Not Your Usual Australian Tales

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Australian social history, from invasion to Federation

This book is now available as a Kindle e-book in the next few days. Use this handy link to take a look.

Here, you will read about how early colonial society funcioned or malfunctioned. But why bother?

If you are Australian, all you have learned in Australian history classes has been directed at encouraging you not to think beyond a narrow compass of dead white male heroes. This book fleshes out the story; introduces new characters (not all of them white, or male, or heroes); provides contexts; and encourages you to ask your own questions.

If you aren't Australian, Mark Twain provides your answer (though to get the context, you need to read his book - or mine:

And what was the origin of this majestic city and its efflorescence of palatial town houses and country seats? Its first brick was laid and its first house built by a passing convict. Australian history is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is so curious and strange, that it is itself the chiefest novelty the country has to offer, and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies. And all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.

This book introduces you to participatory history, which means learning how to find out things for yourself. The author has waded through Australian newspapers, most of the books about Australia that were published from 1788 through to the end of the 19th century, and in 48 essays, he has outlined some of the key ideas about how Australian society shaped itself.

Here, you will meet reformed would-be assassins who fought bushrangers; the first three cases of redbacks on the dunny seat; the truth about bunyips and the crocodile in Sydney's Rocks; methods for getting rid of fleas; how horse thieves worked; what had to be done before paddle steamers could run on the Murray River; the Russian invasion 'scare' in Melbourne; duels fought by foolish men; a scandal over a dead horse; cruel treatment dished out to coolies; wrecks, floods, bushfires, droughts and plague; booms and busts; early schools and early poets: some sublime and some awful.

This is the Australia that usually doesn't make it into the history books. The real history of Australia, the untold stuff, has many diversions to explore, like the case of the society ladies who stood on their chairs, waving their handkerchiefs: their action was one of the starting points for the book, and in chapter 48, you will learn why they did it.

The real Australian history is very different from the packaged stuff that you get from written and dramatic fiction in books. The judges weren't all monsters, screaming "Hang Them!". Judges often worked very hard to save prisoners from the gallows (even Samuel Burt, who really wanted to hang!). That said, quite a few of the convicts were serious villains, who did far more than "steal a loaf of bread to feed their hungry children".

Then again, some of the other convicts were political prisoners, and at least one was falsely convicted: you'll find all of those here, and you'll also learn that transported convicts weren't kept below decks, in chains, the whole voyage - and Norfolk Island wasn't always the hell-hole it was in later years. And despite what you see on the screen, it was years before Botany Bay was mentioned at any trial at the Old Bailey.

Then again, squatters weren't always rich, the first bushrangers weren't thieves, and Edward Hammond Hargraves wasn't the first to discover gold - in fact, he never did discover gold, but he conspired to make Australia's gold rush happen. Oh, yes, and if you learned about explorers at school, they weren't all heroes, some were villains, and some of them were fools.

The surprises didn't stop there: specialist pedants will tell you that Matthew Flinders was the first to use the name 'Australia', but this book offers two earlier sources for that name. Then again, pop history has swimming only starting with 'neck-to-knee' costumes in the 1890s: sorry, but your ancestors, if you are Australian, probably skinny-dipped. Certainly, the nation's first swimming races came off with it all off, s o to speak.

In short, this book tells it like it was, but more importantly, in the age of Fake News and Alternative Facts, this book gives you the sources, so you can ask the important questions:
* what happened before that?
* do you really expect us to believe that? And
* what happened next?

ISBN TBA, written by Peter Macinnis, now complete (19 April 2017), to be edited, designed and published as a Kindle e-book, Real Soon Now.

Chapter headings

1 Coming to Australia and Going Home 2 The convicts 3 First impressions of Australia 4 Aboriginal relations 5 Crossing the cultural divide 6 Map makers
7 Starting to farm 8 Introduced animals 9 Introduced plants 10 Dangerous animals and plants 11 Monsters in the bush 12 Troublesome insects
13 Town transport 14 Railways and how they were made 15 Getting the trams running 16 Bush travel 17 Freight, mail and news in the bush 18 A place to sleep
19 Grub and grog 20 Entertainment 21 Leisure and sports 22 Parks, gardens and zoos 23 Shops and commerce 24 News from Home
25 Con men and tricksters 26 Crimes and the law 27 Managing the convicts 28 Masters and servants 29 Multicultural Australia 30 Australian democracy
31 War alarms and excursions 32 Class and Society 33 Rifts in the colonial lute 34 Power and energy 35 Shipping 36 Catastrophes at sea
37 Australia's plague 38 Flood, fire, famine and worse 39 Clean water 40 Health in Australia 41 Diggers and miners 42 Money and trade
43 Clever Australia 44 Australian education 45 Australian poets 46 Hunters and collectors 47 Strange animals and plants 48 Federation

Who I want to reach

This is written for people who care about Australian history , and the unvarnished truth, people who wonder how their forebears lived and thought.

Freebie extras!

I don't waste the out-takes, though.

Look at my writing blog, Old Writer on the Block, and you can find the leftovers, or sometimes, the precursors: try searcing on "Not Your Usual"...

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It was created on April 19, 2017 and last updated April 19, 2017.

If you email me at macinnis at, you will reach a spam trap, but be read, eventually, probably maybe. If you put my first name in front of that address (so it reads petermacinnis), you will reach me much faster and more surely. This low-tech solution is to make email harvesting difficult. I am generally willing to talk to interesting humans. Spammers miss out twice on fitting that specification.

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