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Thursday, 20 February 2014

Kangaroos in the top paddock

This charming piece of Australian vernacular denotes somebody who is doolally or barking or crazy. Of course, that's subjective, as the old irregular verb has it:

"I am an original thinker, you are eccentric, he has kangaroos in the top paddock."

The thing that got me started was finding a reference to a work called The Friend of Australia, which attracted brief notice in the Australian colonial press in 1831.

The author was identified only as a retired officer in the East India Company, but he had elected himself as an expert on how Australia ought to be explored..

I went looking for a copy of the book, but there didn't seem to be one at first glance.  I later located several copies in Mitchell Library.

Part of my mistake was that I thought the Mitchell copies were only in microform, which gives me vile headaches, so I went seeking a PDF, and found this one, available through Google Books. Luckily, Mitchell is a bit of a second home, so I will track the book down in due course,

Above and/or to the right, is how the book was advertised in The Times, November 11, 1830, column 1, page 1.

To give the reader more of a taste for what passed for literature then, at least in the house of Hurst and Chance, I have left a bit more in place.

I am now busily reading the book, because the local press reaction was rather amusing.  He wanted explorers to carry a ninety-foot (27 metre) mast in three segments, so that a lookout could be posted, high enough to see any marauding "Indians".

Mind you, this mast also gave the intrepid explorer a chance to see further, something that most Australian explorers from Cook onwards, achieved by climbing a mountain, a hill or even  a tree.

 But the author, whose name I now know to be Thomas Maslen, was by no means done.

My reading is incomplete as yet, but one of the Australian press comments was that Maslen thought elephants would be a useful addition to the equipment of the explorer.

And to turn away the spears of the Indians, he proposed armour. He referred to it as chain mail, but his description gives a different sense.

If you fire off enough mad ideas, one or two  may prove to have merit. Maslen wanted us to use camels to explore.

The picture on the right above shows John Horrocks up a tree in the mid-1840s, but if you look closely enough, you will see the hump of Harry the Camel, lurking behind a bush.

Camels, as many explorers found later, were a good idea, though Harry wasn't a good idea, because just a few days later, he shot John Horrocks — but that's another story.

Anyhow, Maslen gave us an image of how the camels might look in Australia, where the soldiers wear top hats and march, while the officers (I assume) ride in howdahs on a giant camel that clearly had taken its steroids that morning.

Nowhere in Maslen's book do we see any truly Australian scenery, and there are no Australian animals, because even if he had kangaroos in the top paddock, Maslen had never seen a kangaroo.

page 216 (book pagination)
When the second edition came out, the one that Google Books have, the Preface, dated March, 1836, said that he was in the Siberian Wilds.
page 218

I had thought the elephants completely excised from the second edition, but no, they are still there, starting on page 214 (chapter 12, p. 247 in the PDF file).

You can't help laughing, can you?

Some part of this will appear, at some future time, in one or another of the Not Your Usual series, probably as a side note to Not Your Usual Explorers...

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