‘Rolf Boldrewood … the Homer of the Bush, the most distinctively Australian of all Australian writers of fiction.’
Tom Roberts, ‘Bailed up’, 1895. Source: Art Gallery of New South Wales
So said the Adelaide Advertiser in October 1889, reviewing Rolf Boldrewood’s novel Robbery Under Arms, a hugely popular tale about a boy from the bush who lives on the wrong side of the law. It first appeared as a serial in the Sydney Mail (1882-1883) and was published in full in 1888. It was an immediate success. The story is a rollicking yarn told at a fast pace, following the young Dick Marston’s fortunes from boyhood into a life of crime. Continue reading →
Bruce Moore is a former director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, who is currently editing the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. The following is an extract from his book What’s their Story? A History of Australian Words(published by Oxford University Press Australia, 2010).
What’s their Story? gives a detailed account of many of the iconic words in Australian English.
The verb dob has a range of meanings in Australian English. The most common meaning (often in the form dob in, dob into, or dob on) is ‘to inform upon, to incriminate’: (2009) ‘A soldier who stole two cameras while he was working as a storeman at Robertson Barracks was only found out when his ex-wife dobbed him into the military police, a court has heard.’¹ It can also (and less commonly) mean ‘to impose a responsibility upon (often a matter of getting someone to do an unpopular or difficult task)’: ‘I fear I’ve dobbed myself in to doing something silly. Yep, in my haste to help drought-stricken farmers I stuck my hand in the air and said I’d organise a team from my office to take part in the Paddo’s Beach Volleyball Charity Day on Sunday.’² As dob in it can also mean ‘to contribute money to a common cause’: (1956) ‘The whole town dobbed in and bought Charlie and Russ a new boat.’³ Finally, in Australian Rules football, dob can mean ‘to kick (the ball) long and accurately; to kick (a goal)’: ‘Mark Blake dobbed the ball deep into the Cats’ goal square and into the waiting arms of Chapman’;4 (2008) ‘But Lloyd dobbed a long goal.’5 Are all these meanings related? Continue reading →
Union membership cards were obtained from the dwindling band of ‘West’ trade union officials. Votes were then cast in the names of absent union members, living or dead. If this precaution failed, the ballot box was, if the opportunity arose, ‘stuffed’ as Sugar Renfrey termed it. This entailed the addition of as many more ‘bodger’ votes as possible. (Power Without Glory, p. 383)
One of Australia’s most controversial literary figures is Frank Hardy (1917-1994). Hardy was a left-wing novelist, writer, and political activist, and is probably best known today as the author of Power Without Glory, published in 1950. Although a novel, this book is a thinly-veiled account of the life of John Wren, a Melbourne businessman who wielded considerable political influence in Victoria for many years. Hardy was famously sued for criminal libel over the publication, but was acquitted. In writing about politics – the quote above makes use of the Australian term bodger, meaning ‘fake, false, worthless’ – he drew on a rich vein of colloquial Australian speech to inject his radical politics with what he considered an authentic Australian working-class spirit. Continue reading →
Nested in an entry for Anzac in the Australian National Dictionary (AND, 1988) is a list of terms such as Anzac biscuit, Anzac march,and Anzac overcoat. Included in this set of terms is Anzac button. As I am currently researching Australian words from the First World War, this was one of the more intriguing terms to research.
Sometimes dictionary-makers change their minds about the origin of a word, given access to evidence that is new, or newly available. This happened to us recently at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, when a journalist contacted us to ask about the origin and meaning of the Australian phrase to have the wood on. To have the wood on(also to get the wood on) means ‘to have an advantage over (someone)’, and it is used in both Australia and New Zealand.
Noosa gets the wood on Caloundra.
‘Two out of three ain’t bad was the result from Shark Park on Sunday. The Kawana Dolphins are usually very strong in all grades, but Caloundra had the wood on them this time.’ (Caloundra Weekly, 9 May, 2013) Continue reading →
A recent contribution to the ANDC Word Box was the word shaggledick.* The contributor provided two dictionary references for this word and suggested that it may be a ‘Mountweazel’ word. A Mountweazel is a fictitious entry deliberately added to a reference work. The term was coined by the New Yorker magazine and named after a fictitious entry for one Lillian Virginia Mountweazel in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975 edition). According to one of the editors: ‘It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright… If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us’ (New Yorker, 29 August 2005).
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around That the colt from old Regret had got away. And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound, So all the cracks had gathered to the fray. (opening lines of ‘The Man from Snowy River’, 1890)
Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s poems and his use of the Australian vernacular have endeared him to generations of Australians. In the Australian National Dictionary (a dictionary of Australian English using quotations to provide evidence of how words are used over time) Paterson is quoted 78 times. His poems provide valuable evidence of 19th and early 20th century Australian English—particularly the language of the Australian bush. In this blog I will look closely at some of the Australianisms found in ‘The Man from Snowy River’.
This week we celebrate the birthday of Mem Fox (born 5 March 1946), Australian writer of children’s books. She is the author of such favourite picture books as Koala Lou, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, and Wombat Divine, but the book that made her a household name is her first book, Possum Magic, the runaway bestseller that has sold several million copies since it was published in 1983. It is the tale of possums Hush and Grandma Poss, who leave their bush home to find a cure for Hush’s magic invisibility. Continue reading →
Tasmanian convict Bill Thompson in leg irons and convict uniform, 1870s. Image source: State Library of Tasmania
Following on from Mark Gwynn’s recent blog on pube, this week I will take a look at public servant. When I have talked about my work on Convict Words: the Language of Colonial Australia (OUP, 2002), it has always been a source of some amusement (especially for us Canberrans) that public servant was first used to refer to a convict assigned to public labour or work for the government. It was first recorded in 1797, and by 1812 was being used to refer to a (free) member of the public service (civil service). Continue reading →