When I was 12 years old, a strange and wonderful pop song was a huge hit in my little corner of New England. It was called "Land Down Under," and it was by an Australian band called Men at Work. The song included snarling rock 'n' roll guitars, but the lilting melody was carried by a flute, of all instruments, and the tune was backed by eccentric percussion that sounded like a frustrated traveler beating a wrench on the radiator of a car that had broken down on some lonely outback road.
The lyrics told the simple story of a world traveler homesick for Australia, and seemed to be in English, but were punctuated by words I’d never heard before. What was vegemite, and why did the singer miss it so? I needed to know.
Years later, I met some Australians in China who told me that at home the song was considered “daggy,” or, "embarrassingly ridiculous." They also let me taste vegemite and I hated it. But it didn't matter. I knew already that someday I would have to discover this upside-down land where everything from condiments to rock music and the English language itself was familiar and exotic at the same time.
In May of 2009, Pipi and I finally visited Australia. In three weeks we covered five states and 4,162 miles by train. We got to know extended family, all relatives of Pipi’s new Australian sister-in-law. We discovered lots of eccentric music, learned many new words, and ate a number of really good things. (I still don’t like vegemite, though.)
This is the story of our Aussie Odyssey, from the streets of Sydney to the nearly uninhabited Nullarbor plain.