+ [title] The Last Continent
The title puns on "The Lost Continent", a literary phrase associated with vanished worlds, both literal (e.g. Col James Churchward's 1931 The Lost Continent of Mu) as well as metaphorical (Bill Bryson's 1990 The Lost Continent, about his rediscovery of and journey through the lesser known parts of his native USA).
+ [p. 9] "[...] one particular planet whose inhabitants watched, with mild interest, huge continent-wrecking slabs of ice slap into another world which was, in astronomical terms, right next door -- and then did nothing about it because that sort of thing only happens in Outer Space."
This is pretty much what happened in 1994 when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into Jupiter.
+ [p. 10] "It is a general test of the omnipotence of a god that they can see the fall of a tiny bird."
Matthew 10:29. Terry has referred to this "test" before, see e.g. the annotation for p. 35 of Hogfather .
+ [p. 11] "'The Archchancellor's Keys!'"
This ceremony spoofs a ritual conducted at the Tower of London, where "The Queen's Keys" are used to lock up every day.
+ [p. 16] "'Grubs! That's what we're going to eat!'"
Witchety grubs, a traditional Aboriginal food. Taste a bit like nuts, apparently.
+ [p. 17] "'Strewth!'"
Exclamation, archaic in Britain but much more current in Australia. Shortened form of "God's truth!".
+ [p. 19] "Ridcully was to management what King Herod was to the Bethlehem Playgroup Association."
Matthew 2:16: "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, [...]"
+ [p. 22] "[...] trying to teach Hex to sing 'Lydia the Tattooed Lady', [...]"
'Lydia the Tattooed Lady' is one of Groucho Marx' most famous songs, originally performed in the 1939 Marx Brothers movie At the Circus. Kermit the Frog did a great cover of 'Lydia' on the Connie Stevens episode of The Muppet Show.
Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
And a torso even more so.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia,
Oh Lydia The Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is the Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it, The Wreck of the Hesperus, too.
And proudly above waves the red, white, and blue,
You can learn a lot from Lydia!
Teaching artifical intelligences to sing songs, recite poetry, or tell jokes is a well-established science fiction theme, with probably the most famous example being HAL in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey reverting back to his 'childhood' and singing 'Daisy' for Bowman. Possibly, that scene might not have been quite as poignant had HAL sung 'Lydia', instead...
+ [p. 23] "A man sits in some museum somewhere and writes a harmless book about political economy [...]"
Karl Marx spent a lot of time in the old Reading Room of the British Museum when he was writing Das Kapital.
+ [p. 28] "'You see, we think he's on EcksEcksEcksEcks, Archchancellor,' said Ponder."
See the annotation for p. 149/132 of Reaper Man for much more information on why the Last Continent is called 'Xxxx'.
+ [p. 31] "'"Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography",' he said."
'Egregrious' originally meant "distinguished, eminent", but is now a term of abuse. It also puns on the regis (meaning: "sponsored by the crown") professors at some UK universities.
+ [p. 34] "'"Little is known about it save that it is girt by sea."'"
One of the few lines of the Australian national anthem that most Australians actually know is "Our home is girt by sea". Possibly it sticks in the memory because, at the age when kids first learn it, nobody knows what "girt" means. (It means "encircled, enclosed".)
+ [p. 35] "'Sir Roderick Purdeigh spent many years looking for the alleged continent and was very emphatic that it didn't exist.'"
The Discworld Mapp chronicles Sir Roderick's career in some detail, his principal achievement being three epic voyages of discovery around the Disc, during which he completely failed to find XXXX, the Counterweight Continent, or indeed any land of any consequence at all.
+ [p. 35] "'[...] in that country the bark fell off the trees in the winter and the leaves stayed on.'"
This is what happens with Australian gum trees, such as the coolabah.
+ [p. 35] "'[...] men who go around on one big foot'"
C. S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, book three of the Narnia series, features the island of the Dufflepuds, who do this. Terry himself traces the story back much further:
"Two things influenced this. One is that, in accounts of very early long-distance voyages, 'people who go around on one foot' are among the usual freaks encountered (memory creaks, and recalls some about them in The Saga of Eirik the Red...). The other is that, when I was a kid, I'll swear we had a class reader of Robinson Crusoe and a pic showed him in his goat skins marvelling at the one footprint he'd found in the sand. The illustrator had obviously been told to draw the picture of RC finding 'a footprint' and had done just that."
+ [p. 35] "'It says the continent has very few poisonous snakes...'"
