Good Reading : June 2016
Despite my decision to study the subject, I entered uni basically in agreement with the consensus: Australian history is dull. It was difficult to learn history at school and not notice how much more exciting other countries’ pasts were than ours. Everyone else’s history was full of bloody revolutions and horrifying civil wars and proud, reckless, maniacal monarchs hacking bits off each other in their lust for land. America had cowboys and Indians, for god’s sake – how could Australia compete with that? All we had here was sheep far mers and men exploring river systems and a disappointingly peaceful transition from colonies to nation. We never did anything really memorable like being invaded by Vikings. We never even tried to annex New Zealand. Australian history was like the lunch you brought from home when all your friends had money to spend at the canteen. And so my notebook quickly became filled with references to First Fleeters having sex with kangaroos and Governor Macquar ie inventing the ice r ink. If I’d become enamoured of the idea of combining history with humour, it was really just a way to stave off the deathly boredom that accompanied learning about Australia’s past. But after leaving uni, rich in experience but poor in graduations, I kept reading, and found myself learning a few things about history. First, there’s a difference between history and mythology. It’s easy to believe other countries have the most interesting histories when they’re the countries that make all the movies. But every country on earth has an extraordinary story behind it, rich and dense and colourful and crazy and joyous and tragic and crammed with a million surprising details. But more importantly, I learned that as fun as epic battles and vast empires are, history – no matter where and when it happened – happened to people, and people aren’t all that different from place to place or time to time. We need to take a more disrespectful attitude to our history, to help us understand that the legends of the past were just people: dumb, blunder ing people just like us. Politicians, businesspeople, celebrities: every one of them throughout history has bumbled just as cluelessly through life as we do. And once you see that, suddenly Australian history isn’t just about memorising dates: it’s about learning that explorers Hume and Hovell once bickered so fiercely that they split up, dividing up all their possessions, including the frying pan – one took the pan and one the handle. It’s about discovering the divine silliness of the Emu War, the only time that our military was defeated by flightless birds. It’s about the time Ned Kelly sent testicles through the mail. Our history is littered with folks just as mad, brainless and egotistical as any reality contestant. This is howI,a bored student thinking comedy was a pretty good way to make history less boring, ended up believing that comedy was an excellent way of demonstrating how interesting it is. Not that I’m pretending to be a teacher: Er ror Australis still remains true to my original mission of getting a laugh with sarcasm, snark and silliness. If my fairly irresponsible account of Australian history amuses, that is enough. But if it also prods Australians into realising how little of their own history they know and that it might be fun to learn a bit more ... well that’d be just lovely. It would give me the warm fuzzies to think that an idea with its roots in the committed avoidance of serious study half a lifetime ago could end up inspiring others to begin studies of their own. And, hopefully, to take the piss out of what they learned as mercilessly as possible. Error Australis: The reality recap of Australian history by Ben Pobjie is published by Affirm Press, rrp $29.99. GOOD READING JUNE 2016 49 It’s easy to believe other countries have the most interesting histories when they’re the countries that make all the movies. BEHIND THE BOOK 2 letuslampoon...