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The Australian National University

Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms

This section contains a selection of Australian words, their meanings, and their etymologies.

banana bender

A Queenslander. The term derives from the joking notion (as perceived from the southern states of Australia) that Queenslanders spend their time putting bends into bananas. An article from 15 July 1937 in the Queenslander provides a forerunner to the term when a man is asked by the Queen what his occupation is:

"I'm a banana-bender". Further to enlighten her Majesty he explained that bananas grew straight on the trees, and so just before they ripened, his was the job to mount the ladder, and with a specialised twist of the wrist, put into the fruit the Grecian bend that was half its charm.

The association of bananas with Queensland ('banana land') is based on the extensive banana-growing industry in tropical Queensland. The Queensland border has been called the Banana curtain and Brisbane has been called Banana city. Banana bender, in reference to a Queenslander, is first recorded in 1940 and is till commonly heard.

1964 D. Lockwood Up the Track: We are so close to Queensland that I think we should hop over the border. What do you say to a quick look at the banana-benders?

2011 Northern Star (Lismore) 11 July: Should the Matilda's [sic] have won last night or the Netball Diamonds see off New Zealand, Anna Bligh will doubtless claim it was due to the preponderance of banana benders in the squads or at the very least the result of a Gold Coast holiday during their formative years.


Soon after white settlement in 1788 the word bandicoot (the name for the Indian mammal Bandicota indica) was applied to several Australian mammals having long pointed heads and bearing some resemblance to their Indian namesake. In 1799 David Collins writes of the 'bones of small animals, such as opossums ... and bandicoots'.

From 1830s the word bandicoot has been used in various distinctively Australian phrases as an emblem of deprivation or desolation. In 1837 H. Watson in Lecture on South Australia writes: 'The land here is generally good; there is a small proportion that is actually good for nothing; to use a colonial phrase, "a bandicoot (an animal between a rat and a rabbit) would starve upon it".' Typical examples include:

  • as miserable as a bandicoot
  • as poor as a bandicoot
  • as bald as a bandicoot
  • as blind as a bandicoot
  • as hungry as a bandicoot

Probably from the perception of the bandicoot's burrowing habits, a new Australian verb to bandicoot arose towards the end of the nineteenth century. It means 'to remove potatoes from the ground, leaving the tops undisturbed'. Usually this activity is surreptitious.

1896 Bulletin 12 December: I must 'bandicoot' spuds from the cockies - Or go on the track!

1899 Bulletin 2 December: 'Bandicooting'.. is a well-known term all over Western Vic. potato-land. The bandicooter goes at night to a field of ripe potatoes and carefully extracts the tubers from the roots without disturbing the tops.

bandicoot: miserable as a bandicoot

Extremely unhappy. Bandicoots are small marsupials with long faces, and have been given a role in Australian English in similes that suggest unhappiness or some kind of deprivation (see above). The expression miserable as a bandicoot was first recorded in the 1820s.

1828 Sydney Gazette 11 January: On her arrival here she found him living with another woman by whom he had several children, and from whom he was necessarily obliged to part, not, however, without very candidly forewarning his wife, the present complainant, that he would make her as miserable as a bandicoot.

2005 R. Siemon The Eccentric Mr Wienholt: I am as miserable as a bandicoot having to sneak home like this.

banksia man

The large woody cone of several Banksia species, originally as a character in children's stories. Banksia is the name of an Australian genus of shrubs and trees with about 60 species. It was named after the botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who was on the Endeavour with James Cook on his voyage of discovery in 1770. After flowering, many banksias form thick woody cones, often in strange shapes. It was on such grotesque shapes that May Gibbs modelled her banksia men in Snugglepot and Cuddlepie of 1918: 'She could see the glistening, wicked eyes of Mrs. Snake and the bushy heads of the bad Banksia men'.

1927 K.S. Prichard Bid me to Love: Louise: .. See what I've got in my pocket for you ... Bill: (diving into a pocket of her coat and pulling out a banksia cone) A banksia man. Oh Mum!

1979 E. Smith Saddle in the Kitchen: Hell was under the well near the cow paddock, deep and murky and peopled by gnarled and knobby banksia men who lurked there waiting for the unguarded to fall in.

barbecue stopper

A topic of great public interest, especially a political one. The term derives from the notion that a topic is so interesting that it could halt proceedings at a barbecue - and anything that could interrupt an Aussie barbecue would have to be very significant indeed! The term was coined by Australian prime minister John Howard in 2001 in the context of balancing work pressures with family responsibilities. Barbecue stopper is now used in a wide range of contexts. For an earlier discussion of the term see our Word of the Month article from August 2007.

2007 Sun-Herald (Sydney) 11 March: Controlled crying is a guaranteed barbecue stopper among Australian parents, more divisive than the old breast-versus-bottle feeding debate.

2015 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 1 April: Planning and zoning looms as a barbecue stopper in leafy suburbs, where many residents and traders will defend to the last breath their quiet enjoyment and captive markets.


The name of the Barcoo River in western Queensland has been used since the 1870s as a shorthand reference for the hardships, privations, and living conditions of the outback. Poor diets were common in remote areas, with little access to fresh vegetables or fruit, and as a result diseases caused by dietary deficiencies, such Barcoo rot—a form of scurvy characterised by chronic sores—were common. Katharine Susannah Prichard writes in 1946: ‘They were nothing to the torture he endured when barcoo rot attacked him. The great sores festered on his back, hands and legs: his lips split and were raw and bleeding’. Rachel Henning, in a letter to her sister in 1864, makes fun of her Irish servants’ fear of scurvy, for which they eat pigweed, ‘rather a nasty wild plant, but supposed to be exceedingly wholesome, either chopped up with vinegar or boiled’. Another illness probably caused by poor diet was Barcoo sickness (also called Barcoo vomit, Barcoo spew, or just Barcoo), a condition characterised by vomiting. ‘Barcoo was rife among the kiddies and station-hands; vomiting attacks lasting for days laid each low in turn’.

Happily, Barcoo can also denote more positive aspects of outback life: a makeshift resourcefulness - a Barcoo dog is a rattle for herding sheep, which can be as simple as a tin can and a stick – or rough and ready behaviour: ‘The parrot’s language would have shamed a Barcoo bullocky’. Barcoo can also typify the laconic bush wit. Patsy Adam Smith relates the following story: ‘I see you’ve learnt the Barcoo Salute’, said a Buln Buln Shire Councillor to the Duke of Edinburgh. ‘What’s that?’ said His Royal Highness, waving his hand again to brush the flies off his face. ‘That’s it’, said the man from the bush.

barrack for

To give support or encouragement to (a person, team, etc.), usually by shouting names, slogans or exhortations. Some claim barrack comes from Australian pidgin to poke borak at 'to deride', but its origin is probably from Northern Irish barrack 'to brag; to be boastful'. By itself barrack meant 'to jeer' (and still does in British English), but the form barrack for transformed the jeering into cheering in Australian English. First recorded in the 1880s.

