Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Reading about medieval housing (doth) reminds me. I stayed in a fourteenth century farmhouse in the middle of Sweden (whilst) travelling about one time. The entrance door was 148 cm high. In the - let’s say – twenty hours stay there I probably went in and out eight times. And smacked the middle of my forehead on the lintel seven of those times. Now, I know what this says about my capacity to learn, but really, 148cm is extremely low. It’s so low that when you think you’ve ducked far enough you haven’t. Hence the forehead thing. But what does this say about the original inhabitants? Yes; they were really, really short. And this was maybe 200 years after the end of the Viking Age, so close enough. And guess what? Historians never bothered to mention that the Vikings were so way short. Like, where’s the entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles: ‘Yes, and verily in the reign of Aerlerod the Vntidy, didst the Norsemen longships come; and all of Lincolnshire was in a qvandry as these fucking midgets were all hither and about, ill-temper’d and of evil di∆íposition.’

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ye Olde Gwalia

This is a sordid tale, and like so many disreputable stories in this part of the world it concerns the former gold-mining town of Gwalia.

Gwalia, you see, was a thriving centre from the mid 1890s until 1963 and blah, blah, blah…

The town – consisting mostly of tin-clad timber-framed houses – has since been designated a historical site, a large outdoor museum. Weeds have been pulled from front yards and plaques put up: “The butcher’s shop, est. 1898,” “Post Master’s House, built 1902.” That sort of thing.

All this industry occurred in the 1990s. We can’t possibly know how people thought back then. There is an epistemological disconnect between modern humans and those from the 1990s. They had a very different Weltanschauung, if you will. Among the few things we do know about the 1990s is that people thought Friends was cute. I think this proves my point.

It also helps explain the following.

In the 1990s, as they gussied up and promoted their ghost town, the good folk of the Gwalia Historical Progress Society made the monumental decision to acknowledge the seamier side of life in Olde Gwalia.

One of the houses on Gwalia’s main street is a large, many-roomed affair. It was obviously a brothel, back in the day, but admitting this was a step to far for the GHPS. Rather than stick up the required plaque saying something like, “House of Nasty, est. 1896,” it was decided that there would be a much more subtle allusion to the building’s former use.

They set up one tiny room, off the rear courtyard, with a very small sign indicating this room was used by a single sex-worker.

And then it gets messy.

In the spirit of outdoor, living museums, the GHPS wanted to show what life was like for the first settlers. In the case of Gwalia’s sex industry, they chose to represent a Goldrush ho’s life by placing a mannequin in the room’s wrought iron bed, on its back, with the covers pulled up to ‘her’ chest. When I say mannequin, it’s a blouse wrapped around straw stuffing, with a hessian bag head, also filled with straw, and buttons sewn on for eyes.

Truly, it’s ghastly, but perhaps it can still serve a useful purpose, by providing a modern-day lesson. Fathers could take their errant daughters to Gwalia, and show them the mannequin, and say, “Now look, Lotta, darling (it doesn’t matter if the daughter’s name isn’t Lotta – that just makes the lesson much more apposite)… Lotta, dearest, if you continue to freebase crack and pay for it by selling sexual favours, this is how history will remember you.”

Button eyes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wise in the Ways of Science

Ducks have been much on my mind of late. An impeccable source has alerted me to an interesting piece of trivia concerning the Montgolfier brothers, those titans of early flight.

The poor Montys; their early experiments were the source of much derision. And when you’ve been derided by the French, well… there’re no finer exponents.

Perturbed at the catcalls they were receiving on the streets of Paris, the siblings decided to commit to a public demonstration of their latest invention, ze balloon. Before a crowd of more than four thousand (actually, I have no idea how big the crowd was, and history has failed to record it, so I’m getting all post-modern on your arses and making it up) in a central Parisian square, they prepared their globe of taffeta, alum and sackcloth, lit the burners, and stood back. As this marvel strained at the tie-ropes, the Montgolfiers called for volunteers to man the basket. At that point, each of the more than four thousand French persons muttered something about his/her croissants burning and disappeared into the nearby narrow alleyways.

The king somehow missed the cue and was asked if he would care to take his royal personage up into the air. Non! He promptly ordered that criminals be press-ganged into the role, giving the Montgolfier brothers such a look as to suggest he considered them to fit the description.

