The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett (1998) 416 p.

index.jpg

This isn’t a book about Australia. It’s a book about a place that just happens to be a bit… Australian. Following another mangled geo-spatial spell at the end of Interesting Times, Rincewind has found himself not in the familiar comfort of Unseen University, but instead stranded in sunburnt country – XXXX, or Fourecks, the Discworld’s equivalent of Australia. And with the Librarian unexpectedly, magically ill, the University Faculty decide the only way to bring him back is through a magical cure – but the only person who might remember his real name for spellmaking purposes is Rincewind. So they set off to retrieve him, instead finding themselves inadvertently stranded on a desert isle. Pratchett weaves the usual disparate story threads together with something less than his usual aplomb – what unfolds across the book, and the manner in which Rincewind and the Faculty are eventually reunited, is generally just via authorial handwaving. This is definitely one of the Discworld novels which puts any serious plot or commentary to one side and just has fun making a bunch of jokes; so be it.

The British relationship to Australia, at least for a man of Pratchett’s generation, was of a sunny and far-away place which they would never personally visit but would experience second-hand through pop culture and the waves of Aussie backpackers infesting London throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Australian pop culture was curiously prolific in the 1980s – Crocodile Dundee, Mad Max, Neighbours and all that – which meant that for a long time after, foreigners had a perception of the country that was somewhat dated. I was interested to see that by 1998, when The Last Continent was published, Brits like Pratchett had apparently already started to encounter Australians who (no doubt affected in the first place by our long-standing cultural cringe and nagging sense that we’re an unimportant outpost at the edge of human civilisation) were miffed at that portrayal:

The bar went quiet.
“An’ you’re gonna come here and make a lot of cracks about us all drinkin’ beer and fightin’ and talkin’ funny, right?”
Some of Rincewind’s beer said, “No worries.”
His captor pulled him so they were face to face. Rincewind had never seen such a huge nose.
“An’ I expect you don’t even know that we happen to produce some partic’ly fine wines, our Chardonnays bein’ ‘specially worthy of attention and compet’tively priced, not to mention the rich, firmly structur’d Rusted Dunny Valley of Semillons, which are a tangily refreshin’ discovery for the connesewer… yew bastard?”

…which is more or less the same joke used straight-faced twenty years later in this Tourism Australia Superbowl ad. My own personal experience on the changing relationship between our countries is deeply coloured by the year I spent living in a post-GFC Britain, in which most of the young people I met expressed bafflement as to why on earth any Australian would move to the UK. To British people – young British people, at any rate – Australia’s material standard of living and level of opportunity is higher than anything they can expect in their own country. (And this was before the Brexit vote). Who knows whether that will remain the case in the future, but it’s an interesting thing to consider how the relationship has changed over the decades.

Overall, The Last Continent is… fine. The jokes are cheap shots at Australia, like that Simpsons episode, and like that Simpsons episode I love them. I prefer the Discworld novels that have a stronger plot holding them together, but these are fine.

Rereading Discworld Index