I have to say that when I have read books, or seen TV episodes, by people from foreign parts where they try to satirise Australia I have generally been either unimpressed, or downright insulted (as was the case with the Simpsons Episode where the Simpsons come to Australia, act like a bunch of jerks, proceed to insult everybody, leave an infestation of cane toads, and then go home). As such I was approaching Pratchett's book with some trepidation due to this experience (okay, I'm probably exaggerating a bit here because the only episode that actually comes to mind is the Simpsons episode, but I have to say that that one episode was enough to leave a really bad taste in my mouth).
However, to say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. In fact it was not what I anticipated at all. It seems that Terry Pratchett knows more about Australia than I do and I was born and bred here. Mind you that is probably not surprising considering that when we are surrounded by our culture and our people we tend not to see what others consider to be somewhat strange. Sure, I understand that people wonder about this strange substance called vegemite and why it is that Australians not only eat it but actually like it (but then again there are a lot of things about other countries that make me scratch my head – such as octopus tentacles in Hong Kong).
Anyway, Pratchett, in this one book, seems to cover almost everything about Australia, and there are some things that he knew about that really surprised me. Of course we have good old vegemite:
but he also makes a number of mentions of the Pie Floater, which is a pie, covered in sauce, floating in pea soup, which you only really find in Adelaide (though the famous Pie Cart that used to sit outside the railway station has long since gone due to the tram tracks being laid down):
However, the one thing that really surprised me was when Rincewind was picked up by a dwarf named Mad and next thing we know we are suddenly caught up on one of those awesome Mad Max car chases:
Honestly, when I first picked up this book I never expected Rincewind to get caught up in a Mad Max car (or should I say cart) chase. Not only does he pay tribute to Mad Max, but also to the Man from Snowy River, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. In fact in one section Rincewind discovers that he is standing on a float in the middle of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi-gras.
The reason that I gave this book such a high rating was the very clever, and really amusing, way he painted a picture of Australian culture, however the problem that I had with the book was that there really didn't seem to be a plot. Okay, there was a plot, but it seemed to be some loose thread that tied Rincewind's antics together (which involved him stumbling from one piece of Australiana to another, which included meeting Crocobile Dongo – aka Crocodile Dundee – drinking copious amounts of really good beer, and being mistaken for Waltzing Matilda – the guy in that song that gets busted stealing a sheep and instead of going to gaol throws himself into a billabong and drowns).
He does have a side plot, namely that the Librarian catches a cold, however it is a magical cold which causes him to shapeshift whenever he sneezes. To cure him of the cold the wizards need to find his true name, but he has removed all record of it, so they decide to go and find Rincewind, which results in them landing up on a deserted island ten thousand years in the past. Here they meet the god of evolution (that doesn't actually believe in himself) and proceed teach him a much better way of causing change in nature than simply creating things from scratch (namely sex). Pratchett, as can be expected, very cleverly ties these two threads together, however I'll let you read the book to find out how he does it.
I'll finish off with a little anecdote that just goes to show how much I don't actually pick up being an Australian (though I have began to notice some aspects of this when I travel overseas, particularly when I first arrived at Heathrow Airport to discover everybody speaking with an English accent, which I just have to say was really weird). Anyway, Rincewind discovers that there are two words in Australia (or Ecksecksecksecks – Fourecks, which happens to be a brand of beer) that can solve any problem and placate any person – “no worries”. Anyway, I just shrugged and continued about my day until, as I was about to walk into the office, the door suddenly flew open and almost hit me in the face. Coming out from behind the door was one of my mates, who proceeded to look and me and say 'no worries.' I almost burst out laughing. All I can say is that having now read this book I simply cannot look at those two words the same again.