Remarkably (this being France), no criminals could be found. In a desperate search to find suitable subjects to take the maiden flight, the Montgolfiers hit upon the idea of putting animals in the basket; to see how they might cope. After much debate on the appropriateness of various critters, they settled upon sending aloft – on the 4th of June, 1783 – a sheep, a rooster, and a duck.

And this is true.

The French wanted to see if living creatures could cope with the rigours of flight, so they sent up a duck.

Thus was born the great age of Enlightenment scientific discovery-through-experiment.

Some two decades on, methods of investigation and reason now dominated the scientific discourse. The thirst for empirical knowledge led to the funding and organisation of great scientific maritime expeditions.

On a calm morning in April 1802, the navigator-scientists Matthew Flinders and Nicolas-Thomas Baudin met along the southern coast of Australia. Legend has it that it was a peaceful encounter – and since, at the time, Britain and France were at war, this was taken as a sure sign of the rationality of men of science in this golden age.

But legend is a capricious dame, not always given to being truthful. Certainly, the meet began well enough. Flinders and Baudin shewed one another their ships and pored over maps together, sharing the benefits of their exploration and acquired knowledge. There were shoals at two fathoms here, averred Baidin, while bountiful fresh water could be found a kilometre in from the shore at this point. Well, Flinders replied, the natives are friendly along this stretch of coast, but much more difficult in their dealings here.

And so it went on. And would have continued, but for a disturbance that broke out among the idle sailors, milling about as they were on first one ship’s deck and then the other. As Baudin and Flinders stood with heads together over a freshly drawn map of the Yorke Peninsula, one particularly bored Jack Tar asked the Frenchy standing next to him, “‘ere, seen any flyin’ ducks lately then, ‘ave you Pierre?” It took a while before the insult was translated through the mass of French enlisted men. The captains remained oblivious to the gradual angry murmuring, but within minutes, there was an almighty stoush afoot.

Of course, official French accounts called it a melee. And it set back Anglo-French relations by, oh, some three minutes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sometimes, the most obvious pun is the best

As expected, Decoy Britney has contacted me vis a vis my proposal to write her biography. I must confess our relationship did not begin as cordially as I might have hoped. We agreed that we needed about 300 hours of face-to-face interviews to provide enough background to do this epic justice. So far we have had, I think, 26 seconds. I say ‘I think’ because the subject turned up to the first interview wearing a Groucho Marx mask, which she refused to remove.

Figuring that the interview process was not going entirely swimmingly, I pitched another idea I had: that the two of us jointly manufacture and market the first Decoy Britney parfum, as a counterfoil to the products of that upstart Spears woman. I want to call it, simply, Duck, by Decoy. I suggested to my potential partner that as base for this scent she could use the fine estuarine waters that lap gently onto Skinny City’s foreshores. But we need to act fast. The very latest – in a thirty-year saga – of Waterfront Redevelopment Plans is even now being pitched to some of our most supportive overseas investors. Unfortunately, the very richest and most promising backers are also the most olfactorily delicate. They want the rotting blue-green algae and bird excreta cleared from the Swan – though I’ve argued these are merely an environmentally-friendly form of ambergris. To no avail. Patrons of riverfront baristas are known to like a bright blue sparkle to their watery vistas. We need to act before the tonnes of pool chemicals are poured in and the very essence of Duck is destroyed.


Whatever that means. Well, first of all, in the unbridled excitement at my brilliant initiatives she clearly feels for our great business venture, the poor thing has accidentally left her ‘caps lock’ on. As to the content of her message, I do not understand it at all. It must be some kind of arcane hipster American slang.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It witnessed many a deed and vow, We must not change its colour now

A couple of days ago, delivering the keynote address at the organisation’s Indigenous conference in Darwin, the national Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Jeff Lawrence, puffed out his chest (he may not have; that's just how i imagine it) and declared, “Australian unions have always stood by our Indigenous brothers and sisters.”


And that shame-faced figure slinking off into a shadowy corner? That’s Australian History. She’s very embarrassed.

