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The Sydney Morning Herald

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Author: Edited by Bruce Elder
Date: 26/01/1998
Words: 1533
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News And Features
Page: 24




Australia the strange country we live in

Australia Day! Australia Day! A day to celebrate the arrival of the First Fleet? A day to weep over the darkness and ugliness in the souls of so many of our forebears? A day to marvel at the courage of those quixotic crazies who opened up the country to

settlement? A day to laugh at the icons and the follies? It is, of course, a day for all of these things. Nationhood only exists when we can see the good and the bad; the

courageous and ignominious; the serious and the humorous. In our complexity and

diversity lies our uniqueness. here's a tapestry of events, people, places and moments which have helped, for better or for worse, to make Australia what it is today.

A is for Arnott's Biscuits. The sao, the Nice, the iced vovo, the orange cream and, most importantly, the Arnott's biscuit tin which became a national symbol. The home of funnelwebs, the ideal repository for bits and pieces in the toolshed, a bread box. It was never discarded. There were no limits to its use. Flynn of the Inland had the humorous habit of

presenting an Arnott's tin of biscuits to his Cloncurry padre, Fred McKay, for his birthday so he could use it as a seat while operating his pedal wireless in the bush.

U is for Uluru. The Greatest Stone on Earth. In the language of the local Aborigines "Uluru" is simply a place name which is applied to both the rock and the

waterhole on top of the rock. The first European to see the rock was William Gosse, who sighted it on July 19, 1873. The first graded road was built in 1948. The average tourist stays at Uluru for 1.6 days. So much time to ponder the observation of the poet Rex Ingamells that "It remains for individual discovery so long as the human mind retains its

capacity for wonder."

S is for Sorry Day. Just to show that we are not all unreconstituted racists and bigots, a group of reasonable people (Hazel Hawke, Ruth Cracknell, Matt Day, John Bell, Diamond Jim McClelland et al) will launch a series of national Sorry Books "which will allow

people to express their

feelings about reconciliation". The first signing will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Circular Quay.

T is for Taylors Arm. If you want to become an important footnote in Australian history you could breast the bar at the Taylors Arm Hotel and ask mine host Tony Brown, "How much would I have to drink to return this hostelry to its previous moment of infamy?" He'll look at you with disbelief and reply, "Well, at the moment we're carrying about 620 litres in 13 kegs." At that point all you'd have to do is place an open cheque on the counter, leap across the bar, lie on the floor under the taps and open your mouth. The pub was the subject of The Pub with No Beer and, back in the 1940s, this old and isolated timber workers' watering hole had regulars including such

infamous drinkers as Billy the Blacksmith. What other

country would have scored an international hit about a

beerless pub?

R is for both Harry Redford and the Roma Court House - the best

example of our national

disdain for law and order and our love of the larrikin. In 1870 Redford was in Central Western Queensland working on the vast Bowen Downs

station, which was running a herd of about 70,000 cattle. Redford felt that the station owners wouldn't even miss a thousand. So he devised a plan to drove the cattle 1,300 km down the Cooper Creek to the Blanche Water station in northern South Australia where he sold them for

#5,000. However, the loss was noted and Redford was

arrested and brought to Roma to be tried. Locals, captivated by his bushcraft, packed the courtroom. Forty-one of the 48 possible jurors were

dismissed because they were prejudiced. The evidence against Redford was

overwhelming. The defence offered no witnesses. The jury retired for an hour and then delivered their verdict.

Judge: What is your verdict?

Foreman: We find the prisoner not guilty.

Judge: What?

Foreman: Not guilty

Judge: I thank God,

gentlemen, that the verdict is yours, not mine!

On April 5, 1873 the governor of Queensland ordered that the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court at Roma be withdrawn for two years.

A is for Aborigines and Apology. If you think they don't need an

apology then just think of Truganini, the woman

incorrectly described as "the last of the Tasmanian Aborigines". By the time she was 17 she'd been raped (and probably contracted syphilis), her mother had been stabbed to death, her uncle had been shot, her stepmother had been kidnapped by mutinous

convicts who tried to take her to China, her sisters had been enslaved and sold to sealers on Kangaroo Island, and her betrothed had been murdered.

L is for Lizard Race. At Eulo in Western Queensland there is the famous Paroo Track which is where the world lizard

racing championships are held each August. At the left-hand

side of the track is a piece of granite with a plaque which reads: "Cunnamulla-Eulo Festival of Opals. Destructo champion racing cockroach accidentally killed at this track (24.8.1980) after winning the challange (sic) stakes against Wooden Head champion

racing lizard 1980. Unveiled 23.8.81."

I is for Incinerators in Ipswich and Willoughby. What kind of country has its national capital designed by an architect who goes on to build himself a reputation as a master incinerator builder? In Ipswich Sir Walter Burley Griffin's Incinerator in Queens Park has been turned into a theatre. In Sydney his incinerator piece de resistance still stands near Willoughby Road.

A is for Alexander Pearce. Don't tell One Nation but the only person ever convicted of cannibalism in Australia was the very white, very English, Alexander Pearce who, over the years, seemed to have a lot of bones to pick with his fellow

convicts. In 1822, Pearce and seven other convicts escaped from Macquarie Harbour and tried to walk to Hobart Town. They lost their way and all of the escapees mysteriously

disappeared except for Pearce. When he was recaptured he was accused of having munched on his colleagues but nothing could be proved. The following year Pearce escaped again, accompanied by another convict, Thomas Cox. The hungry Pearce killed and ate Cox. When he was recaptured Pearce admitted to eating Cox and confessed to cannibalism during his first escape. He was executed.

D is for Dog Cemetery. Corrigin in Western Australia is a sleepy wheatbelt town notable only for its grain silos and pub. About three kilometres out of town is a dog cemetery where loving owners have gone to the expense of having

elaborate headstones placed over the remains of their dogs. Thus very human-looking gravestones are dedicated to "Dusty", "Rover" and "Spot". There's not a pedigree in sight. Pure mutt heaven.

A is for Arltunga - a ghost town which stands as a

monument to gold fever. Miners found gold which they worked for a few years in the early 1890s. The life of the town was so brief that by 1911 it had a

population of 56, which had dropped to 25 by 1933. As you drive around town think about this: "To reach Arltunga in the 1880s you would need to walk or ride alongside the Overland Telegraph Line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs, then follow the MacDonnell Ranges east for around 120 km. This would take at least a week and often longer in

temperatures which often exceeded 40 degrees C. The shortage of water meant that fresh vegetables could not be grown."

Y is for Yowie. Other

countries have their big foots and yetis. We have a hilarious and very well endowed creature called a Yowie which is immortalised at Kilcoy in Queensland by a

statue which, due to local

censorship, regularly loses its male endowment. The statue is the result of a "sighting" which occurred in 1979 when "two Brisbane schoolboys claim the monster stood just 20 metres from them while they were on a pig shooting expedition ...They described the beast as being about three metres tall with a 'kangaroo appearance' and

covered in chocolate coloured hair. They said it took giant "thumping" strides which could be heard for hundreds of metres. "Following this incident the Shire Council

commissioned a Birchwood statue to be carved and the artist's interpretation of the boy's description now stands tall in all his naked masculinity in Yowie Park beside the D'Aguilar Highway."

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