Subject: uh... It was me : Confessions and Explanations : Part 2 ( 14 of 26 )
Posted by Jeremy Lee
[...continued from part 1]
There were three reasons for this plagarism: First and foremost, most of what they wrote was dead-on. TLC is an absolutely brilliant and insightful portrayal of the Australian culture, and Douglas has also been razor-sharp with his dissections of the Aussie psyche. Second, I knew that the average reader of h2g2 would probably have this literature sitting in their collective unconcious, and thus I was drawing on already-established lines of thought and reasoning. This served to made the piece seem very 'familiar'. (Which almost certainly contributed to the later events)
Third and last, I never intended A:TCC as an independant example of my work, but merely a summary of important ideas that should keep a visitor to Australia alive and well. The 'feel' of the entry is at least as important as the factual content, in that regard, since humans are terrible at remembering details, but good at generalities. If someone else had 'said it' better than I could, then I shamelessly stole. Several Tourists die every year out here, from simple mistakes that us Aussies learned long ago. ("Don't swim in crocodile-infested rivers", is a good one, as is "In the outback, water is life") I might say it in a funny way, but I'm dead serious about all of it.
Let me explain:
I've seen pictures of the Geneva countryside, a green patchwork quilt of farms and villages. I've flown over the US, and watched a completely inhabited countryside roll beneath, every square metre of land crammed with malls and gas stations and screaming Americans.
Australia isn't like that.
It's mostly empty, except for the spinifex and spiders. Americans and Europeans seem to have trouble with that concept. It just doesn't fit their worldview and gets them in trouble. For example: If you drive up through Central Queensland (say, from Brisbane to Mt Isa) you have to plan ahead for petrol. There are stretches where you'll be down to a quarter of a tank, even if you refill at every stop. If you miss the wrong one, you can be stranded literally a hundred kilometres from the nearest human being. Stupid tourists often get out and start walking, confident that the next town or some picturesque farmhouse will be just over the hill... and a week later their empty car will be found, and that is all.
Stay with the car until help arrives. If you have to, you can drink the radiator water. I am *not* kidding.
The most scary thing about Australia: The Confusing Country is that it's all true. Even the bit about the wombats. (well... Kangaroos might actually cause more deaths in some years... the statistics are hard to come by.) It's 'True' in the sense that, if you listen to the advice, Bad Things are much less likely to happen to you. It is a VERY silly idea to stick your hand down a hole in Australia, and the Wombat was as memorable a way as I could say it. You're actually much more likely to be bitten by a snake or redback spider, but that doesn't quite have the same impact in print. (Though both are equally fatal in the flesh, so to speak) So I went with the wombat. Hand-crushing deaths are actually quite rare. But they have happened. Motor-vehicle wombat/kangaroo deaths are depressingly common, however.
I feel completely justified in saying "it's all true" because I've had quite a few emails - from Australians to US exchange students (hi Annie!) to Englishmen who came on holliday - who tracked the article back to me saying (and I quote) "It's all true! Every last word!".
Anyway. Back to the chronology.
I wrote it. It sat there. A few listless people read it.
In late '99, I got invited to be a Sub-editor on h2g2 on the strength of the writing, which made me incredibly happy. For confirmation of that part, you can ask Anna McGovern at h2g2. If she asks if you know when I'll be finished editing those entries, uh, pretend you don't know me.
Time Passed. The millennium ended. (I count from zero.) The world didn't.
Then it happened: Someone turned "Australia: The Confusing Country" into an email chain letter. Most of what I know about this was passed on by my faithful friends on the front line.
[continued in part 3...]