Flag of Australia
Circumcision in
Flag of the Australian Aboriginal people
Australia


Australia is a country with a significant but often-concealed cultural divide. For many thousands of years the Aboriginal people were the sole human inhabitants of Australia. European immigrants arrived from January 1788 onwards to found a British Colony. The circumcision norms of these population groups differ; hence this page of the CIRCLIST website is divided into two sections.



Last updated: 12 March 2014, 14:33 UTC



Population distribution before European immigration and in modern times

Aboriginal population of Australia circa 1770 Population distribution of Australia in 2000
Aboriginal settlement circa 1770
Whole population in year 2000



Flag
The European Settlers

In the 1960s rates of circumcision appear to have been somewhere between 60% and “near universal”, depending upon whose statistics are consulted. Thereafter, rates declined - reportedly to as low as 10% - before bouncing back despite opposition from medical professionals.

Let’s start with a newspaper report from the end of the last century:
Icon The Sun-Herald (Sydney), 25th April 1999
BABIES AT THE CUTTING EDGE : by Martin Chulov

Circumcision of male infants is making a comeback, reports Martin Chulov. After years of declining rates in Australia and opposition to the procedure from doctors, a growing number of parents are asking for their baby boys to be circumcised. And, for the first time, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has formed a policy position - it does not oppose the procedure.

Thirty years ago more than 60% of Australian males were routinely circumcised; that figure has fallen dramatically to less than 10% of male babies born. However, hospitals have reported a recent surge in requests for the procedure, which is typically performed when baby boys are about seven days old. A report released recently showed that pediatricians were receiving requests from parents to circumcise up to 20% of newborn boys.

The College of Surgeons said performing the procedure was at the discretion of parents and could be performed for religious, cultural, medical or social reasons. It said it should be performed only by “a competent operator... under sterile conditions designed to minimise hazards... using appropriate anaesthetic”.

The procedure is leading to widespread division among GPs and medical lobby groups with the Australian College of Pediatrics saying circumcision should not be performed until babies are at least six months. It said “neonatal male circumcision has no medical indication. It is a traumatic procedure performed without anaesthesia to remove a normal functional and protective prepuce”.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) opposes routine circumcision and will only endorse it on “therapeutic grounds”. AMA New South Wales president Peter Thursby said: “And then we would need to be convinced of the reasons for exposing seven-day-old infants to this”. Dr.Thursby said Australians’ access to hygiene reduced the risks of penile cancers or diseases which were associated with non-circumcised men in some first and second world countries (sic). “Penile carcinoma rates have fallen dramatically in Australia over the past 50 years and are continuing to do so”, Dr.Thursby said.

But Professor Brian Morris from the University of Sydney’s Physiology Department claims, in a new book, that there are benefits to be had from the procedure at any age. Dr.Morris says lack of circumcision is responsible for increasing the rates of urinary tract infection by up to 12 times and offers increased exposure to penile cancers. He also says it increases the risk of acquiring the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases.



Flag Flag Logo of RACP CIRCUMCISION OF INFANT MALES
Royal Australasian College of Physicians - September 2010


In September 2010 the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) produced a long-awaited policy statement which seems to have perpetuated all the errors being made by the College of Pediatrics and the Australian Medical Association reported by Martin Chulov more than a decade earlier.

The final four paragraphs of the Executive Summary read as follows:
Ethical and human rights concerns have been raised regarding elective infant male circumcision because it is recognised that the foreskin has a functional role, the operation is non-therapeutic and the infant is unable to consent.

After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand.

However it is reasonable for parents to weigh the benefits and risks of circumcision and to make the decision whether or not to circumcise their sons. When parents request a circumcision for their child the medical attendant is obliged to provide accurate unbiased and up to date information on the risks and benefits of the procedure. Parental choice should be respected.

When the operation is to be performed it should be undertaken in a safe, child-friendly environment by an appropriately trained competent practitioner, capable of dealing with the complications, and using appropriate analgesia.

[You can access the whole report on the RACP website. File format is .pdf, download size is 448kB.]


