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Book Review: Around Australia at 80ks by Meredith Schofield

TET holding a copy of the book Around Australia at 80ks.

s someone who has written a travel diary about driving across three states of Australia, and owning a frog van that became very much a character in touring my own state of South Australia at sometimes well below 80ks, I have some affinity for Meredith Schofield's book, Around Australia at 80k's.

I'll definitely tip my hat to Meredith and her husband Sean for going way further in a bright yellow, unairconditioned, mid 70's kombi van, than they were ever designed for. 

Also kudos to them for traveling with their dog Bandit. My partner and I have also taken our dogs on our holiday adventures and, even though South Australia is likely the most dog friendly state in Australia, it's still a challenge planning a trip where you can all stay together. Particularly, your dog will keep you out of most national parks.

Meredith's book is a road trip adventure across five Australian states, NSW, SA, WA, NT, and Victoria (technically four states and one territory I guess). It's filled with Meredith's fantastic photography, and her written impressions of each location, along with travel tips, like the all important, best place to get coffee, followed by the best free places to camp (priorities!).

At just over 250 pages it's the kind of book you read once and then becomes a bit of a coffee table book to page through, or you buy it to help inspire your own adventure by getting a feel for places you may like to see for yourself.

I do get the sense that if you're a kombi van owner, that's a very special community of people who would absolutely love this book. It's no accident that the official book website is called 'Etta's Travels - Around Australia at 80ks'. 

Etta is the name of their bright yellow kombi with a top cruising speed of 80ks. (I have no doubt she can go faster but if she's anything like my frog van any speed above 80ks feels like the wheels are going to fall off sooner rather than later - or at least the engine is going to overheat). There's probably more shots of Etta than either Meredith, Sean, or Bandit in the book... and, if not it, feels that way. Definitely an inspirational book for anyone thinking travelling Australia in a 70's classic is madness.

Personally I found a lot of the writing of the actual journey to be a little dry and didn't really capture the sense of adventure or being there in the moment. I know it's hard to write about every place with enthusiasm but there was a lot of we went here and did this without much history or anecdotes about the location. 

By contrast I felt more excitement and enthusiasm in Meredith's Introduction, preparation for the trip, and closing chapters. I wouldn't be surprised if, although I'm sure Meredith took notes, most of the book was written after the journey - which can seem overwhelming while you're writing it (honestly I've been there with all my own travel diary entries in this blog). 

The  photography is great with some stunning images and great compositions. I did feel a bit of a disconnect with the photos and the text because there are no captions. I know the idea is for all the photos on each page to give a sense of the place being visited but with nothing to focus my attention on each photo I tended to focus on just those that caught my eye (usually photos with the kombi, or with Meredith, Sean, or Bandit in them) or ones specifically mentioned in the text. 

Landscape photography, no matter how good, tends to blend into more of the same when you see a lot of it altogether. I feel I would have appreciated each photo more with captions or some kind of numerical reference within the text, directing me to specific photos. 

Just quietly, I would've also liked to have seen photos of some of the towns they passed through as well for a bit of contrast. The distinct lack of people and towns. You don't do a journey this far in Australia and without meeting a few characters. Skipping the towns made it feel like outback Australia is a little more empty than it is.

As mentioned great for any kombi van owner, and also a nice coffee table book for any Aussie home. The book has a limited 10,000 copy print run that appears to be almost sold out. Visit the official website to find out where you can get hold of a copy if they're still available.


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