In fact, the snakes of Australia are noted for their lethality. According to one source, 14 of the world's top 15 poisonous snakes are Australian.
+ [p. 37] "If you made a hole in the soles and threaded the twine through it [...]"
... you'd have a thong sandal. Pretty much acceptable as footwear in most of tropical Oz, although not in most restaurants.
+ [p. 39] "[...] expanding circles of dim white light."
In Aboriginal art, a waterhole is generally shown radiating concentric circles outwards into the desert.
+ [p. 41] "'Many a poor sailorman has washed up on them fatal shores rather than get carried right over the Rim,'"
The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes, is one of the seminal history texts concerning the British colonisation of Australia and the transportation of convicts.
+ [p. 46] "Ridcully's own eyes were burning bright.[...] 'Tigers, eh?' he said."
The first stanza of William Blake's famous poem 'The Tyger':
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
+ [p. 48] "'Turned out nice again,' he said."
"Turned out nice again" was the catchphrase of the 1940s/50s British comedian George Formby. In his films, he invariably said this just as he realised that he was in trouble and a split second before he started running.
+ [p. 52] "Some of the trees lining the beach looked hauntingly familiar, and spoke to the Librarian of home. This was strange, because he had been born in Moon Pond Lane, Ankh-Morpork, next to the saddle-makers."
This name may be related to the famous Australian suburb of Moonee Ponds, which gave the world Dame Edna Everage and Tina Arena.
+ [p. 55] "'Oh that means "come quick, someone's fallen down a deep hole"'"
Scrappy the Kangaroo parodies Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, an Australian children's television series. See also the annotation for p. 91/83 of Guards! Guards! .
+ [p. 60] "It looked as though the artist hadn't just wanted to draw a kangaroo from the outside but had wanted to show the inside as well."
A characteristic of Aboriginal art, sometimes known as "X-Ray painting".
+ [p. 61] "What it showed, outlined in red ochre, were dozens of hands."
Important Aboriginal tribe members often had their handprint put on a rock face by having the artist fill their mouth with water and ochre, and then squirt the "paint" over the hand leaving the silhouette on the rock.
+ [p. 68] "'I don't mind putting my hand up to killing a few spiders,'"
See the annotation for p. 99.
+ [p. 75] "'Are you coming the raw prawn?'"
Australian for lying or pulling someone's leg. See also the annotation for p. 149/132 of Reaper Man .
+ [p. 81] "'There's only one of everything.'"
In Hobbyist, a short story by science fiction writer Eric Frank Russell, the hero finds a planet where there is, indeed, only one of every kind of animal and plant. It turns out to be run by an alien super-being who creates life forms.
+ [p. 87] "'Most people call me Mad.'"
Refers to Mad Max, eponymous hero of the classic Australian film series that made Mel Gibson a star. Max drove the V8 Interceptor (matching Mad's eight horses), with a supercharger (which Mad also engages, although Max's version didn't involve feedbags). The description of the pursuing road gang certainly looks as if it might have been inspired by a scene from the movie Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.
+ [p. 91] "'Mental as anything'"
The name of a well known Australian rock band.
+ [p. 97] "[..] The Small Boring Group of Faint Stars [...]"
Appropriately enough, Rincewind's birth sign, according to The Light Fantastic.
+ [p. 98] "'[...] the important thing is not to kill your own grandfather.'"
The "grandfather paradox" is a common philosophical objection to time travel. Science fiction writers have developed numerous ways of dealing with it, of which what Terry calls "the trousers of time" is only one. This scene looks at a couple of others (see also the annotations for pp. 99, 101).
+ [p. 99] "'You might ... tread on an ant now and it might entirely prevent someone from being born in the future!'"
In Ray Bradbury's short story A Sound of Thunder, the killing of a butterfly in the distant past completely changes history. See also the annotation for p. 118/86 of Lords and Ladies .
+ [p. 101] "'Because, in fact, history already depends on your treading on any ants that you happen to step on.'"
The "closed loop" theory of time travel -- that all the loose ends will be tied up, even if it's not immediately obvious how -- contrasts with the "trousers of time" model. It was well expressed in the film The Terminator, although the sequel promptly abandoned the idea.
+ [p. 104] "'Dijabringabeeralong: Check your Weapons.'"
You can actually get doormats and house name plates with the inscription "didjabringabeeralong". The first description of the town, including the sign, is similar to Bartertown in the movie Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.
+ [p. 104] "It's run by Crocodile.'"
