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