From (the antipodean) ABC News, via my friend Lachlan Mead, the “five funniest moments in Australian history”:
One day we will look back on this moment and laugh. The author of new book Error Australis, Ben Pobjie, reflects on the most comical characters and cock-ups of Australia’s past.
It’s hilarious for the same reason life itself is hilarious: it’s filled with weirdos and idiots screwing everything up in the worst ways possible.
But the beauty of history as a comedic resource is that it all happened ages ago, so you don’t have to pretend to feel sorry for the people it happened to.
Many people believe that Australian history is a boring and colourless saga and that our nation lacks historical periods or events with the rich humorous potential of, say, the English Civil War, or the Spanish Inquisition.
Yet a closer examination of the figures of our past will show that, to the contrary, Australia’s history is the funniest thing that ever happened to this country. To get a taste of what I mean, peruse these: the five funniest moments in Australian history.
1. The Emu War
Australia cannot lay claim to any great empires or epic conquests, but we do have one distinction that no other nation on Earth can boast: we are the only country in history to lose a war to birds.
In 1932, the farmers of Western Australia, fed up with the 20,000 emus that kept dropping in to their farms to eat all their crops, went to defence minister Sir George Pearce to demand he take action to safeguard the precious wheat of the Campion region.
Pearce, a man who knew the value of a show of strength, decided that what the emus needed was a hefty dose of good old-fashioned military might.
And so Major GPW Meredith of the Royal Australian Artillery was sent, along with two soldiers, two Lewis guns, and 10,000 bullets, into the scrubland to show the emus just who was the more highly-evolved species.
Almost immediately the expedition ran into trouble. The soldiers attempted to herd the emus into a suitable place in which to mow them down en masse, but the birds, well-trained in guerrilla tactics, continually split into small groups and ran off in different directions, making it damnably difficult for the guns to draw a bead on them. Also, the guns jammed.
Also, when the guns worked, and when an emu stood still long enough to shoot at, they proved resistant to bullets to an unsettling degree. Meredith wrote:
“If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world. They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.”
The soldiers retreated, weary and sick of the sight of feathers. Meredith’s official report noted, optimistically, that his men had suffered no casualties. The emus’ report noted that humans were slow-moving and stupid.
The House of Representatives debated the matter and questions were asked of the minister regarding whether medals were to be awarded for survivors of the campaign.
The question of why, blessed as we are with a native animal that is essentially a cross between an armoured car and a velociraptor, our military has not taken advantage by training emus for combat duty in the ADF, remains unanswered to this day.
Click the link to read about Hume and Hovell’s frypan fight, Ned Kelly’s pen pal, and Ben Hall, clown prince of bushrangers.