Signals a shift in the films being parodied, from the Mad Max series to Crocodile Dundee. (In the film, Crocodile was a human, nicknamed for his prowess at wrestling or otherwise dealing with crocs.)
+ [p. 105] "'[...] one day he found a footprint in the sand. There was a woodcut.'"
The book the Chair is talking about is known, in our world, as Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. See the annotation for p. 35.
+ [p. 106] "'If you were marooned on a desert island, eh Dean... what kind of music would you like to listen to, eh?'"
Desert Island Discs is a long-running BBC radio programme, in which celebrity guests are asked to pick eight records to be stuck with on a hypothetical desert island.
Terry was himself a guest on 9 September 1997, and chose the following list:
- 'Symphonie Fantastique: Dream of a Witches' Sabbath' -- Berlioz, London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens.
- 'Thomas the Rhymer' -- Steeleye Span.
- 'The Race for the Rheingold Stakes' -- Bernard Miles.
- 'The Marriage of Figaro: Voi che sapete' -- Mozart, Petra Lang, ms; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
- 'Bat out of Hell' -- Meatloaf.
- 'Silk Road Theme' -- Kitaro.
- 'Great Southern Land' -- Icehouse.
- 'Four Seasons: Summer' -- Vivaldi, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Itzhak Perlman, v.
+ [p. 109] "'An' I expect you don't even know that we happen to produce some partic'ly fine wines [...] yew bastard?'"
Expresses a phenomenon known in Australia as 'cultural cringe' -- a nagging inferiority complex, based on a deep-seated suspicion that perhaps the country isn't quite on a par with Britain or even America when it comes to "culture" -- with the result that the cultural "high points" get aggressively promoted, while the regular beer and suchlike are regarded with something close to embarrassment.
+ [p. 109] "'This is what I call a knife!' [...] 'No worries. This [...] is what I call a crossbow.'"
Two film references for the price of one. The competitive knife-sizing is straight out of Crocodile Dundee; Mad's move of trumping the whole issue by pulling a crossbow comes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Harrison Ford pulls a revolver on a show-off swordsman.
+ [p. 112] "'Er... there's a great big spider on the toilet seat.'"
Spiders on the toilet are a big problem in Australia -- it's always worth having a good look before you sit. A small number of people per year, apparently, suffer nasty bites from redbacks (a kind of black widow) when sitting on the toilet. A mid-90s UK TV commercial for Carling Black Label (a brand of beer) showed an English tourist in Australia faced with this problem.
There is also a well-known Australian folk song that goes:
There was a redback on the toilet seat
when I was there last night
I didn't see him in the dark
but boy I felt his bite
And now I am in hospital
a sad and sorry plight
I curse the redback spider
on the toilet seat last night
+ [p. 124] "'Everything is so completely selfish about it.'"
Possibly a reference to The Selfish Gene, a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins. The term has stuck in the current consensus about the mechanics of evolution.
+ [p. 129] "'"Tie my kangaroo up". Bloody good fong.'"
Rincewind's version of the famous Rolf Harris song 'Tie me kangaroo down'. Of course, in Rincewind's case, what he really wants is for someone to keep Scrappy away from him...
+ [p. 129] "'[...] playing Two Up. [...] Kept bettin' they wouldn't come down at all.'"
See the annotation for p. 200/151 of Soul Music . Back in The Colour of Magic, Rincewind witnessed a coin being tossed in the air and not coming down at all.
+ [p. 131] "The purple cart rumbled off. Painted crudely on the back were the words: Petunia, The Desert Princess."
The scenes with Letitia, Darleen and Neilette resonate with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the 1994 movie about two transvestites and a transsexual crossing Australia in a bus.
+ [p. 133] "[...] enquiries as to whether it required something for the weekend [...]"
"Something for the weekend", in barber's shops up until the mid-20th century, meant 'condoms'.
+ [p. 136] "'You're not going to say anything about woolly jumpers, are you?'"
The punchline to an ancient joke about crossing a kangaroo with a sheep.
+ [p. 137] "'Why Snowy? That's an odd name for a horse.'"
Because Banjo Patterson, poet and author of many fine Australian tales, wrote a narrative poem called The Man from Snowy River, telling of a man who rode a creature "something like a racehorse undersized".
Patterson's other writing credits include the lyrics to 'Waltzing Matilda', which gives him a strong claim to have invented the idea of the Australian hero, which is what the old man is trying to turn Rincewind into. See also the annotations for pp. 145, 146, 148, 170.
+ [p. 137] "'Why din't you tell him about the drop-bears over that way?'"
