Terry Pratchett’s novel The Last Continent is not about Australia. We know this for sure because in the foreword he says “this is not a book about Australia.” On the other hand, would you take at face value the words of a man who did irony for a living for over 30 years?
Early in The Last Continent Sir Terry treats us to an excerpt from the diary of inept wizard Rincewind, who is lost in the vast, forbidding land of Terror Incognita. Here is Rincewind’s account of six days in his wretched life:
Probably Tuesday: hot, flies. Dinner: honey ants. Attacked by honey ants. Fell into waterhole.
Wednesday, with any luck: hot, flies. Dinner: either bush raisins or kangaroo droppings. Chased by hunters, don’t know why. Fell into waterhole.
Thursday (could be): hot, flies. Dinner: blue-tongued lizard. Savaged by blue-tongued lizard. Chased by different hunters. Fell off cliff, bounced into tree, pissed on by small grey incontinent teddy bear, landed in waterhole.
Friday: hot, flies. Dinner, some kind of roots which tasted like sick. This saved time.
Saturday: hotter than yesterday, extra flies. V thirsty.
Sunday: hot. Delirious with thirst and flies. Nothing but nothing as far as the eye can see, with bushes in it. Decided to die, collapsed, fell down sand dune into waterhole.
Plainly Terry Pratchett didn’t take his inspiration from Tasmania which has way too much rain to match this description, while the small grey teddy bears – incontinent or otherwise – are notable by their absence. As for the flies, I’ll report back later.
The thing about Tassie is that it’s not much like the rest of Australia. The typical Briton’s image of Australia is in tune with Rincewind’s observations, all sand, heat, enormous distances and bugger-all in the landscape except things that will do you harm. But Tassie isn’t like that: it’s smaller, cooler and rainier that the mainland, and about 30% of it is given over to national parks or some other form of protection. It has a temperate rainforest for God’s sake and sounds like a place where I could feel at home, though it does have its fair share of things that will do you harm including the infamous dunny spider.
I’ve always thought that Australia would be hard work, and Sir Terry has done nothing to dissuade me of that view. Tasmania however sounds like my sort of place. We’re due there in 44 days: I can hardly wait.
Postscript: The late, great Terry Pratchett was one of the funniest and most gifted writers in the English language. His books came from so far out of left field that it seemed like he was playing a different game from the rest of us, a game in which it is a self-evident truth that orang-utans make the best librarians, a game in which Death rides a horse called Binky and has a soft spot for cats. He is sorely missed by those of us who believe that we all take ourselves too seriously. If you’re not familiar with the man and his unique take on reality read about him here.