The twenty-sixth of January, 2011: from the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback, and some dead horses

It’s Australia Day today (although I’m writing this at eight-thirty UK time, so by this hour Australia’s Australia Day will be long since finished). Like most such patriotic hooh-hahs, it’s a complicated old holiday. It marks the foundation of the colony in 1788 by Captain Arthur Phillip and his eleven shipfuls of transported convicts.

During the first world war, though, Australia Day shifted to July 30, and its purpose was less to commemorate the nation’s founding than to raise funds for Australia’s war effort – an effort that reached its bleak apotheosis at Gallipoli.

I was going to turn Clutterbuck over to poet Banjo Paterson, singer Peter Dawson, some dude with a pretty sweet gramophone, and one of my favourite songs (I have no idea why. Incidentally, why are there no decent versions of it anywhere? I’ve only used this one because I like the whole gramophone business).

But instead I’m going to turn it over to Eric Bogle (songwriter) and The Pogues (performers), neither of whom is or was Australian but heigh-ho.

Too morbid for Australia Day?

I was going to go on and link to some of my favourite Australian cultural exports. But these, too, are morbid. My favourite Aussie song? My favourite short story by Aussie Booker-collector Peter Carey, ‘Life and Death in the South Side Pavilion’, the one that ends like this?

What can I say? Australians are all morbid. Happy Australia Day.

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