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Subject: ‘Australia’

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The new dirt track dare-devils rode the reliable Rudge

Posted in Australia, Engineering, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes, Transport on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about motor-cycles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Dirt track racing,  picture, image, illustration
Cornering on the dirt track

In the mid-1920s the Rudge Whitworth motorcycle catalogue advertised a rather unusual optional extra. This was the canoe sidecar – a canoe-shaped passenger carrying body which could be detached from the motorcycle and launched on a river!

Such ideas were typical of the factory which was always coming up with new ideas – and a surprising number of them worked; for right from the earliest days the engineers at the Coventry works seemed to have an instinct for doing a job well.

In 1911 the TT races in the Isle of Man were moved to the mountain circuit – so-called because it climbed to nearly 1500 feet going over the shoulder of Snaefell. This climb posed a great problem to the single gear belt driven machines of the day and some of the riders who had entered their Rudges asked the factory if it could produce a variable gear.

The gear ratio of a belt driven machine is fixed by the relative size of the pulley on the engine shaft and that on the rear wheel. As early as 1909 the Zenith firm had introduced its Gradua gear in which a large hand lever opened or closed the flanges of the pulley on the engine shaft, thus varying its effective size. This change in the pulley altered the tension of the belt, and this was compensated for by moving the rear wheel backwards or forwards! Although the idea of shifting the back wheel about while the bike was in motion does not seem very pleasant, the arrangement became quite famous.

The Rudge designers felt that something better was needed and it took them just one week to invent and produce the Rudge Multi gear. As the engine shaft pulley was made smaller the belt rim on the rear wheel was made larger and vice versa so that the belt was kept at a constant tension. There was a clumsy looking arrangement on the rear wheel, and the variation in gearing possible was not very wide, but it gave a considerable advantage over a single geared machine and the Rudge Multi became a great favourite before World War I.

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The early struggles with reviled Aborigines in Adelaide

Posted in Australia, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 13 March 2014

This edited article about Australia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 588 published on 21 April 1973.

Aborigines under attack, picture, image, illustration
Aborigines under attack by Angus McBride

It was December 6, 1837, and the evening was hot and steaming. The temperature had been 100 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the day, and the men had been drinking steadily. From the shanties and shacks that comprised Adelaide, capital city of South Australia, hoarse voices cursed and quarrelled and sang. Robert Cock, a prudent Scot, ordered his wife and children to stay in his storeroom, while he kept watch, gun at his side, on the lean-to which served them as a house. These were the nights when trouble started – this one was to be no exception.

Adelaide, in the first year of its foundation, was a primitive place. Only the governor, who had brought his wooden house prefabricated from England, lived in any style or comfort. Most of the settlers lived in rough huts, often built of rushes, which burned easily in the heat. They were waiting for land to be apportioned to them, and until they received their grants they had little to do except hunt and drink bad liquor.

The aborigines in the area were not numerous, but despite the efforts of the governor, of their official protector and of humane men like Robert Cock, they were already being treated with scant respect. Relations between black and white were growing increasingly strained; at any time they might snap.

And snap they did. High above the drunken chorus came a long scream of fear. A white man ran down the main street, terror in his eyes. He glanced continually behind although the shimmering track was empty. Cock and the other settlers, quickly sobered, came out of their shacks. The man, sensing security, fell to his knees and sobbed for breath.

He told them that he had been out after quail. He had startled a bird and had fired but his shots had gone wide. Suddenly he saw a black figure leap up from the grass blood streaming from his chest and then a group had appeared. A spear had hissed past his head and he had run for his life.

As he ended his tale he looked back along the track and his eyes filled with fear again. A war band of aborigines stood there, motionless. Their leader held the wounded man in his arms; another clasped a bleeding arm. The rest lifted their spears ready to throw; the sun glinted on the broken glass that formed a barbed ridge along the thin rods. The leader spat out an accusation at the quail-hunter, turned on his heel and led the party into the bush.

Gradually the crowd dispersed but Cock, alarmed by the menace in the aborigine’s voice, spoke quietly with the protector. Might this incident lead to bloodshed? If so, they were hardly prepared for it. The protector shrugged. Who could tell? They would soon find out.

