Swimming with crocodiles might not sound like a lot of fun, but Will Chaffey’s autobiography of the same title is more than that: it’s riveting from the moment you start reading – much like watching somebody else swim with the ill-tempered reptiles.
The first chapter’s aptly titled “Thirst” and it sets the mood for the young American main character’s quest for his place in this world after failing to be accepted into college back in Boston. What started as time-off quickly turns into a journey of self-discovery marked by harsh landscapes, near death experiences and a wild snake chase for the Australian Geographic society.
This insightful book has many highlights even before Will and his travelling companion Geoff, a wanderer, venture into uncharted territory in the Kimberley, commissioned for the journal. Without a radio, tents, sleeping bags or a back-up plan, they find themselves in a world inhabited only by reptiles, birds and Aboriginal rock paintings. Quick salties, suddenly rising rivers, scorching heat and people gone troppo are Will’s natural enemies and death could linger behind every rock in the Prince Regent River Area.
The writing style is quick and to the point, and the author drives the plot relentlessly. It is hard to believe this is a true story. The reader will cringe at the extreme risks Will takes and marvel at the way the outback comes to life in Chaffey’s first book. He skilfully interweaves detailed descriptive passages with excerpts from the early explorers’ accounts, historical and scientifical insights and stories of the Dreamtime. Through the observant eyes of an outsider, the red continent and all its weird and wonderful inhabitants spring to life – people and animals alike.
This ode to the outback is a wonderful adventure tale of a young man’s journey into the heart of Australia – and his own. Expect love, murder and mateship.
A quote from Horace at the beginning of the book sums it up: “Let him live under the open sky, and dangerously.”
Book review for Australian Traveller.