Carny Knowledge (The Secret History of Melbourne)

I love reading about history.  The more I read, the more I realise how much I don’t know.

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”
– Donald Rumsfeld

I’ve been reading about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the allied occupation of Japan.

There is a big divide in knowledge between Western and Asian history.  Most Australians know relatively little about Japanese or Chinese history (other than what they might have gleaned from watching the occasional samurai movie).

When I lived in Japan, I met a few well-educated Japanese in their 20s and 30s that hadn’t even been aware Australia and Japan had fought against each other.  I did talk to one student whose grandfather had been in one of the submarines that had been involved in the attack on Sydney Harbor.

Japan is often criticised by its neighbours (particularly China and Korea) for what they omit from their history textbooks.

Of course most countries have a tendenancy to gloss over the less than pleasant incidents from their past.  The previous Australian prime minister objected to what he saw as the “black armband view of history.”

A couple of years ago a Japanese TV station asked viewers to vote on their favorite figures from history.  Although it was possible to nominate anyone from history, the list ended up being heavily weighted towards Japanese.

Here is the list of the top 10 favorite historical figures chosen.  I’m guessing that many will be unfamiliar to non-Japanese.  It’s also interesting to see which Westerners turned up on the list.

10 Hijikata Toshizo
09 Helen Keller
08 Mother Teresa
07 Noguchi Hideyo
06 Tokugawa Ieyasu
05 Matsushita Konosuke
04 Hideyoshi Toyotomi
03 Thomas Edison
02 Sakamoto Ryoma
01 Oda Nobunaga

The full list is at

Increasingly the majority of people are reliant on the news media to shape their view of the world.
Even though we get more news from all over the world than ever before, the majority of news is negative and what is not reported is often more interesting.
Sometimes what is left out of news stories can make a big difference.

In Australia there was a recent incident where some of the commercial TV stations showed footage of a man of Middle Eastern background shouting and swearing at a news cameraman outside a court.  The man’s son had been charged with riot offences.

Australia is fortunate to have Media Watch, an excellent program that looks at the stories behind the news stories.  They showed the unedited footage of the incident that showed the man repeatedly politely pleading for the news cameras to leave him and his son alone.  They crossed the street to avoid the cameras and were followed.  Then the cameraman swears at the man and calls him a terrorist, provoking the outburst that was then shown on TV.

Another recent example of the sharing of knowledge came from the Royal Commission currently being held into the Victorian bushfires (173 people were killed on February 7 last year in Victoria).

Christine Nixon, the then police commissioner, who was responsible for coordinating the emergency response (although in reality it is the chief fire officers that are responsible) left the emergency center just when the fires were at their worst and went out for dinner.

Counsel for the commission questioned her statements to the media:

“It’s just that when you did a media interview on 3AW last week, you told Mr Mitchell that you had dinner for an hour and ‘people knew where I was’. Who knew where you were?”

Ms Nixon: “I certainly knew where I was and I didn’t see any point in telling anybody. What I mean by that was – they knew that they could contact me.”

The majority of my friends live in different countries and Facebook is one way to keep in touch with them.  Of course a lot of the posts on Facebook are low in terms of information quality.  I really don’t need to know what people are eating for lunch or that they’re enjoying a coffee right now.

A friend recently quit Facebook giving the reason that when she met up with friends in Melbourne there wasn’t as much to talk about because everyone had already heard all of her news and seen the photos via Facebook.

In terms of information filters, I’ve deliberately isolated myself from sporting news.  Melbourne has one of the highest rates of attendance at sporting events in the world and is the home of AFL (Australian rules football).

When I visited my parents on the Gold Coast at Easter, they were talking about their football tipping results.  I hadn’t been aware the football season had already started.  My parents were surprised that I could live in Melbourne and be unaware the football season had started.  They wanted to know why my workmates weren’t talking about the sporting results.

My immediate workmates are Malaysian, Chinese and Iranian, none of whom spends a great deal of time talking about football results.  (At least not in my presence).

A few years ago I had an article published about unusual things from Melbourne’s history.  (For example, when Melbourne was settled in 1835, it was first called Bearbrass).  Even though I was born in Melbourne and have lived most of my life here (apart from a few years in Japan and a couple of years travelling), I recently learned something vitally important about Melbourne.

I overhead a conversation on the train and discovered that Melbourne is home to one of the world’s most prestigious circus training courses.

Not far from where I live is the campus of The National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) – Australia’s centre of excellence in contemporary circus.

If you’re tempted to run away to join the circus, you can sign up for a 3 year Bachelor of Circus Arts.

A Japanese clown that will be instantly recognisable to anyone from Osaka.

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One comment on “Carny Knowledge (The Secret History of Melbourne)
  1. Andy Smith says:

    I had no idea about the NICA or Bearbrass.
    As it happens, John Heath, whom you might have met through Hilary or I ,operates a five-man travelling circus who do gigs around melbourne (unless they’ve stopped since I last talked to John).

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