Let's have fun, said some, and name a festival 'Up Your Bum'
Age, The (Melbourne, Australia) - Saturday, March 8, 2008
Author: Larissa Dubecki
IT HAS been an urban legend for years: that Moomba, officially known as an Aboriginal word meaning "let's get together and have fun", actually means "up your bum". Turns out it might be true.
Linguists and historians say Moomba is a joining of the Aboriginal words "moom", meaning bottom, and "ba" , which alternatively means "up" or indicates a joke - in this case, a joke played on the burghers of Melbourne in 1955 when they searched for a name for their celebration of civic pride.
An exploration of the murky etymology of what is possibly Melbourne's strangest festival, Moomba: What's in a Name?, comes to no definitive conclusions. Bill Onus, of the Australian Aboriginal League, is credited with coining the name in a 1951 play called An Aboriginal Moomba: Out of the Dark, but family members interviewed for a video installation say he took the term from a book of indigenous words in good faith.
But according to Aboriginal activist and University of Melbourne history lecturer Gary Foley , "Moom means arse, it's as simple as that."
Moomba, which is on this weekend, has been described as a festival in search of a point, but there has been plenty of subtle subversion going on in its 54-year history, says exhibition curator Hilary Ericksen.
There was the controversial choice of the Labour Day weekend for a commercial festival centred around a parade of corporate-sponsored floats, for one.
The exhibition also explores the history of the Kings and Queens of Moomba, a tradition that ended (and the festival declared a republic) in 1999 following the dethroning of clowns Zig and Zag as joint Moomba monarchs after it was discovered Zig (John Perry) had been convicted of child sex offences. American import Mickey Mouse drew criticism when King in 1977; Dame Edna Everage less so for being Moomba's only-ever Queen Mother in 1983.
Fans of the idea that the dispossessed got one over the colonisers with the naming of the festival might be left frustrated by the lack of a conclusion. But according to Onus' grandson, "at least it's managed to teach Victorians at least one Aboriginal word".