Let’s look at these four paragraphs one at a time.
Ethical and human rights concerns have been raised regarding elective infant male circumcision because it is recognised that the foreskin has a functional role, the operation is non-therapeutic and the infant is unable to consent.
How on earth did that get through the RACP’s editorial process? Neonatal circumcision isn’t meant to be therapeutic, it is meant to be prophylactic! What happened to the presumption that prevention is better than cure?

The assertion that the foreskin has a meaningful functional role is also questionable; what is the RACP suggesting is lost if neonatal circumcision proceeds? To answer that requires looking at the detail of the report, especially the section on Page 7 headed "Functions of the Foreskin". More on that below. What’s completely missing here is a summary of the report’s own detail about the ethical and human rights issues. Why was the following not imported from the detail (page 16) into the Executive Summary?: “In New Zealand and Australia at the present time, newborn and infant male circumcision is legal and generally considered an ethical procedure...”.

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After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand.
That is a subjective value judgement and also the fundamental conclusion reached by the RACP report. Fine, if arrived at on the basis of good evidence - not every conclusion reached in this world lends itself to objective analysis. But the detail of the report contains errors which, in CIRCLIST’s opinion, distort the factual basis upon which the RACP’s opinion has been reached. Again, more below.

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However it is reasonable for parents to weigh the benefits and risks of circumcision and to make the decision whether or not to circumcise their sons. When parents request a circumcision for their child the medical attendant is obliged to provide accurate unbiased and up to date information on the risks and benefits of the procedure. Parental choice should be respected.
Fine as far as it goes, but this approach places on individual physicians a very onerous burden to act impartially. The report might benefit from some supplementary guidelines suggesting just how doctors opposed to the procedure should manage their dissent when faced with an enquiry about circumcision. This needs special consideration in areas of low population density; mere referral to another practitioner may not be geographically realistic. In situations where one’s existing family doctor is the only one around, maintaining a satisfactory doctor-patient relationship (both in reality and in perception) becomes a matter of increased significance. One solution might be to take the whole matter of prophylacitc circumcision out of the Family Practitioner’s remit, placing it instead in direct-access specialist hands as happens with, for example, opthalmics or dentistry.

There is also a danger of a circular interpretation here. If the “accurate unbiased and up to date information” is a recitation of the second of these four paragraphs, many parents might abandon their intent. Given the errors in the detail of the report leading to the RACP’s conclusion, they would in CIRCLIST’s opinion, have been misled.

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When the operation is to be performed it should be undertaken in a safe, child-friendly environment by an appropriately trained competent practitioner, capable of dealing with the complications, and using appropriate analgesia.
Only one minor quibble here: Surely it should say “...capable of dealing with the possible complications...” ?  Complications are not inevitable! That said, the general sentiment that circumcision should be performed by a specialist, in appropriate surroundings and using appropriate pain relief, is one with which CIRCLIST wholeheartedly agrees.



Perceived errors and omissions in the detail of the RACP Policy Statement


Page 7 : Functions of the foreskin.
The foreskin has two main functions. Firstly it exists to protect the glans penis. Secondly the foreskin is a primary sensory part of the penis, containing some of the most sensitive areas of the penis.
This is a minority opinion. The rest of the paragraph of the original text correctly expresses the majority view, but it is given reduced prominence in the main body of the report and is omitted entirely from the Executive Summary.


Page 10 : Failure to fully analyse the multi-benefit nature of circumcision.

There exists, even amongst the staunchest supporters of circumcision, a failure to comprehend the multi-benefit prophylactic nature of the procedure.

It’s not a matter of preventing UTIs or preventing Phimosis or preventing HIV infection or preventing HPV cross-infection between female partners or any one of the other reported benefits of circumcision.

It is a matter of preventing UTIs and Phimosis and HIV infection and HPV cross-infection between female partners and all the other reported benefits of circumcision - all in one go.

In the RACP Policy Statement, the marginal or incomplete nature of some of the benefits is stated but their cumulative beneficial effect is not, resulting in an under-statement of the overall contribution that circumcision has to make especially in terms of Public Health.


