This is the first post in our Mindblowing Aussie Facts series. All facts below are thoroughly researched, and 100% true.
History isn’t as boring as history teachers try to make it seem, and to prove it, we at the Sauce have spent our Australia Day weekend hunting down the ten of the most mind-blowing bits of Aussie history that nobody ever bothered to teach you in school!
10. The Australian Coat of Arms Was Created to Celebrate Kicking Napoleon’s Butt
In the early 1800’s some English geezer named Lord Nelson kicked butt in Cape Trafalgar, castrating Napoleon’s navy, meaning that for the first time in history Britain ruled the seas. Only a year later this news reached their new colony in Sydney, and to celebrate one of the settlers made a flag, because they didn’t have Playstations back then so that was what they did for fun. Not only was this the first flag ever created in Australia (try to control yourselves), but it also was the first time someone had made a picture of Kangaroo and an Emu holding a shield, which pretty much became the icon of antipodean nationalism from then on.
So yep, that logo printed on every page of your tax form is actually one big f-you to the Frenchies.
Fun fact: The emu and kangaroo weren’t chosen for our emblem because they can’t walk backwards. Emus totally can walk backwards and … Kangaroos just plain don’t walk. They hop. And they can hop or shuffle backwards just fine.
But while we’re on the topic of emus, I should probably mention:
9. In 1933 Australia Declared War… on Emus
1930’s WA was a state pretty much overrun with Emus. So, like any sensible country would, Australia declared war on the national emblem. Under the command of the Minister for Defence, ex-WWI soldiers were set loose with machine guns, with the instructions to “make hats” out of all emus (don’t go getting any ideas hipsters). And, of course, they lost.
How a bunch of military trained soldiers were defeated by flightless birds with brains the size of marshmallows, we’ll never truly understand, but it was explained by a clearly bemused onlooker thusly: “The Emu command had evidently ordered guerilla tactics… that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month.”
However the battalion’s commander, Major G.P.W. Meredith, was pleased to report the humans had suffered “no casualties” and praised the Emus for their skill on the battlefield. We’re not making this up.
But that’s not the only interesting thing happening in WA in at this time because…
8. Western Australia Seceded in 1933
It’s not often enough pointed out that Western Australia voted to secede from Australia in 1933, wining the referendum before being politely rebuffed by the King, probably because they wanted to use the god awful name ‘Westralia’. While secession would normally be constitutionally out of the question, Western Australia has a little leverage in the matter owing to the fact that we kinda forgot to include them in that part of the constitution.
Which coincidentally brings us to…
7. Our Constitution Says New Zealand is One of Our States
Kiwi Cal Wilson once famously quipped “I come from a little place you all like to call Australia”, and constitutionally she was right. This is because when the idea of federation was floated, a bunch of colonies were in on the plans, including Fiji and New Zealand. At some point Fiji remembered they’d left the iron on, so their delegation buggered off, and shortly after New Zealand pulled out as well, saying they’d wait for Skype to be invented before considering a long distance relationship (and also they kindly pointed out that we were all massive racists).
At New Zealand’s request the new nation’s name was changed to Australia instead of Australiasia, but we didn’t bother writing them out of the constitution because we knew those Kiwis would come crawling back eventually.
But while we’re on the topic of extra states and territories let’s not forget…
6. Papua Was Part of Australia Until 1975
The colony of Papua had been administrated from mainland Australia since before federation, but by the end of WWI we wanted to make the relationship official. Billy Huges spent a year and a half in Paris while PM, to lobby that Papua should become a fully fledged territory of Australia, in the process being bestowed with the title of ‘pestiferous varmint’ by Woodrow Wilson, which is either an insult or Woodrow was attempting some kind of a transfiguration spell. Either way, Huges was successful and Papua officially joined Australia in 1919. The seventh point was added to the Federation star to represent Papua, and all Papuans became citizens of Australia, right up until their independence in 1975. All of which is generally omitted from history books when they state “Australia was never invaded by the Japanese during World War Two”, as a certain government approved textbook might say, kindof overlooking the whole Kokoda battle in the process.
Now while we’ve still got our heads in the 70’s lets move on to…
5. Australia Tried to Fix the English Language
Anyone with a brain will have noticed that English is an unholy godawful bastardised mess. Like how in the world did the number 1 come to be spelt ‘one’? And what is the point of the letter K? And that’s fine English, I totally don’t want to indicate sarcasm.
