Jean Shepherd, preceding this wide-ranging trip, mentions various countries he will visit before describing his arrival in the northern Australian city of Darwin. He talks about visiting Australia on at least two different occasions, beginning each with a prologue, describing what he anticipates doing. I include both prologues here because they each add something to our pleasure in his excited anticipation.
In addition to his descriptions of the trips themselves, Shepherd, a few times, diverges to a related topic regarding the nature of Australians and humans in general. The diversions are typical of Shepherd’s habit of diverging from whatever his main topic–they add to the surprise and entertainment factor of his broadcasts. I offset these paragraphs a bit to distinguish these from the basic descriptions of locations.
Shepherd will display his usual descriptive strategies—acute observation with its attention to detail that makes it come alive. He love the varied sounds in different parts of the world. Among other things, he uses tone and pacing of voice, and exuberant enthusiasm, and he uses his voice to capture the exact sounds he hears, represented here as best one can in type. He is a master, a vocal magician!
He delights in describing the ordinary occurrence that most would not think of, but which everyone recognizes once Shepherd goes about his right-on descriptions. His perceptions described are entertainments unto themselves. He delights in describing the experience of being in a plane about to land, and one receives the thrill of recognition—yes! that’s exactly the way it is!
As he does from time to time in his travel stories, Shepherd takes the opportunity to complain about the then-current anti-American sentiments he finds in the turbulent, confrontational 1960s, not only around the world, but in America itself—he finds the good and the bad almost everywhere in the world. Not a super-patriot, but a lover of his own country, he dislikes unfair simplifications.
Jean Shepherd loves Australia. He gives us a startling description of living with sharks, comments on Australian prudery, and gives a somewhat different take on his experience at a party in an extraordinary house on a Sydney hillside. As always, he describes his very personal observations and comments regarding contrasts between cultures.
Despite his love of Australia, Shepherd does not deny himself the pleasure of disparaging some aspects of it. Australians discovering his attitudes must be torn between pride and wrath.
Pay special attention in one episode to his description of Australian women at the beach. He is overwhelmed. In over a thousand Shepherd programs heard so far, this is a rare time that he has been encountered incoherent.
Let’s begin with one of his introductions:
We are going to go—I’m using, of course, the “editorial we,” meaning me—me and my flight bag. I am going to leave this Sunday via a plane, and I’m going to arrive at Frankfurt a couple of hours later. You know the marvels of the jet age.
And then, from Frankfurt I will take off in another aircraft on my way to Athens. Mysterious, romantic, ancient, decadent, smelly Athens. I’ll be in Athens for a while, I’ll futs around, and walk around, blow my nose and yell, and then I’ll get back in a plane, and a few hours later, guess where I will be. I will be in Cairo for a moment, and then the plane takes off once again, on its way to mysterious Bangkok. I’ll find out if what they say about Bangkok is true, and I’ll report to you if what they always say is true. Then I will leave Bangkok and I go to Singapore. Sinister, mysterious Singapore, that plays such a strong role in the great dramas of the sea written by Joseph Conrad. The mysterious, decadent waterfront, where the British cannons all pointed in the wrong direction when the Japs snuck up from behind. What a fiasco. It was one of the great fiascoes in history. And then I’ll fool around in Singapore and then I will leave Singapore and the next moment I will be in the ancient land of India. I will be in Karachi, New Delhi, and then, finally, after dining sumptuously on sacred cow, I will land at Darwin! Darwin, named after Charles Darwin.
This is where Darwin sailed around and—what was the name of his boat? No, it was not the Pequod. And it was not the Bounty. No, it was not the U. S. S. United States. Yes, that’s right, The Pinwheel—you’re right, yeah, I remember that it was The Pinwheel. The H. M. S. Pinwheel. Yeah, what the name of the captain? Somebody named Horatio Hornblower. The famous cruise of the—what’s the name of it? Well, anyway, I’ll be in Darwin, which I understand was bombed during the war, wasn’t it? Japanese laid a couple of eggs right on there.