1889 Maitland Mercury 24 August: Old dad was in his glory there - it gave the old man joy To fight a passage thro' the crowd and barrack for his boy.

1971 D. Williamson Don's Party: I take it you'll be barracking for Labor tonight?

2011 Gympie Times 28 January: He thought it was about time to take the pledge and officially become Australian as he had barracked for our cricket team since 1955.

barrier rise

The opening of the starting gates to begin a horserace. In horseracing the barrier is a starting gate at the racecourse. The word barrier is found in a number of horseracing terms in Australian English including barrier blanket (a heavy blanket placed over the flanks of a racehorse to calm it when entering a barrier stall at the start of a race), barrier trial (a practice race for young, inexperienced, or resuming racehorses), and barrier rogue (a racehorse that regularly misbehaves when being placed into a starting gate). Barrier rise is first recorded in the 1890s. For a more detailed discussion of this term see our Word of the Month article from October 2010.

1895 Argus (Melbourne) 11 March: Mr W. R. Wilson's colt Merman, who, like Hova, was comparatively friendless at barrier rise.

2011 Shepparton News 27 June: The talented Norman-trained trotter Tsonga, also driven by Jack, speared across the face of the field at barrier rise from outside the front row in the mobile - and from then was never headed.


The word battler has been in the English language for a long time. The word is a borrowing from French in the Middle English period, and meant, literally, 'a person who battles or fights', and figuratively 'a person who fights against the odds or does not give up easily'. The corresponding English word was feohtan which gives us modern English 'to fight'. English also borrowed the word war from the French in the twelfth century; it's the same word as modern French guerre.

But the word battler, at the end of the nineteenth century, starts to acquire some distinctively Australian connotations. For this reason, it gets a guernsey in the Australian National Dictionary.

1. It describes the person with few natural advantages, who works doggedly and with little reward, who struggles for a livelihood (and who displays courage in so doing).

Our first citation for this, not surprisingly, comes from Henry Lawson in While the Billy Boils (1896):  'I sat on him pretty hard for his pretensions, and paid him out for all the patronage he'd worked off on me .. and told him never to pretend to me again he was a battler'.

In 1941 Kylie Tennant writes: 'She was a battler, Snow admitted; impudent, hardy, cool, and she could take a "knock-back" as though it didn't matter, and come up to meet the next blow'.

In this tradition, K. Smith writes in 1965:  'Everybody in Australia has his position. Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of people in this country: the rich, the middle class and the battlers'.

In the 21st century the term has been used in various political contests as this quotation in the Australian from 1 July 2006 demonstrates: 'The Prime Minister, who has built his success on an appeal to Australia's battlers, is about to meet thousands more of them in his northern Sydney seat of Bennelong'.

2. It has also been used of an unemployed or irregularly employed person.

a: (in the country): a swagman or itinerant worker.

This sense is first recorded in the Bulletin in 1898: 'I found patch after patch destroyed. Almost everyone I met blamed the unfortunate "battler", and I put it down to some of the Sydney "talent" until ... I caught two Chows vigorously destroying melon-vines'.

Again in the Bulletin in 1906 we find: 'They were old, white-bearded, travel-stained battlers of the track'.

The word is not much used in this sense now, but in 1982 Page & Ingpen in Aussie Battlers write: 'The average Australian's image of a battler does seem to be that of a Henry Lawson character: a bushie of the colonial era, complete with quart pot and swag, down on his luck but still resourceful and cheerful'.

b: (in an urban context): an unemployed person who lives by opportunism.

Frank Hardy in Tales of Billy Yorker (1965) writes: 'Any Footscray battler could get a few quid off Murphy, just for the asking'.

S. Weller, Bastards I have met (1976) writes: `He was a battler, into all the lurks about the place and just one jump ahead of the coppers all the time'.

3. A person who frequents racecourses in search of a living, esp. from punting. The word is used in Australia with this sense from the end of the nineteenth century.

Cornelius Crowe in his Australian Slang Dictionary (1895) gives: ' Battlers broken-down backers of horses still sticking to the game'.

In 1925 A. Wright in The Boy from Bullarah notes: 'He betook himself with his few remaining shillings to the home of the battler - Randwick [a racecourse in Sydney]'.

4. A prostitute.

In 1898 we find in the Bulletin: 'A bludger is about the lowest grade of human thing, and is a brothel bully ... A battler is the feminine'.

C.W. Chandler in Darkest Adelaide (c. 1907) writes: 'Prostitution though most terrible and degrading in any shape or form reaches its most forbidding form when married women are found out battling for cash'. And further: `I told him I would not mind taking on a tart myself - an extra good battler preferred'.

Meanings 2. 3. and 4 have now disappeared from Australian English, and it is meaning 1 which has become enshrined in the language, especially in the phrase little Aussie battler. This is still the person of the Henry Lawson tradition, who, 'with few natural advantages, works doggedly and with little reward, struggles for a livelihood (and displays courage in so doing)'. But perhaps the battler of contemporary Australia is more likely to be paying down a large mortgage rather than working hard to put food on the table!


Berley is ground-bait scattered by an angler in the water to attract fish to a line or lure. Anglers use a variety of baits for berley, such as bread, or fish heads and guts. Poultry mash and tinned cat food make more unusual berleying material, although this pales beside a Bulletin article in 1936 suggesting 'a kerosene-tinful of rabbit carcasses boiled to a pulp' as the best berley for Murray cod. Berley first appears in 1852 as a verb - to berley is to scatter ground-bait. The writer observes that the locals are baiting a fishing spot (‘burley-ing’) with burnt fish. The first evidence for the noun occurs in the 1860s. The origin of the word is unknown.

big note

To display or boast of one's wealth; to exaggerate one's own importance, achievements, etc. The term is first recorded in the 1920s. In the 1950s a big note man (later called a big noter) was a person who handled or bet large sums of money - big notes. In pre-decimal currency days the larger the denomination, the bigger the banknote. Big-noting arose from the connection between flashing large sums of money about and showing off.

1941 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 18 February: There was no suggestion that Coates had the revolver for any sinister purpose. He had admitted producing it to 'big note' himself in the eyes of the young woman and her parents.

2012 D. Foster Man of Letters: He's never been one to big-note himself.


A member of a gang of motorcyclists. Bikie follows a very common pattern in Australian English by incorporating the -ie (or -y) suffix. This suffix works as an informal marker in the language. In early use bikie often referred to any member of a motorcycle (motorbike) gang or club - often associated with youth culture. In more recent times the term is often associated with gangs of motorcylists operating on the fringes of legality. Bikie is first recorded in the 1960s. For a more detailied discussion of the term see our Word of the Month article from March 2014.