Page 12 : Circumcision -v- HPV Vaccination.

The RACP Policy Statement fails to state that the currently available vaccine is less than 100% efficacious. Indeed, it is no better at preventing HPV infection in males than is achieved by circumcision. That gives circumcision several advantages over the vaccination approach: Less well understood (and possibly meriting further research) is one possible further advantage of circumcision. Vaccination is only effective against cases where the male becomes infected and then passes on that infection. Circumcision may additionally confer some degree of protection against direct body fluid transfer between female partners encountered in rapid succession, a scenario which does not require that the male become infected and against which a vaccine therefore cannot, by its nature, achieve anything.

The Policy Statement implies, but does not implicitly state, that HPV vaccines have rendered circumcision redundant in the battle against cervical cancer. This is highly misleading; it introduces a false and significant reduction in the tally of the total Public Health benefits of circumcision.


Page 13 : Erroneous analysis of the legal situation in other countries.

There appear to be several errors of both fact and interpretation in this section of the RACP document. In particular, the words “However, routine neonatal circumcision has been declared unlawful...” are highly misleading, tacitly suggesting that some governments have already legislated to “place limitations on the scope of such parental choices” for reasons of ethics or morality. CIRCLIST understands the true position in the countries mentioned to be as follows:
South Africa:  Section 12 of the Children’s Act 2005 makes the circumcision of male children under 16 unlawful except for religious or medical reasons. It also creates a statutory right for a competent child to refuse circumcision. (Stop for a moment and think: Why would this right of refusal be included in the legislation if all circumcision of children is illegal?)

What the RACP Policy Statement fails to explore is the reason why this law was introduced - to put an end to botched tribal circumcision ceremonies. Properly conducted child circumcisions continue as part of the Public Health drive against HIV, as does circumcision of older males. Such prophylaxis is deemed to be a valid medical reason to circumcise a child; no case law is known to CIRCLIST that has placed a contrary interpretation on the primary legislation.

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Sweden:   In Sweden, only persons certified by the National Board of Health can legally circumcise infants. The law requires a medical doctor or an anesthesia nurse to accompany the circumciser and for anaesthetic to be applied beforehand. After the first two months of life circumcisions can only be performed by a physician. It is totally untrue that circumcision is illegal.

The original law dates from 2001. During subsequent reviews of the effects and effectiveness of the legislation, the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare found that the law had failed with regard to the intended consequence of increasing the safety of circumcisions but had resulted in poor availability of legal circumcisions, partly due to induced reluctance among health professionals. To remedy this, the review (March 2007, Omskärelse av pojkar, National Board of Health and Welfare. Docket 2007-107-7) suggested that all county councils should offer non-therapeutic circumcision in their hospitals in order to ensure that safe circumcision was available to all. Hardly a ban, is it?

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Finland:   Again, proper research of the facts shows the RACP report of illegality to be untrue. In 2008 the Supreme Court of Finland delivered a judgement specifically stating that circumcision, carried out for religious or social reasons and in a medical manner, “does not have the [characteristics] of a criminal offence”. According to the judgement, banning all circumcisions would violate the constitutional guarantee of privacy in family life and freedom of religion. That constitutional guarantee derives from Finland’s membership of the Council of Europe and consequent adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgement therefore has the makings of a precedent applicable in all 47 member countries.


Pages 14 and 19 : Outdated reference [118], dating from 2004.

The primary document has since been updated, rendering this secondary reference to the BMA’s policy position out-of-date. The 2006 edition can be accessed via this website’s chapter “Circumcision and the Law”. Follow the link in the Navigation Panel at the foot of the page.


Page 15 : Matter not included in the Executive Summary; consequent distortion of prime conclusion.

At page 15 the policy statement says...
The benefits of circumcision (or disadvantages of non-circumcision) are not readily assessable by doctors (unless they happen to belong to the same religious or social community as the parents), as they depend upon the role of circumcision within that community.

