Australian Traveller celebrates 30 years since Lonely Planet published its first Australia Guide.

30 Years Bold 

Same country, different place. As Lonely Planet releases the Epic 14th edition of its Australia Guide, here’s how our land looked when LP’s first edition hit the shelves.

By Travis Cranley 

Why Australia?”

It’s not quite the “Call me Ishmael” of guidebooks, but Tony Wheeler’s opening line in Lonely Planet’s first Australia guide, released in 1977, surely gets its basic theme across.

And the answer? “Because it can be a fun place, because it’s popular to knock it and I like it, because there’s a hell of a lot to see here and some fantastic travelling waiting for you.”

Some things don’t change, some do. That little mantra of why we all love hitting the highways, byways and flyways still holds true. But that’s about where the similarities in tone, text and travel tips between LP’s 14th edition, out now and already easing furrowed backpacker brows from Port Douglas to Dunsborough, and the company’s first edition, lovingly cobbled together 30 years ago, begin and end.

First things first: the first edition is hallowed text. You won’t find many floating around in second-hand stores (if you do, buy it instantly). But for AT, LP agreed to open the vault at their Melbourne office, permitting us a sneaky leaf through one of the few remaining copies. The original edition was suitably rough and ready. At $2.95 and 168 pages, it featured a modest, mostly white cover adorned only by a strip of photos of all-you-need Australia: Opera House; outback dirt trail; koala, surfboat; Ayers Rock (Uluru would appear as a title much later).

The first typo is found in the fourth line, Tony Wheeler is the sole author (wife Maureen took many of the pics), the little grid maps appear to have been sketched up with a ruler, and it’s all in black and white save for a couple of small ads. Brevity demands some short-shrifting – Queensland is wrapped up in 17 pages. The back page proudly lists LP’s five other publications, all about Asian travel.

Now, compare that with the 14th edition. It’s 1100 pages, sells for $47.95, features 204 maps (including coloured road maps) and is the work of 12 authors. The Queensland chapter has increased tenfold to 181 pages. And the guide, while still a stable favourite, is now one of more than 500 titles printed in 18 languages by the company.

That’s now; we’re interested in then. For 1977 sure was a different time and place. The big hair, the flares, the tied Centenary Cricket Test, ABBA on its record-breaking national tour, Paul Hogan still known as just Paul Hogan – no wonder even a wise and worldly traveller like Wheeler, still new to Australia, had trouble making sense of it all.

Take this advice on how the 1977 newcomer can most easily fit in: “If you want to pass for native, try speaking slightly nasally, shortening any word of more than two syllables and then adding a vowel to the end of it . . . and peppering your speech with as many insults as possible.”

Strewth, mate, the bloke who wrote that must be as bloody stark-ravin’ as a brickie with a blowie down his budgie smugglers.

Among the notable contrasts is how respect and recognition for Australia’s Indigenous people and culture have progressed. In 1977, the first word listed in the glossary is “Abo”. Now, the 14th edition opens with a double-page colour map of the tribal lands of Aboriginal Australia. Whereas in 1977 there’s a lament for Aussies who’ve never set foot on Ayers Rock, the new edition asks visitors to respect Aboriginal law by choosing not to climb Uluru.

It’s also cool to realise what’s not in the 1977 guide. There’s no mention of must-see/must-do places such as Byron Bay and Margaret River. In Sydney, the “amusing” Old Spaghetti Factory, since laughingly departed, gets listed as an attraction before the Opera House, Circular Quay and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

“The country,” the 1977 edition concludes, “is a ridiculous paradox.” Thirty years on, shouldn’t we all be happy we’re still laughing at ourselves?

Here’s how a few landmarks and national institutions stack up between the ages:
St Kilda, Melbourne
1977 // Melbourne’s extremely feeble excuse for a sin centre.
2007 // Sniff hard and you’ll catch the scent of cakes, pasta, beer, roadies, sex, yoga, hair product . . . and the sea.
Cable Beach, Broome
1977 //
Has technicoloured stones and sea shells.
2007 // One of Australia’s finest beaches, with azure waters and a classic, wide, white sandy beach as far as the eye can see.
Chiko Roll
1977 // A vile Australian food.
2007 // Best used as an item of self-defence rather than eaten.

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