1967 Kings Cross Whisper (Sydney) xxxii: Bikie, a member of a gang or a club of people interested in motor bikes.

2015 Northern Territory News (Darwin) 28 May: We need to stop romanticising the notion that bikies are basically good blokes in leather vests. Some bikies procure, distribute and sell drugs through their 'associates', who in turn sell them to kids.


The bilby is either of two Australian bandicoots, especially the rabbit-eared bandicoot Macrotis lagotis, a burrowing marsupial of woodlands and plains of drier parts of mainland Australia. The word is a borrowing from Yuwaalaraay (an Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales) and neighbouring languages. The bilby is also known as dalgyte in Western Australia and pinky in South Australia. Since the early 1990s there have been attempts to replace the Easter bunny with the Easter bilby. At Easter it is now possible to buy chocolate bilbies. Bilby is first recorded in the 1870s. 

1877 Riverine Grazier (Hay) 6 June: There is also all over this part of the country a small animal which burrows in the ground like a rabbit: it is called a bilby, and is found everywhere, almost, up here, in great numbers.

2015 Centralian Advocate (Alice Springs) 10 April: Mining activity can also cause direct and indirect disturbance to sites inhabited by bilbies.


An arm of a river, made by water flowing from the main stream (usually only in time of flood) to form a backwater, blind creek, anabranch, or, when the water level falls, a pool or lagoon (often of considerable extent); the dry bed of such a formation. Billabongs are often formed when floodwaters recede. The word comes from the south-western New South Wales Aboriginal language Wiradjuri: bila ‘river’ + bang (a suffix probably indicating a continuation in time or space, or functioning as an intensifier), the combination signifying a watercourse that runs only after rain. First recorded in the 1830s.

1861 Burke & Wills Exploring Expedition: At the end of a very long waterhole, it breaks into billibongs, which continue splitting into sandy channels until they are all lost in the earthy soil.

2015 Northern Territory News (Darwin) 13 May: It will soon offer more activities including fishing at a nearby billabong once the area is declared croc-free.


A vessel for the boiling of water, making of tea, etc., over an open fire; a cylindrical container, usually of tin, enamel ware, or aluminium, fitted with a lid and a wire handle. It comes from the Scottish dialect word billy-pot meaning ‘cooking utensil’. Possibly reinforced by bouilli tin (recorded 1858 in Australia and 1852 in New Zealand, with variant bully tin recorded in New Zealand in 1849 but not until 1920 in Australia), an empty tin that had contained preserved boeuf bouilli 'bully beef', used as a container for cooking. It is not, as popularly thought, related to the Aboriginal word billabong. Billy is first recorded in the 1840s.

1859 W. Burrows Adventures of a Mounted Trooper in the Australain Constabulary: A 'billy' is a tin vessel, something between a saucepan and a kettle, always black outside from being constantly on the fire, and looking brown inside from the quantity of tea that is generally to be seen in it.

2005 Australian (Sydney) 12 November: The green ants, we learn later, are a form of bush medicine that others choose to consume by boiling the nest in a billy and drinking the strained and distilled contents.


A child’s four-wheeled go-cart. Billycart is a shortened form of the Australian term billy-goat cart which dates back to the 1860s. In earlier times the term applied to a small cart, often two-wheeled, that was pulled by a goat. These billycarts were used for such purposes as home deliveries, and they were also used in races. The term was then applied to any homemade go-cart. Billycart is recorded in the first decade of the 20th century.

1952 J.R. Tyrrell Old Books: As boys, Fred and I delivered books round Sydney in a billycart.

1991 T. Winton Cloudstreet: Bits of busted billycarts and boxes litter the place beneath the sagging clothesline.


Any of several plants bearing barbed fruits, especially herbs of the widespread genus Calotis; the fruit of these plants. Bindi-eye is oftened shortened to bindi, and can be spelt in several ways including bindy-eye and bindii. The word is from the Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay Aboriginal languages of northern New South Wales. Bindi-eye is usually considered a weed when found in one's lawn. Many a child's play has been painfully interrupted by the sharp barbs of the plant which have a habit of sticking into the sole of one's foot. Bindy-eye is first recorded in the 1890s.

 1894 Queenslander (Brisbane) 11 August: Fancy him after working a mob of sheep through a patch of Bathurst Burr, or doing a day's work in a paddock where the grass seed was bad and bindy-eyes thick.

2015 Australian (Sydney) 3 January: You know it's summer when the frangipani flower in their happy colours, when the eucalypt blossom provides a feast for the rosellas - and when the bindi-eyes in your lawn punish you for going barefoot.


A fight or skirmish; a collision. Bingle is perhaps from Cornish dialect bing 'a thump or blow'. Most other words derived from Cornish dialect in Australian English were originally related to mining, including fossick. The word is frequently used to refer to a car collision. Bingle is first recorded in the 1940s.

1966 R. Carr Surfie: There was this clang of metal on metal and both cars lurched over to the shoulder and we nearly went for a bingle.

2015 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 12 April: In fact some of Hughesy and Kate's listeners are laughing so hard they have to pull over in their cars or risk having a bingle on the way back from work.


A mongrel. A dog (or other animal) which is made up of a bit of this and a bit of that. This meaning is common today, but when bitser first appeared in the 1920s it referred to any contraption or vehicle that was made of spare parts, or had odd bits and pieces added. Bitser is an abbreviation of ‘bits and pieces’, and in the mongrel sense is first recorded in the early 1930s.

1934 Advertiser (Adelaide) 14 May: 'Well, what kind of dog is it?' he asked. The small girl pondered. 'I think he must be a bit of everything. My friends call him a "bitzer"', she replied.

2005 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 27 November: We had lots of cats and dogs. My favourite was a bitser named Sheila.

black stump

The black stump of Australian legend first appears in the late 19th century, and is an imaginary marker at the limits of settlement. Anywhere beyond the black stump is beyond civilisation, deep in the outback, whereas something this side of the black stump belongs to the known world. Although the towns of Blackall, Coolah and Merriwagga each claim to possess the original black stump, a single stump is unlikely to be the origin of this term. It is more probable that the burnt and blackened tree stumps, ubiquitous in the outback, and used as markers when giving directions to travellers is the origin - this sense of black stump is recorded from 1831.

1898 Launceston Examiner 5 November: The mistake in the past has been the piecemeal and patchwork nature of our public works policy. Tracks have been made, commencing nowhere and ending the same, roads have been constructed haphazard, bridges have been built that had no roads leading either to or from them, railways have terminated at the proverbial black stump.

