References – Part 6: The Boiling Pot


Writing desk in Sydney

Paying for All This

The essay mentioned was my submission to the Shell-Economist essay competition, sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell and The Economist newspaper. The competition’s theme was to predict some aspect of the world in 2050. My chosen topic was space exploration. Click here to read the essay I wrote.

At the time, several people said I should use that essay as the springboard to go off and be a writer, but it was far too early for that back then. I was conducting an emotional and intellectual exploration of my home world. The time to be a writer would come later, when I judged I had something original and valuable to say.

I worked out the cost-of-trip numbers in June 2008, just prior to returning to London after living in the shed. It was a long-winded process, but from a technical point of view, quite straightforward. Even though there was money moving between several accounts over the two years of the pilgrimage, my expenditure always went through two current accounts. So I just added up the numbers. It took me two days.


62: Return to Oz

Regarding Australia’s share of gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympiad: the numbers come from the International Olympic Committee. The population figures are from the CIA World Factbook. Here are my calculations:

There were 301 gold medals and Australia won 17 of them.

17/301 x 100 = 5.64784% = approx 5.65%

Population of Australia (2006): 20,264,082
Population of planet Earth (2006): 6,525,170,264

20,264,082 / 6,525,170,264 x 100 = 0.31055254% = approximately 0.31%

This suggests that, from a sporting perspective, Australia outperforms the global average by a factor of 18. Impressive.

The above CIA figure for the Earth’s human population suggests that it hit six billion a few months earlier in 2006 than Dave told me, later that year, in Airlie Beach (p217).


64: 365 Days on the Road

The numbers regarding Qur’anic verses dealing with various matters come from the note in the translation of the Qur’an by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, which I carried around the world with me (Oxford University Press, 2005).


66: The Enemy Within

I stole the apple-scrumping gag from my friend John Devlin, who later told me he got it from Richard Dawkins.

The numbers for the rate of gambling-attributed suicides in New South Wales come from the gambling course I had to attend shortly after arriving in Sydney in order to work in the country’s hospitality industry (p122, No More Pilgrims). In the course they basically took us through lots of examples of how people’s lives get screwed up because of gambling: one vice to which I’ve never related. I don’t remember the name of the course, although I do have the certificate they gave me in a box somewhere.


67: Mozart and Other Miracles

The diamond python statistics come from the Australian Museum.

The green anaconda statistics are found in this National Geographic article, which I sourced via the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Reticulated pythons are roughly the same length as green anacondas, but anacondas are heavier. I was to see a fairly whopping specimen myself, the following February, in the Amazon rainforest (p273).

While I was fact-checking these numbers, I came across this PHD thesis. This guy not only did a doctorate on green anacondas, he personally looked at over 700 specimens. How cool is that?


68: Bishops and Bohemians

Sumerian cuneiform

Regarding the dates of the earliest writing and proto writing:


Abrahams Legacy

Paul’s condemnation of the long-haired comes in 1 Timothy 11:14.


Straight to Camera

For anyone interested in the current transition (to who-knows-where) human society is currently passing through, the previous transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies (that took place after 10,000 BCE) offers an enlightening parallel.

Our understanding of that earlier transition continues to become deeper and more interesting. Pre-agricultural social trends which created the conditions for agriculture, and the reasons for those trends, are currently being deconstructed in ever more detail.

Newtown Think Space

The updated picture is that settled societies predated agriculture and were a precondition for its development. However, a precondition for those settled societies appears to have been the domestication of the dog. Prior to the dog’s domestication, it was impossible for bands of humans to stay in one place for long periods, as this left them too vulnerable to attack by their neighbours (which is a big deal when you are at war with everyone around you all the time). But once dogs came along (with their excellent senses and propensity to bark madly for unlimited periods at the approach of suspicious strangers) humans were able to settle in one place.

This killer application meant that once dogs had been domesticated they immediately (historically speaking) spread to every society on Eurasia.

