10 unusual facts about Australia, that I’ve stumbled upon. Hopefully some of the other Australian readers will be able to contribute additional facts.
10. Spiders in Australia actually took over a town.
In March 2012 harmless to humans spiders spin wet blanket over the Australian town of Wagga Wagga. When floodwaters swept through the town and surrounding paddocks, the local spiders had no choice but to flee up, spinning their webs across sticks and bushes.
9. There is a tree in Australia that if you brush against it it will affect you for 3-6 months and if you shake it you can breath in its toxic needles.
One of the world’s most venomous plants, the Gympie-Gympie stinging tree can cause months of excruciating pain for unsuspecting humans. North Queensland road surveyor A.C. Macmillan was among the first to document the effects of a stinging tree, reporting to his boss in 1866 that his packhorse “was stung, got mad, and died within two hours”. Similar tales abound in local folklore of horses jumping in agony off cliffs and forestry workers drinking themselves silly to dull the intractable pain.
8. An Australia bushranger escaped from prison so many times the government had to build a special cell to hold him. It was so strong they promised to forgive his crimes if he could escape again.
Moondyne Joe, was Western Australia’s best known bushranger. Moondyne Joe was not known for gunfights or robbing banks, unlike other famous Australian bushrangers. It was Joe’s amazing ability to escape every time he was placed behind bars that won him fame and the affection of early Western Australian settlers.
Johns’ offences seem to have been largely horse stealing and gaol breaking.
Police records of 1861 in Perth Public Library recount how Moondyne Joe broke open his cell at the old Toodyay (then Newcastle) gaol, stole a police horse as well as the saddle and bridle of the Resident Magistrate. On another occasion at Fremantle Gaol, Moondyne escaped through a hole in the wall. A servant of the head warder gave him a suit and as Moondyne walked out the main gate, the guard innocently saluted him. They finally had to build him a special cell at Fremantle to keep him in.
There was another story that after one of his escapes he was the first man to cross the old Fremantle traffic bridge.
Moondyne’s exploits ended in 1869 when he was captured in the act of stealing wine in a cellar of the Houghton Vineyard on the Middle Swan. He later settled down to a quiet life in the South-West.
7. A particular dog was allowed free travel on South Australian Railways in the 1890s. Well loved by railwaymen, the dog was presented with a collar that read: ‘Stop me not, but let me jog, for I am Bob, the drivers dog’.
What was it that made him so special?
Bob the Railway Dog was a great charmer as this excerpt from the memoirs of Stephen William Quintrell shows – “So Bob continued on his merry way and travelled widely to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. At the completion of every trip he always followed the engineman home and was an important visitor. When back in Adelaide he always went for a feed at the Eagle Hotel and the girls always gave him the best. Every traveller knew Bob and the children adored him. I have had him follow me home from Kingston. He was a most deserving dog. Some peevish drivers would put him off, and he knew them and never got on their engine”.
6. Australian magpies swoop down and attack cyclists in the head and neck, sometimes detaching retinas. And they are protected so it is illegal to kill or hurt them.
Magpies are ubiquitous in urban areas all over Australia, and have become accustomed to people. A small percentage of birds become highly aggressive during breeding season from late August to early October, and will swoop and sometimes attack passersby.
These magpies may engage in an escalating series of behaviours to drive off intruders. Least threatening are alarm calls and distant swoops, where birds fly within several metres from behind and perch nearby. Next in intensity are close swoops, where a magpie will swoop in from behind or the side and audibly “snap” their beaks or even peck or bite at the face, neck, ears or eyes. More rarely, a bird may dive-bomb and strike the intruder’s (usually a cyclist’s) head with its chest. A magpie may rarely attack by landing on the ground in front of a person and lurching up and landing on the victim’s chest and peck at the face and eyes.
Magpie attacks can cause injuries, typically wounds to the head and particularly the eyes, with potential detached retinas and bacterial infections from a beak used to fossick in the ground. A 13-year-old boy died from tetanus, apparently from a magpie injury, in northern New South Wales in 1946. Being unexpectedly swooped while cycling is not uncommon, and can result in loss of control of the bicycle, which may cause injury. In Ipswich, a 12-year-old boy was killed in traffic while trying to evade a swooping magpie on 16 August 2010.
5. Australia has a $15.51 minimum wage, 5.2% unemployment, and universal health care.
For comparison the United States minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour and we have 8.1% unemployment as of today. That’s quite surprising as you would expect the opposite relationship between minimum wages and unemployment.
4. Foster’s Lager – the beer brand marketed worldwide as quintessentially Australian – isn’t very popular in Australia.
I was surprised to learn from Australian friends that I work with that Foster’s Lager just isn’t all that popular in Australia – despite ads in Europe and North America claiming otherwise. Wikipedia seems to back this up.
3. Australia is the 3rd most charitable country, Ireland is 2nd, and the USA comes in first.
Jacob French walked across Australia in 2011-12. He completed the walk wearing the white ‘Storm Trooper’ armour from George Lucas’ Star Wars films, and raised $88,523 for the Starlight Children’s Foundation in the process.
3. When Skylab reentered the atmosphere and the pieces landed in Australia, they fined NASA $400 for littering. NASA never paid.
Due to a calculation error, debris of the space station landed southeast of Perth, Western Australia, and was found between Esperance and Rawlinna. Residents and an airline pilot saw dozens of colorful fireworks-like flares as large pieces broke up in the atmosphere. The Shire of Esperance facetiously fined NASA A$400 for littering, a fine which remained unpaid for 30 years. The fine was paid in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio raised the funds from his morning show listeners and paid the fine on behalf of NASA.
2. It is illegal not to vote in Australia.
Compulsory voting generally hold elections on a Saturday or Sunday in Australia, to ensure that working people can fulfill their duty to cast their vote. Postal and pre-poll voting is provided to people who cannot vote on polling day, and mobile voting booths may also be taken to old age homes and hospitals to cater for immobilized citizens.
If voters do not want to support any given choice, they may cast spoilt votes or blank votes. According to compulsory voting supporters, this is preferred to not voting at all because it ensures there is no possibility that the person has been intimidated or prevented from voting should they wish. In certain jurisdictions, voters have the option to vote none of the above if they do not support any of the candidates to indicate clear dissatisfaction with the candidate list rather than simple apathy at the whole process.
1. A male species of beetle in Australia is dying off from mistakenly having sex with beer bottles.
Australian jewel beetle (Julodimorpha bakewelli) has achieved fame simply by choosing a rather unorthodox mate: a beer stubbie. “As a consequence of their mating mistakes, the males [jewel beetles] experience reduced survival,” says Darryl, a biologist at University of Toronto at Mississauga. “Attempts to copulate with stubby beer bottles continue until they are killed by the hot desert sun or by foraging ants.”
Darryl and David recently received an Ig Nobel prize for their curious observation, bringing the subject of their study into the limelight once again. But these jewel beetles are not the only creatures that suffer at the hands of evolution; as it turns out, several other species in Australia have found themselves in similarly misleading situations.