1967 J. Wynnum I'm Jack, all Right: It's way back o' Bourke. Beyond the Black Stump. Not shown on the petrol station maps, even.

2003 Sydney Morning Herald 29 July: Our own wine writer, Huon Hooke, doesn't know the wine but suspects it comes from a region between Bandywallop and the Black Stump.

Blind Freddy

A very unperceptive person; such a person as a type. This term often appears in the phrase even blind Freddy could see that. Although the term may not derive from an actual person, early commentators associate it with a blind Sydney character or characters. Australian lexicographer Sidney Baker wrote in 1966 that 'Legend has it that there was a blind hawker in Sydney in the 1920s, named Freddy, whose blindness did not prevent his moving freely about the central city area'. Other commentators suggest a character who frequented various Sydney sporting venues in the first decades of the 20th century could be the original Freddy. The term itself is first recorded in 1911.

1911 Sydney Sportsman 19 July: Billy Farnsworth and [Chris] McKivatt seem to suit one another down to the ground as a pair of halves, but then Blind Freddie couldn't help taking Chris's passes.

2013 S. Scourfield As the River Runs: Blind Freddie could see Emerald Gorge is a natural dam site.

blood: your blood’s worth bottling

You’re a really valuable person! You’re a loyal friend! This is one of the many Australianisms, along with terms such as ‘digger’, ‘Anzac’ and ‘Aussie’, that arose during or immediately proceeding the First World War. It applied to a person of great heart, who displayed courage, loyalty, and mateship. It is now used in many contexts - ‘Those firefighters—their blood’s worth bottling!’


To defeat (a competitor) by a very small margin; to win narrowly. This verb derives from the noun blouse meaning 'the silk jacket worn by a jockey'. As the origin of this word would indicate, much of the evidence is from the sport of horseracing. First recorded in the 1980s. For a detailed discussion of blouse see our Word of the Month article from November 2009.

2001 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 22 June: Four years ago at this ground - Mark Taylor's last one-day appearance for Australia - England smashed 4-253 to blouse Australia on a typically good batting strip.

2015 Kalgoorlie Miner 2 March: The Meryl Hayley-trained speedster, chasing four wins in a line, was bloused in a thrilling finish by Cut Snake with a further head to third placegetter, Danreign.


This word is a survival of British slang bludger, meaning 'a prostitute's pimp'. The word is ultimately a shortening of bludgeoner.  A bludgeoner (not surprisingly) was a person who carried a bludgeon 'a short stout stick or club'. It appears in a mid-nineteenth century English slang dictionary as a term for 'a low thief, who does not hesitate to use violence'.

By the 1880s the 'prostitute's pimp' sense of bludger is found in Australian sources. In the Sydney Slang Dictionary of 1882 bludgers are defined as 'plunderers in company with prostitutes'. Cornelius Crowe, in his Australian Slang Dictionary (1895), defines a bludger as 'a thief who will use his bludgeon and lives on the gains of immoral women'.

Thus bludger came to mean 'one who lives on the earnings of a prostitute'. It retained this meaning until the mid-20th century. Thus Dorothy Hewett in her play Bobbin Up (1959) writes: 'But what about libel?' 'There's a name for a man who lives off women!' 'Can't you get pinched for calling a man a bludger?' But this meaning is now obsolete.

From the early twentieth century it moved out to be a more general term of abuse, especially as applied to a person who appears to live off the efforts of others (as a pimp lives on the earnings of a prostitute). It was then used to refer to a person engaged in non-manual labour - a white-collar worker. This sense appears as early as 1910, but its typical use is represented by this passage from D. Whitington's Treasure Upon Earth (1957): '"Bludgers" he dubbed them early, because in his language anyone who did not work with his hands at a laboring job was a bludger'.

And so it came to mean 'an idler, one who makes little effort'. In the war newspaper Ack Ack News in 1942 we find: 'Who said our sappers are bludgers?' By 1950, it could be used of animals which didn't perform up to standard. J. Cleary in Just let me be writes: 'Everything I backed ran like a no-hoper. Four certs I had, and the bludgers were so far back the ambulance nearly had to bring 'em home'.

And thence to 'a person who does not make a fair contribution to a cost, enterprise etc.; a cadger'. D. Niland writes in The Shiralee (1955): 'Put the nips into me for tea and sugar and tobacco in his usual style. The biggest bludger in the country'. In 1971 J. O'Grady writes: 'When it comes to your turn, return the "shout". Otherwise the word will spread that you are a "bludger", and there is no worse thing to be'.

The term dole bludger (i.e. 'one who exploits the system of unemployment benefits by avoiding gainful employment') made its first appearance in 1970s. An early example from the Bulletin encapsulates the derogatory tone: 'A genuine dole bludger, a particularly literate young man ... explained that he wasn't bothering to look for work any more because he was sick and tired of being treated like a chattel' (1976). From the following year we have a citation indicating a reaction to the use of the term: Cattleman (Rockhampton) 'Young people are being forced from their country homes because of a lack of work opportunities and the only response from these so-called political protectors is to label them as dole bludgers'.

Throughout the history of the word, most bludgers appear to have been male. The term bludgeress made a brief appearance in the first decade of this century - 'Latterly, bludgers, so the police say, are marrying bludgeresses' (1908 Truth 27 September) - but it was shortlived.


The word bluey in Australian English has a variety of meanings. The most common is the swag (i.e. the collection of possessions and daily necessaries carried by a person travelling, usually on foot, in the bush) so called because the outer covering of the swag was traditionally a blue blanket (which is also called a bluey). The earliest evidence for bluey as a swag is from 1878 where the bluey is humped as it was by the itinerant bush worker tramping the wallaby track in the works of writers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson.

This image (an Australian stereotype) is epitomised in the following 1899 quotation for bluey:

There's the everlasting swaggie with his bluey on his back who is striking out for sunset on the Never-never track. W.T. Goodge, Hits! Skits! and Jingles

The association of the swaggie and his bluey continues in more recent evidence for the term:

A swaggie suddenly appeared out of the bush, unshaven, with wild, haunted eyes, his bluey and billycan on his back. G. Cross, George and Widda-Woman (1981)

That bluey is later transferred to luggage in general, is perhaps not surprising in an urban society which romanticises its 'bush' tradition:

Where's yer bluey? No luggage? J. Duffy, Outside Pub (1963)

In Tasmania, a bluey or Tasmanian bluey is:

a rough overcoat of blue-grey woollen, to be worn by those doing outdoor work during inclement weather. Canberra Times (19 Nov. 1982).

The word has been used to denote another item of clothing - denim working trousers or overalls - but the citation evidence indicates (the last citation being 1950) that this usage is no longer current.

