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Saturday, 17th May 2008
T the things I know about

Australia might well fit on the back of cigarette card or two (if I pad). It is a certain fact I know absolutely no more about the country since the influx of bad Australian soaps on British TV. On reflection this cannot be true.

australian soap

Wills, Overseas Dominions, Australia [1915] 50 cards    

Australia has a TV network in a worse state than ours (presumably we are buying the best?) they seem to have bizarrely bland lives which a large percentage of the British population cannot watch enough of. This says plenty about just how exciting things are in UK.

I suspect, mind you, rather like a comic is not constantly humorous the Australians could well be producing these soaps just for the UK market and laughing all the way to the bank.

...Safe to say though it is one of the questions in testing replicants in Blade Runner.

It is all a bit depressing really. US shows give you a sense of the US, location work is a lot better. Australians seem to live in houses which resemble my late grandmothers house or sleep on a blanket in the outback.

It also seems they have a young population, a British soap is full of retired folk, Australian soaps are full of young people. Ill-educated young people as well is the assumption given the amount of schooling they get.

There does not seem to be the same drink problem in Australia here in the UK if you are not in the pub you are not in the soap. At least in the UK we have a rudimentary educational system in the guise of the Grange Hill Soap.

The US has a very weird education system, it seems you have to be around about 30 years old and dress up in school age clothing before they let you in. It might explain a good deal.

All this is fine, its TV, we know this but deep down it must be making an impression, any character that gets into trouble in one of the national soaps is bombarded with offers of help. I bet it is even worse now there is email everywhere. Perhaps I should set-up an automatic system which fires off emails to soap characters in trouble.

Phrases like, 'He is a con-man, can't you hear that fake foreign accent?', 'To solve your money problems by a lottery ticket, you'll win.'.

I am digressing and can keep going at this level of hours on end so lets put a stop to it now and introduce the set of cards in question. Wills, Overseas Dominions, Australia [1915]. One of only two sets issued under this series title (the other Canada).

The two sets of cards bear a remarkable similarity. Both countries are very big to my way of thinking, there is more space than people and a lot of wood and things. This is partly due to it being the beginning of this century when industrialisation had not hit as hard as it has today and generally there were fewer people on the planet (and getting fewer during the period 1914-1918.

early days of colonisation

Now we all know Australia began its service to the British Empire as basically a penal colony. Much mileage used to be made of this in the tired jokes of failing comics. It certainly is one of the few prisons half the British population wants to get to see from the inside. Certain members of my family have managed the trip (yes they paid for their passage).

Anyway the set does not get to grips with this fact. Indeed in many ways the set is odd, possibly because of the fine line it was treading in 1915 given certain other world events were going on and the big cigarette card companies were acutely aware of the place they held in society.

The set kicks of with Sydney. Population 725,400 (1913), covering 12 square miles and this is the chief city. There are parks of 4838 acres within the city limits which boasts 130 miles of streets. Beyond the city limits is the National Park (33719 acres) and Ku-ring-gai Chase (33300 acres), so a bit of space then.

Adelaide, Hobart etc get a card dedicated to them, although not quite as thorough as Sydney.

No opera house, no harbour bridge in the picture either, what on earth would the opening credits of a programme on Australia show?

Perhaps card 2, Government house, Sydney. Made from the local sandstone it is built in the English Castle style of architecture. Card 3 is the Town Hall and this really does look impressive from the card, if somewhat florid as the card says.

Card 3 & 4 deal with the finest harbour in the world, Sydney of course.

Card 6 is the monument to Capt. Cook described as the discoverer of Australia. I am never to keen on this voyages of discovery lark. I never remember the history books describing how the Vikings discovered Britain, more how they came along and caused bloody havoc amongst the native Brits.


Now rather like the Canadian version of this set there is not a lot being said about the poor blighters that happened to have been living happily there since time began.

Not enough said on that subject but what can be said without sounding preachy.

Card 7 moves onto the timber industry which seems to be the common thing to be doing. Leave a country alone for a few million years, let the trees grow and then get in there and cut them down as fast as you can, if you are really good at it, you could clear them all.

Amazingly the card makes exactly the same point about, 'Even skilful afforestation schemes, however, will hardly make good the destruction inflicted by the woodman's axe.'

That was in 1915 and they are worried about the dmagae a woodsman's axe can cause. Apparently there was 7.75 million acres of trees to be hacked about with and the State derived royalties from the destruction of the timber. It amounted to £96,965 (1912).

Timber makes various appearances throughout the set, card 18 names some of the more famous trees which are cut down and exported, Jarrah, eucalyptus, karri, tuart, wandoo and sandal-wood. Thank the good Lord I have at least heard of few of them in my state of insular ignorance.

Where have all the sheep gone?

Card 21 touches on a number of timber aspects in the pioneering spirit. A selector (presumably a pioneer) determines an area he wishes to live in and ring-barks the trees in a specified area.

Card 37 shows this, basically a ring of bark is stripped from the tree. This cuts the supply of sap and the tree dies and then is burnt the following season.

For this reason it would seem the selector spends the first year living in a tent (card 21 again) and then builds a timber house, what else.

Card 47 deals with the enclosing a selection. Amazing how territorial we are even in towns and cities people will ring fence the smallest bit of land with chains, ornamental or not. It is a shame our territorial instincts seem so at odds with our curiousty instinct. Perhaps God's little joke (one of many I suspect).


