tip off
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“True Territorians” Teased by Terrible Tosser Taunts

Territory MLA Marion Scrymgour

In the midst of the other serious matters slopping around elsewhere perhaps we all need whatever light relief might come to hand and help to make a happy ending for all…

Last Thursday Ararafura MLA Marion Scrymgour apparently – she’s kept stum apart from some brief comments to the media – let the serried ranks of the Country Liberal Party Opposition know exactly what she thought of their parliamentary antics and particular qualities as parliamentarians.

According to this report by Alyssa Betts in last Friday’s NT News she made:

 …”wanking” gestures at her opponents during Parliament. CLP pollies Ross Bohlin, John Elferink and Peter Chandler say they saw Labor backbencher and former deputy chief minister Marion Scrymgour clearly make the jerking off gestures.

Mr Bohlin said the act went well beyond the usual “argy bargy” of the House. “On two occasions, probably 15 or 20 seconds apart, (she) made this male masturbation gesture and then said ‘that’s what you are, that’s what you are’,” Mr Bohlin said.

I couldn’t quite pick who she was aiming at, or whether she was aiming at all and sundry.

The CLP would be well minded to exercise caution when taking on the feisty Scrymgour, who has a long and well-deserved reputation as a fighter for her constituents and has never been known to walk away from a stoush. The Opposition CLP has recently taken a bullish “born to rule” approach, claiming, among other things that the Northern Territory flag (which a wag once likened to a “puckered arsehole”) was, according to Alice Springs CLP MLA Adam Giles:

“…that’s our flag. We fought for the Territory and we built the Territory.The CLP built the Territory,” he said.

Mr Giles told Parliament that the CLP had built everything of significance in the NT, including the Alice Springs-to-Darwin railway, Royal Darwin Hospital and Darwin prison.

The CLP ruled from 1974 and through Self-Government in 1978 until losing power to Labor in 2001.

This may have raised Marion Scrymgour’s dander. Marion made history in late 2003 when she was the first Aboriginal woman to serve as a Minister in an Australian Parliament and more recently came to prominence as a vocal opponent of the Howard/Brough Intervention in the NT, most notably saying that it was a “Black Tampa” that had bought a mean and “vicious new McCarthyism” to the NT

The NT News reported that Marion considered that the allegation that she made the terrible tosser taunts at the sensitive souls on the Opposition benches were a “ridiculous assertion” that she “wouldn’t dignify with a response.”

To be fair, such sentiments could at times be expressed about both sides and genders in the NT parliament. After all, as someone said many years ago, you can tell a man is lying if he says that he never takes a tug from time to time. I see no reason not to apply the same to women.

But lets not go too far down that dark alleyway…too many uncomfortable images come to mind.

This adventure into the far reaches of parliamentary democracy reminded me of an anecdote – related to the alleged wanking gestures delivered by Marion above – told to me many years ago by an anthropologist/linguist mate of mine.

There is no shortage of literature on Aboriginal sign language and gestures in the NT and beyond. Anyone who has lived with Aboriginal people – and is at all observant – will know that signing can be common, complex and highly sophisticated – and highly variable and specific between language and cultural groups.

Some signs are widely known and used – the downturned open hand turned to form an open upward-facing palm with fingers curved and thumb extended generally means “What’s up” or “What are you doing” that will draw an appropriate response from hands or lips, which are also often used to indicate direction.

Many languages and groups have ceremonial and socially specific sign languages and specific events and relationships often have languages of their own.

But all this sophistication can easily fall into the black hole of cross-cultural miscommunication.

I first met Murray Garde many years ago at the central Arnhem Land township of Maningrida.

A few years ago he related the following story that for me is just about the best illustration of how communication by hand signs – this time between two whitefellas – can sometimes go terribly wrong.

I wanted to make sure that I had the story straight so sent my vaguely remembered version off to Murray for checking.

Here is what Murray came back to me with.

Having lived on outstations for so many years I not only learnt to speak Kuninjku but I had also internalised the local Aboriginal sign language, which we all used on a daily basis on the outstations where I was living.

On that occasion I was at the [4-way] intersection in down town Maningrida and was waiting for someone else to come to my vehicle. The local police officer arrived [on the roadway opposite me] and waited for me to move.

I indicated by local sign language that I would stay where I was and that he should pass me, a signal involving a closed fist and one or two up and down movements of the wrist ‘I’m staying here’.

I should have realised of course that this signal wouldn’t work cross-culturally and that only when I saw the police officer drive up to my window and start abusing me did I realise that this local signal had no currency with the constabulary.

He protested I was being offensive and in between the yelling I attempted to somehow explain the intricacies of Bininj sign language.

I realised it was a lost cause. It still is.

Whitefellas can live for years as a minority population in Aboriginal towns but never learn anything about how the town’s population communicate— verbal or otherwise.

I’m not sure however if Marion can use the same defence. However what she did seems tame compared to Paul Keating’s taunt in parliament to the opposition “piss off you brain-dead maggots and eat worms”.

Says it all really doesn’t it?

If you have any similar experiences please post your thoughts!

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  • 1
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Met a bloke called “Tosser” at Ti Tree roadhouse once in the 70′s. Got his name from throwing sticks of gelignite into Aboriginal camps in the area. Came running at us (me & a bunch of sedate old blokes in the vehicle doing some serious work), waving a monkey wrench when we pulled up for fuel yelling “get those f’ing rock apes out of here”.

    It is always possible, of course, that I simply misunderstood him, not myself being a part of his own brain damaged, gelignite throwing, redneck sub-community of the NT at that time and that the wildly waving monkey wrench was a symbol of friendship (like his gelignite throwing activities). I’d take some convincing, though.

    Just by the way , it wasn’t just “a wag” who “once likened” the NT flag to “a “puckered arsehole””. Don’t remember too many people in Central Australia in those days, regardless of their politics, who didn’t call it exactly that! ;-)

  • 2
    Bob Gosford
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Love your work Rod and more power to you! Thanks for clearing up the “puckered arsehole” conundrum!

  • 3
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    On a similar note, but at my own expense, I still remember people laughing their heads off when I first ventured to attempt to use the Arrernte word for River Gum. Its a “prick” if you don’t get “r” right! ;-)

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