More familiar is the use of bluey to describe a summons, especially for a traffic offence (originally printed on blue paper):

Imagine my shock upon returning to a bluey at the end of the day. Choice (2 April 1986)

Perhaps the most Australian use of bluey is the curious use of it to describe a red-headed person (first recorded in 1906):

1936 A.B. Paterson, Shearer's Colt: 'Bluey', as the crowd called him, had found another winner. (All red-haired men are called 'Bluey' in Australia for some reason or other.)

1978 R.H. Conquest, Dusty Distances: I found out later that he was a native of New South Wales, called ' Bluey because of his red hair - typical Australian logic.

A more literal use of bluey in Australian English is its application to fauna whose names begin with blue and which is predominantly blue in colour:

1961 Bulletin 31 May:  We call them blue martins...Ornithologists refer to them as some species of wood swallow... They're all 'blueys' to us.


There are two senses of the word bodgie in Australian English, both probably deriving from an earlier (now obsolete) word bodger.

The obsolete bodger probably derives from British dialect bodge 'to work clumsily'. In Australian English in the 1940s and 1950s bodger meant: 'Something (or occasionally someone) which is fake, false, or worthless'. The noun was also used adjectivally. Typical uses:

1950 F. Hardy, Power without Glory: This entailed the addition of as many more 'bodger' votes as possible.

1954 Coast to Coast 1953-54: Well, we stuck together all through the war - we was in under bodger names.

1966 S. Baker, The Australian Language: An earlier underworld and Army use of bodger for something faked, worthless or shoddy. For example, a faked receipt or false name.. is a bodger; so is a shoddy piece of material sold by a door-to-door hawker.

The word bodger was altered to bodgie, and this is now the standard form:

1975 Latch & Hitchings, Mr X: To avoid any suspicions in case they were picked up by the Transport Regulation Board, it was decided.. to take a 'bodgy' receipt for the tyres with them.

1978 O. White, Silent Reach: This heap is hot - else why did they give it a one-coat spray job over the original white duco and fix it with bodgie number plates?

1984 Canberra Times 27 August: Allegations .. of branch-stacking and the use of hundreds of 'bodgie' members in the electorate.

In the 1950s another sense of bodgie arose. The word was used to describe a male youth, distinguished by his conformity to certain fashions of dress and larrikin behaviour; analogous to the British 'teddy boy':

1950 Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) 7 May: The bizarre uniform of the 'bodgey' - belted velvet cord jacket, bright blue sports coat without a tie, brown trousers narrowed at the ankle, shaggy Cornel Wilde haircut.

1951 Sydney Morning Herald 1 February: What with 'bodgies' growing their hair long and getting around in satin shirts, and 'weegies' [see widgie] cutting their hair short and wearing jeans, confusion seems to be be arising about the sex of some Australian adolescents.

This sense of bodgie seems to be an abbreviation of the word bodger with the addition of the -ie (-y) suffix. One explanation for the development of the teenage larrikin sense was offered in the Age (Melbourne) in 1983:

Mr Hewett says his research indicates that the term 'bodgie' arose around the Darlinghurst area in Sydney. It was just after the end of World War II and rationing had caused a flourishing black market in American-made cloth. 'People used to try and pass off inferior cloth as American-made when in fact it was not: so it was called "bodgie",' he says. 'When some of the young guys started talking with American accents to big-note themselves they were called "bodgies".'

This sense of bodgie belongs primarily to the 1950s, but bodgie in the sense 'fake, false, inferior, worthless' is alive and flourishing in Australian English.


An uncultured and unsophisticated person; a boorish and uncouth person. The early evidence is largely confined to teenage slang.

Some lexicographers have suspected that the term may derive from the Bogan River and district in western New South Wales, but this is far from certain, and it seems more likely to be an unrelated coinage.

The term became widespread after it was used in the late 1980s by the fictitious schoolgirl 'Kylie Mole' in the television series The Comedy Company. In the Daily Telegraph (29 November 1988), in an article headed 'Same name a real bogan', a genuine schoolgirl named Kylie Mole 'reckons it really sux' " [i.e., finds it horrible] to have the same name as the television character.

In Dolly Magazine, October 1988, 'The Dictionary According To Kylie [Mole]' has the following Kyliesque definition: bogan 'a person that you just don't bother with. Someone who wears their socks the wrong way or has the same number of holes in both legs of their stockings. A complete loser'.

The earliest evidence we have been able to find for the term is in the surfing magazine Tracks September 1985: 'So what if I have a mohawk and wear Dr Martens (boots for all you uninformed bogans)?'

In more recent years the term bogan has become more widely used and is often found in contexts that are neither derogatory or negative. The term has also generated a number of other terms including bogan chick, boganhood, and cashed-up bogan (CUB).

2002 Age (Melbourne) 16 July: Campbell, 25, did not grow up as a bogan chick. She had a quiet, middle-class upbringing in Box Hill, attending a private girls' school.

2006 Canberra Times 9 August: We enjoy drinking, pig-shooting, wear check flannelette shirts and have no common sense or good taste ... Our geographic reach is flexible; residents of Taree and like communities, for example, may readily qualify for Boganhood, usually with little or no burdensome paperwork.

2013 Sydney Morning Herald 7 December: Douglas' volley sparked a semantic debate about the use of 'bogan', with Palmer and others claiming the once-pejorative term had become more jocular. Inclusive. Affectionate, even ... 'We're all bogans. I'm a bogan because I'm overweight.' His titular party head seconded that, claiming quickly to have 'spent most of [his] life as a bogan'. 'All I can say is I like chips', Mr Palmer demurred. 'I wear Ugg boots and I go four-wheel-driving.'

2015 Sunday Times (Perth) 25 January: WA's mining boom has given rise to a new kind of bogan - the CUB, or cashed-up bogan.

For further discussions of bogan see our Word of the Month article from Novemeber 2008, and a 2015 article 'Bogan: from Obscurity to Australia's most productive Word' in our newsletter Ozwords


To swim or bathe. Bogey is a borrowing from the Aboriginal Sydney Language. The earliest records show the term being used in the pidgin English of Aborigines:

1788 Historical Records of New South Wales II: I have bathed, or have been bathing... Bogie d'oway. These were Colby's words on coming out of the water.

1830 R. Dawson, Present State of Australia: 'Top bit, massa, bogy,' (bathe) and he threw himself into the water.

By the 1840s it was naturalised in Australian English:

1841 Historical Records of Australia: I suppose you want your Boat, Sir; Yes, said Mr Dixon; well, said Crabb I suppose we must bogey for it. Yes, said Mr Dixon, any two of ye that can swim.

In Australian English a noun meaning 'a swim or bathe; a bath' was formed from the verb:

1847 A. Harris, Settlers and Convicts: In the cool of the evening had a 'bogie' (bathe) in the river.

1869 W.M. Howell, Diggings and Bush: Florence was much amused the other evening by her enquiring if she (Flory) was going down to the water to have a 'bogey'. Flory was much puzzled till she found out that a 'bogey', in colonial phraseology, meant a bath.

