Sparrows, spadgers, spags, spoggies, spraggies, and spriggies

by Bruce Moore*

The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is native to Europe and Asia, and it has been introduced to most other parts of the world. Although the house sparrow is the most widespread and abundant of birds, in the past twenty years there has been evidence of a decline in numbers in some areas, especially in western Europe, perhaps a result of a decline in insect numbers (food for sparrow nestlings) in urban areas.

images-1In the 1860s, the house sparrow was introduced to Australia, and spread widely, except in Western Australia. As in other parts of the world, there was been some anecdotal evidence of a decline in sparrow numbers in Australia. For example, in 2010 the Newcastle Herald ran an article titled ‘Where have the sparrows gone?’ (2 August).  Even so, in the 2015 ‘Aussie Backyard Bird Count’, the sparrow was the fifth most commonly sighted bird, after the rainbow lorikeet, noisy miner, Australian magpie, and sulphur-crested cockatoo. Continue reading

Robert G. Barrett, Les Norton, and twentieth-century Aussie slang

by Julia Robinson

A dubbo like you would be arsey enough to fluke something like this…. They’re as rare as rocking-horse shit. (R.G. Barrett, Boys From Binjiwunyawunya, 1987)

We note with sadness the death of popular Australian novelist Robert G. Barrett last week (20 September). His first book, You Wouldn’t Be Dead For Quids, was published in 1985, and since then sales of his books have topped one million. He belongs to the long tradition of writers in this country whose work celebrates the Australian vernacular. A forerunner in this tradition is C.J. Dennis, with his lively depiction of the working-class slang of Bill the Bloke in The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in 1915 (see our recent blog). C.J. Dennis and Robert G. Barrett lived at opposite ends of the twentieth century, but both of them shared an exuberant delight in the slang of their time. And like Dennis, Barrett provides lexicographers with a rich source of colloquialisms. Continue reading

When Great Britain was home

Royal Visit on the occasion of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, 2006. Image source: theroyalfirm.com

This week Australia’s constitutional monarch, Elizabeth II, celebrated sixty years of reigning over us. It seems a good time to consider Australia’s relationship with Great Britain as it is reflected in the names we have called the mother country since Australia’s infancy. Continue reading