Wattle—the emblem of our land

by Julia Robinson

Golden wattle. Image source: Australian National Botanic Gardens

September in Australia means that wattle trees are in bloom, fragrant and full of colour. The blossom can be any shade of yellow from pale cream to deep gold, depending on the species. The colours of the wattle are the inspiration for the green and gold, Australia’s national colours, officially proclaimed in 1984 (but used as sporting colours for much longer). Wattle blossom has long been emblematic of Australia; branches of wattle appeared on the Australian Coat of Arms in 1912, and in 1988 the profusely flowering golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was named as the national floral emblem.  Continue reading

Not so devo?

The term devo as short for ‘devastated’ first came to my attention when I was watching that phenomenon of television, Masterchef, not so long ago. The eventual winner, Andy Allen, was fond of saying that he would be devo if he got eliminated from the competition. It quickly got picked up in the many comments made in response to the Sydney Morning Herald’s popular parody re-caps. When his best friend from the competition, Ben Milbourne, was eliminated, it was all too easy for commentators to write that Andy must be devo, or as seems to be popular, totes devo (totally devastated) by the loss of his friend. (The friendship also gave rise to jokes about the bromance between Andy and Ben, and references to the two as the bromancers.)

Andy Allen, winner of Masterchef 2012

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The Fatal Shore

The wreck of the Loch Ard in 1878 near Cape Otway, Victoria. Image source: State Library of Victoria

by Mark Gwynn

Last week on 6 August renowned art critic, historian, and man of letters Robert Hughes, AO, died in New York at the age of 74. Hughes, who left Australia in the 1960s to pursue opportunities overseas, is one of a group of expatriate Australian trailblazers and intellectuals that includes Clive James and Germaine Greer.  Hughes had a successful career as a writer and critic before undertaking his major historical work The Fatal Shore: A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787–1868. This international bestseller, published in the year before Australia’s 1988 bicentenary, sought to re-examine the foundation of modern Australia and the role that transported criminals from Britain had in this story.

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The Olympics: the view from a lexicographer’s couch

By Julia Robinson

The Olympic Games provide dictionary-makers with an excellent chance for word-gathering. Every four years those of us who enjoy the spectacle are entertained and educated by the current crop of sporting terms used by commentators, journalists, and athletes. Some words we only seem to hear during an Olympic year: chef de mission, for example, a fancy title for ‘team manager’. And once again the verb to medal is making people hot under the collar. Nobody, it seems, likes the verbing of nouns. But it’s time to get over this one. It was first recorded in the US in 1966 and came to prominence in the Barcelona Games of 1992. Continue reading

Harold Holt does a Harry

Harold Holt in 1953. Image source: National Archives of Australia

Today marks the 104th birthday of former Prime Minister Harold Holt. Tragically on 17 December 1967 Holt went missing while swimming in rough seas at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria. After extensive searches it was presumed that he had drowned. The disappearance of a serving Prime Minister sparked much speculation in the years to follow, including the suggestion of suicide and the long-running urban myth that he had been picked up by a Chinese submarine. The circumstances surrounding Holt’s disappearance led to the creation of one of Australian English’s more recent rhyming slang terms. Continue reading

Lords and lamingtons

by Julia Robinson

This week marks the birthday of the second Baron Lamington, Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. Baron Lamington – full name Charles Wallace Alexander Napier Cochrane-Baillie – may have been the inspiration for the lamington, a small cake dipped in chocolate icing, rolled in coconut, and considered as Australian as the Anzac biscuit or the iced vovo.

The first mention of lamington appears in print in 1901 in the Brisbane Queenslander a few days before Lord and Lady Lamington left Government House at the end of their antipodean posting. The editor of the ‘Women’s Club’ column replies to a correspondent: ‘Native Born.—Have not heard of a recipe for  ”Lamington cake”. Can you give some clue to the appearance and ingredients of the cake?’ (14 December 1901) Continue reading