Help! What on earth does that mean?

Many times I've been reading a story and been puzzled by terms used without explanation. Some writers seem to assume that their readers will be familiar with all the words they use. The reality is often that a word (or the way it is used) is peculiar to the country or region where the author lives.

Likewise, some expressions I use may be unfamiliar to some readers. Although Australian English is largely identical to British English, our language is rich with unique metaphors, idiomatic expressions and diminutives. One writer says, "Australian usage of English is creative and inspiring." (1)  So, to help you become inspired, I've prepared this glossary. As well as "Aussieisms" it includes other terms that might need explanation.

If the glossary doesn't help, or if you find that I've left something out, please send me a message!

Within the glossary there are several groupings of related definitions: plants and animals are listed under Flora and Fauna, Aboriginal words and concepts under Indigenous Australia and definitions relating to schools can be found under Schools.



ace

To do something with ease, as in "He aced the exam!"

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back of beyond

Remote, far outback. Also back o' beyond.


barrack

To shout encouragement, usually for a sportsperson or sporting team. Equivalent to the US root, which has an entirely different meaning in Australia. Also used to indicate support, as in (Question) "Which footy team do you barrack for?" (Answer) "I barrack for Collingwood."


barrister

A lawyer who acts as an advocate in court.


biscuit

Snack, often accompanied by a cup of tea or mug of coffee. Equivalent to the US cookie.


blazes

(1) Hell, as in Go to blazes. (2) An intensive, as in What the blazes is that?


Buchan Caves

Located at Buchan (pronounced "buck-un") in eastern Victoria—a honeycomb of caves formed by underground rivers cutting through limestone. The caves have spectacular stalactites and stalagmites created by rain water seeping through cracks and dissolving some of the limestone. Royal Cave and Fairy Cave are open to the public. See Parks Victoria's Buchan Caves Reserve website.

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cameleer

Camel driver. Usually refers to the men who transported goods by camel train.


capsicum spray

Also known as pepper spray, OC spray and OC gas. A chemical compound, Oleoresin Capsicum, which irritates the eyes, causing tears, pain, and sometimes temporary blindness. It's used by police in Victoria to subdue people in volatile situations.


CAT scan

Acronym for computed axial tomography. Also known as CT, or computerised tomography. An imaging technique producing pictures of the body that show internal structures in cross section rather than the overlapping images typically produced by conventional X-ray exams.


Central Australia

The southern region (one of five) of the Northern Territory, with Alice Springs as its hub. It is sometimes referred to as Centralia, and its people as Centralians. Other common names are The Centre and The Red Centre.


cheesed off

Annoyed.


chill, chill out

To relax or calm down, hence "take a chill pill" means to make an effort to be calm.


CPR

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a lifesaving technique used in an emergency where a person's breathing or heartbeat has stopped.


cracker night

Colloquial name for Guy Fawkes Day—5 November, the anniversary of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up the English houses of parliament in 1605. It was celebrated with bonfires (often with an effigy of Guy Fawkes, the leader of the plot, on top) and fireworks. Since the ban on fireworks came into effect the day has largely gone unnoticed.


crash-hot

Excellent. Usually used in a negative sense, as in "I'm not feeling too crash-hot."


crook

(1) Sick, as in I had the flu and felt really crook. (2) Injured, as in Cameron had a crook ankle.


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dag

An affectionate term for an amusing, humorous person who is a bit of a character. Sometimes "real" is added for emphasis, as in Travis is a real dag.


damper

Bread made from a simple flour and water dough with or without a raising agent, cooked in the campfire coals or in a camp oven. There's a recipe at Aussie-Info.


dinky-di

Slangy version of dinkum, which means genuine.


doona

A quilted bed cover filled with down or synthetic padding. "Doona" was originally a brand name, but it is now used generically in Australia. Equivalent to duvet.

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eight

A rowing crew consisting of eight members plus a cox. See this Wikipedia article on rowing for a very detailed description of the sport and its history.

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Federation style

A style of architecture common in Australia during the early years of the 20th century. Known elsewhere as Edwardian. There's an article on Federation architecture at Wikipedia.


fell swoop

See one fell swoop


flat

A suite of rooms forming a residence, usually rented. Equivalent to apartment.