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The 1882 Test Match which gave birth to the Ashes legend

Posted in Australia, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Legend, London, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This edited article about cricket first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 567 published on 25 November 1972.

The Ashes,  picture, image, illustration
The first Ashes Test: W G Grace, England's dismissed opening batsman, looks on as his partner's wicket is shattered by the Australian fast bowler Fred Spofforth. Inset: the original urn containing the ashes of a burnt stump, by John Keay

The Crowd of some 10,000 at Kennington Oval in 1882 settled down, confident that they were about to see England give Australia another lesson in cricket, England needed only 85 runs to win and the great W. G. Grace was opening the innings. All present expected him to repeat his performance of 1880 when he slashed 152 runs and took three wickets to contribute to Australia’s five-wicket defeat in the first Test on English soil.

But in 1882 shocks to English pride came in short order in what has been called the greatest Test Match of them all. The Australian “demon” bowler, Spofforth, bowled the English captain with the score at 15, then got another wicket with the next ball – and the first moment of doubt swept through the crowd. Spirits soared again, however, as W. G. Grace and Ulyett took the score to 50. Only 35 needed to win. Could there be any doubt that England was still supreme?

Then Ulyett was dismissed at 51. But the greatest cricketer of them all, W. G., was still there to sweep all opposition to the boundary. Two more runs were added then Grace opened his mighty shoulders to a ball, mis-hit and was caught – with 32 still needed to win.

Nerves became tauter as six, 10, 12 overs were bowled without a run being scored. “This thing can be done.” Spofforth had said at the beginning of the innings – now he was showing how. He had a word with his fielders, a hit was purposely misfielded and Lyttelton was facing Spofforth. Four more maidens then suddenly Lyttelton was out. The rout had begun. Wicket after wicket fell until the score stood at 75 for nine.

Excitement was at fever pitch. The visitors from “down under” were giving England a cricket lesson.

With 10 runs needed to win, Peate, the show bowler came on to take the bowling. He struck wildly at the first ball and they ran a shaky two. Tension was so high that one spectator dropped dead and another chewed lumps from his umbrella handle.

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Many deserts support a wide variety of wildlife

Posted in Africa, Animals, Australia, Nature, Wildlife on Friday, 21 February 2014

This edited article about desert wildlife first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.

The Fennec Fox and Eagle Owl,  picture, image, illustration
A Fennec manages to escape its powerful enemy, the Eagle Owl by Eric Tansley

We usually think of deserts as being hot, dry places. The ground is stony or sandy and the sun beats down from a clear blue sky. The only vegetation is a few scattered plants and there are no animals to be seen.

This is the popular idea of a desert and such places do exist, but the word desert really means a barren tract of land where there is very little rainfall. The Antarctic continent is a desert because the annual rainfall, in the form of snow, is very small.

But there are many desert regions which support a variety of plants and animals and only the driest parts are completely lacking in plant and animal life.

Desert life is based on what little rainfall there is. Some deserts get regular rain in the winter while others have to rely on rare showers. Yet even a small shower is often sufficient to produce a burst of plant life. Seeds rapidly send out shoots and dried up plants gain a new lease of life. The leaves and seeds of these plants provide food for all kinds of desert mammals.

The hot deserts of the world are the home of many kinds of small rodents. The most familiar of these are the gerbils which live in the desert regions of Africa and Asia. The jerboas or “desert rats” of North Africa and Asia look like miniature kangaroos. They have long hind legs, long tails and short front legs. The kangaroo rats of the south-western U.S.A. and northern Mexico and the kangaroo mice of Australia are also desert-dwellers.

These little animals from all over the world have many things in common which suit them for living in dry country. They all have long tails which act as balancers and long hind legs which are used for hopping. The jerboa hardly ever walks normally but progresses by leaps of up to 10 feet. This is a very useful way of getting about in the desert, where the plants that the rodents feed on are widely scattered. The jerboas and gerbils have hairy soles on their feet which give them a better grip on soft sand and probably makes standing on hot ground more comfortable.

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Edward Eyre – the overlander who helped map a continent

Posted in Australia, Exploration, Geography, Historical articles, History, Travel on Friday, 31 January 2014

This edited article about Australia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 535 published on 15 April 1972.

