* IT'S AUSTRALIA DAY
* TALL SHIPS ON THE HARBOUR
* AUSTRALIAN OPEN TENNIS CONTINUES
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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."