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Posted in Animals, Australia, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about bower birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 259 published on 31 December 1966.
The Regent bower bird of East Australia with the flotsam and jetsam it has assembled for the bower
We are often told that the bower bird of Australia builds a remarkable bower and decorates it with coloured odds and ends, such as feathers, shells and small bones. This story is often told as if there were only one bower bird and only one way of building the bower. In fact, there are many different kinds of bower birds not only in Australia but also in New Guinea, and those in New Guinea build even more elaborate bowers.
The ordinary bower that we read about is built by the cock bower bird in the following manner. He collects together a large number of twigs and arranges them in a platform on the ground several feet long by about two feet wide. He then collects other twigs and the end of each of these is pushed into the platform so that there is finally a double row of vertical sticks with an avenue in between.
The bower birds that build in this way have been called avenue-builders. When the bower has been completed, the bird then collects all kinds of odds and ends and lays them around the bower especially at the entrance to the avenue. After this he leads the hen over to his bower and, while she stands outside, he runs up and down the avenue displaying his beautiful feathers to her. The bower is in no sense a nest. The female, who is much more sombrely coloured than the male, builds her nest in a tree away from the bower.
The bower birds that build a more elaborate bower are known as maypole-builders. In this case, the male selects a small sapling in a clearing in a forest and collects a few twigs and lays them around the base of the sapling. He collects more twigs and lays these on top of the first twigs, until the sapling is clothed in a criss-cross of twigs to a height of two feet or more. At this stage the sapling now looks something like a maypole when the ribbons are criss-crossed round it. This, however, is only the start. More twigs are collected and these are now added in such a way that they form a kind of sloping roof coming down from the twigs around the sapling, and when this part is finished it looks like a tent composed of twigs. Perhaps it would be more correct to say it looks like half a tent with the tent-pole decorated with twigs.
We could even say that it looks like a kind of rough summer-house, and this resemblance is heightened by the further work carried out by the bower bird on each side of the half-tent, where the twigs rest on the ground. Here the bird builds a wall of twigs forming a half-circle in front of the tent. By this time the bower begins to look like a house made of twigs with a lawn in front of it surrounded by a hedge of twigs.
Posted in Australia, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 1 May 2013
This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 237 published on 30 July 1966.
Adelaide, the elegant capital of South Australia
If a young Englishman named Edward Wakefield had not eloped with a sixteen-year-old Scottish heiress, there might have been no State of South Australia, with Adelaide as its capital.
Wakefield was imprisoned because the heiress was under age. During his three years in Newgate Gaol, London, he wrote a pamphlet advocating that a colony be set up in Australia which should be settled by freemen and not, like the other Australian colonies, by convicts.
When Wakefield came out of prison, he managed to interest a number of people in his idea, and money was raised to fit out an expedition. The government granted the colonists a tract of land on the banks of the Torrens river in South Australia. The colony prospered and on July 27, 1836, its first town was laid out. It was called Adelaide, in honour of Queen Adelaide, wife of King William IV.
From the beginning, it was decided that Adelaide was to be a beautiful city, and that ideal has been maintained. It is a city of wide and regular streets set beneath a range of picturesque hills, at the foot of which are the suburbs with houses surrounded by beautiful gardens. The business part of the city is separated from the suburbs by a belt of parkland a quarter of a mile wide and over 2,000 acres in extent.
With its wealth of parks and gardens, Adelaide justly claims to be the Garden City of Australia. It is also an artistic and cultural centre and has several flourishing industries – but neither poverty nor slums.
Posted in Animals, Australia, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
This edited article about parrots originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 237 published on 30 July 1966.
From as far back in history as we can go, primitive tribes have kept parrots as pets. The Ancient Greeks and Romans kept parrots, and when English seamen went out to the Spanish Main to harass ships from West Africa to the West Indies, a parrot became almost as great a prize to bring back as a pocketful of doubloons.
Parrots are related to pigeons on the one hand, and to cuckoos on the other. Yet they are unlike both of these in appearance. And they are so unlike all other birds that nobody has any difficulty in telling a parrot when he sees one. All have large heads, short necks, two toes in front and two behind, and they all have strong, hooked beaks.
