Rolf Boldrewood, ‘the Homer of the Bush’

by Julia Robinson

‘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

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

Larrikin, writer, activist: Frank Hardy and Australian English

by Amanda Laugesen

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)

Hardy1

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

Australia’s bard: C.J. Dennis’ Songs of a Sentimental Bloke and Australian English

by Harriet Mercer*

Although it has been nearly a century since the 1915 publication of C.J. Dennis’ verse narrative Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, Dennis’ comic use of the Australian vernacular continues to endear the work to contemporary readers.

The Songs tell a humorous love story as Bill ‘the Bloke’ tries to reform his rough larrikin habits in order to win the affections of Doreen, a young pickle factory worker. The book is full of examples of Australian colloquialisms, particularly words relating to the world of the urban larrikin (then a word meaning ‘hooligan’). Continue reading

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

Mem Fox and thirty years of Possum Magic

by Julia Robinson

Mem Fox. Image source: www.memfox.net

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

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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A hundred years of gumnut babies

by Julia Robinson

At the Australian National Dictionary Centre we have been tweeting for nearly a year (@ozworders) about Australian words and language, with forays into history, literature, and popular culture. We enjoy our interactions in the Twittersphere, and it’s always a good day when we attract new followers. Last week we tweeted on the occasion of the birthday of children’s author May Gibbs, and we were delighted when two famous Australians chose to follow us: Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, the gumnut babies themselves. They tweet (@MayGibbsNutcote) from Nutcote, the heritage-listed house (now a museum) in Sydney’s Neutral Bay, designed and built for May Gibbs in the 1920s. Continue reading

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