The Australian Blue Ensign, (see left,) was first flown on 3 September 1901, above the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne, Victoria. In 1953 the Flags Act was passed, formally establishing the Australian National Flag. Between 1901 and 1953 a lot of political and bureaucratic stuff happened, briefly the following: From 1901 the Blue Ensign was flown at Commonwealth establishments, and the Merchant Flag (the same, only with a red field instead of blue) everywhere else. This went on happily until 1941, when Prime Minister Robert Menzies encouraged the flying of the Blue Ensign everywhere on land, and the Commonwealth Red Ensign on merchant vessels. Menzies went off the idea of a red flag, even though he considered red the colour of Empire, because that was the colour communists liked. (And if you want to argue with that, check his autobiography.) This is why what was once known as the Blue Ensign is now called the Australian National Flag, which is blue.
Much fur flies when it comes to discussing the changing or retaining of the Australian National Flag, particularly among people for whom the preceding stuff in this section comes as news. A familiar cry heard is "what flag did our servicemen fight and die for in two world wars?". And the answer is: the Union Jack.
The Union Jack occupies 25% of the Australian flag, with the rest being taken up by the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross. The big star has seven points, each state being represented by one point, and the Australian territories by just one.
The New Zealand flag is similar, only has no Commonwealth Star, leaves out Beta Crusis, and has the remaining four stars red with white borders. Other countries sometimes confuse the two, which can cause (and has) embarrassment on official occasions.
How to pronounce "castle": To say "Newcastle" (the place near Sydney) just say "new car sell" (only faster, with emphasis on the "car") and you pretty much have it. To say "Castlemaine" (of Wild Colonial Boy fame) just say "Kass El Mane" (only faster) and you pretty much have that too. If you are in either of those two places, that is how you had better pronounce it. Now you know how "castle" is pronounced in Australia.
New Zealand (NOT a part of Australia, either geographically or politically) lies to the east of Australia, and the way English is spoken there is almost identical to here. Differences are hard to spot even when listened for by us. Most notably, however, New Zealanders tend to pronounce "sacks" like "sex", and "six" as "sucks". (Australian comedians impersonating New Zealanders are guaranteed to drag in the number "66" somewhere.)
Anybody can put on an English accent. In a Japanese language class we
amazed our teacher when - for some reason I forget - we all started talking
like upper-crust British. "Australians can talk properly!" she exclaimed
in amazement, being able to understand every single word clearly
for the first time in this country. We pointed out that this was true,
but that a bloke would feel like a bit of a nong talking that way all the
time. (The scene reminded me of the "Clams got legs!" joke in the B.C.
* Epsilon Crusis
* Beta Crusis (Black and starless - to the eye - area of sky)
The above is a rough ASCII representation of the Southern Cross, designed under Netscape on an 800 by 600 display.
* Alpha Centauri (4.3 light years distant)
(Next door neighbour, and most likely nearest star
to have planets.)
Recently, on a film set, I came across a couple of 1950s-at-least telephones, with the dials displaying red figure "1"s and having differently-arranged letters – with "Q" being left off altogether, and the zero having "Z" and no other letter. I think the reason the "word numbers" were put to pasture the first time around was telephone popularity, which forced the constant adding of digits to existing numbers, quickly making nonsense of any words in use.
I am old enough to remember some telephones having no dial at all. All calls with these were operator-connected. I have seen none of these at all since the mid 1950s.
A joke heard on an American sit-com once was "What's the number for 911?" In Australia the number for 911 is 000. Triple zero immediately puts you in touch with an operator who can connect you to police, ambulance, or fire brigade. The reason for this as the emergency number is the same as the British 999. It can be easily dialled by touch in total darkness, when there is too much smoke to see, or when the dialer is blinded. I do not know how well this works with digital telephones. Without looking, where is the "0" button located on the dialling pad?
The majority of calls to 000 are invalid. Apart from the outright hoaxes there are
the non-emergencies (EG: "I want an electrician"), and people who just hang up.
These days soft drink dispensers are hooked in to phone lines, to automatically
advise base when they are running low. Consequently, by far the most frequent
000 calls are from malfunctioning Coca Cola machines.
Every country in the world can claim its own unique food item. Then there's us. Well, I suppose we can lay claim to damper. Damper is made from flour, baking powder, water and salt – cooks well in a camp oven – served with golden syrup.
