Government seeks input into nationwide phonics assessment and numeracy check

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The Federal Government has called for feedback to inform the development of a new nationwide phonics assessment and numeracy check.

A questionnaire on the Department for Education and Training  website is the next step in the staged implementation of the checks, announced by Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham in late January.

The assessments of Year 1 students’ literacy and numeracy skills aim to identify students who are behind so they can be targeted with interventions to prevent an achievement gap from widening. It follows three significant national and international reports in 2016 that revealed Australia’s education performance had plateaued or declined.

The questionnaire will inform an Expert Advisory Panel, consisting of principals, teachers, speech specialists, academics and researchers, which will report to the Education Council in mid-2017.

It asks respondents their opinions on the potential benefits of the checks, ways of maximising their effectiveness, the challenges associated with their introduction and the use of the information gained through the checks in the classroom.

The questionnaire is open until 17 March, 2017, and any persons interested have been asked to respond.

Celebrity activism: do we really need another hero?

In Media and Society (6th ed. pp. 380–382), we discuss the pervasiveness of celebrity activism, particularly in recent times, considering social media’s ubiquity. Celebrity activists, including celanthropists (celebrity-philanthropist) and other cause endorsers and advocates locate themselves under multiple ‘issue’ banners. Some of these include humanitarianism, feminism, and political activism. Such celebrity engagement is not a new phenomenon. Now, though, it seems that connection to a cause is almost an expectation of celebrities as a method to leverage individual celebrity ‘brand(s)’. However, the explosion of celebrity activists providing opinions on various social, economic, environmental, and cultural issues, and pursuing charity and aid as self-interested pursuits can be problematic.

Critiques of celebrity activism include that it oversimplifies issues when celebrities lecture the public by assuming authority about complex matters, and that such activism tends to centre on the celebrity and their brand while diverting from substantive issues. By reflecting on some examples of celebrity activism aimed at counteracting the success of Donald Trump during the latter stages of the 2016 American Presidential campaign, we can briefly contemplate these critiques of celebrity activism in political and media landscapes.

We saw many politically motivated speeches, memes and videos by celebrities become ‘viral’ during the US election campaign. Some celebrities spoke out in the mainstream media, while many also regularly took to their social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to discuss politics. Further, they often spoke about the candidates personally – Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, in particular – in both positive and negative ways. Often, sharing opinions and having these opinions re-shared on social media amplifies the celebritisation of politics. Whether such activism achieves its intended political goals may be questioned. However, what can’t be disregarded is the way these uses of social media and celebrity attract mainstream media attention. This, therefore, reinforces the perception of celebrities as effectual activists, and the tools of social media as politically valuable ones.

One of the viral videos during the Trump campaign featured Hollywood royalty, Robert De Niro, declaring: ‘I’d like to punch [Trump] in the face’. In another of the key anti-Trump videos, celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. used humour to mock their own fame in an to attempt to encourage people to vote. Since Trump’s election, Meryl Streep, also a member of Hollywood’s elite, took the stage of the 2017 Golden Globes to accept a lifetime achievement award, and used her time to discuss Trump, without actually naming him, but drawing attention to Trump’s behaviour in imitating a disabled journalist, and how this might be indicative of his future leadership style.

Each of these instances of celebrity activism received varied reactions. De Niro’s allusion to violence was considered troublesome, the ‘shit ton’ of celebrities in the Ruffalo campaign were regarded as incompatible with everyday Americans, and Streep was rebuked for misusing and misunderstanding her privilege to allege that those in the room at the Golden Globes ‘belong to the most vilified segments of American society right now’. This last critique represents perhaps both problems raised above: the distraction of celebrity (in this case drawing attention to Streep herself), and the oversimplification of issues. Streep’s statement about the vilification of celebrities failed to recognise the distance between elite ‘outsiders’ such as celebrities and the sectors of American society less able to protect themselves from condemnation and marginalisation because of their absence of wealth, status and power. None of the celebrity activism resulted in Trump’s defeat, due to a myriad of other concerns and forces at play in democracy, although it’s worth considering what such activism that resulted in mass media attention did achieve. Does the attention it brings signal that many people feel alienated from traditional politics?

