7 Great Misconceptions About Australia

As an Australian, I'm greeted with open arms whenever I go overseas. It's great to be liked"¦ but though I hate to admit it, there are a few things people get wrong about us. I'm afraid I don't have a pet kangaroo, I don't live on a wide-open Outback farm, I don't eat copious amounts of Vegemite, and I don't greet everyone by saying "G'day, mate." Some Aussies do those things, I'll admit, but most of us don't. While I'm here, I should clear up a few other misconceptions"¦

1. Captain Cook discovered Australia

Captain James Cook (who was actually a Lieutenant at the time) is famous for discovering Australia in 1770. He claimed the land for England, which duly sent the first white settlers 18 years later. But many other explorers saw Australia well before Cook's time. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Chinese discovered the land in the 15th century. Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog visited Australia in 1616, and was possibly the first European to recognize it as a new land. In 1688, William Dampier became the first Englishman to set foot on Australia, recording the sight of a "large hopping animal" in his journal. Of course, the true discoverers of the land were the Australian Aborigines, who "“ despite being properly called "native Australians" "“ probably hailed from Asia. They have only been living in Australia for tens of thousands of years.

2. Qantas never crashed

QantasRemember the scene in Rain Man when Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) refuses to travel on any airline except Qantas, claiming that "Qantas never crashed"? If you saw it as an in-flight movie, you probably don't remember that scene, because it was edited out on most airlines. (Except one... but you could probably figure that out.)

The movie has long been a source of pride (and no doubt, good business) for Qantas. Still, while Australia's national airline does have an impressive safety record, it is not perfect. And that perfect record was marred very early on in the company's history. In Queensland in 1927, a passenger flight ended tragically, killing all three people aboard. Altogether, 80 people have died in Qantas crashes, though the last fatal crash was way back in 1951. Perhaps Raymond meant that the airline has never had any fatal jet airliner crashes. All of their crashes were in small aircraft.

3. All Aussies live on the land

The image of the bronzed, rugged, Outback-dwelling bushman, as seen in the "Crocodile" Dundee movies (and more recently, Hugh Jackman's robust hero in the film Australia), is not as common as you might assume. Despite the size of the Outback (1.2 million square miles), only one percent of Australians actually live there. (As so much of the Outback is arid land, it couldn't really sustain many others.) Aussies are really rather urbanized. Half of Australia's 21 million people live in the five largest cities, with a third of all Aussies living in the metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne. Very, very few Australians eat grubs, wrestle crocodiles, or hypnotize wild animals.

4. The dangers of Australian snakes

Australia is notorious for dangerous snakes and spiders. This is partly due to a government campaign, a few years ago, to scare away prospective refugees with tales of terrible wildlife. (The campaign might have backfired, as potential tourists also decided to avoid the place!) But while it does have many venomous critters, they have killed very few people. Bushwalkers might be at risk, but if you're visiting a city (or even a country town), you can breathe easy. It is true, however, that Australia has the world's most venomous snake. The inland taipan (or fierce snake) has enough venom to kill 100 grown men. So how many people has it killed? Er"¦ none. Thanks to antivenom treatment and its own shyness (it would rather slither away quietly than stay and fight), it's been strangely harmless.

5. Saving the Brits at Gallipoli

No military battle stirs as much sentiment in Australia as the Gallipoli campaign, an ill-fated (and poorly organized) World War I offensive on the Turkish coast that killed thousands of soldiers. Though Aussies salute the heroism of their soldiers, many believe they were used as decoys to save the cowardly British officers. This legend was boosted by Gallipoli (1981), an early Mel Gibson film, which was a huge hit in Australia. In this film, Aussie soldiers die in battle while British officers stay safely in their tents, calmly drinking tea. The truth is that, during the real Gallipoli attack, the English had even more casualties than the Aussies.

The Australian cavalry, meanwhile, was commanded by Australian officers (as you might expect), not British ones. The movie implied otherwise, making it appear that it was callous British officers who sent the young Aussies to their deaths. Actually, the movie never says that the officers are British, but it does give them very strong British accents. (In fairness, perhaps the movie wasn't as historically inaccurate as it sounded. Back in World War I, it was not unusual for well-educated, affluent Australians to sound frightfully British "“ and as you might imagine, many of them became military officers.)

6. Kangaroos are brilliant

skippyPeople around the world believe that kangaroos, one of Australia's national animals, are highly intelligent, and can be trained to unlock doors, open safes, guide lost people through bushland, control helicopters, even tinker on the piano. Why do they think that? Blame the television series Skippy, which premiered in 1967, and was soon shown in 100 countries (a world record at the time) by over 300 million people. Even kids in the Eastern Bloc (where American series were banned) adored the adventures of a heroic kangaroo that (in the spirit of Lassie, Flipper and other clever TV animals) could save the day every week. The only Western nation to turn down Skippy was Sweden, which was afraid that the series gave "a misleading impression of an animal's ability."

Alas, the Swedes were right. As kangaroos are impossible to train, Skippy was played by 14 lookalikes. Before each scene, one kangaroo was kept in a hessian bag, so that she (Skippy was a girl) could emerge, dazed, to stand still and film for a few minutes before nonchalantly hopping away. Her dexterity, allowing her to open doors and pick up objects, was the work of fake paws, operated by puppeteers.

7. Koalas are bears

koalaKoalas are not bears. In fact, they are not even distantly related. Like kangaroos and Tasmanian devils, they are marsupials (carrying their young in pouches). Perhaps the only thing they have in common with bears is their propensity for sleep "“ but even bears couldn't possibly match them in this. Each day, the average adult koala spends about fourteen hours sleeping, five hours resting, roughly five hours eating and four minutes traveling (climbing further up their tree). Of course, this lifestyle doesn't require much energy, and as they eat mainly Eucalyptus leaves, they don't exactly have a high-energy diet. While they don't like to be disturbed, they wouldn't attack with the ferocity of a bear.

Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine

You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

Universal Pictures
Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.


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