A good number of cards deal with the problems of irrigation, there is an acute lack of water in Australia. So much so most of the country is rendered basically uninhabitable (at least by us).

Card 9 deals with the incredible task of digging the great Murrumbidgee Irrigation system, started in 1884 it was partially completed by 1913.

So you have a hot country with a lot of trees and poor water supply and a lot of people cooking etc. What happens next. Actually it takes till card 50 to spell it out, Bush fire. Apparently not a big problem when it comes to killing people.

Areas of habitation are built with fire breaks in them because of just such a risk. Doesn't say how much natural environment disappeared though but things were different back then, there seemed an abundant supply of nature and an all to fragile supply of humanity. Amazing how perspectives change.

Card 38 gave us a hint as to bush life (one of the phrases that gets a mention in every Australian film I ever see has to be 'He's gone bushy.' Fantastic but you need an Australian accent to do it right.) The jarrah tree gets a mention here as it turns out to be so hard that it is in demand for street paving.

I confess I have not seen any street paving made of wood, why not just chip it up and throw it on the ground as replacement stones, alternatively just fritter it away in a wasteful manner? Still use wood we aren't making stone anymore. Anything renewable has to be a plus as long as we remember to renew it.


Card 8 deals with the discovery of gold in Ophir Bluff in 1851. NSW exporting around £700,000 worth of gold a year. For some reason I could not give two hoots about gold being pulled out of the ground, probably because it is worth more out than in and nobody in their right mind destroys gold (?) Strange world.

Card 10, sheep, there are a lot of then, 90 million according to the card. It was a lot then, its a lot now.

It takes till cards 32-35 for sheep to really get into their stride with the process of mustering them, shearing them (skilled people shearing 100 in 8 hours) The record for hand-shearing 327 ewes in 7.5 hours.

Although the card notes this sort of behaviour is not encouraged as the sheep are likely to be badly cut. Then card 34 is the drying of the wool. It exported £26354563 worth of wool in 1912 which as the card says, puts it in perspective. Card 35 deals with carting wool from the shed (?)

Sheep are not the only fruit. Cattle (11.5 million in 1912) were grouped in large herds, figures courtesy of card 42.

So cattle, sheep and horses. Wild horses called 'Brumbies' card 44. This is traced back to two horses that wandered off having been driven mad by sand-flies in 1870 (quite how or why we know this). Anyway they joined up with other insane horses, eyes rolling at the sight of flies and before you know it there are millions of them (almost).

No mention of rabbits.

When I read card 45 my eyes nearly popped from my head. If anyone wants to see what that looks like then hire the film 'Freaks' if it is not on the countries banned list. The people within the film were real 'freaks' but the film is not as bad as it sounds, in fact it is rather good and now considered a classic, although you can see why Britain banned it fast. Interestingly Britains first film censor was blind (not the last one I suspect).


It seems a rather sad fact the only time any wild life gets a mention on half the sets of cigarette cards it is because we are killing it one way or another (stacked against other things happening in 1915 I suppose you could say, who cares). Roo's are breeding like wild fire according to the reverse of this card and are in clear need of being shot.

Why might you ask has this happened afterall they have been happy for millions of years why has the appearance of whitey caused this population boom you could well smirk. Well, Johnny-settler leapt off his boat and started getting rid of roo's two main enemies. The dingo and the Australian Aborigine (although the card does put the dog in second place). If you are not doing a good impersonation of eyes popping right now you are made of sterner stuff than me.

These are the biggest rabbits I've ever seen.

That is all the card says on the matter and that is all I am going to say as it is a can of worms I am not opening.

Roo hunting appears to be excellent sport and a special type of dog is bred for the purpose. Quite why they did not just let the dingo get on with it I cannot tell.

You can hardly follow on from that but card 46, Turtle catching, has a darn good go. The card takes time to explain this marine creature and how it is specially adapted to its environment but there was one evolutionary error, it had to go ashore to lay eggs.

Graceful in the water lumbering beasts out, the settlers must have thought there were not enough predators for these things either. Catching a turtle is not difficult. You can see a team at work on the card. Killing them could hardly be less technological either and if you do not know how it is done I am not about to tell you. Safe to say though it is one of the questions in testing replicants in Blade Runner. 'Is this part of the test now?'

Only recently have Australian wines been something talked about but given you can buy wine in a cardboard box or with a screw cap on and special anti-freeze blends can get onto the market it might not be saying a great deal. Before it all sounds to snobby, I don't actually drink wine, it does not agree with me at all (quite possibly all the additives).

whose counting?

Although the world of slurping and spitting might have only just caught up with the pert little number from down under card 40 shows it has quite a history. 90,000 acres of vineyards and compare favourably with European wines, exporting 6 million gallons of the stuff 1912-13.

Card 41 has the farmer harvesting wheat. The farms being between 320 and 3000 acres in size. The trick seems to be the harvesting which has to be done quickly. Indeed it was not unusual for harvesting to go on 24 hours a day during this process as teams of men and horses worked around the clock.

Australia is a big place and in Northern Queensland (card 24) it notes Pineapples and the like can be grown. in 1911, 9 million pineapples were grown, million bunches of bananas (quite who is counting all these things I do not know but I am glad it is not me).

There I am reluctantly going to leave the continent of Australia.