A furphy is Australian slang for an improbable story that grows to become factual. It may have derived from J. Furphy & Sons of Shepparton, a carting company. The cart driver went from place to place, picking up bits of information, and then told the tale to the next place visited. Like Chinese Whispers, the tale morphed into something else. But then, that derivation of furphy could also be a furphy.
Writer and broadcaster Jim Haynes exposes some of the great Australian misconceptions by detailing the facts and putting the myth in context of the time the ‘untruth’ evolved. His research is meticulous. His thorough explanations are easy to read and understand.
Included are the usual suspects: Did the ashes of the cricket fame actually ever exist? (probably not.) Did Banjo Paterson really write Waltzing Matilda? (Possibly not.) Is the Ghan named after of Afghanistan camel drivers who followed a similar route? (Definitely not.) Did Edward Hargraves really discover gold? (Nope.) How Australian is Fosters beer? (Not much.) And the BIG one – the true story of Ned Kelly! Jim virtually proves that “Kelly was a violent and egotistical career criminal, a pathological liar and a murderer, not a brave rebel fighting for the rights of the underdog”.There are also some lesser debated legends. Who were Dad and Dave of theatrical fame? Why is the Dog in the Tuckerbox in Gundagai when the dog was probably never in that town? Jim deconstructs the story of Breaker Morant, the first crossing of the Blue Mountains, Cook’s Transit of Venus expedition and much more. He shows, for example ,that Cook “kept secrets and told lies as part of his job and sense of loyalty to his country. He hid information about and lied about Point Hicks and Stewart Island, and possibly about taking possession of New South Wales.” In 83 detailed pages, Jim leads us through diaries, reports, ship logs and other materials to prove it is so.
There is also a delightful explanation of the derivation of the words Pom, Dinkum, Digger, and Chunder – these words didn’t evolve from where we think they did.
The chapters begin with wonderful and relevant quotes from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, ‘Through the Looking Glass’ and Carroll’s poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’. If it was so, it might be, and if it were so, it would be: but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic. What a delightful quote about conditional arguments and hypothetical syllogisms to introduce each chapter.
For all the detailed history, names of myth makers and of historical maps, there is no index. It’s a good book that would be so much more useful with one.
Published by Allen & Unwin, 2021
ISBN 978 1 76087 981 5
Review by Carol Dance