Thumbs Up Australia

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Thumbs Up Australia: Hitchhiking the Outback, Tom Parry, book reviewFor many years I have devoured travel books, usually about France or Italy but occasionally branching out elsewhere. As someone who doesn’t travel often or very far, they offer me an escapism and a chance to learn about and “see” other parts of the world.

Thumbs Up Australia: Hitchhiking the Outback by Tom Parry is the first travel book I have read about Australia however, and hopefully it won’t be the last. Parry sets off to Australia with his rather reluctant French girlfriend Katia, to re-explore the Outback which he hitched through when young and single. He has spent the intervening years lost in daydreams about Australia, and after much effort he managed to persuade Katia to join him in his journey.

It is quite clear that Parry is somewhat obsessed with Australia, and with the Outback in particular. He waxes lyrical about the landscape and the people, and is determined that they will hitch the whole way round the roughly 8000 mile loop they have planned to follow. He sees buses as a betrayal of his ideals. Katia sees them as comfortable and safe.

Parry writes Thumbs Up Australia with a pleasant and engaging style, thanks to his love of his subject matter. It is an easy read, a gentle romp through the inhospitable Outback, with Katia providing comic relief as she struggles to cope with the basic quality of life she endures, and the many characters the pair meet while hitching lifts.

“Parry writes Thumbs Up Australia with a pleasant and engaging style…”

There are, however, some problems with Thumbs Up Australia. The first is a fairly general one, and somewhat hard to define: the book lacks that special something that would elevate it from a good travel book to a great one. It is missing a spark, a certain je ne sais quoi – Peter Mayle has it, Annie Hawes has it, but whatever “it” is, it has eluded Tom Parry. While enjoyable and informative, and although Parry writes about his own enthusiasm, Thumbs Up Australia has not caused me to start investigating plane tickets.

The second problem does have some bearing on the first, but is more specific. There is not much positivity in Thumbs Up Australia. Parry is very positive about his trip, as is Katia once she gets into it, but nothing they see seems to be positive. Aborigines with drink problems, truckers with drug problems, prostitution, racism, washed up ghost towns…it is unclear what, apart from the scenery, so enthrals Parry about the Outback. Of course these issues are real and should not be ignored, but Parry does not seem to address them in any depth. He recounts all these sad sights but shows little or no emotion or reaction to them. He spends more time on the history of white explorers discovering the Outback than he does on the present issues that it faces. Even the people the couple hitchhike with are almost all a little mad (or very mad) – if you’re hoping to read nice intelligent conversations about the Outback and its current state, forget it.

Thumbs Up Australia is a generally enjoyable read, but despite his obvious enthusiasm, Parry has somehow missed the mark if he is attempting to enthuse his readers about the joys of the Outback. Fortunately he hasn’t put me off reading more travel books on Australia – hopefully the next one will have that je ne sais quoi…

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Thumbs Up Australia: Hitchhiking the Outback
by Tom Parry

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Written by eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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