Celebrity activism, as noted, can be controversial for several reasons. However, celebrity political activists can sometimes articulate what others cannot by using their privilege to speak up and out in mainstream and online media cultures to mass audiences. Therefore, even for this reason alone, there can sometimes be a place for celebrity activism in the quest for social and political change in the current cultural climate. Celebrity activism thrives during this time of dissatisfaction with traditional politics, and it is unlikely that this will be the last election that celebrity activists take to the stage to perform supporting roles.

9780195597240Sarah Casey  works at Griffith University and is an author on the sixth edition of Media and Society (2016).

Beware the Drop Bear

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It is large and predatory, ambushing its prey from above. It targets tourists and finds Vegemite repellent. It is the mythical Australian drop bear.

‘Drop bear’ was one of 300 terms added to Oxford Dictionaries’ free online dictionary of current English.

OxfordDictionaries.com described the drop bear as, “A mythical marsupial resembling a koala, said to live in trees and attack people by dropping on to their heads from above.”

The entry includes the example of usage, “someone told him that he needed to put Vegemite behind his ears to ward off the drop bears”.

So, where did the myth of this fierce marsupial, supposedly repelled by the scent of Vegemite, come from?

According to the Australian National Dictionary Centre, in 1980 Nancy Keesing provided the first recorded mention of the drop bear. She suggested the term emerged in the Second World War period for the benefit of gullible American servicemen.

As the new entry in OxfordDictionaries.com reveals, the legend is showing no signs of fading.

Earlier this year, Tamworth Regional Council approved the idea of giving a previously unnamed road the name ‘Drop Bear Lane’, while some of Australia’s most respected cultural and environmental organisations and companies have warned tourists of the dangers of walking through forested areas where the drop bear lives.

An official page of the Australian Museum describes the drop bear, or Thylarctos plummetus as:  “a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the Koala.”

“Bush walkers have been known to be ‘dropped on’ by drop bears, resulting in injury including mainly lacerations and occasionally bites.”

The South Australian Government Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources warned travellers of the risks of the drop bear, while a National Geographic study revealed international tourists were most likely to be targeted by the ferocious marsupial.

For the full record of drop bear in Australian English, see the Second Edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

Visit OxfordDictionaries.com to find out about other words in its latest update, including ‘yas’, ‘haterade’, ‘fitspo’ and ‘craptacular’.

Yarning Strong author Ali Cobby Eckermann wins one of the world’s richest literature awards

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Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand congratulates Yarning Strong: His Father’s Eyes author, Ali Cobby Eckermann, on winning one of the world’s richest literature prizes for her poetry.

The celebrated Indigenous poet and writer was one of eight recipients of the 2017 Windham-Campbell prize, who each received $215,000. The prizes were awarded to writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama.

Eckermann wrote His Father’s Eyes, part of the OUP ANZ and Laguna Bay Publishing Yarning Strong series. The Indigenous education series is aimed at young Australians aged between 10 and 14 and their teachers, introducing readers to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. A committee of Indigenous educators guided the development and content of the series, which have all been written by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander authors.

His Father’s Eyes touches on the themes of absence of family, life changes, loss and fear of loss, and the discovery of strength through family.

Eckermann’s writing career began in 2009 with her first collection of poetry, Little Bit Long Time. Since then, she has published three collections of poetry, verse novels Ruby Moonlight and His Father’s Eyes and memoir Too Afraid to Cry, drawing on her experience as a member of the Stolen Generation. She is also the founder of the Aboriginal Writers’ Retreat.

The Windham-Campbell prize, established in 2013, aims to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work, independent of financial concerns.

English language writers from anywhere in the world are eligible, with recipients nominated confidentially by leaders in the literary field, and judged anonymously.

His Father’s Eyes is available from Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

Oxford Word of the Month: March – Corflute

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noun: a temporary sign or poster made of corrugated plastic sheeting.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

Another election and another spate of corflute crimes in Gladstone. (Gladstone Observer, 31 May 2016)

2016 was a year of elections, here and elsewhere. It was also a year in which the corflute gained extra traction in our vocabulary.

