History as fun: David Morgan’s The Australian Miscellany

24 Jul

The Australian Miscellany (2005) has hit the remainder shops. Get one; it’s fun, as this review makes clear:

When visitors to Burrumbuttock stop giggling and ask at the general store how the tiny Riverina town got its name, they are usually told it means “the place of many bums”. The more prosaic explanation is that it has something to do with a bullock’s backbone.

Either way, it’s the sort of obscure Australiana that fascinates local historian David Morgan, who has been an inveterate collector of trivia, compiler of lists and orchestrator of improbable connections since he began thumbing through encyclopedias as a child.

“I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a magpie, picking up stuff, storing it away,” he says, recalling how he developed an unhealthy interest in suggestive placenames after finding a 1960s photograph of his mother posing by a sign for the NSW town of Numbugga.

Only belatedly, after working as an IT consultant, a cab driver and a bank clerk, did 44-year-old Morgan discover that there are big bucks to be made out of what he calls his “accumulated brain lit”.

He has become a feared competitor at Sydney pub trivia nights, playing for everything from jugs of beer to $500 cash prizes.

Given the current habit of our government to volunteer troops hither and yon according mainly to the whims of George Bush, it is interesting to turn to “Strength of Australian Armed Forces 1901-2004” on p. 46. In 1980 the figures were: RAN 16,961; ARMY 32,321; RAAF 22,249. In 1990: RAN 13,404; ARMY 27,298 RAAF 19,770. In 2004: RAN 13,133; ARMY 25,446; RAAF 13,455. Back in 1935, when we were notoriously underprepared for the outbreak of World War II four years later, the figures were: RAN 4,177 (but we still relied on the British Navy); ARMY 29, 262; RAAF 1,450. The population of Australia in 1935 was, however, 6.75 million, compared with 20,090,437 today.

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Posted by on July 24, 2006 in Aussie interest, Cultural and other, OzLit, Reading


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