‘Always’ is a definite term. In Western Australia (and the situation was mirrored in the other states), in the early twentieth century, “The white working class sought the removal of Aborigines from the labour force from a blend of humanitarianism, racial prejudice, and fear of cheap competition… working class politicians favoured measures which would restrict the employment of Aborigines.” (I owe Professor Geoffrey Bolton for this)

Under pressure from the unions, State Parliament implemented in the notorious 1905 Aborigines Act rulings that Aborigines not be paid cash wages and could only be employed under a permit system. Aboriginal people did not gain employment in any unionised industry in that time. Isolated from the rest of the labour force, and unsupported by the unions, they had no chance to break out of the virtual slave labour conditions they found themselves living under for more than half a century.

There were union-driven protests against Aboriginal grave-diggers in Southern Cross in 1902, against the employment of Aboriginal shearers on Noonkanbah station in 1908, and against the use of women as labourers in the Toodyay district in 1911.

The climax of the unions’ campaign to exclude Aborigines from the workforce came in 1912, when the state executive of the Australian Labor Party moved a resolution banning the employment of Aborigines on private property. Prof. Bolton concluded, “It was no coincidence that the harassment of the south-west part Aborigines occurred under the Scadden Labor Government of 1911-16.”

So. How’s that again, Jeff? “unions… always… stood by” &c.

Enough, of course, is enough. Since about 1950, unions in Australia have been, increasingly, supportive of Aboriginal rights. It’s just that ‘always’ bit that raises a VCH’s hackles.

Ah, Australian History. Look at you; you look positively downcast. Your makeup’s all askew. And is that a graze on your knee, you poor thing? Sit down, you don’t look at all well. What’s that? A massage? Oh, no, absolutely not. There’s been far too much of that already.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Heart Archaeology

I heart archaeology, combining as it does the two things I love most; studying history and digging holes.

And truly, the practitioners of the art/science/scienceart, those fine, proud archaeologists, are the greatest; a noble, honourable, arcane bunch, admittedly given to well dodgy hats. I venerate the ground they walk upon – even when that ground has been disturbed by teeny, tiny, itty-bitty little spades.

An archaeologist hunched over a remarkable artefact known as Google Earth recently discovered a bunch of ancient sites in Saudi Arabia. He had to do it this way because there is a problem conducting field research in the desert kingdom. The rulers are “hostile to archaeology.”

Hostile to archaeology!!! The cads.

Apparently, there is little respect for ancient buildings on the peninsula. According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, “90 per cent of the archaeological treasures in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina had been destroyed to make way for hotels, apartment blocks and parking facilities.” Who knew this would become a feel-good story? To wit: in the ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ stakes, it turns out that the good citizens of Skinny City and the Saudi people have much in common. Well, one thing at least: they both love the unbridled joy that comes from bulldozing old buildings. Our built heritage is a thing to be obliterated to the maximum extent possible.


Oh, look the truth is that historians become historians because they want to whinge about how much better things were in the past and they hope to get paid for it.

Meanwhile, we step up our endeavours to bridge the cultural gap. A committee of local plenipotentiaries has been waiting patiently in Riyadh to see one of the minor royals. It’s only been six months and I’m told they have already been absolutely promised a meeting with a brother-in-law of one of the second tier functionaries to a junior prince of the House of Saud. It’s very exciting. There is much we can teach one another in the ways of flattening old things.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Decoy Britney! Again!

From the news wires, via The Age newspaper, i learn this:

"Britney Spears' publicist has dismissed rumours a body double was used in the video for the new single Hold It Against Me because the pop star hadn't learned the complicated dance routines."

By the way, newswires, it's "Spears's": don't be afraid of the second 's' with the possessive singular. But that's hardly the point here.

The point is that Decoy Britney (of whom i have written previously, here http://perineum-wa.blogspot.com/2009/11/decoy-britney.html and here http://perineum-wa.blogspot.com/2010/01/update.html) continues to make her redoubtable presence felt.



Allegedly, this is Decoy Britney leaving rehab.


Why has Decoy Britney been in rehab? Has she been decoy drinking? Is it for decoy drug abuse?

Clearly, Decoy Britney lives a far more interesting life than does Ms Spears herself. I would like to offer my services as Decoy's biographer. I know she reads this blog - i'm awaiting the call.