I have a weird interest in tracing the Australian colloquialism ‘Buckley’s chance’ (i.e virtually no chance), mainly because it has been plausibly linked to the remarkable 19th-century convict escapee William Buckley to whom I devote a chapter in my book Tour To Hell.tourhellbookcover

William Buckley

The Trove online newspaper archive continues to claw back the history of ‘Buckley’s chance’. The first time I checked Trove the earliest printed mention of the saying was 1894. Then a mention from ’92 appeared, then ’88, but now the earliest is from 1887. It’s interesting to note that all of these mentions appear in sporting contexts – yachting, horse racing and now Aussie Rules football, almost a decade before the launch of what is now the AFL (Australian Football League).

Anyhow, to quote the 22 September 1887 issue of Melbourne Punch

In our sporting columns, in the Fitzroy team appears the name of Bracken. It should have been BUCKLEY. “Olympus” explains that he altered it because he didn’t want the Fitzroy men to have “Buckley’s chance”.

Three more points of interest (apart from noting Carlton won that year – belated congratulations): Firstly, it’s clear from the context that ‘Buckley’s Chance’ is already a well-known cliché. Secondly, its early appearance in a Melbourne paper strengthens the case for a Melbourne origin (likely a combination of Buckley’s survival and a pun on the Melbourne department store Buckley & Nunn). Thirdly, our current government’s mindless axing of the Trove budget gives us Buckley’s of finding those earlier mentions now.

The Great Barrier Reef is without doubt one of the most mind-swimmingly superlative travel destinations of our modest blue planet, and two of my favourite spots there are Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island. Here’s a travel story I did for the Sunday ‘Escape’ supplement which somehow escaped being plugged by me here, until now:

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The Weekend Australian Travel & Indulgence supplement (August 27-28, page 16 ) has my ‘Perfect 10’ column feature covering Australia’s 10 best aquatic wildlife encounters for non-divers. Plenty of cetaceans, pinnipeds and elasmobranchs. Jump in!

Link to the online version is here

 

Two features I have in magazines out right now – grab ’em!

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READER’S DIGEST (Aug 2016): Travel deep into Australia’s prehistoric past with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs team as they dig for dinosaurs, way out in the Queensland outback.

AUSTRALIAN TRAVELLER (Aug-Sep 2016): Like three separately bound volumes of a Georgian gothic thriller, Tasmania’s trio of historic convict-built bridges – three of the four oldest bridges in Australia – are rich in atmosphere, character and stories.

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Elaborately decorative Ross Bridge (1836) in Tasmania’s Midlands

GBR008.LadyElliotIsland lagoon.LevellLong time, no post. I’m surfacing to say my feature story on the Great Barrier Reef is in the current issue of the wonderful Australian Traveller  magazine (Megan Gale on cover).

The story covers the Capricornia Cays, the Reef’s southern end, a tropical paradise of coral islands brimming with colourful fish, seabirds, pisonia forests, manta rays and green turtles. Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island (left) are the resort islands. Both are coral cays, right on the reef itself. The diving is superb!

 

 

 

 

 

THE KING OF THE WORLD IN THE LAND OF THE PYGMIES – Joan Mark

From 1933 to 1953 Patrick Putnam was the eccentric overlord of Camp Putnam – part guesthouse, part medical clinic – deep in the Belgian Congo’s Ituri Forest. If you wanted pygmies or okapis in your African adventure, Putnam was your man. He still is, at least on paper.

An American expat from a wealthy Boston family, Putnam remade himself in a remote corner of colonial Africa. When his sanity lapsed towards the end, Camp Putnam devolved from jungle Eden into Heart of Darkness weirdness.

Some regret that Putnam forsook a promising career in academic anthropology but he was much more than a dude-ranch dilettante, as he once described himself. His sincere, lifelong and utterly reciprocated friendship with several pygmy/Mbuti clans was the critical enabler of Western study of their culture.

