Some facts and information sent to me by Graham.
More facts still to come in future Bytes.
Kangaroo, emus play cricket on proposed Australian flag
The Australian flag was chosen by a public competition launched in 1901, not long after Federation. (It was the first national flag to be decided in such a way.) The 32,823 entries were displayed at Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building in August. Many featured "every kind of flora and fauna identifiable with Australia – sometimes all at once". The kangaroo was particularly popular, seen in thousands of designs – including this noisy contender, which depicted "a winged cricket ball with a jolly-looking kangaroo on it, and two emus running down the pitch".
How the avocado came to Australia:
Avocados – also known as alligator pears – might have been eaten in Sydney as early as 1824. But 1840 is the "official" date of their arrival in Australia, when their seeds were imported and grown in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney. Contemporary reports and letters suggested avocado-growing conditions weren't so hot (literally – the naturalist William Sharp Macleay lamented Sydney's climate wasn't warm enough). But Australian farmers persisted, and by the 1890s the avo was "comparatively common" in warmer Queensland. Australia's modern avocado industry began around the 1930s – even in 1940, new avocado addicts complained that fruit shops displayed them "expensively" – though well in the 1980s, most Aussies were unfamiliar with the odd-looking but nutritious fruit.
World War II servicemen take the plunge
Queensland was strategically important for operations in the Pacific during World War II. In addition to housing Australian bases, the state welcomed Allied forces. The first US camp (Camp Ascot) was established at Brisbane's Eagle Farm racecourse, and at the conflict's peak, nearly 80,000 Americans were located in the city. Further north, Cairns housed US Army Air Force and Navy bases alongside our own. While the servicemen stationed in Australia did contribute significantly to the regional war effort, there was still time for recreation. In this case, stripping out of uniform and enjoying a swim somewhere in the north Queensland tropics.
Queensland's worst ever rail disaster
On May 5, 1947, a train with close to 500 women and children on board derailed near Camp Mountain, Queensland, en route to a family day of cricket and dancing in Closeburn. The train had hurtled down the range at 70 kilometres per hour, before jumping the tracks and ploughing into an embankment. In addition to the 14 ambulances that raced to the crash site, an emergency rescue gang was formed from local farmers and shopkeepers. The accident injured 38 and killed 16, among them three children, the train’s fireman and its driver. It took nine hours to recover all of the bodies. It was, and still is, Queensland's worst rail disaster.
The 'curious incident' of Australia's first transgender man
A "curious incident" occurred at Melbourne's Kew Lunatic Asylum in 1879 when a male patient named Edward De Lacy Evans violently resisted being given a bath. What happened next scandalised the press: he "was found to be a woman, dressed in male attire, which she had worn for many years". Evans had lived as a man for more than 20 years and married three women (at least one denied knowing his biological sex). Doctors "dressed [him] up in frocks and petticoats" and deemed him "cured" after three months. In the 1880s Evans appeared in sideshows in Melbourne and Sydney that dubbed him the "Man-Woman Mystery". This photograph is believed to be "a fake cut-and-paste portrait" produced after the incident at Kew.
The crazy design for a three-pronged Sydney Harbour Bridge
On Friday, September 22, 1922, this design for a stupendous bridge across Sydney Harbour appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. This three-pronged monstrosity wouldn't merely link Sydney with the harbour's north shore; it would span from Miller's Point to a "central pier" at Goat Island, and "there bifurcate and link up Balmain at Peacock Point, and North Sydney at Ball's Head". (The current bridge crosses to Milson's Point.) The suspension bridge was proposed by engineer F Ernest Stowe, who argued strongly for his one-of-a-kind design. While it intrigued Sydneysiders, Stowe's proposal was not heard by NSW's then-politicians — who seemed thoroughly sick of debating the long-gestating plans for the harbour bridge.