Ian Fraser, well-known Canberra naturalist, author, blogger, tour leader and ABC radio presenter, is also a keen reviewer of natural history books (see http://www.botanicalbookshop.com.au/reviews.asp). I was delighted when Ian agreed to review Southern Cross Safari. Here ’tis.
Southern Cross Safari; around Australia by bus and train
Bruce Gall, Redgum Publishing. 516 pages. RRP $35
This is the tale of a veritable odyssey, and a fascinating tale it is too. It’s a substantial tome moreover, but in the end I returned my library book in favour of Gall’s first venture into publishing. Put simply, this is the account of a journey round Australia, albeit with many detours, with a focus on visiting national parks and reserves, staying in hostels or pubs and using public transport as much as possible (though he hired cars where essential, until guilt got the better of him!).
There are many threads to the book, one of which is his scrutiny with a very professional eye as to how parks are managed, especially with regard to track maintenance and interpretation. Gall has excellent credentials for such observations, having worked in such major parks as Kosciuszko and Sturt and having managed one of the world’s great parks in Kakadu. Further, he has headed the park services of the ACT and Queensland. His observations on signage and track design and maintenance around the country (he is a Very Serious Walker) are sometimes complimentary, sometimes acerbic and always constructive. I hope park managers the country over study the book. However, these asides often break the flow of narrative and could perhaps have been assigned to an appendix, though this is purely a personal opinion.
Another thread concerns the strengths – more often weaknesses – of the nation’s train and bus systems to enable a traveller to get around the country and its reserves, a thread he often allows fellow-travellers, especially backpackers, to make observations on. Again, transport managers could well take note (especially in Tasmania it would seem!). Yet another thread concerns the nature and vagaries of hostel accommodation, a topic most of us don’t get a chance to explore, and gently astute observations on his temporary travelling companions abound.
It is whimsical, lively, astute, with flashes of humour – he’s obviously an excellent informal interviewer and note-taker – and philosophy. My only concern is that he, as a Canberran, omitted any mention of Namadgi National Park or the Canberra Nature Park! Don’t let that put you off though, this could be a minor classic – read it before the movie comes out though.