As might be expected, because they are scattered all round the globe, the members of this family are known by many different names, such as parrots, cockatoos, parakeets, macaws, lovebirds, parrotlets and budgerigars, as well as many others. It would take too long to tell how one kind differs from another, there are more than 300 species, but in general, all parrots are brightly coloured, easily tamed, and can learn to talk. The range of sizes is large. Some, like the pygmy parrots of Papua, are no bigger than a sparrow, while the gaudy macaws of South America may be over three feet long. A good way to identify two of the more usual kinds is that cockatoos have erectile crests and parakeets usually have long, pointed tails.
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Posted in Adventure, Australia, Exploration, Geography, Historical articles, History, Ships on Wednesday, 17 April 2013
This edited article about Matthew Flinders originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 227 published on 21 May 1966.
At No. 56 Stanhope Street, first round the corner from London’s Euston Station, is the house of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N. It is not likely to be there much longer, for the demolition men aren’t far away, but while it still exists it is easily found, its blue plaque being one of the few bright spots of colour in a drab street.
Born in 1774 of a family whose menfolk had for several generations been surgeons, it was intended that young Matthew should also join the medical profession. However, Daniel Defoe and his book Robinson Crusoe intervened. The book fired young Matthew’s imagination, and he spent his spare time teaching himself geometry and the craft of navigation.
At sixteen he realized his ambition to go to sea and in 1790 he sailed for the South Seas in a vessel called Providence. The object of the voyage incidentally, was to try to transplant bread-fruit trees to the West Indies – a mission which was successfully accomplished.
His next voyage took him to Australia, where he and the ship’s doctor, a man named Bass, spent much time exploring and surveying the coasts near Port Jackson. One day he was sent out in a 25-ton sloop – his first command. He was away for three months and, when he returned, he was able to report that he had discovered and named Bass Strait.
The value of Flinders’s quite extensive work was rapidly realized when he returned to England, and as a result he sailed again for Terra Australis less than a year later. The date was July 18, 1801, and this time he was in charge of an official expedition.
This voyage continued for two years, by which time his ship was rotten beyond repair and his men sick with scurvy. But the charts he drew then are still used as a basis for modern charts of much of the Australian coast.
His journey was eventful. His first command – an old prize taken from the Spanish – was wrecked within a week of sailing. He survived and tried again in a small schooner. This vessel became so leaky that its pumps were eventually out, and the labour of keeping the ship afloat was, it is reported, “excessive.”
By reason of these difficulties, Flinders put in at Mauritius, only to be interned as a spy, for France, which “owned” the island, was not at war with England. He remained a prisoner for seven years before being finally released.
Flinders was one of the first to investigate the phenomenon of compass deviations caused by iron in a ship; he conducted his experiments while he was detained in Mauritius, and he later submitted a paper on the subject to the Royal Society.
He returned to England after his release, and for three years occupied himself with writing a full account of his official voyage. By this time he was a sick man, and he died shortly after completing his final report.
Posted in Australia, Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport on Thursday, 11 April 2013
This edited article about Lawrence Hargraves originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 221 published on 9 April 1966.
Hargraves’s box kite resembled this later, more famous, glider flying as a kite near the ground, with Wright brothers Wilbur (left) and Orville (right), in 1901
A small group of people watched with polite interest as Lawrence Hargraves prepared to fly a kite from a field just outside Sydney on the morning of April 6, 1893. Lawrence Hargraves was always flying kites.
But when this one was airborne, they saw that it was a kite with a difference. Instead of being a flat bamboo framework covered with oiled silk, it was shaped like a box, and flew much more steadily than usual.
Hargraves did not think his new kite very important. He did not even trouble to patent it, although a few weeks later he did read a paper about it to the Royal Society of New South Wales. Other people were interested, however, and the Hargraves box kite became the model for later pioneers who built the first biplanes (aeroplanes with two wings, one above the other).
Hargraves himself, always interested in flying, never believed in the fixed-wing type of aeroplane. He thought that planes should have wings that flapped like those of a bird. He built a number of model aircraft on these lines, and several of them actually flew for a few yards.
Lawrence Hargraves was born at Greenwich in 1850, and emigrated to Australia when he was seventeen. He settled in Sydney, where he was trained as an engineer. He was one of the first men to make a serious study of flying machines but, because he was very shy, he never talked much about his work. Nevertheless, he was one of the real pioneers of flying, though other people benefited from his ideas.
Apart from one or two visits to England, Hargraves spent most of his life in Sydney, where he died on July 6, 1915.
