The Case of the Upside-Down Union Jack
The first time the Union Jack was flown in Australia, it was flown upside down, and in order to fire a 6 gun salute to it, they had to borrow gunpowder from the French because the English forgot to bring their own. After hoisting the flag up a large gum tree and firing three volleys in salute over the nearby French tents, the English made a garbled proclamation of possession, and then realised that in their haste he had raised the flag upside down. The French found it all rather amusing.
Charles Dickens’ Miss Haversham
Eliza Emily Donnithorne, daughter of an East India Company judge and master of the Sydney Mint, who was among the cream of 19th-century Sydney’s social scene, is generally believed to be the inspiration for one of Charles Dickens’ most memorable characters, the jilted bride Miss Havisham of Great Expectations. Ms Donnithorne is buried in Camperdown Cemetery, in the Sydney suburb of Newtown.
Just Doo It!
On the way to Tasman s Arch, the Blowhole and the Devil s Kitchen, just past Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania’s south, is the holiday village of Doo Town. The homes have all been named in the Doo theme: Gunadoo, Doodle Doo, Love Me Doo, Doo Us, Doo Me, Doo Nix, Wee Doo, Xanadu, Rum Doo and, the house which reputedly started the fashion, Doo Little a suitable name for a holiday home. There is one dissenting house in the town, daringly named Medhurst.
Marriage By Kidnap
The convicts who were transported to NSW in the early colonial days were a motley lot, but few were more eccentric than Sir Henry Browne Hayes, who was transported per “Atlas” in 1802 for the crime of kidnapping. In July 1797 he had become acquainted with Miss Mary Pike, heiress to over £20;,000, and on 22 July abducted her and took her to his house. In spite of Miss Pike’s protestations, a man dressed as a priest was brought in who went through a form of a marriage ceremony. Miss Pike refused to consider it a marriage, and was eventually rescued by some of her relatives. Hayes fled, and a reward of £1000; was offered for his apprehension.
Hayes was not found until some two years later, when he walked into the shop of an old follower of the family and suggested that he might as well get the reward. The trial which did not begin until April 1801 created much interest. Hayes was found guilty and recommended to mercy. At first condemned to death his sentence was commuted to transportation for life, and, sailing on the Atlas, Hayes arrived at Sydney on 6th July 1802.
Cape Clear … Or I’ll Blow Your Head Off!
Cape Clear is small farming community in Western Victoria. It is also the only locality in the world named “Cape” that is not within sight of the sea – it is 100 km inland. Ask the locals, and they’ll tell you the name is derived from a threat made by an early Irish settler to people who tried to cross his land. More than likely it is named after an Irish coastal feature!
Happy Birthday, Alan
In 1977, Alan Jones scored a surprise victory in the Austrian Grand Prix ahead of Niki Lauda and Mario Andretti. Initially officials were going to play the Austrian anthem but then realised that Australia and Austria were not the same country. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the Australian anthem because they never expected the Australian to ever win a race. The only person among the 100,000 spectators who had a musical instrument on them was a drunken spectator, so the race officials got him to play his trumpet. The only tune he knew was “Happy Birthday to You” so that is what he played.
Nuts and Nudity
William James Chidley was born in 1860 and came to prominence due to his unconventional theories on sex, diet and clothing. Donned in a Spartan tunic, he preached living a ‘natural’ life of nudity and a diet comprising only fruit and nuts every Sunday from a soapbox in Sydney’s Domain. He suffered constant persecution by the authorities, was committed to various asylums and jailed. Ironically, he was regarded as a pervert for mentioning sex when he was something of a puritan in his teachings and lifestyle. Yet it wasn t his ideas on sex that got him repeatedly arrested, but his silk toga-like tunic which was seen by the authorities as indecent dress. He wore it because he believed that heavy clothing caused unnatural male erections that inevitably would lead to sexual indulgence, ill health and an untimely death.
Out of Luck, but not Pluck
Australian motor racing driver Jack Brabham won his first Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship in 1959. In the last race, the US Grand Prix held at Sebring, Brabham led early on, and looked likely to win both the race and the championship – only for disaster to strike in the final lap as he ran out of fuel. According to the rules of racing, he had to get the car across the line without assistance, so he did the only thing possible: he heroically got out and pushed his car 400 metres to cross the line into a wildly seething crowd of photographers and reporters and fans awaiting the arrival of the new world champion. Brabham collapsed in a heap, thoroughly exhausted.
Although the three points he earned for finishing fourth were of no need or use to him in winning the championship, it was a champion’s noble effort and entirely worthy of the biggest applause of the day. Ironically, the three points were eventually dropped from his season’s tally because he did not finish the race in the driving seat.
Queen of Bohemia
Dulcie Deamer (1890-1972) lived in Sydney’s Kings Cross during its heyday in the Roaring Twenties when it was a community for struggling artists and writers. At one point she was officially crowned the Queen of Bohemia. Perhaps her most notorious exploit was performing the splits at the 1923 Artists Ball in a leopard skin costume. She made her living from freelance writing for various Sydney newspapers and magazines. Obsessed with the elemental passions of the Stone Age, Dulcie also wrote a number of short stories set in that sensual, barbaric and heroic age, ‘when men were strong and women were even stronger’.
Village of Lower Crackpot
A whimsical model village built to 1/5th scale, the Tasmanian village of Lower Crackpot is dedicated to all those in middle life who, in this new economic age, are ‘adjusted’ out of their jobs, professions, businesses, farms, careers and thrown onto the economic scrap heap, there to start again, some way, as happened to its creator, Brian Inder at age 54.
