Spot the difference!


I had just finished reading the article by Michael Christie, “The Language of Oppression:The Bolden Case, Victoria, 1845” on Monday evening when I heard Four Corners start up in the background.Coincidentally it was about a case of 5 young drunk white guys who bashed a young aboriginal man to death in Alice Springs last year.

The program was entitled, “A Dog Act” which was an interesting reference as it was actually used by one of the white offenders to describe what they had done.Despite that it echoed some of the language referred to in the Christie article.

Indeed, I was surprised by some of the echoes I heard watching this program.

For those of you who did not see the program it is still available on iview on the ABC website.In brief, 5 young white men who had been drinking all night at the Alice’s many “watering holes” wentout for a bit of sport in the early hours of the morning.They drove the twin cab ute they were travelling in down the dry Todd River bed where (as was well known amongst locals) aboriginal people often camped.They drove through a group of aboriginal people in their car a couple of times, scattering them – some of the aboriginal people were quite old.The victim saw them there and later had a confrontation with the same car on a road not far from the river bed.The victim allegedly threw a bottle at the car as it drove by.The driver turned the car around and drove back to the victim – at least two of the men got out of the car, chased the victim down the road and then beat him, ultimately, to death.

So what’s changed since the Bolden Case?

One of the aboriginal people charged by the youths in their car heard one of the young men call out, “You smell like the Todd River.”

The mother of the victim said, “They chased my son down as if he was an animal.”

One of the locals said, “They were just five young guys sick of taking crap from aboriginals.”

The mother of one of the offenders said, “That’s just the, the way that they just hang round the town and just make it so, oh what is it? What’s the word for it? Just, just not comfortable, because they’re there all the time. You walk past them, you don’t know how, what, how they’re gonna react.”

The father of one of the offenders brushed the incident off with:“…I guess about a few young fellas going for a drive down the river, I thought well, you know, that’s quite a, a um, a regular occurrence for young people in, in this vicinity. Um, saw nothing extraordinary about that at all. And just five fellas going for a drive up the drive up the river.”

And this extraordinary sequence:

Reporter Liz Jackson: “Over the months that followed none of the five young men, all held in custody, applied for bail. Some of their parents were worried about payback from the Ryder family.”

Heather Swain, mother of one of the offenders:“I was glad that he was locked away. It sounds horrible, but I knew he’d be safe, safer there. But yeah, Amanda was, I didn’t want her to go out clubbing or anything like that because I didn’t know if the family would do payback, as they do. Um but…”

Reporter Liz Jackson:“But were there any threats?”

Heather Swain: “No.”

I was struck by the mirroring of the same notions and attitudes which Christie refers to in his article.Over 160 years later, not a lot seems to have changed.

However, one critical thing has changed, reflected in the comments of the sentencing judge:

CHIEF JUSTICE: “I am satisfied that there were racial elements in the earlier events and that a tone and atmosphere was set of antagonism toward and harassment of Aboriginal persons and is likely to have influenced the later conduct of all offenders.…. and the actions of some offenders in kicking and striking the deceased while he was on the ground were influenced, at least to some degree, by the fact that the deceased was an Aboriginal person. Each of you is convicted of the crime of manslaughter.”

For those interested in watching the program it is available online at

This entry was posted in LING466 Blog Posts, TV. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Spot the difference!

  1. rlaird says:

    I also had just read Christie’s article when I began to watch Four Corners. I have wondered how my reactions to the language choices within it may have been different had I not – as it was, I was shocked. In particular by the local who referred to the offenders as being ‘sick of taking crap from Aboriginals’. The language this witness used in this program was extremely demonstrative of the kind of offhand, almost casual, acceptance by many non Indigenous Australians of bad treatment of Aboriginal people. Almost as if they think they deserve it because of actions such as sitting in the river bed for example. I doubt he would have been so flippant if it were a group of white campers they had scattered. I can see how this kind of language use can create and/or perpetuate further negative attitudes.

  2. nreid says:

    Thanks Catherine – great posting. As you’ve made really clear, so many parallel threads with the Christie chapter crop up here – even down to the reference to ‘smell’!

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