History in a Bottle

History in a Bottle #7 – A Platypus named Winston

wpid-img_20150418_123000.jpgNot too long ago beer geeks went a bit nuts for the Winston Pale Ale from Shenanigans Brewing Company in Sydney’s inner west.

I was expecting big things from this beer because, hey, it’s not like us geeks are ever wrong. But I found it a bit underwhelming. The aroma was nice – like a pine tree dipped in a can of fruit cocktail. The flavour I found a bit thin, particularly in the middle and the finish. There was nothing at all on my taste buds after swallowing the beer.

It seems the beer is named for something called ‘‘Winston G Pig’’, which I assume was a guinea pig. But this tale is related to a different Winston; the cigar-smoking, beach-fighting, never-surrendering, World War II, V for Victory Winston Churchill.

You could add ‘‘platypus-loving’’ to that list, because Churchill. Yes, we were fighting the Nazis and Japanese and Winston wanted some weird-looking creatures with duck bills.

If Churchill’s request seems odd it’s worth knowing he was a fan of exotic animals – during his time as PM he got gifts of a lion, leopard swans and two white kangaroos. Most of the animals went to the London Zoo but he tried to keep some of the others at home.

So, in February, 1943, Canberra gets the message from Churchill for those platypuses. These days we know the platypus is real (but, still, they sure do look like bits of three other animals stitched together) but back in early 1940s they were very much a novelty as far as the rest of the world was concerned. National Geographic had published an article about them in 1939, marking the first many would have even seen the creature.

SEE MORE: History in a Bottle #1 – The Foundational Orgy

They certainly weren’t in any zoos around the world – the creature is very tricky to breed and often doesn’t react well to captivity. Still, Churchill wanted some, so we had to obey. Sort of. He could have one, not the six he asked for. That was due to David Fleay from Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria, who told officials they would be pushing shit uphill to get six of the creatures over there.

After some searching, they found a platypus – and named him Winston. For the next five months he lived in a platypusary (a nursery for platypus) to give him time to get used to his surroundings before the long boat journey to Britain. To mollify Churchill, we sent him a stuffed platypus.

In September he started his journey and, much to everyone’s amazement, Winston didn’t seem to mind the ship at all. Until it was attacked by a German sub just a few days away from Liverpool. Depth charges were let off to help the ship escape but they also ended up killing Winston. Platypuses have a sort of sonar that uses electrical impulses to track prey underwater – the depth charge’s explosion was too much for Winston’s system to bear.

When the dead Winston arrived, the live one had him stuffed. The creature either ended up at the London Zoo or on Churchill’s desk.

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