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Thursday, 26 December 2013

On tinned meat and dense brains

I have been thinking much about tinned meat of late, because in the 1950s, we children in Waratah Street would rise at 4 am to wake our parents and open some parcels before we met in the street and play with our new toys. The childless Mr and Mrs Lane would keep an eye on us and then haul all the kids they could find off to the beach for a swim, while our bleary-eyed parents snatched a couple of hours of light sleep before we returned.

Then the parents would all pile into the Lanes' flat down the street and consume much fluid while we continued to run quiet riot in the street. Christmas dinner arrived at about 3 pm, and by then, my father was nicely pie-eyed, and ALWAYS cut his hand opening the tinned ham.  It was part of Christmas.  That was how I first recall seeing tinned meat.

Last night, Christmas night, I heard Stephen Fry on QI refer to the Franklin expedition consuming very early tinned meat, circa 1845.  Franklin, by the way, had earlier been the Governor of Van Diemen's Land before sailing off to seek the North-West Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.

The context of Fry's comment was that in the earliest days of putting meat in cans, the solder was too high in lead.  The expedition suffered lead poisoning, but it wasn't an early mistake, because canning meat was old technology by then.

I knew it was old, because I recalled right away that on Christmas  day, 1813, exactly 200 years earlier, just across the Blue Mountains, George Evans wrote (my emphasis added):
"Being Christmas day we remained for a day's rest; yet we walked about as much as a day's journey looking around us, and ascending Hills to see the Country, which is excellent pasture, the soil is light, but exceeds the Forest Lands in general on the East side of the Mountains. The day is so hott the Fish will not bite; it is the only time they have missed; therefore I opened my tin case of Roasted Beef."
That reminded me of Donkin's Hill, which I have yet to visit. It is at 14:58 S, 125:30 E, near enough, and it is named after Bryan Donkin who, with John Hall, made tinned meats in England. The hill commemorates a tin of Donkin's meat eaten there in 1820. The leader of the eaters was Lt Phillip Parker King, much later an Admiral and leader of Sydney's scientific community.  Here is what he wrote in September 1820:
"A steep peaked hill near our landing-place was named Donkin’s Hill after the inventor of the preserved meats; upon a canister of which our party dined. This invention is now so generally known that its merits do not require to be recorded here; we had lately used a case that was preserved in 1814 which was equally good with some that had been packed up in 1818. This was the first time it had been employed upon our boat excursions and the result fully answered every expectation, as it prevented that excessive and distressing thirst from which, in all other previous expeditions, we had suffered very much.
At the end of the 19th century, David Carnegie was rather more scathing of tinned meat:
"Tinned meat is good, sometimes excellent; but when you find that a cunning storekeeper has palmed off all his minced mutton on you, you are apt to fancy tinned fare monotonous! Such was our case; and no matter what the label, the contents were always the same—though we tried to differentiate in imagination, as we used to call it venison, beef, veal, or salmon, for variety’s sake! ‘Well, old chap, what shall we have for tea— Calf’s head? Grouse? Pheasant?’ ‘Hum! what about a little er—minced mutton—we’ve not had any for some time, I think.’ In this way we added relish to our meal."
These chaps have all been in my mind, because they are all potentially players in one of the Not Your Usual series, Not Your Usual Explorers, which will look at some of the unexpected people who went exploring in Australia.  Teenagers (even teenage girls), foreigners, convicts, Aborigines and women were all involved, as were a number of complete fools who also need to appear in any true history.

Speaking of fools, Christopher Pyne, has the notion that as Minister for Education, it is his anointed role to determine what shall be taught as Australian history, and I will warrant none of the above characters or events would appear in his tight-sphinctered list of dead white males.

George Evans is a typical example of the competent human who was attacked by feral oafs for extraneous reasons.  Like James Cook and Joseph Banks, among others of that era, George could not spell.  That was enough to set the third-rate pedant wannabes rolling in the aisles.

The public schoolboys sniggered and nudged each other because George thought a rivulet was a river lett. Superciliously, they added that to the map as a joke on old George, and he was barred from leading further expeditions.  Lucky John Oxley took George along as a 2-i-c, and safely away from the pen-pushers, had George running long-range independent forays.  Oxley understood competence.

That line of thought made me recall where I met Pyne's type before.  Now a bit of background: I have always been a debater, and like most debaters, I relished the role of third speaker, but as something of a demolition expert, I always got the gig.  I was articulate, I could think on my feet, and I knew where the jugular was.

When I went to university, slightly over 50 years ago, I found that most people treated each other as equals, taking people as they found them. That said, a certain type of wet-behind-the-ears public schoolboy would enquire as to the school I attended, and when I said I had attended Manly Boys' High, they would withdraw a little, as from a leper, saying in tones of shocked surprise, "Ooooh, you don't speak like a state school boy!"

Come into my parlour, said the third speaker to the fly...

I am small and harmless-looking. I would smile gently, and explain that while some people had to go to a special school to learn how to speak well, others of us acquired it through breeding.  Suddenly, they would realise that they were ankle-deep in acid.

Soon after, they became aware that ankle-deep is not good, not if you are head-downwards.

Before long, the word apparently went around about me, and as I approached, you could see this type scattering. They would cross, in order, themselves, their fingers, their legs, their eyes and the road as they fled from my gaze.

That is exactly the phenotype I see when I look at Christopher Pyne: ignorant, arrogant, stupid and quintessentially uninformed, sadly lacking in education, empathy or awareness. Pigeons ripe for the plucking.

Here is my challenge to this buffoon: meet me anywhere in public to debate what Australian history should be. I undertake to cross-examine you and demonstrate your woeful ignorance of facts, figures (both numerical and personal), motives, motivations, techniques and technologies, societies, societal standards, traditions, ideas and ideals, language and a great deal more.

In the improbable even that you win, I will have won in any case, because you will have been forced to take a crash course in Australian history. I recommend the book on the right as a starting place. The pictures are already coloured-in.

My bet is that he will end up resembling Carnegie's minced mutton.  I am growing old, but I am still up to slam-dunking a pip-squeak, and showing a pipsqueak up for what he is would be one of the best services I could do the next generation.

Please, Chris, come into my parlour.

For my last dunking of Christopher Pyne in hot psittacoid waste material, see The Foolish Minister.

1 comment:

  1. I should so love to see you in debate with Christopher Pyne, I would enjoy seeing you eat him alive. Please make this happen. Over the years that you were active on the OZTLNet I greatly enjoyed reading your contributions and I was SO pleased to find your work in print. The wonderful and sometimes bizarre facts that you seem to have in your head would have Dear Chris, poor fool that he is, quaking under a table in two minutes flat.