Myth buster: Australian history debunked

Entrenched in his childhood, this solemn story of the little boy stayed with Haynes well into his adult years and was maybe even partly responsible for imbuing in him an early fascination of Australian history.There was only one problem with the tale of Isaac Smith – it wasn’t true.Isaac was on the Endeavour, but he was not a young boy (he was 18), he was not a simple cabin boy (he was a midshipman) and he wasn’t the nephew of Cook’s wife as told (he was her first cousin once removed).And he most certainly would not have been on board the first boats to row to Botany Bay, Haynes says. It would have been the marines who accompanied the landing party, not crew members.It’s just one of the historical inaccuracies Haynes feels he can no longer stay quiet about. In his latest book, Great Furphies Of Australian History, Haynes busts many myths that have held a place in the heart of the Australian people, some for well over a century.Among his truths are the fact Foster’s beer – long derided by Australians but associated with Aussie beer drinkers around the world – was actually invented by two Americans; that Banjo Paterson didn’t write Waltzing Matilda, at least, not the version we sing today; and that the Ashes were not the burnt stumps of the first Test cricket match played between Australia and England.But possibly the biggest myth Haynes smashes is that of our fascination with bushranger Ned Kelly, long upheld as a freedom-fighting rebel, wrongly romanticised as a crusading hero of the Australian bush.“Along the way writing all the books, I had been storing away these tales that I’d come across researching other things and they were weighing on me,” Haynes says of the 15 books he has written.“I felt the need to get up and announce to the world ‘Hallelujah brother, I’m here to tell you the truth, it’s the burden I can bear no longer!’“I hope Australians are ready to hear these truths. Some of them are quite innocent and good fun and I’m sure we’re not all that offended. But I think someone should be out there telling the truth. And I’m a grumpy old man now and over the years I got more and more annoyed by people saying things like ‘Oh yes, for the Ashes they burnt the stumps’ and I’d be biting my tongue.“But I decided before I fired back I better go back and check everything.“I’m not the only one who knows all that stuff. People say to me ‘How do you know all those secrets?’ but they’re actually all out there if people want to check. Most of the stuff is in the public domain.”Great Furphies Of Australian History, by Jim Haynes, published by Allen & Unwin, is available nowMYTH NUMBER 1CAPTAIN COOK ‘DISCOVERED’ AUSTRALIA IN 1770Haynes says a lot of the miscommunication around James Cook is introduced at the primary school level, something he personally relates to. And in his book he debunks 10 common Cook furphies, including the fact he wasn’t a captain until 1775 so “Captain Cook” did not discover Australia; Endeavour was not Cook’s ship; and he was not the first European explorer to discover the east coast of Australia. That honour went to Louis de Bougainville in June 1768.“When I was a kid I was told about Captain Cook and it was as though he owned the Endeavour and it was his idea — ‘I think I’ll go and find a country’ — and of course it’s all totally untrue,” Haynes says. “He was a servant of the Admiralty, he wasn’t well connected so he had to do as he was told. He was a brilliant navigator, obviously a wonderful leader and (later) a captain and a very admirable example of an 18th century best-of-British person.”MYTH NUMBER 2NED KELLY WAS A FREEDOM-FIGHTING HEROThe myths surrounding the legend of bushranger Ned Kelly are among the most misunderstood elements of Australia’s history, says Haynes. It’s a furphy he blames on the fact the first feature movie in the world was about the Kelly Gang. “But (The Story Of The Kelly Gang) was complete fiction,” Haynes says.“It’s cowboys and Indians and doesn’t in any way attempt to do anything more than make a melodrama of the story. That’s what those early silent movies were. But that was the first time Australians were exposed in any way to the Kelly myth. “It’s hard to think of a better example than Ned Kelly when it comes to wrongly romanticised characters in Australia.”Haynes says the truth is Kelly was a “cold-blooded murderer and a thug” and had no notion of being a leader of an Australian republic. In fact, Haynes says, he was completely ignorant of politics or history.MYTH NUMBER 3THE ASHES WERE THE BURNED REMNANTS OF THE STUMPS FROM A TEST CRICKET MATCH BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND ENGLANDOf all the historic wrongs Haynes has tried to right, this is the one that attracts the most heated resistance. It has been strongly upheld throughout the decades that the stumps were burned down to ashes following the English defeat by the Australians in 1882 at The Oval.“That’s the only one I’ve been threatened with physical violence with at the end of a talk,” Haynes says with a laugh.“This one bloke was very vehement. He kept saying ‘That’s not true, that’s not true’ and then he said ‘My great-uncle’s cousin had a mate who was there, he saw them, he said they sat down and burned (the stumps)’, which is absolute rubbish.”The truth, he says, is easy to prove through newspaper articles of the day.A mock obituary denouncing the death of English cricket was published in the Sporting Times following the defeat by the Aussies, which claimed “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.The joke was continued during a party the following season when the English won two of three matches in Australia and a group of ladies presented them with a scented bottle filled with ashes to take home to England.MYTH NUMBER 4BANJO PATERSON WROTE WALTZING MATILDAThis is one that can be argued on a technicality.It is true Paterson wrote four simple verses to which friend Christina Macpherson added a tune. But today’s lyrics are not the same as Paterson originally wrote. He wrote: “And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling …”Paterson later sold the copyright of Waltzing Matilda to his publisher, Angus & Robertson, which leased the rights to the man who owned the Billy Tea Company. The wife of the managing director, Marie Cowan, wrote the words as we know them today, including the changed line: “And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his Billy boiled”, which reinforced the Billy Tea brand. Paterson’s swagman was also made “jolly” in the opening line.“A lot of what we sing today are (Marie Cowan’s) words, not Banjo’s, and the tune is also hers,” Haynes says. “It was essentially an ad for Billy Tea in the end.”Got a news tip? Email [email protected]

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