British author and satirist Douglas Adams had a fondness for Australia, but didn’t write a famous piece about it being a “confusing country” which has been attributed to him for more than two decades.
Adams, who died in 2001, worked with Monty Python and wrote episodes of Dr Who, but is best known for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book series (beginning in 1979) and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987).
But an essay on Australia titled “The Confusing Country” has been wrongly attributed to him since at least August 2000, when Adams asked members of his own online forum if they knew who wrote it.
“A friend just emailed me a copy of an article about Australia called ‘The Confusing Country’ by – supposedly – Douglas Adams. It’s very good, I enjoyed it a lot, it sounds quite like me – even to me – and I really wished I had written it. But I didn’t. I then looked it up on Google and found it iterated all over the web, always attributed to me,” he wrote.
It is still being attributed to Adams on Facebook, such as here, here, here, here and here, as recently as May 2022. The essay also appears on the Outback Travel Australia website, Reddit and Tripadvisor, all under Adams’ name.
As Adams said, the essay sounds like him. It begins: “Australia is a very confusing place, taking up a large amount of the bottom half of the planet. It is recognisable from orbit because of many unusual features, including what at first looks like an enormous bite taken out of its southern edge; a wall of sheer cliffs which plunge into the girting sea.
“Geologists assure us that this is simply an accident of geomorphology, but they still call it the ‘Great Australian Bight’, proving that not only are they covering up a more frightening theory but they can’t spell either.”
The earliest version of the essay was posted to a Hitchhiker’s forum in 1999, under the pen name Orinoco. Following Adams’ appeal, Orinoco revealed himself in August 2000 to be “amateur” writer Jeremy Lee.
Lee explained the essay’s origins: “The ‘Original’ draft (before editing, including spelling mistakes) can be found here and the datestamp indicates I first submitted it to h2g2 on the 29th of April, 1999. I’d been fiddling with it for a few days by then, I recall, having written nearly all of it in an inspired state in one night.”
On the similarity of his writing style, Lee wrote: “Yes, I write like Douglas Adams. I’m sorry. Really, terribly sorry. It’s not a put-on. Honest! I suppose I was severely traumatized by his books as a child, and have never fully recovered.”
AAP FactCheck tracked Pinkozcat through her blog. She confirmed Adams did not write the essay and Lee was the author.
“I simply acted as a go-between when Douglas Adams asked if anyone knew who wrote the piece about Australia being a dangerous place as it was constantly attributed to him and he did not write it,” she said in an email.
“I simply put out a general call to ask if anyone know who actually wrote the piece and someone posted to me that it was Orinoco AKA Jeremy Lee and that I could find him on the BBC forum. Orinoco went to the DA forum, introduced himself to DA and wrote the explanation on the DA forum. With Orinoco’s permission I posted both the original piece and the explanation on my web page.”
The official Douglas Adams fan club ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha also confirmed Lee was the author.
“Yes, that is one of many things misattributed to Douglas Adams, and as far as we can determine, was written by H2G2 user Orinoco, real name Jeremy Lee,” membership secretary Victoria Jesswein told AAP FactCheck in an email.
Pinkozcat also said Lee had lived in Queensland but died 10 years ago. However, AAP FactCheck tracked Lee down in Brisbane, where he was shocked to hear of his passing.
“That is surprising on many levels,” he said in an email. “But I’m definitely still going.”
Lee is on Twitter as @JediJeremy. He confirmed he wrote the essay and said he had apologised to Adams for the confusion.
“If the story’s ‘that time Douglas Adams had to disavow writing an article about Australia being Very Confusing’ then I know it well,” Lee told AAP FactCheck. “I already apologized to him. He sent me a Christmas card. We good.”
The Christmas card can be seen in this tweet.
The claim Douglas Adams wrote the online essay “Australia: The Confusing Country” is false. The author declared he had not written it, and his appeal for information revealed the author was “Orinoco”, or Jeremy Lee, a fan of Adams who lives in Brisbane. Lee confirmed to AAP FactCheck he penned the essay in 1999.
False – The claim is inaccurate.