The corflute is an essential campaign tool. It is a lightweight waterproof sign, usually printed with a candidate’s image, name, and party affiliation (if any). It can be found in shopping centres as a billboard, or cable-tied to trees and fences, or attached to a stake and stuck into the ground alongside roads and highways for the attention of passing motorists.

The word corflute derives from a proprietary name for the corrugated plastic sheeting used for temporary signage, and signs made from this have been a feature of Australian campaigns for many years. However, evidence of corflute in the sense of ‘a temporary sign’ is relatively recent, and dates from about 2000. It occurs chiefly in election contexts.

An early use of the word refers to a couple of disappointed Queensland car thieves:

The thieves, trying to find something of value, had pulled out the back seat to see what was in the boot. … All it contained was two corflutes the car’s owner had souvenired from Premier Peter Beattie and Member for Woodridge Mike Kaiser’s campaigns. (Brisbane Courier-Mail, 17 July 2000)

This item points to a problem associated with the use of corflutes—the ease with which they may be stolen. It is a recurring headache for political candidates. In 2004 the Cairns Post noted that:

Cairns candidates are counting the cost of stolen election signs, with some runners out of pocket more than $500. With still four days to go until the local government polls, corflutes across the city are disappearing daily by the dozen. (24 March)

Partisan vandalism is often suspected: ‘Member for Fisher Peter Slipper released a statement yesterday accusing the LNP and its supporters of conspiring against him by stealing and destroying corflutes.’ (Sunshine Coast Daily, 31 August 2013)

More recently the overuse of campaign corflutes has been regarded as a blot on the landscape:

The Hills Shire Times wants your help to clean up our district. It’s been more than a week since the election but political advertising boards, or corflutes, are still strewn across the Hills. (Hills Shire Times, 5 April 2011)

In the 2016 ACT election voters had to choose from a record number of candidates for an expanded Legislative Assembly. This meant many more signs were put up than usual, and public tolerance was pushed to the limit. It was described as ‘a war of corflutes’ and, post-election, an outlet for public frustration was planned:

In what had been billed as ‘the first ever post-election stomping of the corflutes’, the Like Canberra party called on Canberrans to gather their ‘legally obtained surplus corflutes’ to destroy them in what would be a cathartic experience for many people. Corflute whacking party organiser … Richard Tuffin said there had been a lot of anger about the density of corflutes. (Canberra Times, 16 October 2016)

Not surprisingly, evidence for the word corflute spiked significantly in 2016. With more elections ahead, the ‘stomping of the corflutes’ may catch on.

Corflute will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

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Oxford Word of the Month: February – Black Caviar odds

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nounvery short odds; strong favouritism.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

Black Caviar odds first appears in print in 2011 referring to a possible Reserve Bank cut in the official interest rate on Melbourne Cup Day:

We are now headed for a Cup Day official interest rate cut and the banks will pass it on in full and quickly to borrowers. Both these predictions are at Black Caviar odds and just as certain. (Melbourne Herald Sun, 7 October)

The term refers to the champion racehorse Black Caviar, undefeated in 25 races between 2008 and 2013. Betting on Black Caviar entailed very short odds. This first evidence clearly links the transfer of the literal odds on a horse to anything that is likely to be strongly favoured, and hence not likely to bring in a good return on a bet.

In 2013 the Coalition was seen as the likely winner of the Australian federal election, with the Gold Coast Bulletin reporting that the Coalition was ‘getting into Black Caviar odds of $1.16 to take government in September’. (19 February) Although the term appears here in reference to an election—many Australians are keen to bet on the outcome of any contest—it is more often found in the sporting and horse racing worlds, as in the following examples.

In 2015, Australia faced Afghanistan in a World Cup cricket match and were strongly favoured to win:

Australia will start at Black Caviar odds but have been impressed by Afghanistan’s performances this tournament, most notably pace duo Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran. (Canberra Times, 4 March)

And in 2016 we see it in a horse racing context:

[Trainer Stephen] Lee would be Black Caviar odds to lead in at least one winner from his five starters at his home meeting with every chance the triumph will come early. (Sydney Daily Telegraph 30 April)

Black Caviar odds is a variation of an older Australian English term with the same meaning, Phar Lap odds: ‘Whichever is successful will carry the proverbial ton of money and start at “Phar Lap” odds.’ (Cessnock Eagle, 23 November 1933). Phar Lap is Australia’s most famous racehorse. He won numerous races including the Melbourne Cup, and his success captured Australia’s imagination during the Great Depression. We will have to wait and see if the term Black Caviar odds has the staying power of Phar Lap.