So: the domestication of the dog led to settled societies, settled societies led to agriculture, agriculture led to a food surplus, a food surplus led to the division of labour, and the division of labour led to spiralling social and technological sophistication. Ergo: if you didn’t have dogs you wouldn’t have computers.


70: The Newtown Zeitgeist

All my whale statistics come from Mark Carwardine’s Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. (New York: DK, 2002).


Eden and Maori Steve


71: The Nymph, the Armenian and the Maori

Steve’s understanding of navigation, the weather and the night’s sky was remarkable. Zoe Joyce reported hanging out in Victoria Park with him and some friends at night, when he casually mentioned that the International Space Station was about to fly overhead. Not prepared to believe he could know something like this off the top of his head, she and their companions dismissed the thought. But the Space Station appeared exactly when and where he said it would – an arresting demonstration of how belonging to a cultural tradition deeply entwined with navigation by the stars provides one with all sorts of interesting insights about the world.


72: Preachers and Millionaires

The estimated weight of the Argentinosaurus comes from Giants and Bizarres: Body Size of Some Southern South American Cretaceous Dinosaurs, by Gerardo V Mazzetta, Per Christiansen, and Richard A. Farin.

The blue whale statistics come from COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus.

I don’t recall the original source for the number of humans that could stand on the tongue of a blue whale, but it is repeated on this school’s website.


74: Dispossession

Regarding the dates for the settling of the Australian mainland. First, these are moving targets, as our understanding of the story of the Indigenous Australian’s continually improves. Second, I intentionally used a conservative number. The ‘earliest indisputable’ date (of 33,000 BCE) comes from Clive Ponting’s World History: A New Perspective. However, it’s likely that the Indigenous Australians were on the continent quite a lot earlier: probably 10,000 years earlier.

The figures for the life expectancy of Indigenous males come from the Australian Department of Health.

The overall pattern can be found here.

For a really good discussion piece on the topic of Indigenous Australian life expectancy (quoting slightly different figures from those in The Jolly Pilgrim, although not by much), have a look at this page about Aboriginal culture.


The Long Now

The title of this subchapter honours the work of the Long Now foundation, who are doing excellent things to try and make humans think about their world over timeframes of thousands of years, rather than the decades, or less, which typifies our thinking.

The original human colonisation route

The date of Homo sapiens leaving Africa and crossing the Red Sea – surely one of the most important dates in all of human history and prehistory – is a moving target. This is an area of knowledge which is advancing very quickly. My original understanding of the general pattern of humanity’s prehistoric colonisation of Earth comes from Geoff Carr’s stunning The Proper Study of Mankind, A Survey of Human Evolution (survey, The Economist, 24 December 2005).

That survey quoted the date of leaving at around 85,000 BCE. Over the following few years the agreed date came forward to the currently agreed date (as of 2011) of around 60,000 BCE.

Humanity’s prehistorical populations and their movements are areas of knowledge where fascinating new detail is coming to light on a year-by-year basis. I would encourage readers to keep an eye on advances within this revealing dimension of prehistory.

One such recent revelation, that came to light in 2010, was the resolution of the question as to whether Homo sapies (i.e. us) interbred with Neanderthals during the time that they were concurrently living in Eurasia. The received wisdom for many years had been that it was possible, but it probably didn’t happen. The hard data is now in. It turns out that the two species did interbreed. Non-African humans get approximately four percent of their genetic code from the Neanderthals. Non-African humans (including me) are, in fact, Homo sapien-Neanderthal hybrids.


77: Twenty-Three Hours

This diary entry was originally written as a poem – drafted on-the-spot, when Zoe left the pool, as a close examination of the prose will reveal. I transcribed it from my big black book that very afternoon at the Chinese-run internet café I always used on King Street. When I first drafted Part 6, I considered leaving this subchapter as a poem, but decided that might come across as too pretentious.


79: Revelation Space


80: Walkabout

My survey of how many Australians could actually recall the words to ‘Walzing Matilda’ consisted of eight subjects.


Eden's rainbow


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