Friedrich Gerstacker became a celebrity in his native Germany when he travelled to the Americas in the 1800s and his mother, unbeknown to him, had his letters to her published in the local newspapers. The recently translated Australia (Wakefield Press) documents his subsequent journey within – you guessed it – Australia, and reveals a travel writer with a wit to rival Bill Bryson. He laments that in NSW all Australians talk about is (recently discovered) gold. At the end of a canoe journey down the Murray (he builds the canoe himself) he finds that SA locals bore him to death with talk of livestock until the subject is changed to… gold! In Adelaide the particularly low standard of the theatres turns comedies into tragedies, he says, and everywhere are ‘damned gum trees’. He travels to the Barossa, where he has to remind himself he is in Australia, not Germany. When describing the divisions between Lutherans he notes that nowhere in the world are Germans united, except in Tahiti, and that is because there is only one German there! He meets the famous Pastor Kavel and notes that he has caused a split in the Tanunda Lutheran church because of an ‘arithmetical error’ (regarding the prediction of the date of the apocalypse). Pastor Kavel provides a welcome, though a fire and brimstone sermon makes Gerstacker wonder whether the hot Australian climate has been a premonition of his ‘ultimate destination’.


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