Black Caviar odds will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

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Oxford Word of the Month: January – turbo chook

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noun: a jocular name for the Tasmanian native hen, Tribonyx mortierii.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

The Tasmanian native hen is a flightless moorhen endemic to the island of Tasmania. Although it is unrelated to the domestic hen, it was named a ‘native hen’ by the early European settlers, who applied the epithet ‘native’ to many Australian indigenous animals where they saw a resemblance to a familiar European species—hence terms such as native bear (koala), native hedgehog (echidna), and native pheasant (lyrebird).

In 1924 a scientific work gave this description of the Tasmanian native hen: ‘Runs exceeding fast, and many native dogs cannot catch a native hen even in open country.’ (Lord & Scott, A Synopsis of the Vertebrate Animals of Tasmania, 1924) A similar observation was made in 2004: ‘Despite their plump, chicken-like appearance, the Tasmanian Native Hen is estimated to reach speeds up to 50 kmh when its little legs wind up.’ (Launceston Examiner, 17 July) The comments about its speed and appearance suggest why it has recently been given the colloquial name turbo chook.

The first evidence for turbo chook occurs in a 2003 travel article about Maria Island, Tasmania, in which the writer mentions that native hens are called turbo chooks, ‘though these ones seem to have lost a few revs’. (Australian, 1 March) The turbo element of turbo chook is an abbreviation of turbocharged, referring to something that operates at an accelerated speed or goes at a fast pace. The second element, chook, is an Australian colloquial term for a domestic fowl dating from the 1850s. It is derived from a British dialect word, chuck(y), with the same meaning. There is some evidence from the early 20th century of the term chook being applied to other birds, including the emu, but this is rare.

In recent years the term turbo chook has become more widely known in Tasmania, as these examples show:

Tasmania now has its own official flower and animal emblems. May I suggest the black currawong as our bird. It is large and robust, a great image, but also friendly. The only other contender in my opinion is the native hen or ‘turbo chook’ but it hasn’t quite got the image or what it takes. (Launceston Examiner, 15 June 2015)

I just dodged a turbo chook and hit a telegraph pole after eating some crayfish and flatties. (Hobart Mercury, 4 September 2016)

Turbo chook was probably used informally in Tasmania for some time before it occurred in the written record in the early 2000s. Although usage is largely confined to Tasmania where the bird is found, its appearance in the title of a popular 2013 children’s picture book, Sonia Strong’s Tazzie the Turbo Chook Finds Her Feet, indicates that the term may become more generally known in Australian English.

Turbo chook will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

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Australian Word of the Year 2016

Democracy sausage has been named Australian Word of the Year 2016.
he_word_of_the_year_infograpihc_sausageDemocracy sausage: A barbecued sausage served on a slice of bread, bought at a polling booth sausage sizzle on election day.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre, based at The Australian National University, selected democracy sausage because of its increased prominence in Australia in a year of election campaigns.

Democracy sausage was chosen from a shortlist which included census fail, smashed avo, shoey, deplorables and Ausexit.

For more information on the Australian Word of the Year click here.

The 2016 Word of the Year and shortlist are selected by the editorial staff of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, who with Oxford University Press publishes the Australian National Dictionary of words and phrases unique to Australia.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre undertakes research into Australian English in partnership with Oxford University Press, and edits Australian dictionaries for Oxford University Press.

The Word of the Year is based on extensive research as well as public suggestions. Vote for your 2016 Australian Word of the Year:


Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth. For more information read their blog post.

