Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: Cold Beer and Crocodiles by Roff Smith

In 1997, an ex-pat American who had been living in Australia for 15 years, Roff Smith quit his senior correspondent position at Time magazine (no less), whittled down his possessions to what could be carried in panniers (no more) and set off on a voyage to figure out at the age of 38 whether to stay in Australia or return to the US, and just what was Australia anyway?

He left Sydney, headed north up the coast to Rockhampton, headed inland to Longreach, back to the coast to Townsville up to Cairns, west via Normanton and Dorunda and Karumba, Burketown, Mt Isa, Tennant Creek, Katherine, Darwin, Broome. He then headed down the west coast, across the Nullabor and the Great Ocean Road, over to Tasmania, and then back to Sydney. He has stories of Australian kindness from friends and people he met along the way, as well as the small number of outright unfriendly people you might come across in roadhouses of WA and SA. It is also, as you might expect, a story of Australia's climate at its best and its scariest. The trip took him about 10,000 km and 9 months. Mostly it is a story of exploration, with occasional moments of triumphs of adversity through sheer serendipity.

I think my favourite story from the book is where he pulls into the Overlander Roadhouse on the WA coast - he doesn't need to buy anything, but a few weeks earlier he was lying in the lonely desert listening to Radio National for some kind of connection to humanity and he heard someone working the Overlander roadhouse call up request the Doors song Roadhouse Blues because he was shit bored. Roff wanted to go in and say Hi to the caller, but when he arrived the guy no longer worked there - having been fired for calling up the radio station.

The guy who owned the roadhouse and who had fired the guy 'for not working' called the author stupid for riding a bike around the country. Roff retorted he wanted to see Australia and meet all the nice people. The roadhouse owner replied "We used to have a nice country. Until they started letting you goddamned foreigners in". To this Roff put on his broadest American accent and exclaimed: "Golly, are you a real Aborigine?" before getting thrown out of the shop.

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it.

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