Edward Eyre,  picture, image, illustration
Edward Eyre and his aboriginal companion by Ron Embleton

Edward Eyre lay back in his tent and forced his tired brain to think back over his expedition which was fast becoming a disaster. Where had he gone wrong? There had to be a route between South Australia and the rich, virgin pastureland in the west. Rumours abounded of the fortunes that could be made by stock farmers but none of these dreams would come true unless a way could be found of driving the animals there. He had started from Adelaide in June 1840, determined to push inland, then strike due west.

The choice of route was a disaster. Forcing their way inland Eyre, his overseer and their three aboriginal guides came to the area now known as Lake Torrens. At that time, anything less like a lake would have been difficult to imagine. Flat desolate countryside with a curious dried crust that was firm enough for a man to walk on but which was treacherous for the horses. In less than a minute the horses had sunk over their knees in hot, salt mud. As they struggled, so they sank further until it seemed as if they must drown in the quagmire. Eyre and his companions eventually managed to calm the animals but it was hours before they could be half-dragged out of the mud. Heads, backs, saddles were covered with blue mud, their eyes and mouths filled with salt and mud also. Baffled, Eyre looked for an alternative route and then started a sorrowful retreat.

The “straight” route was just not possible then, with bogs, waterless deserts, and fierce aboriginals waiting for the unwary traveller. Eyre decided that following the coastline was the only feasible way across and his disconsolate party re-traced their steps and started the long drag round the Great Australian Bight. Not only was this uninhabited country but it was and still remains, one of the most desolate areas in the world.

They were still engaged in crossing the Great Nullarbor Plain – a 400 mile stretch of land that is treeless, waterless and so level that the railway which now crosses it has the longest straight track in the world – 300 miles. Edward Eyre was uncomfortably aware that there was just as bad country to cross, but at this stage he was too exhausted to worry about the following day. He slipped quietly into sleep until suddenly the absolute peace of the outback was spectacularly shattered.

Shouts, oaths, pistol shots and the frightened cries of the horses were rising to a crescendo as Eyre crawled to the door of the tent. Then . . . nothing but the sound of horses’ hooves. Eyre found his overseer murdered and two of his aboriginals gone. Most of his supplies had disappeared too, and somewhere in the night were two frightened, angry natives who now had an interest in seeing that Eyre did not reach safety. To go on was now doubly dangerous; to stay suicidal. But to go back was unthinkable. He crawled back into the tent and postponed all his decisions to the morrow.

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Sydney built the most expensive opera house in the world

Posted in Architecture, Australia, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, Leisure, Music, Theatre on Wednesday, 29 January 2014

This edited article about Australia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 531 published on 18 March 1972.

The Sydney Opera House,  picture, image, illustration
An artist's impression of the Sydney Opera House

The Australians call it the most striking building created by modern man. From a pink granite podium on the harbour-side, the spinnaker-shaped concrete roofs rear skywards like a gigantic, half-opened water-lily. Concert halls, theatres, restaurants, exhibition salons, a cinema, a post office and official bureaux cluster beneath the soaring architecture that reaches as high as a 20-storey office block.

Sydney Opera House, a home of culture founded on the site of an 18th century British convict colony . . . a triumph in artistic engineering, yet a back-breaking financial burden. It was conceived in 1957 at an estimated cost of $A 7m (about £3.28m). Today with an opening date fixed for some time in 1973 the final figure will be more than $A 100m (about £46.8m).

Why? The answer is not just a simple one of rising labour costs. It embraces controversy in high quarters, clashing artistic temperaments, the predictable trial and error of transforming drawing board plans into structural reality.

It was on January 29, 1957, that Mr J. J. Cahill, Labour premier of New South Wales, announced the result of an international competition for an opera house to replace a tramshed, built strangly enough like a fortress on Bennelong Point. It was there that a British naval officer, Captain Arthur Phillip, landed from HMS Supply on January 25, 1788, to found a colony for deported convicts from Britain.

The competition for the opera house attracted 233 entries from 32 countries. The winner was Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect aged 38, who lived in the seaside resort of Hallebaek near Helsingor, better known in Britain as Elsinor. Utzon was, in fact, inspired by the castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet to visualise a vast theatrical complex near water.

