Keep Australia on Your Left

Stiller, Eric
Year Published: 

"It sounds like a pilot for a new Fox network live broadcast: a self-searching Manhattan kayak salesman teams up with a rowdy Australian male model to circumnavigate Australia by kayak. Thankfully, though, chest beating and contrived conflict are absent in Eric Stiller's true account of his attempt to kayak the 10,000 miles around Australia with Aussie Tony Brown. What we get instead is a look at the tedium, death-defying stamina, and hilarious blunderings of two men with little experience to prepare them for their chosen expedition. ""The Australian coastline is a nightmare of tightly coiled inlets and rocky coves and sheer rock cliff faces and bays as huge and forbidding as Saharan deserts,"" Stiller muses while he kicks off his training with Brown by paddling around Manhattan. Raised in a family that sells Klepper kayaks, the German-made folding expedition kayaks known for their resilience in violent conditions, Stiller is an expert on the technical details of the equipment. He is not, he admits, accustomed to spending more than three months in a 17-foot-long kayak with anyone, much less Brown, a natural athlete filled with joie de vivre whose navigational strategy is simply, ""Just keep Australia on your left, mate.""

The curious pair encounters an impressive variety of harrowing sea conditions. The first month is a daily battle against capsizing during beach landings amid Australia's legendary skyscraper-high waves. Marathon paddling sessions through maddening back-eddies rip open their hands and scrape their torsos. The inhospitable Tasman Sea is rife with deadly creatures, including crocodiles, sharks, and sea wasps, a toxic jellyfish with tentacles several meters long. At one point the two must cross the Gulf of Carpenteria, the most arduous leg of the trip, requiring seven days on the water with no land in sight. For all their travails, however, there is relief in the form of friendly hosts (nearly everyone they meet is happy to have a smelly kayak team at the dinner table), striking scenery, wild nights in isolated cities, and the personal reckoning that comes with an effort of this magnitude."