This suggests that parents are in principle better placed than doctors to weigh up the risks and benefits of circumcision for male infants.
Not quite the same thing as it being “reasonable” for parents to make the decision, is it? The main text suggests that the parents should be in control of the decision, with doctors exercising a veto only where patient-specific contra-indications exist. With that, CIRCLIST agrees. However, the Executive Summary omits to make clear the primacy of the parental position and slips in the subjective opinion that...
After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand.
...doing so at a critical a position within the document that will, almost inevitably, be taken as “professional guidance in a nutshell” on the whole issue of circumcision. In CIRCLIST’s opinion, this misleads.


Appendix 2 : Further examples of outdated references.

The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) opinion quoted dates from 1996, well before the publication of Auvert’s work confirming earlier suspicions of a link between male circumcision and HIV transmission rates first reported in July 2005. The CPS opinion is, quite simply, out of date. Scientific knowledge has moved on. The quote of the 1999 edition of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) position statement is also now outdated, a new version having superceded the one referenced.



So what should the sensible Australian parent do in the face of RACP opposition?

Consult widely and make up your own mind. If you choose circumcision for your son (as we hope you will provided there are no medical contra-indications), put yourself in the driving seat. Don’t ask your Family Practitioner or Paediatrician for advice about circumcision, ask them for circumcision - by a competent specialist.

First, both parents need to inform themselves of what’s involved by consulting reputable websites such as that run by Professor Brian Morris of Sydney University. Second, agree your course of action. Then and only then raise the issue with your son’s doctors, doing so on a clearly-stated "decision already taken" basis. The doctor should not refuse you. If they do, they are then in clear and significant breach of the RACP Policy Statement.

In short: Wise up and take charge!



CIRCLIST Member Criticism of the RACP Policy Statement - Correspondence

The crucial words here are "do not warrant routine infant circumcision". When used by doctors this means something along the lines of: "does not require automatic performance nor the level of persuasion used in respect of vaccinations". Despite what the anti-circ folk like to try to make of it, it does not mean "circumcision should never be performed on infants". Failure to recommend something is not an automatic condemnation of it.

Vernon (UK)

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Failure to recommend:

Parents: “Should we circumcise our son?”
Doctor: “The [medical institution] does not recommend circumcision.”

The choice of words can be important. The above example may represent a technically accurate representation, but normal language would result in the interpretation "recommends against circumcision". Saying that a medical organisation is neutral on the issue, or that it supports both circumcision and lack thereof would provide with a much more neutral recommendation.

Halfclip (Canada)

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Elsewhere in the document it says:
Doctors who have a conscientious objection to performing infant male circumcision should make this known and refer parents to another doctor.
I do wonder how many "anti" doctors would do this? Knowing that almost all parents will be unaware of the policy statement clause above, how many parents would have the balls to challenge it. My wife and I came up against this. In all other matters, our man & wife General Practitioners were excellent and gave us first class NHS care over many years. They were genial good company socially too when we sometimes met them with mutual friends at functions. Their firm but friendly geniality made it all but impossible to press for circumcision of our boys.

Conversely, if you are up against brusque overbearing doctors they are not going to concede either. In both cases they overplay their hand and they hold the aces.

Tony (UK)



THE FIRST CUT  by James Badger

“The first cut is the deepest” sang Cat Stevens, and for many boys of his generation the 'first cut' was the doctor’s knife stripping off their infant foreskin. Just how deep does that cut go? How does it affect their life, health and (above all) sexual relations? Recently, thanks to Forum magazine and the Family Planning Association, I conducted a survey of almost 200 Australian men, women, boys and girls, aged from under 15 to over 60. The results were most revealing, and held quite a few surprises.

We started off with some routine medical questions. Balanitis (inflammation of the knob) was unknown among roundheads, but had afflicted 14% of the uncircumcised men; the latter were also four times more likely to have suffered from urinary tract infections. 5% of the naturals had suffered from a tight foreskin which got stuck in the retracted position. This is a medical emergency - if it is not seen-to dire things can happen to your pride and joy - and all were subsequently circumcised. However, in spite of many claims which have been made, there was no difference in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. These results are pretty much in line with other studies around the world. [At the time - this has since changed - Ed.]  Medically, then, the benefits of circumcision are clear cut (sorry), though the consequences of staying natural are hardly life-threatening.

