Monday, September 22, 2008


There's a very bad old joke from the 1970s I recall hearing when I was a kid. I think it was from the UK comedy TV show The Two Ronnies. It went something like this:

'After the break we'll be interviewing a man who crossed [Australian musical entertainer] Rolf Harris with the Three Wise Virgins and created a didgeri-don't.'

You probably won't find that very funny unless

a) you know that Rolf Harris played the didgeridoo, the ceremonial wind instrument played by Australian Aboriginals, and
b) you're not particularly worried by a bit of political incorrectness, and
c) you enjoy lame jokes.

So, your appreciation of the joke depends to a fair degree on your cultural sensitivities.

This is something that perhaps my good friends at HarperCollinsPublishers Australia might have borne in mind when they were preparing the Australian edition of Andrea J Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz'sThe Daring Book for Girls, a companion book to Con and Hal Iggulden's bestselling (and shamelessly imitated) Dangerous Book for Boys.

Among several 'things an modern Australian girl needs to know' created for the Australian edition (due in October), there were sections on how to surf and play netball, and a section on how girls could learn to play the didgeridoo.

Sounds fair enough, except Aboriginal taboo forbids the playing of the didgeridoo by females, and many Aboriginal Australians were rather upset by what one called 'an extreme faux pas'. According to Mark Rose of Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, a woman risks infertility if she touches a didgeridoo.

An embarrassed apology was duly issued, together with a promise to remove the offending section from future printings.

Not the first printing, mind: publishers have their own cultural sensitivities, among which is a commitment to the proverbial bottom line.

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