Posted in Australia, Aviation, Communications, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 11 April 2013
This edited article about air mail originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 221 published on 9 April 1966.
Back in Britain the first airmail deliveries began in 1911 by a service flying between Hendon and Windsor, by Wilf Hardy
The pilot of the 100 m.p.h. D.H. Moth, City of Cairo, looked anxiously down from his enclosed cockpit to the Timor Sea below. He was on the last leg of a journey carrying the first official mail from England to Australia, begun in London two weeks before on April 4, 1931, and his petrol gauge registered nearly zero after only six hours’ flight in an aircraft rated as having seven hours’ endurance!
The island of Timor, 300 miles off the North Australian coast, came into view and, scanning the rocky jungle, the pilot heaved a sigh of deep relief as he noted and headed for a strip of lush green meadow.
From as early as 1919, the British Government had an air-service to Australia constantly in mind, though the Indian Government denied Britain facilities to cross the sub-continent.
In 1931, the Indian Government permitted an extension of the London-Delhi service, and on April Fools’ Day in the same year, the Post Office announced that the Air Ministry, London Airways and Quantas Airways of Australia would run two experimental air mail round-trips to Sydney.
The first flight ran into trouble on the island of Timor. What appeared to the anxious pilot of the City of Cairo to be a perfect surface was found on landing to be six-foot-high grass strewn with boulders, which caused considerable damage to the light aircraft.
An active Australian service was continually delayed, and not until the end of 1934 were major Imperial routes established.
Posted in Australia, Discoveries, Historical articles, History, Ships on Wednesday, 10 April 2013
This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 221 published on 9 April 1966.
Captain Cook and Joseph Banks in Botany Bay by Alec Ball
Water and fresh provisions were running dangerously low when the look-out’s cry of “Land Ho!” sounded from the masthead of H.M.S. Endeavour one April morning in 1770. To the crew and their captain, James Cook, the sight of land came as a great relief, for nearly two years out from England, they still had the long voyage home to make.
That afternoon the Endeavour dropped anchor in an inlet and Cook ventured ashore with Mr. Banks, a naturalist. Because of the variety of plants they found, they named the spot Botany Bay.
It was an historic landing. Cook and his companions were the first Europeans to step ashore on what is now the south-eastern coast of Australia. The coastline reminded them of parts of Wales, and so they called the area New South Wales.
Not that Captain Cook discovered Australia. Both the Portuguese and the Spaniards had sailed along the coast in the sixteenth century, but none of them had landed.
Cook landed on what is the most fertile coast of Australia. The country seemed to consist of large tracks of land suitable for farming, there was plenty of water, and the climate, though hot, was suited to Europeans.
Before finally sailing for home, Cook planted a Union Flag and claimed Australia for King George III. But the British government was not at first impressed. It was not until January, 1788, that the first British settlers arrived in Australia. Their tiny settlement is now the city of Sydney, capital of New South Wales and second biggest European-populated city in the British Commonwealth.
Posted in Australia, Boats, Historical articles, History, Law, Travel on Thursday, 28 March 2013
This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.
Eight men, one woman and two small children faced dangers on the voyage such that they could scarcely hope to survive — but the horrors and hardships of the life they were fleeing from made any risk worth taking, by Bill Lacey
The boat was old and leaky. In it were eight men, one woman and two small children. The dangers of the voyage were such that they could scarcely hope to survive – but the horrors and hardships of the life they were fleeing from made any risk worth taking
Among the thousands of convicts who were transported to the Australian penal colony at Botany Bay at the end of the eighteenth century was a young Cornish smuggler named William Bryant.
When William arrived in Australia, he married a young and pretty female convict named Mary. Her crime, for which she had been banished to the other side of the world, had been the theft of a cloak.
The Bryants found life in the colony more grim than they had ever expected. Bullied by guards, they had to work from sun-up to sun-down, and they knew that the slightest break of the strict discipline would mean cruel punishment.
Not only was the life hard because of the “crimes” the convicts had committed in England, but natural conditions made it worse. Crops failed, and at night raiding parties of natives would drive off cattle meant to support the unhappy settlers.
William decided that he could not endure the life any longer.
“There is no hope left in this land,” he said to his wife. “If only we could escape back to Mother England.”
“How can we?” Mary said. “England is over twelve thousand miles away.”