The health of the little fellow isn’t usually our major concern - unless something goes wrong. What is far more important is how Percy performs when pointed at the pudenda, and that topic seems to have been too touchy for other studies. This doesn’t stop people from having preconceived ideas! Three points came up again and again in the men’s answers:
  1. Women prefer a circumcised cock,
  2. Most Aussie women have never seen an uncircumcised one, and
  3. It is women who insist on boys being circumcised.
Many men and women also believed that a circumcised organ is less sensitive and therefore reduces sexual pleasure. Our survey showed that all of these notions are totally false.

Firstly, what do women prefer? Certainly some (but only 23%) did have a marked preference for the clean-cut cock, but a substantial group (10%) strongly favoured the natural member, and many of them were vehemently anti-circumcision. The majority - 67% - had no overall preference; this didn’t mean they were uninterested, just that they saw different virtues in each sort. The circumcised cock won on appearance, with a 63% vote, and was also the clear winner for oral sex. On (or with) the other hand, there was a very strong vote for the skin for a hand job. Both sorts were equally popular for regular sex. So whichever sort of cock you have it will be acceptable to most ladies, and, if it is really important to you, you should be able to find a lover who believes passionately that your sort is best! However, if you have your skin you are more likely to be offered a hand job, while if you want head you’d be better off without it.

Secondly, women do know what they are talking about - three quarters of them had played on both types of organ. Circumcising sons (or not) was generally a joint decision by both partners; if they differed it was just as likely to be the man that favoured the cut.

When it comes to sensitivity things get ticklish. Men can’t swap members for comparison, so we let women be the judges. Half reckoned there was no difference in sensitivity, while the others voted equally both ways. So there really is no overall difference, though individual knobs doubtless vary. It’s often claimed that a roundhead’s supposed loss of sensitivity makes premature ejaculation less likely. Not so - circumcised men were more likely to shoot too soon, though the difference was not huge. However, they were less likely to have difficulty reaching orgasm.

Which feels better? 22% of the circumcised men had been cut as adults and their vote was unanimous - sex is better without the skin. Women mostly said that both sorts of cock felt the same, but in fact the survey revealed that with circumcised lovers they reached orgasm more often, and it was more likely to be a simultaneous climax. Circumcised men, and women with circumcised lovers, made love more often than uncircumcised. Roundheads’ women obviously liked it that way - they wanted sex as often as their men, while naturals’ ladies wanted less. Roundheads are certainly not wankers - they masturbated less often than naturals, and using different techniques (details in a plain brown envelope, if you must). Gentlemen of the jury, the evidence is clearcut - the clean-cut knob has the edge when it comes to sex.

Is there a downside to circumcision? The biggest negative must be the likelihood of a botched job. One roundhead in five was unhappy about the way he had been cut, and the same percentage of women had had lovers with maltreated members. So if the previous paragraph makes you want to rush out and get circumcised, make sure you pick a doctor who can cut straight! (You might get a funny response if you ask to see samples of his work, though).

One word of caution. Cultural, social and ethnic factors can all affect whether or not a boy is circumcised. They can also affect his sex life. We asked no questions about these things, so it is impossible to tell how much they may have influenced our findings. Remember, too, that circumcision is a one-way street - a natural who wants a change only needs to see the medico and make an appointment for the snip, but a roundhead who wants his skin back has a real problem. Think before you chop!

Copyright © 1990 and 1997, James Badger.
First published in Penthouse (Australian Edition). All rights reserved.



Logo The Australian Army at the time of the Vietnam War
(Correspondence received by CIRCLIST in the 1990s)


I just want to let you guys know the Americans are not the only ones into cutting their troops.

I’m from Australia and I can give you 2 accounts of military circumcisions in OZ.
  1. A friend of mine was a army medic assistant here in Oz in the 1970s. He told me how one day they had a short arm inspection and there were 10 uncut guys ranging in age from 18 to 28. All ten were ordered to report for circumcisions the next day; when some of the guys complained they were told it was in their best medical interest.