Drop-bears are the standard story to tell gullible foreigners. Basically a sort of predatory koala that has evolved to drop, leopard-like, out of trees onto unwary (non-native) bushwalkers.
+ [p. 145] "'Old Remorse says [...]'"
The Man from Snowy River (see annotation for p. 137) describes the pursuit of a horse identified as "the colt from old Regret".
+ [p. 146] "Snowy's nostrils flared and, without even pausing, he continued down the slope."
Rincewind's ride across the canyon, while the rest of the gang can't follow, again echoes The Man from Snowy River.
+ [p. 148] "'Where was it he wanted to go, Clancy?'"
Clancy of the Overflow was another poem by Banjo Patterson, and Clancy also plays a major role in The Man from Snowy River.
+ [p. 154] "It was the front half of an elephant."
In the early 1990s, the British artist Damien Hirst caused much controversy by exhibiting animals cut in half and preserved in formaldehyde.
+ [p. 155] "'Beetles?' said Ponder."
There are over 400,000 distinct, named species of beetle in the world, and possibly twice as many unnamed ones.
When asked what his studies of Creation had revealed to him about the nature of God, the Scottish geneticist J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964) supposedly answered: "He seems to have had an inordinate fondness for beetles."
(According to science writer Stephen Jay Gould, the quip is undeniably Haldane's, who often repeated it, but the story of it being a riposte to an actual theological question cannot be verified.)
Haldane was also the author of a children's book, My Friend Mr Leakey, which has a very Pratchettian tone, and is strongly recommended.
+ [p. 157] "'Big bills, short bills, bills for winkling insects out of bark [...]'"
One of the key things Darwin noticed, which led him to his detailed theory of evolution, was the slight differences in bills between finches on different islands in the Galapagos group.
+ [p. 161] "Embarrassment filled the air, huge and pink. If it were rock, you could have carved great hidden rose-red cities in it."
'Petra' (a Greek word meaning 'stone') is the name of an ancient pre-Roman city in Jordan. Victorian traveler and poet John William Burgon describes the city in his poem Petra, ending with the line: "A rose-red city, 'half as old as Time!'"
+ [p. 170] "Once a moderately jolly wizard camped by a waterhole under the shade of a tree that he was completely unable to identify."
Banjo Patterson's (see the annotation for p. 137) best-known work, by some margin, is 'Waltzing Matilda'. Unfortunately, his words are not the same as those sung to the world-renowned tune. Even more unfortunately, although every Australian knows this song, no two of them seem to agree on all the lyrics, so this version should not be taken as authoritative:
Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a coolabah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited for his billy boil,
'Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?'
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
And he sang as he watched and waited for the billy boil,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tuckerbag,
'You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.'
Down came the squatter, a-riding on his thoroughbred,
Down came the troopers, one, two, three.
'Whose is the jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag?
You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me.'
Up jumped the swagman and leapt into the billabong,
'You'll never take me alive,' said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass beside the billabong,
'You'll come a-waltzing matilda with me.'
The astute reader will have noticed that the last sentence of Terry's paragraph ("And he swore as he hacked and hacked at a can of beer, saying 'What kind of idiots put beer in tins?'") fits both the tune and the structure of the song. The expression "waltzing Matilda" existed before the song, meaning to hump or carry one's belongings with one, like a tramp.
+ [p. 174] "No, what you got was salty-tasting beery brown gunk."
Rincewind has invented Marmite, close cousin to the milder Vegemite.
+ [p. 184] "'It even does me good to have a proper criminal in the cells for once, instead of all these bloody politicians.'"
Politicians in Australia have an even worse reputation than those elsewhere in the Anglophone world, but in fact their rate of conviction is not all that high. There was a particularly notorious scandal in the late 80s involving Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson, premier of Queensland; several of his associates were jailed, and the premier himself was accused and (briefly) tried on charges of perjury. The trial was aborted.
+ [p. 185] "'Only it'd help me if it was a name with three syllables.'"
The balladeer is in luck. See the annotation for p. 170.
+ [p. 185] "'Reckon you might be as famous as Tinhead Ned, mate.'"
Ned Kelly was a legendary Australian bushranger of the 1870s who, at his famous last stand, wore a suit of armour to stop bullets. Unfortunately for him, the police noticed that he didn't have armour on his legs... Famous also for his reputed last words: "Such is life."
+ [p. 187] "'Meat pie floater.'"
As Terry later explains, this is a Regional Delicacy found specifically in South Australia.