1924 Bulletin: A boar was discovered by two of us having a bogey in a 16,000-yard tank about five miles from the river.

1981 G. Mackenzie, Aurukun Diary: A bogey is the Queensland outback word for a bath or bathe.

A bogey hole is a 'swimming or bathing hole'. The verb is rare now in Australian English. For an earlier discussion of bogey see our Word of the Month article from February 2010.


A wave that forms over a submerged offshore reef or rock, sometimes (in very calm weather or at high tide) merely swelling but in other conditions breaking heavily and producing a dangerous stretch of broken water. The word is now commonly used for the reef or rock itself.

1994 P. Horrobin Guide to Favourite Australian Fish (ed. 7): Like most inshore saltwater predators, Salmon hunt around rocky headlands, offshore islands and bomboras [etc.].

Bombora probably derives from the Aboriginal Sydney Language where it may have referred specifically to the current off Dobroyd Head, Port Jackson. The term is mostly used in New South Wales, where there are numerous bomboras along the coast, often close to cliffs. The term was first recorded in 1871 and is now used frequently in surfing and fishing contexts with its abbreviation bommie and bommy being common: 'After a day of oily, overhead bommie waves, we decided to head to the pub’ (2001 Tracks August).

Bondi tram: shoot through like a Bondi tram

Used allusively to refer to a hasty departure or speedy action. Bondi is the Sydney suburb renowned worldwide for its surf beach. The phrase (first recorded in 1943) probably derives from the fact that two trams typically left the city for Bondi together, the first an express tram which would ‘shoot through’ from Darlinghurst to Bondi Junction. Trams last ran on the line in 1960, but the phrase has remained a part of Australian English.

2014 Wimmera Mail Times (Horsham) 14 April: The book is aimed at young adults and the young at heart ... 'It took off like a Bondi tram', she said.


Bonzer is an adjective meaning 'surpassingly good, splendid, great'. The word is also used as a noun meaning ‘something (or someone) that excites admiration by being surpassingly good of its kind’, and as an adverb meaning 'beautifully, splendidly'. Bonzer is possibly an alteration of the now obsolete Australian word bonster (with the same meaning) which perhaps ultimately derives from British dialect bouncer 'anything very large of its kind'. Bonzer may also be influenced by French bon ‘good’ and US bonanza. In the early records the spelling bonzer alternates with bonser, bonza, and bonzor. The adjective, noun, and adverb are all recorded from the early years of the 20th century:

(noun) 1903 Morning Post (Cairns) 5 June: The little pony outlaw is wonderfully fast at disposing of his mounts. Yuong Jack Hansen undertook to sit him but failed at every attempt. Jack states he got a 'bonza on the napper', at one time when thrown.

(adjective) 1904 Argus (Melbourne) 23 July: The python is shedding his skin ... 'I say, Bill, ain't his noo skin bonza?'

(adverb) 1914 B. Cable By Blow and Kiss: Came back grinning widely, with the assurance that it [sc. the rain] was coming down 'Bonzer'.


A fool or simpleton; a stupid person; an uncouth person. Boofhead derives from buffle-headed 'having a head like a buffalo' (OED) and bufflehead 'a fool, blockhead, stupid fellow' (OED). Bufflehead has disappeared from standard English, but survives in its Australian form boofhead. It was popularised by the use of boofhead as the name of a dimwitted comic strip character invented by R.B. Clark and introduced in the Sydney Daily Mail in May 1941. For an earlier discussion of the word see our Word of the Month article from December 2009.

1943 Australian Women's Weekly (Sydney) 16 January: Many a time when his round head nodded wisely in accord with the sergeant's explanations, the sergeant was tempted to think: 'I don't believe the boof-head knows what I'm talking about.'

2015 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 23 April: For those who think we should follow the Kiwis in taxation, feel free to move there. We get their boofheads so they can have ours.


Boomerang is an Australian word which has moved into International English. The word was borrowed from an Aboriginal language in the early years of European settlement, but the exact language is still uncertain. Early evidence suggests it was borrowed from a language in, or just south of, the Sydney region.  

While the spelling boomerang is now standard, in the early period the word was given a variety of spellings: bomerang, bommerang, bomring, boomereng, boomering, bumerang [etc].

The Australian Aboriginal boomerang is a crescent-shaped wooden implement used as a missile or club, in hunting or warfare, and for recreational purposes. The best-known type of boomerang, used primarily for recreation, can be made to circle in flight and return to the thrower. Although boomerang-like objects were known in other parts of the world, the earliest examples and the greatest diversity of design is found in Australia. A specimen of a preserved boomerang has been found at Wyrie Swamp in South Australia and is dated at 10,000 years old. Boomerangs were not known throughout the entirety of Australia, being absent from the west of South Australia, the north Kimberley region of Western Australia, north-east Arnhem Land, and Tasmania. In some regions boomerangs are decorated with designs that are either painted or cut into the wood.

Very early in Australian English the term boomerang was used in transferred and figurative senses, especially with reference to something which returns to or recoils upon its author. These senses are now part of International English, but it is interesting to look at the earliest Australian evidence for the process of transfer and figurative use:

1846 Boston Daily Advertiser 5 May: Like the strange missile which the Australian throws, Your verbal boomerang slaps you on the nose.

1894 Bulletin (Sydney) 7 July: The argument that there should be profitable industrial prison-labour is a boomerang with a wicked recoil.

1911 Pastoralists' Review 15 March: Labour-Socialist legislation is boomerang legislation, and it generally comes back and hits those it was not intended for.

By the 1850s boomerang had also developed as a verb in Australian English, meaning 'to hit (someone or something) with a boomerang; to throw (something) in the manner of a boomerang'. By the 1890s the verbal sense developed another meaning: 'to return in the manner of a boomerang; to recoil (upon the author); to ricochet'. The earliest evidence for this sense occurs in the Brisbane Worker newspaper from 16 May 1891:

Australia's a big country
An' Freedom's humping bluey
And Freedom's on the wallaby
Oh don't you hear her Cooee,
She's just begun to boomerang
She'll knock the tyrants silly.

On 13 November 1979 the Canberra Times reported that 'Greg Chappell's decision to send England in appeared to have boomeranged'.

These verbal senses of boomerang have also moved into International English. For a further discussion of boomerang see the article 'Boomerang, Boomerang, Thou Spirit of Australia!' in our Ozwords newsletter.

bottle: the full bottle

Knowledgeable, an expert—‘Does Robbo know anything about paving? Yeah mate, he’s the full bottle.’ The probable source of the phrase is the 19th century British term no bottle ‘no good’ (which in turn is probably an abbreviation of rhyming slang no bottle and glass ‘no class’). In Australia the full bottle came to mean ‘very good’, and then ‘very good at, knowledgeable about (something)’. It is often used in the negative - not the full bottle means ‘not good (at something)’ or ‘not fully informed’. The phrase is first recorded in the 1940s.

