Family history, Australian history, or just history.


 noun /ˈratbaɡ/
British informal: An unpleasant or disliked person.
Origin: Late 19th century (originally Australian): from rat + bag.

Definition source: Oxford English Dictionary

Many of my ancestors were ratbags. I am not ashamed of that — some of them I’m quite proud of, to tell the truth. Some were perceived to be ratbags but were not, others most definitely were. Others fell foul of ratbags who made my ratbags seem like rank amateurs in the ratbaggery stakes. Cest la vie. You can be a hero and still be a complete and utter bastard. If you are looking for hagiographies you are probably in the wrong place.

Many years ago I watched a television mini-series on the life of renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini. I think it was called “A dangerous life”. There was a scene where the artist was chained up in the dungeon of the citadel of Rome. He appealed to his aristocratic jailer to let him go on the grounds that he was a famous person and should not be treated this way (Cellini was definitely a ratbag’s ratbag). His jailer replied that there was no advantage to him that Cellini should be released — on the other hand, holding prisoner someone of Cellini’s status simply because he could — increased his own reputation as a badass. The hapless artist then tried a different tack, appealing to his captor’s sense of fairness, of morality, in the vernacular of the time, his honour: “Would it not be an honourable thing to do, to release me?”

The jailer stared back at him in stark staring disbelief and replied with incredulity;

“I’m the bastard son of a Pope, and you talk to me about honour?!”

(Which as far as I’m concerned is about the single funniest line ever committed to film) It also sums up my justification for entitling a blog ostensibly about family stories The Ratbag Encyclopedia.

Cesare Borgia was the bastard son of a pope. As far as I can tell he and Cellini never actually met.

I have little patience with the “a jolly picnic and tea with the Governor after the Sunday evening roast” school of family history writing, nor the “he was such a jolly fellow and hard working too” that is somehow supposed to excuse and negate all babies he roasted over a fire during his day job.

My personal journey in search of my own family history is not the primary subject of this web site although I do write about some aspects of that journey. Nor are the subjects of my writing necessarily connected to me or my families (plural) directly or even indirectly. Rather, they are results of facts I have encountered during my research that I feel should be told as stories. Many of them involve ratbags to a greater or lesser extent. May their stories now be told…