Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia

David Hunt

Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia
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Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia

David Hunt

Mark Twain wrote of Australian history: ‘It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies…but they are all true, they all happened.’ In Girt, Hunt uncovers these beautiful lies, recounting the strange and ridiculous episodes that conventional histories ignore. The result is surprising, enlightening - and side-splittingly funny.


Girt explains the role of the coconut in Australia’s only military coup, the Dutch obsession with nailing perfectly good kitchenware to posts, and the settlers' fear of Pemulwuy and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamingcoat. It introduces us to forgotten heroes like Mary McLoghlin, transported for the typically Irish crime of ‘felony of sock’; Patyegarang, the young Eora girl who co-authored the world’s most surprising dictionary; and Trim the cat, who beat a French monkey to become the first animal to circumnavigate Australia.


Our nation’s beginnings were steeped in the unlikely, the incongruous and the frankly bizarre. Girt restores these stories to their rightful place. Not to read it would be un-Australian.

Review

Talented comedy writer David Hunt has created a remarkable work of pop history with Girt – a well-researched, engaging and articulate lampooning of Australia’s earliest colonial years.

Taking an early cue from Tim Flannery’s controversial view of Indigenous Australians as being responsible for destroying the continent’s ancient megafauna with fire, Hunt goes on to recount other lesser-known topics from Australian history, such as the Makassar Indonesian fisherman who traded goods with Arnhemlanders in the sixteenth century, and the seventeenth-century Dutch explorers’ strange habit of nailing plates to trees.

The bulk of Girt is the story of Australia’s first penal colony and the eclectic mass of pastoralists, priests, convicts, prostitutes and military men who helped shape its beginnings. Few historical figures escape Hunt’s lampoonery: he describes Governor Arthur Phillip’s greatest achievement before settling New South Wales as having two first names, just as he portrays botanist Joseph Banks as a ‘publicity slut’ who threw too many parties for his onboard groupies.

Hunt certainly does a fine job of weaving together Australia’s narrative with his own brand of absurdist humour; however, his voracious appetite for Australian history is tempered, at times, by his persistent need to crack jokes. As this is such a thoroughly researched book, I sometimes felt that the more fascinating anecdotes from Australia’s historical backwaters were being derailed by Hunt’s love for a quip.

Despite this, there are some absolutely hilarious passages in Girt that are also superbly written. It is a book that manages to tease out the eccentric streak in the national character with informative and satirical flair. It might not be an authoritative history, but you are guaranteed to be left learned and entertained.


Steve Bidwell-Brown is our Online Fulfilment Manager. He has previously worked as a literary events coordinator for novelists and poets.

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