Twenty years ago the traditional Indigenous dance, shake-a-leg, became front page news. It was performed outside the High Court in Canberra to celebrate the court’s historic Wik decision, which held that statutory pastoral leases do not automatically extinguish native title rights. One of the claimants, a Wik elder, marked the occasion by dancing. It was the first time many Australians had seen or heard the term shake-a-leg:
Wik claimant Gladys Tybingoompa dances outside the High Court.
Gladys Tybingoompa could contain her exuberance no longer. She reached into her handbag, produced a pair of clap-sticks and whirled into a wild song and dance of victory. For a moment or two, every face around the normally sombre precincts of the High Court of Australia appeared to be wreathed in smiles as Ms Tybingoompa leapt and kicked through the dance she called ‘Shake a Leg’. She had travelled all the way from Cape York to Canberra to hear the High Court’s opinion of her people’s rights to their traditional land. (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December 1996) Continue reading →
William Buckley (1780–1856) was a British convict who was transported to Australia for receiving stolen cloth. He escaped from custody at Port Phillip in Victoria in 1803 and lived with the Wathawurung Aboriginal people near Geelong for thirty-two years. He was discovered by John Batman in 1835, at the time of the settlement of Melbourne. He received a pardon, and acted as a liaison officer between settlers and local Aboriginal groups, but became unhappy with his situation and shifted to Hobart at the end of 1837. He died in Hobart in 1856. When people consider the possible origins of the Australian phrase Buckley’s chance (or Buckley’s hope, or simply Buckley’s), William Buckley is a strong candidate (see, for example, Ozwords, October 2000 for a discussion of the origins of this phrase). However, his contribution to Australian English is greater than this, and much more than has previously been recognised.
Turtle caught in a ghost net. Source: Alistair Dermer/GhostNets Australia
A ghost net is a plastic fishing net lost or discarded at sea from a fishing boat. It continues to drift with the tides and ‘fish’ on its own – that is, to entrap and kill marine life – sometimes for many years. A net’s ‘ghostly’ ability to continue fishing by itself has given rise to its name. Ghost nets have been recognised as an international problem since the mid-20th century, and the evidence for the term ghost net dates from this period. It is not an Australianism. However, collecting and using ghost nets as a source of art material has resulted in terms that are uniquely Australian: ghost-net art, ghost-net weaving, and ghost-net sculpture: Continue reading →