+ [p. 194] "'Remember old "Dicky" Bird'?"
Terry suggests that everyone named Bird probably attracts the nickname "Dicky" at some point in their lives, but the most famous (and appropriate, in this context) is a legendary, now retired, cricket umpire.
+ [p. 197] "'Dibbler's Café de Feet'"
There is a place in Adelaide called the Café de Wheels, which is famous for its meat pie floaters (see annotation for p. 187). Dibbler's version also puns on 'defeat', which seems appropriate to his general attitude.
+ [p. 197] "'I just came up Berk Street.'"
The main shopping street in central Melbourne is called Bourke Street.
+ [p. 198] "'"Hill's Clothesline Co."'"
Real Australian company that makes the world famous Hill's Hoist clothesline.
+ [p. 199] "'[...] 'cos Duncan's me mate.'"
From the Australian song 'Duncan', which was a big hit for singer Slim Dusty in 1958: "I love to have a beer with Duncan, 'cos Duncan's me mate."
+ [p. 199] "'The way I see it, I'm more indigenous than them.'"
It has been suggested that Dibbler's politics are inspired by those of the radical Australian politician Pauline Hanson, who also came from the fast-food industry.
+ [p. 202] "'That's going to make the one about the land of the giant walking plum puddings look very tame.'"
There's a famous Australian children's story called "The Magic Pudding".
+ [p. 203] "well, it had to be a building. No one could have left an open box of tissues that big. [...] a building that looked about to set sail [...]"
Both descriptions have been applied, at various times, to Sydney Opera House -- which is, indeed, on the waterfront.
+ [p. 213] "'She's... her name's... Dame Nellie... Butt.'"
Dame Nellie Butt has two aspects: Dame Nellie Melba, of Peach Melba fame, and Dame Clara Butt, an English singer who moved to Australia.
+ [p. 215] "'I give you... the Peach Nellie.'"
Rincewind has invented the Peach Melba, named in our world for Dame Nellie Melba, a famous Australian contralto.
+ [p. 218] "'You mean this whole place is a prison?'"
It's often said -- not least by Australians -- that they are the descendants of British convicts who were sentenced to "transportation" as a penalty only slightly preferable to death, and indeed the earliest European settlements, from 1788 onwards, were penal colonies. However, separate "free colonies" were established not long afterwards, and the transportation of prisoners stopped in the mid 19th century.
+ [p. 219] "'This is the Galah they keep talking about.'"
Rincewind seems to have stumbled into the world-famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. A galah is also a small pink parrot with a grey head. They are apparently very gentle and inoffensive birds, which makes it harder to understand why "galah" is also a Australian slang term of derision meaning "likeable fool" or "simpleton". Apparently, transvestites are not entirely welcome in the Sydney Mardi Gras.
+ [p. 223] "Rincewind leapt from the cart, landed on someone's shoulder, jumped again very briefly on to someone's head."
At the end of the movie Crocodile Dundee, our Australian hero makes his way across a packed New York subway station platform in this fashion.
+ [p. 233] "'A sarong.' 'Looks right enough to me, haha.'"
The Dean is trying, with rather too much desperation, to make a joke that requires him to have a pseudo-Italian accent for it to work. If Chico Marx were to say "That's wrong", it would sound something like "a sarong".
+ [p. 239] "'When Darleen sings "Prancing Queen" [...]'"
The heroines of the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert perform (well, playback to) a repertoire of Abba songs. See the annotation for p. 131.
+ [p. 240] "'Look, it's the new brewery because we built it to replace the one over the river.'"
The Old Brewery in WA is situated by the Swan River, on or near a sacred site (depending on who you ask). Neilette's brewery is positioned on possibly the most definitively unsacred site in the continent...
+ [p. 241] "'My dad lost nearly all his money.'"
Brewing is a financially dangerous business. Alan Bond (see the annotation for p. 266) lost a fortune in the 1990s, when lessees of his pubs objected to his plan to sell them all off for a quick return.
+ [p. 247] "'Now look,' said Ridcully. 'I'm a man who knows his ducks, and what you've got there is laughable.'"
It's been said, cruelly, that a platypus is what a duck would look like if it was designed by a committee.
+ [p. 248] "'"Nulli Sheilae sanguineae"'"
"No bloody Sheilas".
+ [p. 249] "'Er, I had an assisted passage.'"
"Assisted passage" was the term for the financial support given to British immigrants during the 1960s.