I first encountered Putnam in On Safari, the autobiography of pioneer wildlife documentary maker Armand Denis. Putnam’s second wife, the painter Anne Eisner Putnam, wrote a bestseller in the 1950s, Eight Years With Congo Pigmies, which, for all its strengths, glosses over intriguing irregularities (such as separate huts) in their relationship. Joan Mark’s book fills in these gaps (which is quite a jungle soap opera) while exploring Putnam’s unusual position amid the ambiguities of colonialism. It’s all relentlessly interesting.

One unshakeably memorable anecdote tells how Putnam dealt with his beloved pet chimpanzee Mr Fataki, who went vicious in his dotage and put several house servants in hospital. Options were limited and Putnam did not quail from the responsibility. After a last supper with his favourite chimp he drew a revolver and shot Mr Fataki dead at the dinner table.

On Tuesday, 16 February 1965, Sydney’s Botany Bay was graced with an extremely rare visitation – a thirty foot (9m) whale shark, which washed ashore on Bare Island in the bay’s northeast corner.

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Little was known of whale sharks or their haunts back then. Hardly anyone had ever seen one; it would be over 20 years before the Ningaloo Reef population was discovered. The first documented sighting of a whale shark in Australian waters was by fishermen near Jervis Bay, NSW, in April 1938, sparking headlines nationwide. With only a handful of sightings since then, the arrival of one of these mysterious spotted sea beasts in the waters of Australia’s biggest city caused a sensation.

Sad to say, its stranding was no freak whim of Mother Nature. The poor creature was hounded ashore by an electrical repair vessel, the Warratah, which chased it around Botany Bay for about an hour. Numerous small fishing boats joined in; at one point the harassed shark surfaced under a dinghy containing two fishermen and almost capsized them. After heading towards the open sea, the whale shark turned for Bare Island, where it became stranded on rocks amidst heavy pounding waves.

About 50 onlookers approached for a closer look (a footbridge links the island to shore) but the wild waters forced them back. The Warratah crew tried to tow the five-ton animal back into the bay, but their efforts ended in a snapped line.

Skindiver Eric Buchanan then tied a two-inch nylon rope from the launch Temora around the tail. But again the line broke, and Buchanan had a narrow escape when a big surge almost rolled the shark on top of him. As he scurried to safety the shark washed another 20 feet, coming to rest on a flat rock platform above the tide line, where it spent the day slowly dying.

Over the day, an estimated 10,000 people jammed nearby roads, wanting to see the beached giant. Some brought hacksaws and other tools to carve out a souvenir. The whale shark’s mouth – five feet across – was forced open with an iron bar, and over the next day or so its eyes were gouged out and its dorsal fin and tail sawn off.

The Australian Museum announced it would either take the corpse or cast a replica, but it was already too late. Little or no attempt was made to secure the site and by the next day, with hundreds of people still visiting, it was reported that ‘only half the monster remains and knife-happy tourists and fishermen have cut off huge chunks of flesh’. Too mutilated to tow, the shark was left stinking in the sun, much to the displeasure of Mrs Moore, the wife of Bare Island’s caretaker, who called it ‘an overpowering and unwelcome visitor’.

Before the remains were finally disposed of, the Australian Museum took some skin and teeth samples (item IB.7314 in its collection). To this day, no-one has ever reported another whale shark in Botany Bay – and who can blame them for steering clear after such a savage reception?

whaleofasharkPS: By pure coincidence, just five days after the Bare Island stranding, Ben Cropp and George Meyer obtained spectacular footage of two whale sharks near Montague Island off the NSW south coast. They had spent several days looking for a whale shark which Meyer had seen while diving there, and at first worried that the Bare Island shark was that animal. This was only the second time a whale shark had been filmed underwater, and the first time in colour. Hans Hass shot some black-and-white footage in 1950, which appears in his movie Under The Red Sea (aka Diving In The Red Sea).