  2. My boss who is of Italian descent was amongst the last of the Aussie Vietnam Conscripts in 1971. Aged only 18 and his first time away from home, he was sent up to far north Queensland for training. When he got there, the first thing the army did was show him and the other uncut conscripts a "horror" film on the perils of VD and tropical dick diseases in Vietnam. They were then given "consent" forms to sign. The next day it was off with the foreskin for all of them. My boss who is now into his 40s said it was the most painful experience in his life. The ironic thing for my boss was that he never got to Vietnam, as a change of Government in Australia in 1972 saw the end of both conscription and the involvement of Aussie troops in Vietnam.
Chris



Flag
The Aboriginal People


Before the Europeans arrived....

Precisely how long the Aboriginal people have been in Australia is a matter of some debate. Different archaeological techniques suggest different answers, but all modern assessments tend to agree on two things: the initial arrival was 40,000 or more years ago and there was subsequent isolation from other population groups.

Interesting, then, that male circumcision was widespread among the aboriginals, albeit not universal. Aborigines are nowadays presumed to have been in the vanguard of eastward human migration out of Africa, rather than separately evolved. Did they bring with them a custom and practice far older than previously supposed, or did they independently develop the concept of circumcision, or did they, pre-1788, have undocumented contact with Muslims and learn of circumcision from them?

The last of these possibilities we can dismiss straight away; Aboriginal rock art depicting circumcision pre-dates Islam. A travelogue written by Robert Scheer, relating a journey made to northern Queensland in year 2000, includes the following [text abridged by CIRCLIST]:
The oldest rock paintings... are in the Cape York peninsula of Australia’s tropical north Queensland. They were made by Ang-Gnarra Aborigines as long as 35,000 years ago and were unknown to whites until the 1950s.

Most of the pictures were blood red, finger-painted with hematite (powdered iron ore). The pigment had permanently bonded to the sandstone, to remain visible for millennia. An archaeologist from the University of New England led a scientific excavation of a site near Jowalbinna and concluded that it was first used for religious ceremonies 40,000 to 60,000 years ago, although a severe drought caused it to be abandoned about 32,000 years ago and it wasn’t used again until about 12,500 years ago.

To understand some of the rock paintings requires a knowledge of secret Aboriginal traditions. One gallery seemed to have an especially mysterious aura. There was a rock wall with a deep undercut at the bottom that formed a shallow cave. Many silhouettes of small handprints stenciled near the entrance indicated that this had been a boy’s initiation place. Allan [the Aboriginal guide] used his walking stick to point out the strange tableau of humanoid figures painted on the ceiling. We had to crouch very low to see them. “Look at this monster”, he said. “A boy would be brought to this place to learn about sexual taboos. Elders would tell him the legend about some poor fella who committed incest and was turned into a hideous creature!”

Some of the other figures included a circumcision scene, a voluptuous woman and a man with one of his front teeth knocked out. The coming of age of an Aboriginal boy involved an elaborate ceremony, during which he would be pushed through a dark, narrow opening. There, he was met by tribal Elders, including one dressed as a spirit, who circumcised him. Following the operation, he was not allowed to talk to anyone or touch anyone until his scar had healed. Afterwards, he would be taken away by one of the older women of the tribe, who would teach him about sexual intercourse.

© 2005, Robert Scheer and New Age Travel. All Rights Reserved.



In more recent times....

The following is a description of the circumcision and subincision of a 16 year old Australian aboriginee boy is taken from a book by Robert Tonkinson published in 1978:
Waga is led to the center of the ground by his visitor Activist "Grandfathers", one of whom lights the main fire while the remaining Mourner men lie down facing away from the ground. Some of the Activists sit nearby, softly singing. Two Visitor Activists leap to their feet and do a rapid dance up and down the ground, holding shields. They then crouch over the weapons near the big fire, to be joined by six more local and visitor Activists, who crawl beneath them from both sides and raise them on their backs to form a human platform for the operation. One of the assistants carries Waga and lays him on his back on the table, then sits on his chest, facing his penis and the large fire. He pulls up the foreskin and twists it, being careful to keep the head of Waga’s penis under the thumb of this other hand. The other "WB" operator supports his head and gives him a boomerang to bite on during the cutting. Several "grandfathers" (both "MF" and "FF") circle the table to watch the cutting and comfort Waga, while the rest of the Activists quietly sing, and the Mourners softly wail.