And then I will get back in a plane and I will be on my way to Sydney, and then I will go all over Australia. I’m going to go Outback—I’ve made arrangements. For those of you who love to travel—to me, traveling is the ne plus ultra of life. It is it. The roses come to my cheeks.
And then I made arrangements to get my hands on a private plane in Sydney, and I’m going to fly all over Australia as much as I can in the time I’ll be there, which should be about ten days, and I’m going to go Outback and I’m going to fly all the way back into the wilderness. Back there where they tell me the kangaroos are so thick that they have to buzz the ground about five times with their airplanes to clear them out before they can even land.
And I’m going to go back into the sheep country, I’m going to go out on the Great Barrier Reef, I’m going to fish for sharks. They have the greatest—I understand, some of the greatest deep-sea fishing in the world off that barrier reef there. I’m going to make the whole scene there.
I’m going to find out what they say—you’ve heard what they say about Australia. I’m going to find out if what they say about Australia is true. And I’m gonna report it to ya. A lot of things they say. Well, for one thing, they say that the water—when you’re letting the water out after you’ve washed your hair—the dirty water in the sink—that it revolves a different way than it does here. I’m gonna watch that. I’m gonna make very sure that that’s true.
I’m taking with me my Uher tape recorder.
A Uher portable recorder model (from end of the 1960s)
I have a beautiful little tape recorder and I’m going to record sounds—not interviews. I’m not going to walk around and say, “How do you like being a native of Bangkok, friend?” Nothing like that. I’m just going to record sounds, because to me, one of the most fascinating parts of going to other countries, one of the most interesting things, is the way different countries sound. They really do sound differently from each other. The sound of America is very different, for example, from the sound of Holland. How do you think Holland sounds? Just walking around the streets at two o’clock in the morning, opening your window and listening? Doesn’t sound like America.
When I was doing the Beatles piece in Playboy a few months ago, I was particularly fascinated by the sounds of Scotland at two o’clock in the morning. Forever and ever and ever the sound of Scotland will be the sound of old steam locomotives coming through the hills with that peculiar English/Scottish whistle—Weeeeeeeeeuu. You know that crazy whistle they’ve got—Weeeeeeeeeuu! You hear Chuchochuchuchuchuchuchu woooooooo! Chuchuchuchuchu. And there’s a kind of wonderful dark blue, golden quality to the sound of boats. You can hear ships. One night in Dundee, for example, I could hear the sound of buoys and they have a special kind of buoy that doesn’t sound like the ones in Maine. Buoys, the sound of water, the sound of the harbor in Dundee, that sort of fits in and makes all the sounds distinctive and real there in Dundee.
I’m going to record how it sounds in Bangkok. Have you ever wondered how it sounds at two o’clock in the morning in Bangkok? What do you hear? Well, you know, that’s an awfully hot country and I’ll guarantee you’ll hear a lot. And I’m going to put the old microphone out the window and turn the gain up and just record the sounds of a Bangkok night. And I’m not just talking about street sounds or night spots or night clubs—just the way it sounds. Ordinary sound. I’ll record sounds in Germany, I’ll record sounds in Athens, I’m going to record sounds in Singapore. And you can hear how all these different places sound. And I intend to have them on the air as soon as I get back. I’m really beginning to get excited.
Shepherd introduces his beginning to talk about Australia by commenting again about sound as a fascinating part of his world, and repeats his general enthusiasm for–and the importance of–travel as an important human activity.
I have just returned from a trip half-way around the globe. One week ago tonight I was lying in a seamy sack, feted temperatures of one-hundred-and-five degrees, humidity one-hundred-seventeen percent, in the heart of Bangkok and I could hear off in the distance, the wind is tinkling the temple bells ever so gently, and the sound of those great fans moving through the air above me, plowing their way through an endless wall of mosquitoes. And I lay there thinking what a great thing it is to travel. How beautiful travel is—and wishing I’d brought some Ex-Lax.
Australia is a Very Exciting Country
End of Part 1
Stay tuned for Australian Sharks,
Sydney, Martinis, and ANZAC DAY