After half a century, Prince Philip remains wedded to the use of undiplomatic language

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After half a century of travelling the world at the Queen's side, the Duke of Edinburgh showed he is still master of the ill-chosen quip yesterday when he asked Aborigines whether they still threw spears at each other.

After half a century of travelling the world at the Queen's side, the Duke of Edinburgh showed he is still master of the ill-chosen quip yesterday when he asked Aborigines whether they still threw spears at each other.

The latest in his long line of gaffes came as the royal couple visited Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park in the coastal city of Cairns, northern Queensland, and met Aboriginal elders. On being told that the park was run by two Aboriginal tribes, the Djabugay and the Yirrganydji, he responded: "Djabugay, Yirrganydji, what's it all about? Do you still throw spears at each other?"

The park's founder, William Brin, appeared to choke with surprised laughter. "No, we don't do that any more," replied Mr Brim, whose indigenous name is Ngoo Nvi, meaning platypus.

Mr Brim took the encounter in good spirits. "I don't mind; it was quite funny," he said later. "I'd call the question naïve. I found it amusing, although to be honest I was surprised that he said something like that."

The 80-year-old Duke, who is accompanying the Queen on her golden jubilee tour of Australia, has offended a range of nationalities and ethnic groups over the years with his off-the-cuff comments. "You must be out of your minds!" he said to Solomon Islanders in 1982 on being told that the country's annual population growth was only 5 per cent.

In 1998, he inquired of a student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea: "You managed not to get eaten, then?"

Yesterday the royal couple watched a 10-minute display of Aboriginal music and dance, the highlight of which was a firelighting ceremony using fire sticks and dry grass. As one performer, Warren Clements, rubbed the sticks close to another man, Wally Brim, the Prince joked: "You've set fire to him," adding: "This is just like being back in the Scouts."

The Duke was clearly in jocular mood. He and the Queen toured a Royal Flying Doctor Service base in Cairns, where a children's school band played "God Save The Queen". He said to the children: "You were playing your instruments, weren't you? Or do you have tape recorders under your seats?"

The Queen is spending five days touring South Australia and Queensland, and will attend the opening of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting today in Coolum.

Until yesterday the royal party had avoided controversy in Australia despite fears that the Queen could get caught up in a sex-abuse scandal that has engulfed her governor general, Peter Hollingworth. If the Duke's question to Mr Brim was naïve, the reply was a little disingenuous. The minority of Aborigines who still live a traditional lifestyle douse spears to inflict tribal punishments. As for the Queen, Mr Brim said: "She has a wonderful understanding of Aboriginal culture."

The Duke's verbal gaffes

"The bastards murdered half my family." ­ Response when asked whether he would approve of a visit to the Soviet Union, 1967.

"Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now theyare complainingthey are unemployed." ­ Comment made during the depths of the recession, 1981.

"You are a woman, aren't you?" ­ While accepting a gift from a Kenyan woman, 1984.

"If you stay here much longer you'll all be slitty-eyed." ­ When meeting a group of British students during a state visit to China, 1986.

"How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?" ­ To a driving instructor in Oban, Scotland, during a royal walkabout, 1995.

"You managed not to get eaten then?" ­ To a student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea, 1998.

"It looks as though it was put in by an Indian." ­ On seeing a fuse box at a factory in Edinburgh, 1999.

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