Canberra Word: booner

by Mark Gwynn

This year the Australian National Dictionary Centre is showcasing Canberra words to mark the city’s centenary. The first Canberra Word blog discussed pube, a colloquial word for ‘public servant’.  This blog, the second in the series, looks at the word booner, a local word meaning ‘bogan‘.

Many readers will be familiar with the Australian word bogan. A bogan is a person who is regarded as being uncultured or unsophisticated. There are a number of regional terms across Australia for this type of person. One of the earliest examples of this kind of word is westie. A westie is used to describe a person from the western suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne. Other states provide us with the words bevan (Queensland), bog (Western Australia), and chigga (Tasmania), to name just a few. Like bogan, all these words carry an underlying judgment – that people from working-class or low socio-economic backgrounds are uncultured, crass, and unsophisticated.

In Canberra the local equivalent is booner (sometimes shortened to boon). The origin of the word booner is uncertain. One theory is that it may be derived from the US word boondocks ‘rough or isolated country’ – to come from the boondocks denotes a lack of sophistication. The first recorded evidence of booner is from 1990:

Another enemy of a skater is ‘booners’. In Melbourne they’re known as headbangers, in Sydney they’re Westies… Guys mainly have long hair and wear Metallica shirts, girls wear tight, black jeans, flannelette shirts and ugboots. (Canberra Times, 1 March)

The same article mentions boonerism ‘the act or state of being a booner’:

Boonerism thrives in high schools, where being accepted means conforming to the prescribed uniform, listening to thrash and heavy metal music, and associating with other boons, not yuppies.

The stereotypical booner is often described as someone who is uncouth and rough when it comes to social niceties:

Like her male counterpart, the female booner smokes, swears, and drinks until she vomits. She has an innate sense of school pride which often results in scrags with girls from other schools. She refuses to take any shit from anyone, a principle that either results in physical violence or insults like ‘Sheena’s a fuken bush-pig’ and ‘Katrina’s a lezzo’ on the walls of the girls toilets. (Woroni, Sept., 1997)

Booner is a Canberra word that is still heard in the nation’s capital, although there are indications that it is less commonly used now than in the 1990s. It is possible that the rise and popularity of bogan has contributed to this.

6 thoughts on “Canberra Word: booner

  1. Anecdotally, my local knowledge:

    I grew up in Canberra, and remember first seeing the word booner in graffiti in the early 90s. Folk etymology had it that booner was a northside word, and that southsiders used bogan. I don’t hear booner in Canberra anymore; it’s all about bogans now.

    • I grew up in Weston Creek (southside) in the 80s/90s and it was always booners. I don’t think I had heard of a bogan until I started university. But I agree that it’s all bogans these days.

  2. Thanks for that – it’s interesting to hear that the north—south divide might apply to booner.

  3. My 20-something cousin in Canberra used the word booner when I first moved there in 2010 so maybe it’s still hanging on…

  4. I learnt the word booner in the early 80s as a kid, and that was in Hughes, so it was definitely in use southside too back then.

  5. Grew up in Kambah in the 70s/80s
    Kambah High was the worst “Booner” school in Canberra.
    I first heard “Boon” in Belconnen in around 1982, though.

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