Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Australia or New Zealand (01/15/09)
TITLE: The great antipodean hoax
By Gregory Kane
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You don't believe me, do you? You think I'm some blithering English idiot who's a few pickles short of a bacon sandwich. But before you dismiss me out of hand, humour me with this one thought. The platypus— that ridiculous Australian mammal that lays eggs like a chicken. That sorry excuse for an overgrown rat that has a duck's bill instead of a mouth. Doesn't that sound just a tad bizarre, the sort of thing that a couple of schoolboys might dream up on the back of a science jotter? That's because the platypus doesn't actually exist. We invented it.
If you're still reading by this point, I may as well treat you to some history. Back in the 1780's the British Government found itself in urgent need of fresh recruits for its armed services as well as to fill a demand for cheap labour in its overseas mining interests. Unfortunately the long-established practice of press-ganging innocent bystanders had become something of a political liability. Then Navy captain Arthur Phillip suggested that Parliament announce the creation of a new penal colony on a 'hitherto undiscovered continent' on the far side of the world. The idea caught on and thousands of petty criminals soon found themselves sent into exile, never to return home. In reality, their few scant years were spent at His Majesty's pleasure, scrubbing decks or digging for gold. The myth of Australia had been born.
With the collapse of the British Empire, my department's remit was changed to explore and where possible quantify the gullibility of the general public. Increasingly absurd 'discoveries' were announced but it seemed that nothing was too extreme for the man in the street. Picture an animal that hops rather than runs and has a built-in pram for its babies— we called it the kangaroo but absolutely no one caught on to the joke. Consider the didgeridoo— has no one noticed that it sounds just like a set of bagpipes? Or the boomerang— has anyone honestly thrown a bent stick and had it come back to them? And what about that idiotic Australian accent? For decades now we've been employing actors to butcher the English language and twist vowels beyond recognition. Yet not a soul has guessed that our paid thespians are simply having a laugh at everyone else's expense.
Of course television has made our work so much easier. Skippy the Kangaroo won over a generation half a century ago. These days we can even make nature programmes about the 'wonders' of the Outback. Yet no one notices that these are the same film companies that routinely produce brave new worlds for Luke Skywalker and Star Wars, along with an amazing variety of exotic fauna and flora.
Our biggest challenge of recent years was the Sydney Olympics— how to con billions of people round the globe. So how did we do it? Easy, we turned every plane round in the middle of the night and redirected them to a specially built Olympic Village in Tunisia. The athletes were too busy sweating under the scorching sun to notice anything amiss. And the journalists were amply distracted by the thousands of bikini-clad babes who covered every square foot of the perfect Mediterranean beaches.
Still unconvinced? Then ask yourself this. Do you actually know any Australians? Not pen pals or internet buddies— they could live anywhere! But people who have moved into your neighbourhood, fellow housewives who stroll down the aisles of your supermarket. Of course you don't. The only Australians you've ever met were either actors or people on the TV.
It's shocking how gullible most people are. They really will believe anything that comes out of that squawk box in the corner, no matter how inane or improbable. I challenge you to prove me wrong. Switch off that television. Unplug that Internet. Go, book yourself a trip to Canberra or Perth or Adelaide or wherever. See for yourself if I'm right. Or maybe I am ever so slightly deluded or demented. But when you return, let me know what you discovered. I'll be waiting.
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