Ruth Park, The Harp in the South, and Australian English

by Victoria Grey*

Ruth Park (1917-2010), one of Australia’s most popular writers, was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia in 1942 to pursue her career as a journalist. In the same year, she married D’Arcy Niland (1917-1967). As struggling writers in the 1940s, they lived for a time in the Sydney slum area of Surry Hills, and this period in her life inspired her to write The Harp in the South (1948) and Poor Man’s Orange (1949).

An early photograph of Ruth Park

Ruth Park’s writing is an excellent example of a literary depiction of inner-city urban Sydney in the 1940s. In The Harp in the South, published in 1948 and one of Australia’s most beloved novels, she uses Australian humour and Australian English to great effect. Although this particular book is often discussed in terms of its depiction of 1940s Surry Hills and its tenement environments, the distinctive language she used is also worth noting and proves to be one of the novel’s most beguiling features.  Continue reading

Canberra word: guvvie (and ex-guvvie)

by Amanda Laugesen

Canberra word: guvvie (and ex-guvvie)

Guvvies in the Canberra suburb of Downer, 1961

The terms guvvie (also govie) for government housing—’a house originally built or bought by the government for low-cost or subsidised rental’, and ex-guvvie (also ex-govie) for ‘a house that was formerly built or owned by government but has been sold into the private market’, are two term ‘invented’ by Canberrans. Continue reading

Anzac: Words from Gallipoli

by Amanda Laugesen

April 25 marks one of Australia’s most important national days, Anzac Day. Last year, we looked at the phrase ‘One Day of the Year’. This year, we take a look at a number of terms that were first used during the Gallipoli campaign by the soldiers who served there in the First World War. Continue reading

Place-names and Australian English: Barcoo

by Amanda Laugesen

 In Australian English a number of terms derive from an association with place names. The Barcoo River in Western Queensland gave its name to a number of terms which became associated with outback life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They include Barcoo rot, Barcoo sickness, Barcoo spews, Barcoo dog, and Barcoo shout.

‘Barcoo’ possibly derives from a word for ‘river’ in the Birriya and Kungkari languages of the area. Henry Kendall wrote a poem in the middle of the 19th century celebrating the river, but through the late 19th century the term came to be associated with aspects of life in the outback, usually with reference to the problems experienced there. Continue reading

Nevil Shute and A Town Like Alice

by Amanda Laugesen

Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice was published in 1950, and remains a classic tale of romance and war. As a novel written by an Englishman who had just moved to Australia, the novel reflects Shute’s attempts to capture the Australian vernacular as he depicts the heroic Jean Paget, Joe Harman, and the life and people of the Queensland Gulf Country.

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Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Word of the Year 2012

Each year the ANDC selects a WORD OF THE YEAR. This year, we have selected:

green-on-blue(used in a military context) an attack made on one’s own side by a force regarded as neutral’.

This term has gained prominence in the Australian and international media due to the ongoing military involvement in Afghanistan.

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C.E.W. Bean and Australian English – Part II

by Amanda Laugesen

Last week, I looked at the ways in which Charles Bean’s writings from before the First World War not only provide a vivid portrait of life in rural New South Wales in the first decades of the twentieth century, but also provide valuable evidence for a number of Australian English terms. This week I will take a look at his writings about the First World War.

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C.E.W. Bean and Australian English – Part I

by Amanda Laugesen

Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean was born in Bathurst, New South Wales, on 18 November 1879 – we have just passed the 133rd anniversary of his birth. C.E.W. Bean is perhaps best known as the author of the multi-volume Official History of Australia’s participation in the First World War. Through both his war-related writings, and through a number of accounts of his travels in Australia, he played an active role in recording and shaping the Australian lexicon. Continue reading

As game as Ned Kelly

by Amanda Laugesen

November 11th marked the 132nd anniversary of the execution of famous Irish-Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly. He was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880. The anniversary prompts us to consider the contributions that Ned Kelly has made to the Australian lexicon.

One of Sidney Nolan's famous depictions of Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly was born in 1855 in Victoria, and by the 1870s was notorious for being involved in criminal activities. He and his gang were responsible not only for a number of robberies, but also for killing several policemen. This led to a final confrontation at Glenrowan, Victoria, in 1880, his subsequent capture, and execution.

Ned Kelly has been an important figure in Australian folklore and mythology. Graham Seal argues in his book Tell ‘em I died game: the Legend of Ned Kelly (1980) that part of Kelly’s appeal is that he is seen to embody characteristics considered typically Australian. These characteristics include defiance towards authority, independence, and an affinity with the bush. Continue reading

Prince Philip and the blue-arsed fly

by Amanda Laugesen

There was a recent surge of media interest when the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) put out a call for members of the public to help them find early evidence for a range of terms, including come in from the cold, disco, and blue-arsed fly. This last term sparked interest here in Australia because the OED claimed that the earliest evidence in print for the term was from Prince Philip commenting, in 1970, that a photographer had been ‘running around like a blue-arsed fly’.

Prince Philip watching out for a blue-arsed fly, perhaps

Many Australians were outraged not only that Prince Philip was cited as providing the first evidence for a term that they believed had been around much earlier, but also that the term was not considered to be Australian. One letter to the editor of The Australian by a West Australian commented:

As schoolboys in the 1950s, my mates and I often ran about like blue-arsed flies, incurring the wrath of parents and teachers. For the Duke of Edinburgh to be given credit for a 1970 use hardly seems right. (6 October 2012).

So what is the story of blue-arsed fly? And is it Australian?

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