tally was 16 of the furry guys. It was pretty amazing.

Soon this would be the last cuddly looking thing we’d see for a long time. Our next stop, Kathmandu Nepal where we set off on a walk one day, and came back 20 days later.