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7 Weirdest Moments from Australian History

Australian history is really quite unique. You probably already know some basic Australian history facts, but we’ve put together a list of some of the weirdest moments in Australian history so you can impress your mates with your Aussie knowledge.

1. The Platypus Debate

Australia has arguably the most bizarre and unique native fauna in the world. Some Australian animals are so weird that people once thought they were made up

Take the platypus — seemingly a mixture of bird and mammal that lays eggs, is covered in fur, has a duck-like bill, and poisonous spurs on its back feet. When drawings and skins were first sent to Europe by settlers, many believed the platypus was a hoax, sewn together from the bodies of different animals. After years of debate and investigation, the platypus was finally accepted as a real animal and eventually named Ornithorhynchus anatinus, meaning ‘bird-snouted flat-foot’.

Since then, the platypus has continued to capture the world’s fascination. In 1943, during the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill demanded that a live platypus be sent to him in England. Unfortunately, Winston the platypus (named after his soon-to-be owner) died on the way to England.

2. The Emu Wars

The emu, another seemingly bizarre Australian animal, has presented far greater historical problems than the humble platypus. One of the strangest Australian animal facts is that Australia waged a war against emus — and lost.

In 1932, the town of Campion, Western Australia, was the site of one of Australia’s greatest, and strangest, military failures. As many as 20,000 emus had been feasting on the region’s wheat crops, devastating farms, so the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery decided to put an end to the situation with three soldiers, machine guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. 

However, the military quickly discovered they had underestimated the awkward-looking bird. The emus were good at quickly breaking into smaller groups, were so fast they were nearly impossible to hit with gunfire, and didn’t seem to care even when they were hit by the bullets! The military also struggled with guns that jammed and vehicles that were unable to keep up with the emus, who can reach speeds of 50km/hr!

The war only lasted a week before the military gave up, and just 50 to 200 of the 20,000-strong emu forces were killed. Ultimately, the Australian military had to admit that not only had they declared war on big birds, they had lost. Luckily, there were no human casualties.

3. Vegemite banned in Victorian prisons

It’s one of the most well-known Australian facts that Vegemite is one of Australia’s most iconic exports. But did you know Vegemite has been banned in some Victorian prisons since the late 1990s? This is because prisoners have been known to use the yeast spread to make a kind of home-brewed alcohol.

Although it was initially thought that the yeast content of Vegemite was enough to do this alone, researchers at the University of Queensland have proven that you would need live yeast and some extra sugar in addition to the Vegemite to brew alcohol. 

They also proved that it tastes awful! But sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures…

4. The gentleman bushranger

Many people have heard of Ned Kelly, Australia’s most infamous bushranger. But have you heard of Ben Hall

Aside from standard highway robberies — he was responsible for over 100 robberies between 1863 and 1865 — Hall appreciated a good time. He never killed anyone and seemed to make it his mission in life to humiliate the authorities. 

On two separate occasions, while Hall and his gang robbed a hotel in the town of Canowindra, New South Wales, they locked the local police in their own cells and threw a huge party for all the townspeople. Afterwards, to prove they were good blokes, the gang paid the tab for everyone at the pub and paid the townspeople for their time!

5. The Frying Pan Fight

William Hovell and Hamilton Hume were two of Australia’s most famous 19thcentury explorers, responsible for discovering important grazing land inland from the Australian coast. However, they may have been more frenemies than friends.

On one infamous 1824 mission, they disagreed so strongly about which direction to take that they resolved to go their separate ways. Beginning with their provisions, they divided everything in two…even cutting the tent in half! Finally, sources say they fought over a frying pan, tugging it back and forth, before it broke. Each man took their piece away with them when they split up, before Hovell realised he had made a navigational error and joined Hume again.

6. Prime minister famous for love of raw onions

In March 2015, Tony Abbott, then-Australian Prime Minister famously ate a raw onion on live television.

Sadly, this is one of the main acts people remember from Abbott’s time as prime minister. To make things even weirder, despite negative press about the incident, he later did it again. 

Following news that Abbott could be leaving office, #PutOutYourOnions trended on social media as people around Australia left onions outside of their front doors to commemorate the occasion.

7. Swimming pool named after prime minister who disappeared…while swimming

On 17 December 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming at Cheviot Beach near Melbourne. Despite extensive searching, his body was never found. 

Although accidental drowning seems the most likely explanation, many conspiracy theories have been created about the event. One theory even suggests Holt was a Chinese spy who swam out to a waiting submarine and escaped to Beijing!

In a weird but particularly Australian twist of irony, a Melbourne swimming pool was later named after Harold Holt — the locals even call it ‘Dead Harry’s’.

To discover some more weird and wonderful Australian history facts, check out these collections of Australian urban legends and ghost stories.