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The Australian History of Tux

By Chris Jones

Gday from the land of Oz,

If anyone out there is wondering about the growing popularity of Linux and its adoption by Australian writers as a writers true operating system, perhaps the following may help explain.

On the reason for choosing Tux--the penguin mascot for Linux--Linus Tolvalds, the first of thousands who wrote the Linux computer operating system on the world wide web, had this to say:

When I was in Canberra a few years ago we went to the local zoo ... There they had a ferocious penguin that bit me...

OK now, when Linus says he was bitten by an angry penguin in Canberra and that is a good reason for the Tux mascot which today spells Linux, there maybe more to the story.

During the 1940s and 50s in Australia there was a literary magazine called, of all things, The Angry Penguins. This magazine was an avant-garde modernist poetry magazine edited by Max Harris and had modernist painters and writers grouped around it whose names are now legend in Australian art. But at that time they were just considered weird and way out. You know, the stereotype of mad deluded poets and artists starving and living in sub-standard housing.

Anyway, this literary magazine started to get a bit too much of a following. A couple of boring farts, both academic poets, got a bit hot under the collar about this and got together to write and submit a hoax modernist poem under the false name of Ern Malley. As it worked out, these farts are now better known for this hoax and the false name Ern Malley, then their own true names and works.

Now, since most of the archives for the Angry Penguins and a complete set of the journals may be found living in the National Library in Canberra, the question remains: was Linus bitten by a real angry penguin? Could it have been the ghost of Ern Malley? Or much worst still, could it be the ghost of Max Harris? After all, I'd rather be bitten by the ghost of a hoax poet then the ghost of a really angry penguin poet.

But as Linus later admits, it was really a fairy penguin that sucked gently on his finger, thinking it a fish. But, oh my, even more dangerous. Could he have had his digit licked by a queer poet becoming penguin?

So when Linus later writes:

Some people have told me they don't think a fat penguin really embodies the grace of Linux, which just tells me they have never seen a angry penguin charging at them in excess of 100mph. They'd be a lot more careful about what they say if they had.
He isn't wrong!

Copyright © 2000, Chris Jones. Copying license
Published in Issue 59 of Linux Gazette, November 2000

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