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Snakes and crocodiles, crocodiles and snakes

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Nobody tells the truth all of the time. But when it comes down to politicians whose actions have the power to determine the quality of our collective lives, then somebody in Canberra better start being reliably and consistently truthful about their intentions.

I was once in a tinnie on the Daintree River. I wasn’t alone: there were several other voyagers and a skipper. We travelled slowly, hugging the bank, ducking our heads as we passed under the low-hanging tree branches. On the opposite shore we watched a company of sizeable crocodiles as they sunned themselves on the sand bank.

Suddenly, there was a thud, and something fell out of a tree and landed in the bottom of the boat. One of my companions let out a scream and tried to run to the far end of the tinnie. Two more joined her. As the tinnie lurched and threatened to tip us all into the river, our skipper let loose a spectacular riff of obscene oaths, and roared at us to keep still.


I looked at my feet, where everyone seemed to have focused a collective disbelieving gaze. There I saw a very large snake.

The snake churned and spat and hissed itself into quite a state. The crocodiles on the bank opposite raised their snouts and sniffed, before sliding into the muddy water and disappearing, at least for the time it would take them to get across the river.

Trapped in a dilemma nobody could have foreseen, a dilemma of archetypal proportions, we struggled to decide what action we could take that would be most likely to preserve our lives. Leap into the crocodile infested waters? Or stay in the tinnie with a forked-tongued python casting about for something to bite?

It occurs to me that this is in many ways an appropriate metaphor for voters in this election year. With Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s expanding portfolio of undertakings that have come to worse than nothing, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s confession that what he says, unless he’s reading from hard copy, is not necessarily to be believed, it’s difficult to decide which are the snakes and which are the crocodiles.

All a punter can know for certain is that neither of them is good for our on-going health and wellbeing. Neither of them has our best interests at heart, but instead see us as prey, our votes the fodder they require to keep them where they want to be, at the top of the political food chain.

The reality is that if we can’t believe what Mr Abbott says, there is no point at all in him talking to us anymore.


That would be a relief, because like so many of his peers, he is increasingly full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

Politicians, like all leaders, set a tone. If politicians tell the electorate not to believe what they say, then politicians give license to everyone else in the community to lie overtly or by omission, to fudge, spin, deal in half-truths and in general do everything but take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths.

If politicians operate with a wonky moral compass and laugh it off, they give permission to everybody else to go off course.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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