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)


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.

Hardy was also the author of a number of other books, including The Four-Legged Lottery (1958), The Yarns of Billy Borker (1965), The Unlucky Australians (1971), and The Needy and the Greedy: Humorous Stories of the Racetrack (1975). In these he depicts various aspects of Australian life, from politics to horse racing to Aboriginal land rights. He saw literature as performing a political function, and many of his books were politically informed. His Billy Borker stories, which were later turned into a TV show on ABC television, are a type of modern Australian folklore. According to Clement Semmler’s preface to The Yarns of Billy Borker, they are iconoclastic, but also show humour in adversity and demonstrate a laconic irony.


billybHardy’s writings capture various aspects of Australian life, culture, and society in the twentieth century, and have proven to be a rich and important source of Australian English words. Many quotes from his work were used as illustrative sentences in the first edition of the Australian National Dictionary (1988).

Hardy makes use of the Australian vernacular in all its glory, providing evidence for words such as: acre ‘arse’, put the bite on ‘to cadge’, bollocky ‘naked’, bonzarina ‘beautiful woman’, choof ‘to go, move’, chunder ‘to vomit’, chunderous ‘sickening’, compo ‘payments made under a workers’ compensation scheme’, donkey-lick ‘to defeat an opponent resoundingly’, drack ‘dreary’, ear-basher ‘one who talks incessantly’, garbo ‘garbage man’, hooroo, a variant of ‘hooray’, mozz ‘to jinx’, old fella ‘penis’, sanno ‘sanitary inspector’, shoofty ‘dishonest’, sonky ‘foolish’, susso ‘unemployment relief’, and tube ‘can of beer’. He also provides evidence for several Australian rhyming slang terms: comic cuts ‘guts’, fiddley-did ‘quid’, and goanna ‘piano’. Reflecting his interest in life in Victoria, he includes a number of terms for the popular game of Australian Rules football: aerial ping-pong, footie, and Aussie Rules.

Hardy2Hardy, a gambler who enjoyed the races, also wrote extensively about horse racing and bookmaking. His books provide evidence for a range of Australian horse-racing terms such as bag ‘to run a horse so it loses’, London to a brick, a phrase meaning a horse in a race is a sure thing, crusher ‘one who profits on betting by reducing the price’, jigger ‘device for delivering an electric shock to a horse during a race’, picnic race meeting ‘race meeting which is primarily an informal social occasion’, S.P. job ‘a result in a race or a shift in starting price that is influenced by those involved in S.P. betting’, tote an abbreviation of ‘totalizator’, and urger ‘one who gives (unsolicited) tips at a race meeting. Of this last character, Hardy wrote:

That’s old ‘Don’t tell a soul’, the urger. He gives you a tip and then persuades you to put a few quid on it for him. Gives a different horse to every victim. Must pick a winner occasionally. (The Four-Legged Lottery, p. 175)

Hardy will continue to be best remembered for his political activism and the impact of Power Without Glory, but his writing also is a valuable insight into a writer’s use of the Australian vernacular through a number of decades of the twentieth century.

2 thoughts on “Larrikin, writer, activist: Frank Hardy and Australian English

  1. I was surprised to see shoofty described as meaning dishonest. In the post-WWII period and through the 50s, taking or having a shoofty (shufty) mean to “look at” something, often a problem. It was often limited to a quick shoofty which should not take much time.

    Has then been some confusion with “shifty”?

    • Two senses of shoofty are recorded in Australian English. The first is the sense you refer to: the noun meaning ‘a look’ and which is recorded from around the period of the Second World War. Its origins is probably British slang sufti and originally from Arabic, and may have been borrowed from British soldiers during the war. The second sense recorded in Australian English is the adjectival use meaning ‘dishonest’, which is recorded from around the 1960s; Frank Hardy’s use is one of the early pieces of evidence for this sense. The etymology for this sense is that it is an alteration of shifty. At this stage, the origins of the two appear to be separate, unless further research suggests that the later ‘dishonest’ sense was in some way influenced by the earlier sense.

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