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6 Unlucky Australians Who Couldn't Catch a Break

Last month, I wrote an article about fortunate Australians, which suggested that the nation deserves to be called "The Lucky Country." Today's follow-up will bring us back down to Earth. Aussies, like everyone else, have the occasional spell of bad luck. Witness the following not-so-lucky examples.

1. James Lister and the Tom brothers

Edward Hargraves had not been one of life's winners, failing miserably at several business endeavours. He went to California for the 1848 gold rush, but while others were striking it rich, he didn't even find a speck. Back in Australia, he remembered the town of Bathurst (west of Sydney), where the terrain had reminded him of the Californian goldfields. Based on this vague logic, he set out to Bathurst, accompanied by James Lister, William Tom and James Tom. They could find no gold, so Hargraves gave up and left. In April 1851, however, Lister struck gold "“ and immediately informed Hargraves. Though it was meant to be top-secret, Hargraves announced the finding, took the credit (and a handsome reward from the government), and started an Australian gold rush. As tens of thousands of prospectors descended on Bathurst, Lister and the Tom brothers were robbed of their chance to become multi-millionaires. Hargraves took their gold, and gave them his bad luck in return.

2. The Population of Darwin

darwin-australia-tracy.jpg

As most of its 110,000 residents would tell you, the northern city of Darwin is a great place to live. Just as well, as Darwinians have always had to take the rough with the smooth. The town was settled in 1864. Just eleven years later, a quarter of the population boarded the ship Gothenburg for their first excursion to the east coast since moving north. Struck by a cyclone, the Gothenburg sank off the coast of north Queensland, killing 102 people and leaving the town in misery. They were still recovering in January 1878, when another cyclone struck the Darwin area itself, damaging every single building in the outer suburb of Palmerston. Other cyclones struck in 1881 and 1897. The latter, known as the "great hurricane," hit the town on January 6, 1897, destroying 18 pearling boats and a government steam-ship. One preacher, recalling the night, described it as "a gentle reminder from Providence that we are a very sinful people." If God's punishment was the explanation, Darwin must have been a den of iniquity, as cyclones would visit every 20 years, causing further death and destruction in 1917 and 1937.

To prove that it wasn't just God who held a grudge against Darwin, a contingent of Japanese aircraft bombed the city on January 20, 1942. At least 243 lives were lost, as the bombs caused more wreckage than any of the previous cyclones. This was followed by another 62 air raids over the next two years "“ one of the drawbacks of being a crucial Allied port.

The next 30 years were relatively quiet, so the natives were ill-prepared for Cyclone Tracy, which rudely woke them up on Christmas Day in 1974 (the wreckage is pictured above). Within three hours, 65 people were dead, and 90 percent of the houses were either demolished or literally swept away. Most of the population left soon after, but a bulk of them returned by the end of the year, ready for whatever fate was thrown at them. Proof that, in quieter times, it must be a really good place to live!

3. Burke & Wills

burke-wills.jpg

One of Australia's most famous expeditions, Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills' bold 1860 quest to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria is a case history in how not to explore Australia. Despite walking through the vast desert for 10 months, the intrepid duo didn't survive their journey.

But while they might have made some costly (and a few plain stupid) mistakes, they also suffered from incredibly bad luck. After eight months in the wilderness, they returned from the Gulf "“ suffering from terrible thirst, hunger, heat and exhaustion "“ to their depot at Coopers Creek on April 21, 1861. To their dismay, they found that the depot party had abandoned camp a mere seven hours earlier, leaving only a small quantity of flour, porridge, rice and dried meat. While Wills suggested waiting for the party to return, the headstrong Burke insisted on moving on "“ not to the staging camp, 650 miles away, but to a police outpost at Mount Hopeless "“ much closer, but still appropriately named.

Had they waited at Coopers Creek just three weeks, they would have met William Brahe, the leader of the Cooper's Creek party, who returned to see if they had arrived. They had left details for him, but "“ in their exhausted state "“ had neglected to leave a sign. As a result, he never saw their note that would have raised a search party.

After losing their camels to quicksand and fatigue, the explorers were temporarily saved from starvation and thirst by some Aborigines. Realizing that they couldn't make it to Mount Hopeless, however, they returned to Coopers Creek. Brahe had left no trace of his return.

With no other option, they tried to find the Aborigines again. Burke and Wills, however, both died in July "“ not long before their only surviving traveling companion, John King, met the Aborigines, and stayed with them until a rescue party found him in September. Their timing, like everything else, was fatally flawed.

4. Raelene Boyle

aussie-luck.jpgMost Australian sports fans will agree that Raelene Boyle was one of the country's best-ever female athletes. If things had happened as expected, she would have four Olympic gold medals. But as luck would have it, she was forever denied sports' greatest honor "“ despite competing in three Olympics. At Mexico City in 1968, aged 17, she won silver in the women's 200-meter dash. She was beaten by East Germany's Renate Stecher, who was later revealed to be on stimulants. In Munich 1972, despite being the favorite, she again had to settle for silver in 100-meter and 200-meter races "“ again beaten by steroid-pumped East German athletes. Her last opportunity was in Montreal 1976. Unfortunately, that happened to be an Olympiad in which the entire Australian team seemed cursed "“ and Boyle, true to form, was no exception. In the 200-meter semi-finals, the starter claimed that she had rolled her shoulder, and she was disqualified for two false starts "“ even though the assistant starter told her: "You didn't break. I don't know why he's given you one." (Both the footage and an electronic starter's report would confirm that there was no break, but it was too late.) "I'm pretty certain that the race would have been mine," said Boyle. "I was running very well and I was in the best shape of my life." To win gold, all she needed to do was equal her time in Munich.

For most athletes, of course, three silver medals would be brilliant. Boyle, however, was a step above most athletes. While she easily had the ability to be an Olympic champion, she didn't have the good fortune.

5. Second placers

hinkler_badge_350.jpgAs Raelene Boyle proved, Aussies have often had to make do with coming second. Charles Lindbergh became an American hero (and international superstar) when he became the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927. Most people have forgotten the second man to fly solo across the Atlantic: Bert Hinkler, a Queensland aviator. Four years after Linbergh's celebrated journey, he flew faster, chose a better route and used less fuel. Sadly for him, coming second just isn't the same. Even more sadly, he didn't have much time to promote himself, because he was killed in a plane crash in Italy in 1933.

Australia was also late to the four-minute mile. As athletics fans can easily tell you, this milestone was achieved in 1954 by Britain's Roger Bannister. But less than a month later (as you probably didn't know), his record was broken by Australia's John Landy, after many attempts to break four minutes. Outside Australia, where he is a national sporting hero, almost nobody remembers the man who was once the world's best one-mile runner. Timing is everything.

6. Australia's relay swimming team

Fukuoka2001.pngAt the 2001 World Swimming Championships at Fukuoka, Australia's 4x200-meter women's medley relay team swam the fastest drug-free time in history for that event. Excitedly, they jumped back in the pool to celebrate, looking forward to their gold medals.

They were not aware, however, of an obscure rule: they could not re-enter the pool until the race was over. The Italian team was still finishing, so the Australians were shocked to discover that they had been disqualified, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Australian media, which takes swimming very seriously, were unforgiving. One newspaper, which would otherwise have praised them to the skies, dismissed them as "four silly girls" "“ which was hardly fair, as the final swimmer was supposed to be in the water anyway, and the others insisted (convincingly enough) that they knew nothing of that rule. When you're busy training, memorizing little known sections of the rulebook is not really on your mind.

Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia. See what else he's written at markjuddery.com.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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