View the previous Words of the Year on the ANDC blog page:

2015 – sharing economy
2014 – shirtfront
2013 – bitcoin
2012 – green-on-blue

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The National Party

The enduring strength of a rural-based party in Australia—the National Party—has been rightly judged ‘unique’ (Costar and Woodward 1985, p. 2). Other developed countries have had rural-based parties, but none continued to prosper into the second post-war generation. In the 1920s ‘farmers’ parties’ burgeoned in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, but in the post 1945 period all discarded their rural identity, adopted Centre Party monikers, and, in some cases, underwent total ideological metamorphoses. In 1920s Canada, a United Farmers Party reigned in some provinces, and the Progressive Party had some successes at the federal level. But these elements ultimately subsumed themselves within the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, or the New Democratic Party. In New Zealand a small Country Party existed from 1925 to 1935 before disappearing.

But Australia’s National Party endures. It and its earlier incarnations (the Country Party, and the National Country Party) have provided one of Australia’s prime ministers, and seven of her sixteen deputy prime ministers. The party has, in the past, secured the premiership of Australia’s most industrialized state; has ruled in its own right in the fastest-growing state; and on occasion has won more seats than the Liberal Party in the largest state. Its share of the vote has fallen significantly since the 1980s. But in spite of the massive contraction of the relative importance of primary industries (from about 25 per cent of gross domestic product in the years of the party’s origin to only 2.5 per cent in 2013/14) one tenth of MPs elected to the 2013 House of Representatives caucused with the National Party.

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Oxford Word of the Month: December – koala diplomacy

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noun: Australia’s use of koalas as diplomatic gifts to other countries; a form of Australian soft power diplomacy.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

In May 1994, Australia arranged for a koala called Blinky Bill (named after a famous koala in Australian children’s fiction) and his younger half-brother, Kupala, to spend some time on extended loan at a zoo in the German city of Bonn. The koalas came from San Diego Zoo (rather than Australia), but were nevertheless Australian ambassadors. Their display in Bonn Zoo was complemented by the broadcasting of the Australian television show Blinky Bill, the sale of koala t-shirts, and the chance to win a trip to Australia.

An Australian embassy representative said: ‘Australia could benefit from the koala diplomacy.’ (Canberra Times, 18 May 1994) The koala visit would raise Australia’s profile in Germany and encourage German tourism to Australia. It also had an unexpected result: the Australian embassy received unsolicited donations to support organisations helping injured wildlife after a recent Sydney bushfire. As it turned out, when the media events took place at the zoo, a didgeridoo performance upset the koalas:

Zaine Flynn, an Aborigine who is playing a didgeridoo in a modern production of Hamlet in Stuttgart, provided an additional Australian flavour to the koala diplomacy. He played inside the koala house until zoo authorities asked him to leave because the noise seemed to be upsetting the residents. (Canberra Times, 29 May 1994)

One of the first instances of koala diplomacy occurred in 1984 with the gifting of two koalas to Japan by the Queensland Premier; several other instances have occurred since, including the 1994 German event. The term is modelled on China’s panda diplomacy—where pandas are sent to other countries to facilitate diplomatic relations between China and other countries (starting in the modern era in the 1950s).

One of the most notable recent instances of koala diplomacy was during the G20 summit in Brisbane in 2014 when world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were photographed cuddling koalas. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop commented that:

koala diplomacy should not be underestimated as ‘it portrays Australia in a soft light and promotes our values as an open, free, tolerant democracy’. The koala’s diplomatic sway was crystallised for Ms Bishop at a retreat she held this year for a number of foreign ambassadors in West Australia. During a visit to the Sandalford Winery native animals were brought from a nearby wildlife sanctuary for the diplomats to meet, with a koala proving the most popular. (Melbourne Age, 27 December 2014)

The effectiveness of koala diplomacy as a form of soft diplomacy has seen the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade producing what is referred to as a ‘koala diplomacy manual’. The approach has been criticised by some commentators:

In historical efforts at cultivating soft power—Australia’s public image overseas—we’ve leaned pretty heavily on wildlife (DFAT has reportedly produced a 600-page koala diplomacy manual). It’s hard not to see the koalas as another outing in the line of dumbed-down Paul Hogan-inspired Australiana kitsch we’ve been flogging to the world for decades: g’arn maaate, c’mon down unda! (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2015)

Despite this criticism, it seems very likely that Australia will continue to engage in koala diplomacy in the future.

Koala diplomacy will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

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