Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Australia's Funniest Ghost Writer

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Oscar Brittle stirred and disturbed his readers

Animal lovers, rejoice! Oscar Brittle has been gagged at last. He would have upset you had you read this letter to the Sydney Morning Herald:

I believe that I have eaten more types of animal than anybody else on the planet. I have eaten (not necessarily in this order): cow, sheep, pig, shark, goat, camel, horse, kangaroo, wallaby, wallaroo, potoroo, bandicoot, duck, chicken, pigeon, whale, wild dog, wild cat, cat, fish, catfish, dormouse, python, toad, turtle, monkey, impala, sea urchin, slug, jellyfish, fox, grouse, alligator, llama, vulture, mole, lobster, mongoose, daddy-long-legs, salamander …"

That letter was just one of hundreds Oscar sent to the editors of Sydney's four daily newspapers in an 18-month writimg frenzy. Like many other letterwriters, talkback radio callers and bloggers, Oscar was an opinionated blowhard who wrote stacks of provocative nonsense and misquoted facts.

Here are extracts from a few of his letters, which often drew heated replies, mostly as email comments to the newspapers that had published his rants:

o Dear editor, I turned on the television on Saturday morning and saw a video clip for the first time in years. I have discovered that 68 per cent of Federal MPs are obese, showing off the tops of their bottoms with apparent impunity.

o Tomorrow, I and I suspect many of my ilk, will once again firmly stamp my ecological feet and take the car to town. Climate change is one thing, but passenger comfort is not to be undervalued.

o Whatever happened to manners on the road? At present, there seem to be more road rages than ever.

o Recent research shows that young people are having sex younger and younger. … Dear, oh dear!

o Video clips have come a long way in 25 years. For three horrible hours, I watched in disgust and denial as young women gallivanted about the place in tiny swimsuits, braziers, underpants and other garments that a man should only see in the boudoir.

o Does anyone have any information about shutting the internet down for good, or is it too late?

But Oscar wrote too many letters for his own good. Eventually, Amanda Meade, aptly-named media diarist in The Australian newspaper, became suspicious. She wrote:

An Oscar for Best Actor.

DIARY calls on prolific letter writer "Oscar Brittle of Killara" to identify himself. After a series of curious letters were published in The Daily Telegraph, we tried to verify that Brittle was a real person. Here is Brittle on public transport: "The morning trip was pleasant enough, as I sat next to a handsome, lightly perfumed young woman, read the paper and even attempted a Sudoku puzzle" ...The opinionated Brittle is not listed in the White Pages and he does not exist on the electoral roll. But he has popped up in Column 8 in The Sydney Morning Herald and on the letters pages of The Australian. So beware, letters editors everywhere, there may be another phantom on the loose.

Meade was right. It turned out that Brittle was a ghost, the brainchild of three young Canberra writers, Glenn Fowler , Christopher Smyth and Gareth Malone

Interviewed in Australia's ABC-TV Stateline program, author Fowler described Oscar Brittle:

He is generally a fairly conservative, indignant older chap from the leafy, neat, established northern Sydney suburb of Killara. Very opinionated.

What we tried to do was create somebody who has that combination of ignorance and outspokenness. He's got an opinion on anything. He's got ideas about anything and he's quite prepared to share them. He doesn't check things very often. He gets things wrong.

We tried to create maximum confusion and maximum offence with many of the letters, and we wanted the readers of the letters to be shocked. Obviously, first of all, that would be the editors doing the reading, and if they then got published and other people read them, we wanted to provoke responses, we wanted people to write letters back. And, fortunately, that happened in a lot of cases. So, Oscar offends virtually everybody on the planet in his letters, unless they're exactly like him.

Dear Editor... The Collected Letters of Oscar Brittle have now been published as a highly entertaining book.

The publisher's blurb says:

In an eighteen month campaign to wrest control of the debates in the nation’s newspapers and magazines from the wishy-washies and the weaklings, Oscar Brittle became (arguably) the most significant and powerful contributor to public debate in contemporary Australia.

This book is a collection of published letters and their originals, published replies from various correspondents, email exchanges between Oscar and editors, as well as the rejected letters, all interspersed with gorgeous illustrations throughout.

There really was a man who devoted much of his life to tasting as many different animal species as he could find. Dr William Buckland (1784-1856), Dean of Westminster and a professor at Oxford University (UK) tried to eat specimens of every living thing.

