Bill Bryson has built a career around humorous observations of tourist destinations. Inevitably he was drawn to Australia, ambitiously attempting to summarise a nation in 19 pithy chapters. It is curious, then, that he can spend most of Chapter 12 of “Down Under” heckling a small town on the mid north coast of New South Wales, called Macksville.
It is possible, I suppose, to construct hypothetical circumstances in which you would be please to find yourself, at the end of a long day, in Macksville, New South Wales – perhaps something to do with rising sea levels that left it as the only place on earth not underwater, or maybe some disfiguring universal contagion from which it alone remained unscathed. In the normal course of events, however, it is unlikely that you would find yourself standing on its lonely main street at six-thirty on a warm summer’s evening gazing about you in an appreciative manner and thinking, “Well, thank goodness I’m here!”
Now is probably the right time to mention that approximately 29 years ago, I was born in Macksville Hospital. I lived in West st, Macksville until I was 16. I have since lived in Sydney, Cambridge (UK), Zurich and now Sydney again. I have holidayed in the Macksville region every summer since moving away.
I must admit that laughter was my first reaction to Macksville’s treatment at Bryson’s hand. There is a lot that hits close to home. However, there are a few facts to be corrected. Either Bryson has embellished for comic effect, or else his powers of observation are somewhat weaker than one would expect for a travel writer.
“I was in Macksville for the night, owing to the interesting discovery that Brisbane is not three or four hours north of Sydney, as I had long and casually supposed, but the better part of a couple of days’ drive.“
Crap. After visiting Macksville, Bryson shows that he has the navigatory nous to find an obscure historical site (pre-satnav era, of course). He has been in Australia for eleven chapters. Having arrived in Macksville, he opens his book of maps. His arrival in Macksville is either moronic or contrived.
“Set on the bank of the swift and muddy Nambucca River …”
Judge for yourself:
Need more photos? Macksville is on a coastal plain. There isn’t a mountain within a hundred miles. The river is never swift, and except for a day or two after very heavy rain it isn’t muddy either (Bryson refers to the “dusty margin” of town, so it is unlikely that rain preceded his visit).
Actually, Bryson’s only experience of Macksville is a stretch of road about 100 metres long in the middle of town. Here is a brief tour of the wider area. Many thanks to the websites / facebook friends from whom I “borrowed” these photos. An Aerial shot of Macksville, looking East.
15 minutes North, the Nambucca River meets the sea. (Thanks, Brad.):
10 Minutes south-west – Scotts Head (more…)