The Two "MB", each with his own newly sharpened and magically prepared stone knife, take turns at cutting the foreskin. Waga neither utters a sound nor struggles in any way, but his teeth have sunk into the hard mulga of the boomerang; he lies inert, as if self-anesthetized, betraying his suffering with an ocasional grimace. Beneath him, the men forming the table joke with one another, complain of the discomfort and Waga’s weight and urge the operators to hurry up and get the job over with, while the "grandfathers" hover and keep up a chorus of reassurances, for the benefit of Waga and the Mourners, saying that the operators have almost finished.

Once the foreskin is finally severed, the "MB" who finishes the cutting pushes what remains down to reveal the head of Waga’s penis. Then the operators retire to a small fire that has been set for them, and the "grandfathers" lead Waga to a small fire they have lit close to the two circles of Men. He is told to kneel on a shield over the smoke, with an "EB" supporting him on each side. The "Grandfathers" inspect his penis and report to the rest of the men present that the operation was a good one and that there is little bleeding. The Mourners sit up and view Waga from a distance, and the Activists recommence singing. The operators collect several hair belts and weapons they had left near the ground earlier, and then file past him.

Waga sits over the smoke fire, dazed and in pain, but silent. One of his "EB" tells him to open his mouth and swallow some "fat" or "good meat", but without chewing on it. The foreskin is dropped into his mouth and he swallows it, gulping at the effort. His "grandfather" Diludu now tells him that he has eaten "his own boy" and that his foreskin will grow inside him and make him strong, and will give him the ability to become a skilled cutter himself when the time comes.

Nine months after the circumcision Waga is subincised. Several 'grandfathers' stand nearby to comfort him, and one gives him a boomerang to bite on. One of the operators then sits on his chest and holds his penis upright while the other carefully cuts it open, while the Activists sing and the Mourners quietly wail. The operation takes about ten minutes, since great care must be taken to center the incision, and cutting delayed while a small wooden rod is inserted into the urethra to act as a backing for the knife as it cuts. As soon as the operaton is completed, Waga is led to a small fire that has been made nearby; he sits astride it so that the heat and smoke will stop the bleeding.

[There is no evidence that subincision takes place today. Penile subincision is a form of body modification consisting of a urethrotomy, in which the underside of the penis is incised and the urethra slit open lengthwise, from the urethral opening (meatus) toward the base. The slit can be of varying lengths. It can have a profound effect on the way in which a male urinates, comparable with hypospadias, and it also reduces fertility.]



Acknowledgements

The following resources were used in the preparation of this web page:
Globe (2409 bytes) Circlist Website logo (6480 bytes) Circlist Group logo (8847 bytes) Personal testimony of members of the CIRCLIST discussion group.
Logo, ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Logo, RACP Policy Statement CIRCUMCISION OF INFANT MALES, Royal Australasian College of Physicians - September 2010. [Link in text above, accesssed 10.Oct.2010.]
Logo, BBC Roberts, A. The Incredible Human Journey. London:Bloomsbury, 2009. pp 118-120, 128-142 and the accompanying BBC-TV series.
Logo, New Age Travel Scheer, R. Aboriginal Magic in the Land of the Quinkans, published in New Age Travel. [Accessed 12.Oct.2010]
Logo, Holt Rinehart Winston Tonkinson, R. The Mardudjara Aborigines. New York:Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978.
Thumbnail of map Thumbnail of map Maps courtesy of Baedeker and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Note: The map showing areas of Aboriginal occupation pre-1788 is approximate. It lacks sufficient accuracy to be used for Land Rights Claim purposes.




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