He was a frequent visitor to London Zoo, as he lived nearby. When an exotic animal died, he took the opportunity to taste its flesh. On one occasion, a leopard died and was buried while he was away on holiday. Returning to London, he dug it up, to taste leopard steak in the name of science.

The dean pronounced moles and bluebottles (flies) to have the worst flavors.

He taught his son, Francis Trevelyan
Buckland (1826-1880) to enjoy the flesh of exotic animals by participating in banquets of ostrich, crocodile, hedgehog and mice on toast.

Frank inherited his father's interests. While studying at Oxford, he complained of the “horribly bitter” taste of earwigs. Frank became a popular scientific author and lecturer.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Where the hell is Hell Gate Bridge?

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Its design inspired engineers around the world

Where in the world is this bridge?
If you answer "Sydney, Australia" you're wrong. If you guess "Newcastle, UK"
or "Auckland, New Zealand" you're still wrong. But if you say "New York
City" you've hit the jackpot. It's the Hell Gate Bridge, a 1,017-foot (310
m) steel arch carrying railroad traffic across part of the East River called
Hell Gate.

Its revoltionary design caused a stir when it opened officially on September
30, 1916. Doomsayers at the time predicted it would collapse, but it's still
in business, and will probably remain so for centuries. It inspired the
construction of similar bridges around the world.

The Hall Gate Bridge was designed by Gustav Lindenthal (1850-1935), a
brilliant self-taught civil engineer. Born in Brno in what is now the Czech
Republic, he had first worked as a mason and carpenter. At 18, he moved to
Vienna, and found a job in the engineering department of a railroad company.

He never attended university, but taught himelf mathematics, engineering
theory, metallurgy, hydraulics, estimating, management, "and everything else
that a successful bridge engineer needed to know," quoting Henry Petroski's
book, "Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of

Lindenthal emigrated to the US in 1874. At first, he worked as a journeyman
stonemason for the memorial granite building of the Centennial International
Exhibition in Philadelphia, and later was employed by the Keystone Bridge
Co. on numerous projects before being recognized as a gifted bridge

It's thought his early memories of a famous bridge in Cologne (Koln),
Germany, inspired
his design for the Hell Gate Bridge.

Eminent bridge designers from other countries visited Lindenthal and
marvelled at his radical ideas. One of them was Australia's Dr. JJC
Bradfield, lead engineer in the New South Wales Department of Works. When
he returned home to Sydney from a six-month world tour in 1922,, he changed
the design for a Harbor bridge from an ugly cantilever to a graceful single-
arched steel structure.

Sydney Harbor Bridge (aka The Coathanger), opened in 1932, is the world's
largest but not longest steel arch bridge. Its total length, including
approach spans, is 1149 metres and its arch span 503 metres. Its top is 134
metres high.
People had talked about building a bridge from the northern to the southern
shore of the harbor since 1815, when the then colony's Government Architect,
Francis Greenway. thought of one being needed one day.
Various designs were considered and discarded for more than a century. Then
in 1922 a general design was prepared by Bradfield and officers of the NSW
Department of Public Works. The Government called for worldwide tenders to
build the bridge. The contract was let to Dorman Long and Co of
Middlesbrough, UK.
Construction began in 1924, took eight years. and employed 1,400 men. Six
million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel were used. The bridge
now carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad tracks.
The Bridge was officially opened on March 19, 1932. Before Premier JT Lang
could cut the ribbon, Captain Francis de Groot , a member of a right-wing
political group called The New Guard, rode up on his horse and slashed the
ribbon with his sword. He thought the Bridge should be opened by a member
or representative of the Royal Family.
Police arrested him, and the Premier cut the hastily repaired ribbon with a
pair of gold scissors.
The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England is a smaller version of the
Sydney Harbor Bridge, with a length of 397 metres and the main span 161
"There is much controversy surrounding the two bridges, and which one may
have been a model for the other," says an Australian Government website.
http //
"Although the Tyne Bridge was opened in 1928 - four years before the Harbour
Bridge was opened - the tender was submitted and contract signed for the
Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1924. The designs for the Harbour Bridge were
put forward by Dr. J C Bradfield before this date. The tender for the Tyne
Bridge was accepted and contract signed later that year in December 1924."
Three final points:
Actor/comedian Paul Hogan was once a rigger on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
A few weeks ago, the luxury liner Queen Mary II, the largest ship to visit
Sydney, was too tall to go under the Harbour Bridge and too long to dock at
the International Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay.
The world's longest steel arch is the Lupu Bridge 550m. (1804ft.) in Shanghai,
China, according to a list of longest spans published by Wikipedia