But the idea of returning to England took hold of Bryant. He dreamed about it at night, and whispered to his friends about it by day. Most of them shrugged.
Still he would not give up. When a Dutch schooner anchored in Sydney harbour, Bryant managed to see the captain secretly. He offered him money for an old, leaky six-oared boat which he saw on the deck. In the colony money had no value, the real currency being food and tobacco, and because of this Bryant still had all the money he had brought out with him. The captain accepted it for the boat, and, not being a mean man, threw in two hundred pounds of rice an old musket, and a compass.
With these stores and eight gallons of water, the Bryants, with the two children they now had, and seven male convicts, rowed away from the colony under cover of darkness on the night of March 28, 1791.
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Posted in Australia, Famous news stories, Geology, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 March 2013
This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 213 published on 12 February 1966.
Like many Australians, Edward Hargraves had gone to California to seek his fortune in the gold rush of 1849. But he came back poorer than when he left.
Struggling through the scrubland at the foot of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, on February 10, 1851, something struck him as being familiar. The ground was very similar to that of the gold bearing hills of California. His training as a prospector was aroused and he started to dig. In a few hours he had found gold: and gold in unbelievably rich ore.
That was the beginning of the great Australian gold strike. News of Hargraves’s discovery swept through Australia like a bush fire and within a few weeks the whole way of life in New South Wales was shaken.
Thousands of men came to stake claims in the new gold fields. Shops, offices and factories soon found themselves without staff. In the harbours wharves were deserted and crews walked off their ships. Stockmen left their flocks and herds unattended while they searched for gold.
Within a few months of Hargraves’s discovery, even richer deposits of the precious metal were found in Victoria. Reports of fabulous nuggets being found spread throughout the world. Soon fortune hunters were pouring off hundreds of ships at every Australian port. After the gold seekers came tradesmen and shopkeepers to supply their needs.
Within two months the Australian gold fields had produced nearly £2,000,000 worth of the precious metal. But even more remarkable was the increase in the country’s population.
Posted in Australia, Exploration, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 March 2013
This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 211 published on 29 January 1966.
Eyre and his aboriginal companion spot the tall masts of a whaling vessel, by Ron Embleton
In 1841 twenty-five-year-old Edward John Eyre trekked from Adelaide in South Australia to Albany. This was the first east-to-west crossing of the vast Australian continent, and is one of the great stories of the world.
It meant crossing the Nullarbor Plain which, stretching for most of the loop of the Australian Bight, is a flat featureless area of some 52,000 square miles, guarded in the south by sheer cliffs which in places are up to 300 feet high. The name itself is an indication of what the Nullarbor is like – it comes from the Latin words “nulla,” meaning “no,” and “arbor,” meaning “tree.”
There is an appalling sameness about this country. The forty-five-year-old transcontinental railway, which now spans it from Port Pirie to Kalgoorlie, runs for 300 of its 1,108 miles without a single curve, and with scarcely a gradient to relieve the monotony.
Once the plain was under water, but geologists believe it rose towards the end of the Tertiary Period, exposing the flat limestone surface which is so much a feature of the area.
Its average yearly rainfall is less than ten inches, a factor which was to bedevil Eyre until, ironically, he was but one day’s march from Albany – when he was hit by torrential rains.
At the end of February, 1841, after one false start, Eyre, with a companion named John Baxter, and three aboriginal “boys,” began the march from Fowler’s Bay towards Albany, 850 miles away. It was a march that was to bring death and tragedy, failure and success.
For weeks they trudged westward, their stock and water sinking rapidly along with their spirits. The sand and heat tormented them constantly. Six and seven days at a time they travelled without finding a drop of water.
By mid-March their stock was reduced to three sheep and 142 pounds of flour and, to quote Eyre, “the country before us was disheartening in the extreme.”
They began to jettison valuable gear, each keeping only a single spare shirt, a pair of boots and socks, their blankets and the clothes they wore. Medicine and most of the firearms and ammunition were abandoned.
The scrub became so dense that they were forced to march knee-deep in the sea, desperately struggling to keep the parched horses from drinking the salt water. Once they copied the aborigines and tried sponging the heavy dew from the grass and scrub – a long and wearisome job which had to be done just at dawn, when the dew had fallen but before the scorching sun had evaporated this precious water.
Now, too, they began to consider destroying the horses to save their own lives . . . and there was another danger lurking, too.
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