Although Utzon had by that time only designed housing projects, he was given the task of turning his sketch plans into the fantastic structure of today.

In the Spring of 1958, Utzon arrived in Sydney and astounded officials with his detailed scheme. He had conceived the opera house as three buildings spread over a four-and-a-half acre base, which itself stood 50 feet high. The biggest outdoor steps in the world led up to this emporium of entertainment where some of the halls would have no walls at all while others were encased by huge windows.

Premier Cahill was impatient to make a start. He was warned that years of research would be needed before construction could begin. But he brushed aside cautionary advice and ordered the go-ahead. By March, 1959, building was under way with the project divided into three stages: podium, roofs and interiors.

Before the year was out, however, Cahill had died but the work continued with parliamentary approval plus a scheme to raise money by various means, including a State lottery.

Tragically, the eight-year-old son of the first winner of $A200,000 (about £93,700) was kidnapped and murdered.

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Edward Walton’s narrow escape from an Australian lynch mob

Posted in Australia, Historical articles, History, Law on Thursday, 23 January 2014

This edited article about Australia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 523 published on 22 January 1972.

Edward Walton, picture, image, illustration
Walton's pursuers broke out from the bush just as he was about to take the tethered horse, by Pat Nicolle

It looked like being another typical Christmas on the Australian sheep-range. The sun blazed harshly down on the treeless, hilly land, and the New South Wales sheep farmers looked forward to taking a trip to the coast and enjoying the refreshing sea breezes.

Among those who planned to do this was a young Englishman, Edward Walton, who had originally gone to Australia to try and pick up a fortune in gold. He found no gold, but a small legacy enabled him to start his own sheep farm in partnership with a man from Cheltenham named Ed Campbell.

The two Britishers had worked hard throughout 1894, and at Christmas-time they left the farm in charge of two hired hands, and rode towards Sydney some 60 miles away. It seems a harmless start to the festive season, but before a fortnight was out Edward Walton was to find himself on the run for his life.

“I was the unfortunate wretch,” he said, “whom a host of squatters, dealers and miners chased for miles, and would certainly have slung up on the nearest tree if they had captured me.”

Although he did not know it then, Walton’s predicament was to be brought about by the extreme and violent behaviour of his partner – who, at 35, was several years older than himself.

Due to the constant dust, the insects, and the almost intolerable heat, Campbell persuaded Walton to stop at a bush settlement on their way to Sydney, and to spend some time at a hotel there.

Walton readily agreed to this, and the two men remained at the settlement until the start of the New Year. Then, on the evening of 3rd January, 1895, The first incident occurred that was to turn Edward Walton into a fugitive for life.

The young farmer was smoking a cigar to keep away the flies and insects, when Campbell suddenly lurched up to him in a state of great agitation. The older man with the long yellow moustache explained that the heat was too intense for him, and that his nerves were beginning to break.

Walton, however, sensed that there was more to it than just that.

“I saw that he was terribly upset about something,” he said later, “and I concluded that the best thing I could do was leave him alone. It proved to be the wrong decision, and one that I shall never cease to regret.”

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Amy Johnson – the girl from Hull who flew from Croydon to Australia

Posted in Adventure, Australia, Aviation, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Travel on Friday, 3 January 2014

This edited article about aviation first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 502 published on 28 August 1971.

Amy Johnson, picture, image, illustration
Amy Johnson

When Amy Johnson decided she wanted to become the first woman to fly solo to Australia and break the record for the flight she had only clocked 93 hours flying time.

And the longest flight she had ever made until that May day in 1930 when she took off from Croydon airport was the 147 miles from London to her home in Hull.

She was twenty-six years old and had just lost her job as a typist. She was bored, and flying, she decided, was the only way to excitement.

Amy told her father about her plans and he agreed to give her a cheque for £600 if she could not find another backer.

Needless to say there were no other backers, and with her father’s £600 Amy bought a Gipsy Moth which she called Jason.

There were no great crowds to see the tall, slim girl off at Croydon. In the terraced houses surrounding the airport the residents went about their everyday business unaware that flying history was being made.