There was an advertising jingle a while back that went "Kangaroos, meat pies and Holden cars!" It was put out by the always American-owned Holden company, trying to appeal to the Australian sense of nationality. (Kangaroo meat, along with emu, has only relatively recently been marketed for human consumption. Some people object to our national symbols being eaten, although never had any problems in all the years kangaroo meat was used in pet food.) Try eating a Holden and tell me how you get on. Meat pies, now....
During my first trip to England, I bought a meat pie at a pie stand, and was surprised to find that it remained solid after I bit into it. Inside the crust, Australian pies are mostly gravy. My earliest memory of a pie is of one my father reheated in the kitchen stove, and whose contents started to ooze through the pastry and down my fingers as I picked it up, even before I could take a bite. I think the pie companies have discovered cornstarch since then, but today even people in pie commercials, while going into raptures about "the great Australian taste", hold the pie vertically as they eat, so nothing yucky drips out. By Australian law only 25% of a pie has to be meat, from any source – sheep, cow, camel ... just so long as it is not anything from the wild – be it offal, offcuts, or gristle. Occasionally a consumer affairs group will go on a pie-analysis binge, and discover a number of companies which do not feel too bound by that 25% limit either. All sad, but also true.
You may have heard of something called a "pie floater". This is a meat pie served in a bowl of pea soup. It might sound mildly disgusting, but everyone I know of who has tried it raves about it. For a long time the floater was found only in South Australia, only in Adelaide, and only from one particular pie stand. It was still nationally famous. The original version of this article was put up a number of years ago, and I now hear the floater, and variations thereof, is available in many more places around the country, though I have yet to come across any of them.
Before 1966, we used the system of pounds, shillings and pence (abbreviated L.s.d.), with 12 pence to the shilling, and twenty shillings to the pound. Five pounds ten and sixpence halfpenny was written £5/10/6½. Oh yes, there were also halfpennies, just to make my life more miserable. The farthing (worth half a halfpenny) had vanished before I was born. ("Halfpenny" was pronounced "haip-knee" for some reason...probably the same reason "threepence" was pronounced "thrippence." And two pennies made up "tuppence".)
And then there were guineas. (One guinea equals one pound one shilling. Five guineas equals five pounds five shillings, nineteen guineas equals nineteen pounds nineteen shillings, and so on. Work out 5,575 guineas 17 shillings and tuppence, divided by 271 guineas 5 shillings and fourpence halfpenny. Do not use a calculator. Abacuses are out too. Do not bother to ask me or tell me the answer, I am just glad to have left this sort of thing far behind.)
The decimal system kicked in on 14 February 1966, boosted by a cartoon character called Dollar Bill. Calling a note of currency a bill (as the Americans do) never took off in this country, however. A five dollar note is a five dollar note. One dollar (these days) is a one dollar coin.
The long standing custom of putting small coins in Christmas puddings quickly died after 1966, when the new coins caused the surrounding pudding to turn green.
When it was announced we were going decimal, the basic unit of the new currency was to be called a "royal", made up of 100 cents. There was such a strong reaction against the proposed name, however, that it was hurriedly ditched. The USA gave us the dollar rights around the same time we went into Vietnam. Some people at the time saw a connection.
The decimalisation of the currency went over so well that our weights and
measures system went metric in 1974. Meantime, the USA, which decimalised
its currency 200 years before we did, still clings on grimly to the imperial
In December 1803 a convict and former military man, William Buckley, escaped into the bush, and was proclaimed to have "perished miserably in the woods." Thirty two years later, in 1835, at a small encampment recently set up by John Batman, William Buckley walked in out of the bush. As he recovered the use of the English language, Buckley revealed he had been adopted by an Aboriginal tribe who thought he was a dead man named Murrangurk returned to life, had witnessed tribal wars, had seen the bunyip, and that there was imminent danger of an Aboriginal attack on the camp. Acclaimed as the "wild white man", he was eventually given a pardon, returned to society, married, and moved to Hobart. (Note that many early Aboriginals really did believe white men were dead Aborigines come back to life, that Buckley's adoption by a tribe checks out, and that massacres of blacks by whites and vice versa really did happen back then.) The chances of anyone coming through what he did were regarded as being very slim. To achieve the near-impossible required one to have "Buckley's chance." One department store later, and the Buckley name is firmly part of the English language, (well, the Australian part of the English language) surviving both man and store.
(Note added Christmas 1999: Just off the train in Sydney, on a stopover while coming back to Melbourne from Brisbane, I had the wits startled out of me by a tram. Apparently their monorail is not enough. I have no idea how far the Sydney tram service extends or will extend. Bondi?)