1946 West Australian (Perth) 12 January: The B.M. went to ensure that the provost on duty was a full bottle on the art of saluting full generals.

2005 Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 8 December: Given that her cousins are real-life princesses, Makim should be the full bottle on the art of pouring and drinking tea like a lady.

bottom of the harbour

A tax avoidance scheme. In the late 1970s a large number of bottom of the harbour schemes were operating in corporate Australia. The schemes involved buying a company with a large tax liability, converting the assets to cash, and then ‘hiding’ the company by, for example, selling it to a fictitious buyer. Thus the company (and often its records) vanished completely - figuratively sent to the ‘bottom of the harbour’ (originally Sydney Harbour) - with an unpaid tax bill. The term is usually used attributively.

1983 Sydney Morning Herald 13 August: The Federal Government's introduction of the Taxation (Unpaid Company Tax) Act last year is expected to recoup about $250 million in unpaid tax from the bottom-of-the-harbour participants.

2006 A. Hyland Diamond Dove: The feller in the dock was some fabulous creature - part lawyer, part farmer - who'd been caught in a bottom-of-the-harbour tax avoidance scheme.

boundary rider

An employee responsible for maintaining the (outer) fences on a station, or a publicly owned vermin-proof fence. This sense of boundary rider is recorded from the 1860s but in more recent years, as a result of changes in technology and modes of transport, this occupation has become relatively rare. Since the 1980s the term has been used of a boundary umpire in Australian Rules Football, a cricketer in a fielding position near the boundary, and a roving reporter at a sporting game. For a more detailed discussion of the original sense of boundary rider and the later sporting senses see our Word of the Month article from December 2010.

1885 Illustrated Australian News (Melbourne) 30 September: The duties of a boundary rider for the most part consist in riding round the fences every day, seeing that they are all in good order, blocking up any panels that may be broken, putting out strangers (that is stock that have strayed on to the run), and, in fact, doing all that may pertain to keeping his master's stock on his own land, and everybody's else out of it.

2012 K. McGinnis Tracking North: Mechanisation had finally reached the open-range country. There were no more pumpers or boundary riders.

Bradbury: do a Bradbury

Be the unlikely winner of an event; to win an event coming from well behind. The phrase comes from the name of Steven Bradbury, who won a gold medal in speed skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics after his opponents fell. For a detailed discussion of this phrase see our blog 'Doing a Bradbury: an Aussie term born in the Winter Olympics' (which includes a video of Bradbury's famous win), and our Word of the Month article from August 2008.

2002 Sydney Morning Herald 19 February: Maybe Doing a Bradbury will become a common saying in Australian sport[:] To succeed only because everyone else fell over. The Socceroos need some of that luck.

2014 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 10 July: Someone would one day do a 'Bradbury' and finish third or fourth in the Brownlow Medal yet be crowned the winner.

branch stacking

The practice of improperly increasing the membership of a local branch of a political party in order to ensure the preselection of a particular candidate. The term is a specific use of branch meaning 'a local division of a political party'. While the practice described by branch stacking has been around for a very long time, the word itself is first recorded in the 1960s.

1968 Sydney Morning Herald 6 November: Banks and Blaxland electorates adjoin each other and what the people lodging the appeals are saying is that extensive branch 'stacking' has been going on.

2002 Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong) 7 October: Labor will fight branch stacking by forcing all members to be on the electoral roll before taking part in a preselection vote.

bride’s nightie: off like a bride’s nightie

Leaving immediately; making a hasty departure; at full speed. It is likely that this expression was first used in horseracing to refer to a horse that moved very quickly out of the starting gates. The phrase plays on two different meanings of the verb be off: ‘be removed’ and ‘move quickly'. First recorded in the 1960s.

1969 C. Bray Blossom: 'Come on youse blokes!' he shouted. 'We're off like a bride's nightie!'

2005 Canberra Times 18 March: The irony is of course that their CEO is the least loyal person in the company. First sign of a better offer and they are off like a bride's nightie.

bring a plate

An invitation to bring a plate of food to share at a social gathering or fundraiser. There are many stories of new arrivals in Australia being bamboozled by the instruction to bring a plate. As the locals know, a plate alone will not do. In earlier days the request was often ladies a plate, sometimes followed by gentlemen a donation. First recorded in the 1920s.

1951 Sunshine Advocate 22 March: Mrs Gum has kindly offered her home on Saturday, 14th of April for a social evening. Ladies bring a plate.

2013 Northern Star (Lismore) 16 July: A visit in from our Tasmanian friends. 1 pm start of play. Please bring a plate. All welcome.


A wild horse. The story of wild horses in the Australian landscape was vividly brought to life in Banjo Paterson's 1890 poem 'The Man from Snowy River': 'There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around/ That the colt from old Regret had got away,/ And had joined the wild bush horses.' These 'wild bush horses' have been known as brumbies in Australia since the early 1870s.

The origin for this term is still disputed. E.M. Curr in Australian Race (1887) gives booramby meaning 'wild' in the language of the Pitjara (or Pidjara or Bidjara) people of the region at the headwaters of the Warrego and Nogoa Rivers in south-western Queensland. This is in the general location of the earliest evidence, but the language evidence has not been subsequently confirmed. This origin was popularised by Paterson in an introduction to his poem 'Brumby's run' printed in 1894. A common suggestion is that brumby derives from the proper name Brumby . This theory was also noted by E.E. Morris in Austral English in 1898: 'A different origin was, however, given by an old resident of New South Wales, to a lady of the name Brumby, viz. "that in the early days of that colony, a Lieutenant Brumby, who was on the staff of one of the Governors, imported some very good horses, and that some of their descendants being allowed to run wild became the ancestors of the wild horses of New South Wales and Queensland". Over the years, various Messrs Brumby have been postulated as the origin. More recently, Dymphna Lonergan suggested that the word comes from Irish word bromaigh, the plural form of the word for a young horse, or colt. For a more detailed discussion concerning the origin of the term brumby see the article 'Wild Horses Running Wild' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1871 Maitland Mercury 10 October: A fine grazing block, lightly timbered, and for which the lessee would expect to draw a thousand pounds for his goodwill, without a hoof upon it, by a singular species of transition is suddenly metamorphosed into a mass of scrub, only fit for a mob of 'Brumbies'.