To address some of these qualms in the early 70’s both the Government and Teachers Federation adopted the spelling reform ‘SR1’, meaning the Ministry of Health became the Ministry of Helth, and eny student cud get away with riting like this… in theory. In practice, not so much. Unsurprisingly people didn’t take to a writing style that looked like it was devised by a cat with a penchant for cheeseburgers, and so everybody pretty much ignored the reform.
However, we should all remember that last year Australia did make one other important contribution to the English language, by creating the word “selfie” which was even added to the Oxford dictionary. Unfortunately though we don’t get any royalties for its use, which is my way of trying desperately to make the leap to…
4. You Could Get Sued for Playing “Waltzing Matilda” or “Kookaburra Sits in The Old Gum Tree” in Public
Yep. Up until 2011 you still had to pay royalties if you wanted to sing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ to a crowd. Okay, so that was only in America, but that was still enough to force the government to cough up after they unwittingly played it at the 1996 Olympics.
A similar thing goes for the old ditty ‘Kookaburra’, the rights to which were gifted to the Libraries Board in South Australia by the song’s creator. Unfortunately for everyone she never considered that a library trust would then go and onsell those rights on to some corporate pirates who’d sue the band Men at Work for “infringing” “their music” in the song Land Down Under (and it only took them thirty years notice a similarity).
Fun Fact: Odds are if you know Waltzing Matilda you have actually been brainwashed. The repeated lines “And he sang as he watched, and waited til his billy boiled” were added to the original Patterson composition in ads distributed by the Billy Tea company to help sell more billies. Ironically the jingle proved wildly popular, while billy sales tanked.
3. We Have a Castle
Guess what? You don’t need to travel all the way to Europe to see antiquated castles, because we actually have one right here in Sydney. Almost two hundred years old, it’s located right behind the Opera House. Wait, you say, that’s just Government House. Well, yes, but anyone with eyes can see that it’s a castle in everything but name. And I mean that literally because it was designed by the same guy who created Buckingham Palace and a bunch of other castles around the world, and the Queen has knighted people there on multiple occasions. What I’m trying to say is, this is a tourism goldmine just crying out for a name change. Get on it government!
Fun fact: Governor Macquarie had tried to build a huge fortified castle on the same spot, but the British government stopped him, understandably worried about what he was scheming. To get an idea of just how epic his planned castle was going to be you need only look at the part that did get built, the current Conservatorium of Music, which were to be the stables … as in the part that would have stored the animals (a purpose it’s pretty much retained to this day actually).
2. Forget Castles We Had a Giant Freaking Palace
In the 1850’s New South Wales was granted the right of self government, and to show off that they were worthy of this new level of fiscal responsibility, they built themselves a palace.
Constructed in under a year, it was one of the first buildings to boast electrical lighting in Australia. As you would rightly expect, asking people with no experience of electricity to install one of the worlds largest electrical lighting rigs was a disaster waiting to happen, and the whole thing burnt down as soon as it was finished, taking the state’s accumulated art and government records with it.
So it’s a big wanky building, you say, big meh. Well smartypants, it was this fire that probably cost Sydney the title of capital city. When Sydney and Melbourne were at each other’s throats trying to prove they were the perfect place for the new Australian parliament, it was the lack of a comparable building to the Exhibition Building in Melbourne that ultimately lost Sydney it’s bid to house the opening of Parliament in 1901. So we can pretty much thank that one fire for Melbourne’s impertinent smugness for the rest of eternity. Oh, and for Canberra. Great.
Now speaking of non-sequiturs, we finally come to…
1. Everything You Know About the Flag Is a Lie
Sure our National Anthem, our national colours, and our Parliament House were all things that only appeared in the 80’s but the one thing that’s stayed unchanged throughout our history is our beloved national flag! Right? Well no. The flag was originally red. Then we changed it in the 50’s because we’re totally not communists and only commies have red flags. Also it was designed by a New Zealander. Also it was paid for by a Tobacco Company. And PM Edmund Barton went on record saying he hated it. As did the army, who rightly pointed out that it was a British naval jack with some stars thrown on. Ahh, history.
Fun Fact: Not only was the flag design funded by a Tobacco Company, the Opera House construction was funded by gambling losses. Because nothing says national pride like cancer and missing thumbs. Happy Australia Day everyone!