Emma Watkins, the former Wiggle, ranked highly among the Google searches last Monday, her yellow skivvy traded for an elegant wedding dress. The bride, though, fell short of Ronaldo’s penalty goal against Brentford – with 20,000 hits – and Scott Morrison’s chicken korma on Insta.
Elsewhere on the search list was an offbeat Australianism, a phrase that hastened thousands to their Google windows. The trigger was a news story. When not stirring turmeric into his curry, Morrison had stirred the progressives, deploring the prospect of a federal ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) as little but a “kangaroo court”.
The term “kangaroo court” likely emerged during the US gold rush, says David Astle.Credit:Jo Gay
To be precise, the PM had despaired at the goings-on in NSW where former premier Gladys Berejiklian was put through the commission’s wringer. “The premier of NSW was done over by a bad process, an abuse… I’m not going to have a kangaroo court taken into this parliament.”
That pledge was in November. Last week, the phrase was revived when Berejiklian’s successor – Dominic Perrottet – reproached the PM for his remarks, saying any reference to judicial marsupials was destabilising to the rule of law. The watchdog was no kangaroo, he insisted. “The commission,” Perrottet added, “plays an important role in upholding integrity and confidence in politicians and in public servants in our state.”
Hooray for that. A dog with teeth. Nonetheless, Perrottet’s show of probity wasn’t met by confetti and airborne sombreros. Instead, 10,000 citizens hit the web, surfing to learn what a kangaroo court actually entailed. How the hell did Skippy grab the gavel? Before jumping to conclusions, beware. The backstory has more curve than Ronaldo’s left boot.
Read more Wordplay
- In an election campaign void of eloquence, Albo’s ‘junior burger’ was a zinger
- Pick a name, any name: This playground game has stood the test of time
- Burner phone, vaxxed, demisexual: Why the dictionary keeps expanding
- A beginner’s guide to redundant acronyms (NB: RAT not RAT test)
- Forget Wordle, here’s a game to toast Australian grit
For starters, the phrase is not Australian, despite smuggling our fauna in plain sight. Rather, the expression was likely hatched on the US goldfields. Last week on radio, thanks to this Google surge, I explored the phrase with Roly Sussex, the Emeritus Professor of Applied Language Studies at the University of Queensland.
As he explained, “The term popped up first in California, around 1849-1850. At that stage, there was some 800-1000 Aussie prospectors digging for fortune. Locals soon gleaned that [our forebears] would occasionally decide things in an unofficial kind of way.” Surprise, surprise: this included laying claim to territory with nowt by way of paperwork or permission. And so, kangaroo court emerged.
Perhaps the coinage began life as fond, since Americans might well admire shameless red-tape leapers. Yet west coast mastheads were fast to add vitriol to the phrase, in equal measure to Scott Morrison’s own recipe 170 years on. Nowadays the label denotes any mock or show trial, where the verdict is as good as predetermined. Think justice of the jumped-up kind, the judge potentially snug inside a protagonist’s pocket.
Case closed, you’d imagine. But the phrase is just a glimpse of Australian idiom, even pseudo-Australian idiom, with so many examples capable of inspiring frenzied Googling. Somehow, we do opaque idiom like few other nations. Keeping to animals, say, what chance would outsiders have in trying to interpret a lizard flat-out drinking? Or prawns in the sun? A frog in a sock?
Tellingly, all three beasts deal in double meaning, the true vein of Australian gold. Flat-out lizards allude to being flat-out busy, not just flat-out prone. Things going off (like sun-struck prawns or captive frogs) suggest activity levels going off, just as that charging bull isn’t just charging the paddock, but your debit card. Whether we’re hurdling due process, or refusing to shout if a shark bit us, Australians are historically reluctant to play straight with interpretations, be that by law or language.
A cultural guide to going out and loving your city. Sign up to our Culture Fix newsletter here.
To read more from Spectrum, visit our page here.
Most Viewed in Culture
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article