True a handful of reporters turned up to witness Amy’s departure, and one of them went as far as to write four paragraphs for his newspaper.

That was the sum of the interest that the world at large was taking in Amy Johnson.

Nobody thought for one minute that she would ever do it. Even her father, when he kissed his daughter goodbye, hoped at best that Amy would not kill herself trying.

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The epic tragedy of Australian explorers Burke and Wills

Posted in Australia, Exploration, Geography, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 2 January 2014

This edited article about Australia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 501 published on 21 August 1971.

Burke and Wills, picture, image, illustration
In 1860, Robert Burke and William Wills crossed the desert from Victoria in the South to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the North, but both died on the return journey

When the Great Northern Exploration Expedition rode out of Melbourne on a Monday morning in August, 1860, few of the ten thousand Australians gathered to cheer it on its way paid much attention to a quiet young man riding in the rear.

Their eyes were on the leader – a big, bearded Irishman of 40 riding a grey horse and waving his broad-brimmed hat. Robert O’Hara-Burke had been most things in this young and robust country.

No one doubted that he had the courage and the skill to lead his 18 men on a trek across two thousand miles of largely uncharted country, from the southern shore of Australia to its northern coast on the Gulf of Carpentaria.

And equally no one could have thought much of that young man at the rear. He was William John Wills, who had emigrated from Devon while a boy, and who was, surprisingly for an exploration like this, an astronomer.

Yet these two men – Burke and Wills – were to be linked together in a dramatic way.

At the beginning of the first lap, 300 miles to the junction of Murray and Darling rivers, the expedition moved slowly.

When three of Burke’s followers rebelled against his manner towards them, he angrily sent them back to Melbourne.

He then divided the party in two, telling one half to remain where it was, while he and Wills pushed on with the other. They took 15 horses and 16 camels, and then, ten days later when they had covered 200 miles, he once more divided the party in two.

Giving no explanation he told one half to go back to bring up the party left behind, while he and Wills went on with six men.

Burke and his seven men came to the Sturt Desert. The heat was something none could have imagined.

At Cooper’s Creek, which was not so much a stream as a number of shallow water-holes, they waited for the other party to come up.

Day after day they waited, and the party they had left behind never came. Although they were short of supplies, Burke angrily decided to move on, and once more he split the party in two.

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Harry Murray escaped when the Japanese invaded New Ireland

Posted in Adventure, Australia, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Wednesday, 18 December 2013

This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 496 published on 17 July 1971.

Harry Murray escapes, picture, image, illustration
Harry Murray's escape from New Ireland after the Japanese invasion by Clive Uptton

It had been a long, tiring day, and store-owner Harry Murray was glad to get to bed. He changed into his white silk pyjamas, took out his false teeth and put them in a glass of water. The house was still and quiet, and he soon fell soundly asleep.

Suddenly the island’s night air was split by the furious rat-a-tat-tat of machine-gun fire. The sky over the coast was illuminated green, blue, yellow and red by dozens of blinding Very lights. Jackie, Mr. Murray’s native boy, came dashing into the bedroom, his eyes rolling.

“Master! Master!” he cried fearfully. “Quick Time! Japan ‘e come!”

In a flash Murray was awake. He ran out on to the veranda to see for himself the threatened invasion of New Ireland. Almost the first thing he spotted were some curious white shapes sprinting towards him, spraying bullets as they came. Then he saw that the shapes were white sandshoes worn by Japanese soldiers. In minutes he would either be dead or taken prisoner!

There was no time to dress, or even put his teeth back in. He and Jackie jumped from the veranda and disappeared in different directions into the night. Murray made for the road and luckily came across an Australian army staff-car, which was driving heedlessly through the Jap soldiers. It slowed down long enough for Murray to leap on to the running-board, then it tore ahead towards the as yet unoccupied airfield.

It was 3.30 on the morning of 23rd January, 1942. The Japanese invasion of the Territory of New Guinea was under way. For the first time since its foundation in 1788, enemy troops had landed on Australian soil.

Ever since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, on 7th December, 1941, the small European population of New Ireland had been preparing to evacuate. Kavieng, the administrative centre – situated one thousand miles north of the Australian mainland – had already been bombed by 70 Jap planes.

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