Warrnambool is girt by laughter, says author

A NEW book which uses satire to rekindle interest in Australian history pokes fun at Warrnambool and the Mahogany Ship legend.

“There’s also a 16th century Portuguese caravel made from mahogany down in Warrnambool and, although we can’t remember where we put it, we’re sure it will turn up soon,” says Sydney-based author David Hunt in his GIRT — The Unauthorised History of Australia.

“The people of Warrn-ambool are thrilled by all the fuss because it’s the only time anyone has shown the remotest interest in them.” 

His subheading for the Mahogany Ship section is: The only interesting thing about Warrnambool.

Hunt told The Standard yesterday he spent two years researching a range of sources before writing a warts-and-all look at history up to when Australia was named in 1828.

“Irony and sarcasm are the two building blocks of Australian culture,” he said. 

“I’m surprised at the positive feedback. If’ I’d done that job with American history I’d probably be shot.”

His crack at Warrnambool hasn’t offended Mahogany Ship Committee chairman Pat Connelly, who enjoyed the humour.

“It’s the funniest book I’ve read in a long time,” he said.

“Obviously he’s read a lot of history and seen the funny side of things.

“Everything you ever read in school about Australian history he turns on its head.

“I think it will create more interest in the Mahogany Ship — the legend is part of Warrnambool’s identity.

“Back in 1896 George Lance wrote a funny, satirical piece in the Warrnambool Echo about the Mahogany Ship search.”

Mr Connelly said there had been many searches in the dunes over many decades and three hopeful parties were continuing the hunt this year. 

Hunt said his research showed the jury was still out on whether the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover Australia and even more doubt on whether there was a 16th century caravel buried in sand dunes between Warrnambool and Port Fairy.

“There definitely was a big boat there, but most documents describe it as being more like a barge,” he said.

“It’s a great story which has generated a lot of interest.

“If the Portuguese claims are true you would have documents relating to the discovery 84 years before the Dutch landed at Cape York in 1606.”

He disputes some historians’ interpretations of ancient maps which supposedly show a course around eastern Australia, including the Warrnambool coastline.

Hunt, who has written comedy sketches for television and done consultancy work for serious history projects, will take a break from his normal job as a public servant in April to start his sequel.

He’ll again include Western Victoria in his research, which will cover squatters, convicts, sealers and whalers with other sectors of society.

“I think I’ll have a jolly good go at the Anzac tradition,” he said.

“There’s enough about Australia’s involvement and Britain’s stuff-ups to tell that story in a humorous way.

“I’m not sure if there will be a third edition — you have to be more serious with the living and recently dead.”

GIRT — The Un-authorised History of Australia is published by Black Inc Ltd in Melbourne and is available from most bookshops at $29.95.

pcollins@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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