Trams travel on rails recessed into the road, and draw power from overhead
power lines. In the past, visitors have left the country still wondering
what made that occasional "whing-ding-ding-ding" sound (compressors recharging
the compressed-air brakes) and that really weird smell that sometimes came
when the tram stopped or slowed down (the odour of friction-heated sand
after being dropped onto the rails for wheel-traction during braking).
The Australian head of state is the Governor General, whose duties are mostly ceremonial. (It was a big shock for a lot of people when one day he exercised his theoretical powers by sacking the elected government, installing the opposition in its place, and calling a public election.) He is appointed to the position by the Prime Minister, (although I believe the actual rhetoric goes along the lines of his being appointed by the Queen under the recommendation of the Commonwealth Government.) The head of government is the Prime Minister, with his Cabinet. There are two Houses of Parliament, these being the House of Representatives and the Senate. Before becoming law, bills pass through the lower house, and then are presented before Senate.
Each state has its own government, consisting of a Legislative Assembly and a Senate. The leader of the state is called a Premier.
Each shire or municipality has a council or local government led by a Mayor or President, each with his or her own council.
Australia is the only English-speaking country on the planet where voting is compulsory.
Frank Ford - the Prime Minister of Australia who lasted eight days. Something of a record.
Australia uses the preferential voting system. Voters put numbers on the ballot slip, 1 next to the candidate preferred, 2 next to next preference, and so on down to the person least desired. When the ballots are counted, if no candidate gets more than half the first preferences, the candidate with the fewest preferences is eliminated. The second preferences from the loser's voting cards are then counted and included. This goes on until one candidate has an absolute majority.
Australians do not vote for the Prime Minister directly. Australians just vote the members of political parties into office, and the majority party votes in the Prime Minister as leader. (The post of Governor General is not voted for at all, but appointed.) In 1999 there was a referendum which could have turned Australia into a republic, replacing the Governor General with an elected President. Few argue that it was who was to do the electing which lost the push for change. Had the ballot paper been along the lines of "Do you want Australia to be a republic, and if so which of the following models do you prefer...?" things might have turned out differently. However the wording on the ballot paper was chosen by the openly monarchist Prime Minister, and Australia was asked to choose between the present system or one where a President was elected by the houses of parliament, take it or leave it. The three loudest arguments in the "No" case were "Don't let the president be voted in by politicians, as they are a bunch of crooks and can't be trusted", "If you don't understand the ballot, vote no to be on the safe side", and the more popular "If you personally want to vote for the President, don't vote for this model". Oddly enough, nobody has ever objected to the Prime Minister not being directly elected by the public.
The Australian koala is not a bear. Why so many people overseas
call koalas "koala bears" goes back to some sort of confusion created by
toy manufacturers and Teddy Bears.
The koala has the world record of smallest brain mass in relation to body weight of any animal on the face of the Earth.
The word "koala" means "Does not drink". They get all their moisture from the food they eat. That's what it says in all the text books. The only trouble is, I have seen one of the things take a drink.
The dingo is not a native dog. It arrived along with the first humans to reach Australia. Experts quibble over whether it arrived with the very first wave of immigration, or a little bit later. Either way, it has been around for tens of thousands of years. (Trivia: "Dingo" originally meant tame dog. "Warrigal" was the term for a wild dog.) The dingo differs from most other dogs on the planet in its breeding frequency and the fact that it does not bark.
The kookaburra is a bird unique to Australia, which can be heard on the soundtrack of almost every Tarzan movie ever made. (From what I gather the director of an early jungle movie knew it was an Australian bird, but liked the sound it made and used it anyway. Ever since, the same bit of sound-track has been used in innumerable movies where the African jungle is depicted, jarring Australian audiences every time.) Kookaburras have a reputation for killing snakes, although I do not know anyone who has seen one do this. (I do, however, have a first-hand account of one buzzing a barbecue and stealing a sausage.)
Kangaroos have been known to drown dogs. They will flee like hell from any threat - mothers will even dump joeys out of their pouches in a panic to escape - but when they reach a sufficiently deep body of water like a stream, they have been known to stop dead and tread on dogs with their big feet, until the dog drowns.
In the process of filling an ecological niche, in one part of Australia there is a species of kangaroo that has taken to climbing trees. It is not really built for the role, and the chief cause of death for these creatures is falling out of trees. Check back in another few million years, when they should be starting to get the hang of it.
There has long been a story going around of the tourist driving in the outback (or through the bush, whichever version you encounter) who ran over a kangaroo. Assuming the beast was dead, the tourist decided to take a novelty photograph by first dressing the roo in his coat, and propping it up against his car. The kangaroo woke up, and bounded off with the man's coat, travellers cheques, passport, and a vast amount of cash. There has since been a movie where this basic situation happens. The incident sounds like the stuff of urban legend, but the 19 October 1986 Times identifies the tourist as Emilio Tarra, a crewmember of the 1986 America's Cup race in Perth, driving towards Adelaide.
