Roaming Down Under

Australia's unappreciated wonders

About the overlooked and understated nature of so many of Australia's great wonders

There's a lot to like about Australia. One aspect which endears me to this land down under is the overlooked and understated nature of so many of its great wonders. You can stumble across features which are worthy of world acclaim, yet remain unknown to most of the world.

To illustrate what I mean, here is a quote from travel writer Bill Bryson. He is referring to the rare tingle and giant karri forests of Western Australia - the 3rd tallest species of trees in the world - and marvelling at how unknown they are:

It struck me in a moment's idle thinking that this forest was quite an apt metaphor for Australia. It was to the arboreal world what Charles Kingsford Smith was to aviation or the Aborigines were to prehistory - unaccountably overlooked.
It seemed amazing to me, in any case, that there could exist in this one confined area some of the rarest and mightiest broad-leafed trees on earth, forming a forest of consummate and singular beauty, and hardly anyone outside Australia has even heard of them. But that is the thing about Australia, of course - that it is packed with unappreciated wonders.
- from Chapter 18 of 'Down Under' by Bill Bryson (also published as 'In a Sunburned Country')

Indeed! Most of the world has been taught about the world's tallest trees being the redwoods of California. But how many know that the 2nd and 3rd tallest tree types - almost as tall as the redwoods - are both found in Australia? Not even all Australians are aware of that.

Karri trees in the Warren National Park near Pemberton, Western Australia

An advantage of having treasures which are little-known elsewhere is that we get to enjoy them in a more natural and intimate way. No fuss or fanfare, and mostly unspoiled by crowds - they are just there. The "forest of consummate and singular beauty" which so impressed Bill Bryson has some trees taller than most on the planet, but you won't find them fenced off or signposted. They grow quietly and modestly, just as they've done for centuries, and to me that makes coming across them all the more enjoyable.

Bryson also mentions the Australian Aborigines as being unaccountably overlooked, and he has a point. When we think of ancient cultures, most people would think of the Incas, or the Greek, Roman or Egyptian empires, or perhaps even the Neanderthals. Not so many are aware that the oldest surviving culture on earth belongs to the Aboriginal people of Australia.

Yes, our Indigenous people have been here for at least 60000 years - long before Europe or the Americas saw a human footprint. What's more, their culture still exists today ... a miracle of survival, really, but how many outside Australia know of them?

"Unaccountably overlooked" is an apt description. You can visit a well known tourist attraction like Wave Rock and be unaware that just down the road, but with a fraction of the visitors, lie rock paintings thousands of years old. They make the Aztecs look modern, yet most people don't know they're there.

You can wander around the Burrup Peninsula expecting only scenery, and find yourself surrounded by the largest collection of ancient rock carvings in the world. Then there is the spectacular Bungle Bungle range (Purnululu National Park), which remained somehow un-noticed by non-Aboriginals until as recently as 1983.

You just never know in Australia when you're going to stumble across something noteworthy but surprisingly little known - the biggest, oldest, first, longest, wildest, or whatever. It makes travelling here a real journey of discovery. What you find is so often different from, and better than, what you were expecting. That's one of the things I love about my home country.