+ [p. 252] "'We used to call them bullroarers when I was a kid,'"
Bullroars were apparently used traditionally by the aborigines as a means of communicating and signalling over distances of several miles. Its use is demonstrated in the movie Crocodile Dundee II, where he uses one to call for help from nearby Aborigines.
+ [p. 253] "'You're trying to tell me you've got a tower that's taller at the top than it is at the bottom?'"
Once again, a nod to the classic BBC TV series Dr Who -- characters were forever remarking on how the Doctor's ship, the Tardis, was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. Given that the outside was the size of a large phone box, this was just as well.
+ [p. 253] "'We're a clever country --'"
Australia once tried to sell itself to the world as "the clever country", to attract the right kind of immigrants.
+ [p. 254] "'"Funnelweb"? 's a funny name for a beer.'"
It is, of course, the name of a spider. One of Terry's favourite Australian beers is "Redback", another spider. Probably best not to inquire too closely as to the recipe.
+ [p. 263] "He sloshed wildly at the stone, humming under his breath. 'Anyone guess what it is yet?' he said over his shoulder."
Rincewind is imitating Rolf Harris, a scruffily-bearded Australian singer and artist who used to present kids' cartoon programmes on UK TV. Before each cartoon, he'd demonstrate how to draw the leading characters, humming as he sketched and often asking 'Can you guess what it is yet?' over his shoulder.
See also the annotation for p. 129.
+ [p. 266] "There were more important questions as they sat round the table in BU."
The natural assumption that BU stands for "Bugarup University" is entirely logical, but the fact that it's not spelt out gives us license to speculate wildly about many alternative resonances...
First, it's worth noting that there really is a BU in Australia: Bond University, in the Gold Coast, was financed and named after Alan Bond, the well-known Americas Cup winner, colourful businessman and ex-gaolbird. His principal business interest was in brewing: he owned the Castlemaine Tooheys brand, before running into trouble in the late 80s. (see also the annotation for p. 241).
Adding a second dimension to the name, one could note that "bû" is the past participle of the French "boire", to drink. Third, there's the well-known drinking expression "bottoms up!" -- an exhortation to fellow drinkers to quaff harder. Even more improbably, there's the notion that never fails to raise a laugh in primary schools in the UK that Australians, being upside-down, all walk on their heads, i.e. with their bums uppermost. Of course, most likely BU does stand for Bugarup University. But all that was worth thinking about, wasn't it?
+ [p. 267] "The Librarian sneezed. '...awk...' 'Er... now you're some sort of large bird...' said Rincewind."
Possibly a Great Auk (an extinct species of flightless, penguin-like sea bird).
+ [p. 268] "He could save up and buy a farm on the Never-Never."
Puns on the "Never-Never" (a name for Outback Australia) and "buying on the never-never" (i.e. on hire-purchase).
+ [p. 269] "'If we could get to the Hub we could cut loose a big iceberg and tow it here and that'd give us plenty of water..."
This has been seriously suggested as a way of supplying more water for Australia.
+ [p. 271] "There were classes for boats [...] propelled by the simple expedient of the crew cutting the bottoms out, gripping the sides and running like hell."
At Henley-on-Todd, Alice Springs, there is an annual regatta on these lines. This event usually has about twenty teams that take part in a race up and down the Todd river bed. The teams are sponsored by local businesses and they are normally made up of people that work for the company that sponsors them plus other family members. Team members run up and down the river bed carrying a cardboard cut out of a boat with sails and masts. This looks quite a sight when you see boats on a dry river and all these hairy legs sticking out of the bottom of the boats. The final race is between two large boats on tractor bodies. These boats have cannons fastened onto the side of them and large fire hoses joined to water tanks on board these are used to fire flour at the other teams and the crowd. Mix this with water, and it makes a lot of mess and a great deal of fun for all.
Once every seven years or so, it rains, and the event has to be cancelled because the river is full of water.
+ [p. 272] "'One spell, one bucket of seawater, no more problem...'"
Desalinated seawater plays an important part in the water supply of many desert countries. However, it is (as Ponder objects) very energy-intensive.
+ [p. 274] "'Can you hear that thunder? [...] We'd better take cover.'"
From the Aussie group Men at Work's 1983 hit 'Down Under': "Can you hear that thunder? You'd better run, you'd better take cover."
+ [p. 280] "Near the centre of the last continent, where waterfalls streamed down the flanks of a great red rock[...]"
Uluru, or Ayer's Rock, is regarded as sacred by the Aborigines so they never climb the rock, although many tourists do.
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