The word "kangaroo", literally translated, means "I do not understand what you are saying." (As in, "Hey, what's that animal called?" "Kangaroo!")
I have heard doubt expressed that the above story is true.
At the time the First Fleet landed, there were something like 3,000 tribes.
Consequently the number of languages in use was around 3,000. Since then a number
of tribes and languages have ceased to exist. Today, it is rather hard to find
which native language "kangaroo" comes from, let alone what it means. (And while we
are at it, the universal Aboriginal means of indicating direction back then was
by jutting out the lower lip. A pointing finger meant nothing. Consequently a number
of places today have Aboriginal names that translate into "finger" or "hand".)
These days there seems to be some confusion over whether to call native Australians "Aborigines" or "Aboriginals", and those who are not confused are not necessarily using the same word as other non-confused people. I have even received email from readers of this page, asking for the correct term.
My Style Manual for Authors Editors and Printers of Australian Government Publications, Second Edition is quite specific. It should be "Aboriginal" (singular noun), "Aboriginals" (plural noun), and "Aboriginal" (adjective). "Aborigine" as an alternative to "Aboriginal" is "not acceptable", but "Aborigines" as an alternative to "Aboriginals", is.
According to my Reader's Digest Great Encyclopaedic Dictionary:
ãbori'ginal adj Indigenous, existing or present at dawn of history or before arrival of colonists or invaders. ~ n Abori'ginal inhabitant. ãboriginês (-z) n.pl. Aboriginal inhabitants, plants, etc. (also found in sing. ãbori'gine).
From memory, my high school dictionary (purchased second-hand and which did not have an entry for "computer") also defined "aborigine" as "primitive". Although not adjusted for political and general correctness, the dictionary was probably not all that ancient. It was as late as 1967 when, following a referendum, Aborigines were granted full Australian citizenship, with such rights as being allowed to vote and drink alcohol.
The expression of shared identity of the native people of Australia is "Koorie".
The word "Australia" comes from the Latin "australis", meaning "southern".
Water goes down the American plug hole clockwise (this from a number
of personal 1989 USA observations).
Water goes down the Australian plug hole ... clockwise (this from watching my bathroom sink emptying, just now.)
The Grand Prix was held in Albert Park in 1953, 1956, 1996... (1996 was the 23rd in Victoria).
In Australia businesses do not have to accept silver coins over $5.00 worth, or $1 coins over $10.00. (And before copper coins went out, there was a 20 cent ceiling on them too.)
Postcards were first issued in Australia on 1 October 1875, at Sydney GPO.
Australia's first charitable organisation was the New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence in These Territories and Neighbouring Islands. (Founded 1813)
The didgeridoo is a hollowed out wooden musical wind instrument. Native Australians produce them from a 150 cm long 5 to 10 cm diameter branch by burying it in a termite area. After the termites eat out the inner core the instrument is shaped and decorated. Due to the method of playing (pressing the lips into the mouth of the instrument and using the lips as a double reed) it is technically a member of the brass family, namely a wooden trumpet.
Vegemite is a yeast product, black, and is usually spread on buttered toast at breakfast. It is also a by-product from the making of beer. Although conceived as far back as 1922, for some reason it never seems to have caught on with non-Australians. (American s.f. writer David Gerrold, trying it for the first time, looked at us and asked "Mothers feed this to their children?") It contains a lot of salt, and keeps for a long time. (Nonetheless, someone I know succeeded in growing mould in a jar of the stuff that was so old its price tag was marked both in shillings and in cents, putting its date of manufacture in 1966.) While maybe not breaking sales records out of the country, it does seem to be developing an international reputation. (I last noticed it getting plugged on the U.S. t.v. show Sliders, which seemed to think it was some kind of aphrodisiac). All this said, vegemite is not the only breakfast spread in this country. Other brands have names like "Marmite" and "Promite".
There are lots of old science fiction stories where the first rocket to the moon is launched from Woomera Rocket Range, but astonishingly few people seem to know things really were sent into space from there.
Australia's first satellite was called WRESAT (Weapons Research Establishment Satellite). It was launched from Woomera on 29 November 1967 on a U.S. Redstone rocket, and was placed in a near-polar orbit. It re-entered over the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland at 11:34 GMT on 10 January 1968, after 642 orbits.