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6 Unlucky Australians Who Couldn't Catch a Break

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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


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


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

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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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.


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


"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


"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


"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



"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


"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


"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


"[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


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

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


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
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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