Understanding Australian

Living in a foreign environment even one that supposedly speaks English leads to many misunderstandings.  Usually, if I listen closely and be patient I can appear to understand.

That’s what my husband and I did on my first visit to Australia.  We were visiting cousins I had never met in Bundaberg. We’d been driving all day and arrived just before dinner.  I was extremely hungry.  My cousins said, “Just have a seat, we’re making tea for the children.”

“Okay,” we said smiling and took a seat and they went into the next room.  As I sat there with my empty stomach growling I thought, I really don’t want tea, I need dinner and why are the children drinking tea especially in the evening?

I waited, impatiently and soon discovered tea was dinner and they had made a lovely spread for us.  In Australia, there is morning tea, afternoon tea, and then tea (which is supper).

Most Australian terms are pretty easy to interpret.  Just take the root of a common noun and add ies, ie, or y. Thus:

Relatives become rellies.

Politicians are pollies. 

Boaters are boaties.

Breakfast becomes breakie.

An umbrella is a brolly.

Mosquitoes are mosies.

Tradesmen become tradies. with specific trades designated as an electrician is a sparky, a carpenter is a chippy, a bricklayer is a bricky, but a plumber is just a plumber not a shitty.

Verbs are a bit trickier.  For example flogging.  To me, a flogging is being severely beaten, but Australians get flogged by advertising. Their ads are about the same as in the states, an irritant, but not a flogging.

A young man arrived to visit after a long drive.  He said, “I’m buggered.”  I expressed concern and asked, “What’s bugging you?”

He just stared at me surprised that I was so concerned.  “Oh, I’m just tired after the long drive.

Then there is shift.  A friend said, “I’m helping my daughter shift this weekend.” Obviously, she didn’t mean shift gears on the car.  It must mean move I guessed.  As she continued to prattle on and I deduced my assumption was correct.

Australians, especially Queenslanders like to be tough.  They are always carrying on about whinging. “ I’m not whinging, he’s whinging on all the time.”  To whinge mean to whine on about something.

In America, we root for the home team or root a cutting from a plant.  In Australia rooting means having sex, a very different scenario.

Some names of things are simply British so the Poms (British, short for prisoners of mother England) don’t have any trouble, but they’re new to me.  A comforter is a doona.  White goods are appliances. 

If you spend much time in Australia you will come to accept different names for things. Swimwear are called togs in Queensland but cossies in NSW. A ute is a utility vehicle, a 4-wheel drive truck with an aluminumun (aluminum in the US) back called a tray almost all the farms in Queensland have one.



Drinking Bundaberg rum and coke in front of a well-loved ute at a fishing party

  Gasoline is petrol and Bowser is not a fictional character.

 As we pulled into the gas station Wal said: “Drive up next to the bowser.”  

I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about.  Not thinking of the Nintendo character, I just thought bow-wow, a dog barking. “Bow-wow what?” I asked.

“The bowser right over there.”  he pointed, losing patience.  I shook my head and drove up next to the fuel pump, still not comprehending it was called a bowser.

Australian are known for their idioms.  When my friend was complimenting someone one their hike she “Good on ya, mate.”  A mate is a good friend but it can be said kindly to someone you’ve just met. Lizzie continued to talk, getting these hikers to practically tell their life stories.  As we walked back to our room she said, “I’ve got a sticky beak, don’t I?”  Obviously, she meant she’d stuck her nose into other people’s business. 

After telling a good story an honest Aussie will often say, “ Fair dinkum” meaning it’s the utter truth.    

Some of my favorite old fashioned expressions used a Long Timber are:

“As useful as tits on a bull.”

“As black as the inside of a bulls belly with his bum shut.”

But the best description ever was what Wal said to the surgery team as they leaned over the operating table their beaks covered by white masks.  Just before they put him out he said, “Like crows on a killing pen rail.” 

He was out cold as the team laughed their way through a successful operation.  When he awoke they had to tell him what he’d said.

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