Jeff Green had a modest goal for Drive-About, his account of a four-month trip around and through Australia and New Zealand. He did not want to chronicle an extreme, never-before-attempted geographic stunt. He did not want to write an insightful cultural or political journalistic exposé. He simply wanted to write a book about a memorable trip and describe for the rest of us two of the world’s most interesting countries. Taken in that spirit, Drive-About is an uncomplicated but satisfying travelogue, a no-nonsense account of two ordinary Americans on a journey that is refreshingly free of intrigue, peril, geopolitical import, or existential ambition. It is merely fun.
Facing a natural lull in their lives and careers -- that pre-children, pre-mortgage period of young adulthood when anything is possible -- Green and his wife, Karen, decide to put it all on hold for a few months and slip Down Under for some once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Their first stop is New Zealand, where they experience both the natural beauty of the country and its residents’ penchant for doing inadvisable stunts, calling it a sporting event, and encouraging tourists to go along for the ride. The Greens tumble down hills inside giant, inflatable balls and bungee-jump off bridges (actually, only Jeff jumped off a bridge, but Karen videotaped it).
New Zealand is only a warm-up for the real test of the Greens’ stamina: Australia. Here, the couple is forced into a protracted adventure in the wilds of Sydney, in order to even find a car to take them on their circumnavigation of the country. Once transportation is secured and the couple is outfitted, the trip begins; it is a non-stop tour that covers thousands of miles of Australian scenery, from the numbing monotony of the Nullarbor Plain to the popular splendor of the Great Barrier Reef. The Greens do their best to see it all; they hit the big tourist attractions on the well-traveled paths, but they also seek out the obscure and the almost-forgotten.
The territory covered in Drive-About is, for the most part, far from unexplored. Australia has long been an object of fascination among armchair travelers, and many excellent accounts of Australian adventures have been written (Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country comes to mind as a recent example). Green’s book does not seek, however, to break new ground as much as it seeks to purely entertain, and in that, it succeeds. The author’s style, while straightforward, is engaging, and his descriptive passages strike just the right tone: not too spare, not too self-indulgent. When the going gets hairy -- in a pitch-dark cave in New Zealand, or in a hellish underground used-car market in Sydney -- Green creates a vivid picture of the surroundings. And while the bulk of their journey is over familiar ground, the Greens do venture into locales that have not been over-represented by travel writers: swimming with whale sharks off the Western coast, sleeping underground at Coober Pedy, or struggling to find remnants of aboriginal culture on lackluster commercial tours.
Most of us on this side of the planet will never visit the antipodean realm, and for us, visiting the place in the pages of a book is an appealing alternative to a day-long plane trip. Drive-About is not our only option for Australian literary escape, nor is it the best example of travel writing from the Outback. It is, however, an enjoyable first effort from a fledgling writer who wanted to do little more than write a book about his summer vacation.