Beware The Dropbear
The story goes that by eating a particularly toxic species of eucalypt, a highly aggressive and territorial sub-species of Koala known as the Dropbear has evolved. They drop from the branches of trees onto the shoulders of bushwalkers below, and proceed to claw and bite. Of course, Dropbears aren’t real, the story was just made up to fool Americans. Or was it? Australians have a black sense of humour and enjoying laughing at another’s misfortune. As American visitor numbers to Australia have increased, so has awareness of the Dropbear legend, making many Americans reluctant to venture into the bush.
Australia’s Great (Ghan) train Robbery
Australia’s most memorable train heist was the Great Ghan Robbery, which happened in May of 1935 on the Ghan train, in the outback of South Australia. Back in the 1930s they didn’t use armoured cars or security guards to transport money between banks. No, they just stuffed an envelope full of gold bullion, scribble ‘Bank of NSW’ on the front and took it down to the local railway station.
Such was the course of events that landed a 15kg parcel of precious gold in a mail bag aboard the Ghan in May of ’35. Much to everyone’s dignified, trusting surprise, somewhere along the remote line between Alice Springs and Quorn the parcel went a-missing. No one was ever caught, and the two staff aboard the mail train were fined 15 shillings each for ‘carelessness’!
In 1932, Francis De Groot, a retired cavalry officer, managed to get himself selected as part of the honour guard at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. When the ribbon was about to be cut, he galloped forward on his horse and slashed the ribbon with his sword, declaring the bridge open in the name of ‘the decent citizens of New South Wales’. The ribbon was then tied back together and the ceremony continued. De Groot was carried off to a mental hospital, declared insane and later fined for the replacement cost of one ribbon.
In A Class Of Its Own
The echidna is such a unique animal that it is classified in a special class of mammals known as monotremes, which it shares only with the platypus. The echidna lays eggs like a duck but suckles its young in a pouch like a kangaroo. For no apparent reason, it may decide to conserve energy by dropping its body temperature to 4 degrees and remain at that temperature from 4 to 120 days. Lab experiments have shown that the echidna is more intelligent that a cat and it has been seen using its spikes, feet and beaks to climb up crevices like a mountaineer edging up a rock chimney. As for rumours that echidnas make excellent photographers, well that’s another story.
Australia vs America
Australians have often been accused of being copycats of Americans and their culture, but the facts indicate otherwise. Australia was founded by Convicts. Its homicide rate is 1.8 per 100,000 population. The United States was founded by religious zealots. It’s homicide rate is 6.3 per 100,000. Almost 400% greater than Australia.
On average, American soldiers fired seven times as many bullets as Australian soldiers during the Vietnam war. The average world population density is 117 people per square mile, that of Macao is 69,000 and that of the United States 76. Australia’s is only 6.
How Big Is Australia?
Get the precise deatils about Australia’s size and where it fits into the bigger scheme of things.
Run, Rabbit, Run
For each person in Australia there are two sheep and over 16 rabbits, the latter introduced in 1859 by one enterprising man who brought 24 wild rabbits from England in an effort to remind him of home.
The Witch of Kings Cross
Rosaleen Norton was popularly known as the Kings Cross Witch. Rosaleen was born in 1917 and lived outside the realm of respectable society; flouting all moral and social conventions. Her published book of illustrations was declared obscene by the censors and banned in 1952. She was hounded by the media who seized on her alleged satanic rituals, sex orgies and drug-taking. When asked whether she ever considered leading an ordinary life, she exclaimed: “Oh God no, I couldn’t stand it! I’d go mad or sane. I don’t know which.”
Bust-Me-Gall and Break-Me-Neck
Australia has some quirky place names but Tasmania seems to have the pick of them. For example, there’s Bust-Me-Gall Hill & Break-Me-Neck Hill, which are situated on the road from Hobart to Orford. The assent of Bust-Me-Gall was so difficult that colonial travellers often had to dismount from their horses or wagons in order to relieve the animals of some of their burden. The descent on the other side was just as steep and equally difficult to negotiate.
Bill and “Gelignite” Jack Murray at the 1954 Redex Rally.
Pass the Gelignite, Jack!
“Gelignite” Jack Murray (1907-1983) has been described as the last true Aussie larrikin. In his early days as a rally driver, Murray used a couple of sticks of gelignite to blast away a pile of rocks that had become dislodged and rolled onto the road, blocking his path. This earned Jack his nickname. He quickly became notorious for his habit of roaring through a sleepy village during his many long endurance drives around the country, and waking up the population by throwing a stick of gelignite in their midst, or blowing up outback dunnies just for the fun of it.
Midway through one of the Redex trials of the 1950s, Murray upended his Chrysler Plymouth into a dry creek bed 50 kilometres from Cloncurry. A news team quickly arrived and asked him to comment on the state of his car and his accident. What was recorded was one continuous censored bleep, enjoyed by thousands. Sitting on the wreck, Murray put the same question to each crew that stopped and offered help: ‘Have you got a five-sixteenths Whitworth spanner?’ Asked why, he would say: ‘I thought that while she was upside down I’d adjust the brakes’.
Moomba – A Pain in The Backside?
The city of Melbourne holds a cultural festival using the Aboriginal word Moomba. It seems the festival’s initial organisers asked the local Aborigines to suggest a name, and were told that Moomba means ‘lets get together and have fun.’ The grateful organisers subsequently used the name. In hindsight, the organisers really should have been suspicious that ‘lets get together and have fun’ could be expressed in two syllables. In reality, ‘moom’ means ‘bum’ or ‘buttocks’, while the suffix ‘ba’ means ‘in’, ‘at’ or ‘on’. So moomba actually means ‘in the bum’.