2010 K. McGinnis Wildhorse Creek: The country's rotten with brumbies.

Buckley’s chance

A forlorn hope; no prospect whatever. Often abbreviated to Buckley’s. One explanation for the origin of the term is that it comes from the name of the convict William Buckley, who escaped from Port Phillip in 1803 and lived for 32 years with Aboriginal people in southern Victoria. A second explanation links the phrase to the Melbourne firm of Buckley and Nunn (established in 1851), suggesting that a pun developed on the 'Nunn' part of the firm's name (with 'none') and that this gave rise to the formulation 'there are just two chances, Buckley's and none'. This second explanation appears to have arisen after the original phrase was established. For an earlier discussion about the origin of the term buckley's chance see the article 'Buckley's' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1887 Melbourne Punch 22 September: In our sporting columns, in the Fitzroy team appears the name of Bracken. It should have been Buckley. Olympus explains that he altered it because he didn't want the Fitzroy men to have 'Buckley's chance'.

2015 Australian Financial Review (Sydney) 7 March: If I lose this job I've got Buckley's chance of getting another one.

budgie smugglers

A pair of close-fitting male swimming briefs made of stretch fabric. The Australian term is probably a variation of the international English grape smugglers for such a garment. Budgie smugglers is one of the numerous Australian words for this particular garment (others include bathers, cossies, speedos, swimmers, and togs). Budgie is a shortening of budgerigar - from Kamilaroi (an Aboriginal language of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland), and designates a small green and yellow parrot which has become a popular caged bird. The term is a jocular allusion to the appearance of the garment. Budgie smugglers is first recorded in the late 1990s. For a more detailed discussion of the word see our Word of the Month article from December 2013.

2002 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 23 November: Nothing stands between you and a continent made entirely of icebergs except the Southern Ocean. That, and a thin pair of Speedos so figure-hugging you can see every goosebump - flimsy togs that are known not-all-that-affectionately by us Brown boys as budgie smugglers!

2015 Sydney Morning Herald 30 March: Property types joined with investment bankers on Sunday when they swapped suits for budgie smugglers to raise more than $600,000 and awareness for cerebral palsy.


A kind of fine powdery dirt or dust, often found in inland Australia. Roads or tracks covered with bulldust may be a hazard for livestock and vehicles, which can become bogged in it. It is probably called bulldust because it resembles the soil trampled by cattle in stockyards. The word can also be used as a polite way of saying bullshit. Both senses of the word are first recorded in the 1920s.

1929 Register News-Pictorial (Adelaide) 7 December: Motoring across Lake Eyre ... This 'bull' dust might be about two feet deep, and cakes on the surface, so that it is hard to penetrate.

1954 J. Cleary Climate of Courage: 'I'm seventy-five per cent Irish', said Mick. 'You're seventy-five per cent bulldust, too', said Joe.

2011 M Groves Outback Life: When a stretch of loose bulldust appeared too daunting, Joe would gun the engine down and go at a speed that didn't give us time to bog down. 

bull’s roar: not within a bull’s roar

Nowhere near - 'The club’s not within a bull’s roar of winning the premiership this season.' A roaring bull can be heard over a great distance, so that to be not within a bull’s roar is to be a considerable distance away. The phrase is sometimes used without the negative - to be within a bull’s roar means that you are not too far away. A much finer unit of measurement is expressed by the similar Australian phrase within a bee’s dick. The phrase is first recorded in the 1930s.

1936 Chronicle (Adelaide) 3 September: He knew that the horse, trainer and rider were O.K., and felt that the danger lay in interference. I told him that nothing would get within a 'bull's roar' of Agricolo to interfere with him, and such was the case.

2005 West Australian (Perth) 18 April: Again, through no fault of the sometimes-too-helpful McGuire, no recent contestant has come within a bull's roar of winning a serious amount of cash.


Incapacitated, exhausted, broken (as in 'the telly’s bung'). It comes from bang meaning ‘dead’ in the Yagara Aboriginal language of the Brisbane region. It found its way into 19th-century Australian pidgin, where the phrase to go bung meant ‘to die’. The term is often found in this phrasal form where it now has several meanings: 'to be financially bankrupt, to come to nought; to fail, to collapse, to break down'. These figurative senses of bung emerged in the late 19th century.

1885 Australasian Printers' Keepsake: He was importuned to desist, as his musical talent had 'gone bung' probably from over-indulgence in confectionery.

2006 Australian (Sydney) 27 April: Sydney boy Scott Reed was the name on every recruiter's list, but he has been taken to hospital with a bung ankle.


An amphibious monster supposed to inhabit inland waterways. Descriptions of it vary greatly. Some give it a frightful human head and an animal body. Many descriptions emphasise its threat to humans and its loud booming at night. It inhabits inland rivers, swamps, and billabongs. The word comes from the Aboriginal Wathaurong language of Victoria. Bunyip is first recorded in the 1840s. For a more detailed discussion of this word see the article 'There's a Bunyip Close behind us and he's Treading on my Tail' in our Ozwords newsletter.

1845 Sydney Morning Herald 12 July: On the bone being shown to an intelligent black, he at once recognised it as belonging to the 'Bunyip', which he declared he had seen.

2015 Southern Highland News (Bowral): Everyone knows bunyips live in the Wingecarribee Swamp, problem is, there are quite a few different theories about this elusive animal and it all seems to turn on how much grog visitors to the swamp have had before they hear the distinctive roar.

burl: give it a burl

Venture an attempt; give something a try. This is an Australian alteration of the standard English phrase give it a whirlBurl is from the English dialect (especially Scottish and northern English) verb birl ‘spin’ or ‘whirl’ and the corresponding noun 'a rapid twist or turn'. Give it a burl is first recorded in the early years of the 20th century.

1978 Mullally & Sexton Libra and Capricorn: Should be some fish out there I say. We'll give it a burl, eh?

2006 Mercury (Hobart) 13 January: I've never been on a boat cruise. We wanted to give it a burl and see how it went. We'd do it again.

bush week: what do you think this is, bush week?

Do you think I’m stupid? An indignant response to someone who is taking you for a fool - 'You’re going to charge me how much? What do you think this is, bush week?' Bush week is a time when people from the country come to a city, originally when bush produce etc. was displayed; and it is also a celebration in a town or city of bush produce, activities, etc. These senses of bush week go back to the early 20th century. The phrase originally implied the notion that people from the country are easily fooled by the more sophisticated city slickers. The speaker resents being mistaken for a country bumpkin. The phrase is first recorded in the 1940s.

1949 L. Glassop Lucky Palmer: I get smart alecks like you trying to put one over on me every minute of the day. What do you think this is? Bush Week?

2012 J. Murray Goodbye Lullaby: They had already been warned about the breastfeeding business ... 'Whaddya think this is?' said the proprietor as she glared at them all. 'Bloody Bush Week or something? Beat it, you two!'.

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