Flora and Fauna

This section lists all of the Australian plants and animals mentioned in Black Dog.

canegrass

Sandhill canegrass is a robust, extremely drought-resistant, perennial which forms tussocks or hummocks up to 1.5 m high and 1 m wide. The stems are hard and brittle, and grow to about 8 mm in diameter. This is the dominant dune species in the Simpson Desert, and it plays an important role in stabilising dunes and trapping windborne sand. It provides cover for many of the smaller birds and hidden entrances for the burrows of small mammals. See the New South Wales Flora Online article Zygochloa paradoxa.


canegrass dragon

Blue Gum Pictures has a series of photos of this beautiful little reptile in its Ormiston Gorge album. There are a few photos of canegrass dragons in their natural habitat at CalPhotos: Diporiphora winneckei.


cycad

A variety of Cycadale, intermediate in appearance between ferns and palms, with a thick trunk bearing a crown of large feather-like leaves. The Cycad Pages article Macrozamia macdonnellii details the variety found in Central Australia.


eyrean grasswren

The Australian Museum Ornithology Collection's article Eyrean Grasswren tells the story of this bird's rediscovery in the 1970s. Photographer and ornithologist Graeme Chapman has some beautiful photos on his Eyrean Grasswren page.


gibberbird

This small brown-and-yellow bird of the honeyeater family lives singly or in pairs on the stony plains. It is a terrestrial species which feeds on seeds. Birdpedia's article Gibberbird includes a recording of the bird's call. There are some excellent photos at Birdway.


gidgee

A small species of Acacia. Also known as stinking wattle because it gives off an unpleasant odour at the approach of rain.


letter-winged kite

A small to medium-sized raptor. It is mostly pale grey above, with a white head, tail and underparts, and a distinctive black 'W' shape across the underside of its wings which gives the bird its name. See the Birds in Backyards article Letter-winged Kite for information. The Australasian Bird Image Database has some excellent photos of this beautiful bird.


mulgara

A small, sand-coloured mammal with short round ears and short nose. Including the tail it grows to about 18cm. and a weight of 130g. See Mulgara at AustralianFauna.com for a fact sheet, including a photo.


plains rat (plains mouse)

This threatened species is a moderate-sized rodent with a stocky build, rounded snout and long ears and a body mass of up to 50g. It has greyish upperparts, with paler flanks and cream or white underparts. A pdf document (which includes a photo), Pseudomys australis (Plains Mouse), is available for download from the Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management website.


river red gum

A large eucalypt tree with white smooth bark, found along the banks of inland rivers.


spinifex

A spiny-leaved tussocky grass of inland Australia.


waddy tree

Acacia peuce, a hardy, slow-growing tree found only in three locations around the Simpson Desert. It reaches a height of 15 metres, with drooping grey-green foliage.


wallaby

Australia has a variety of wallabies. The animal referred to in Black Dog is a marsupial similar to, but smaller than, the kangaroo.


wedge-tailed eagle

Australia's largest bird of prey, at about one metre in length, with a wingspan of nearly 2.5 metres. See the Birds in Backyards article Wedge-tailed Eagle for more information.


footpath

A path for pedestrians. Equivalent to sidewalk or pavement.


footy, football

In Black Dog, "footy" refers to Australian Rules football. Also known as Aussie rules and (disparagingly) aerial ping-pong. A uniquely Australian code of football, invented in the 1850s in Melbourne. The sport is almost a religion for many people in the southern states. In recent years it has expanded into New South Wales and Queensland—once impenetrable rugby territory. If you're interested in finding out more (but for the life of me I don't know why anyone would want to), Wikipedia has a comprehensive article at Australian Rules Football.


fortnight

A period of two weeks.

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game as Ned Kelly

Brave, willing to face danger.

Ned Kelly was a fugitive whose exploits during the late nineteenth century have made him something of a national folk hero. His story begins with petty theft and police harassment. It progresses through horse thefts and bank holdups carried out with his gang of bushrangers (outlaws) to a final, desperate shootout with police, during which the gang wore armour fashioned out of plough mouldboards.

Ned's life ended with his hanging in 1880 at the age of 25, but his story lives on. It's been the subject of numerous books and films. Bailup has a comprehensive history of the Kelly Gang, and other resources—including details and photos of the armour.


gay-straight alliances

Student organisations fostering a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. The goal is to make school and university communities safe and welcoming to all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. There is a brief "Gay-Straight alliance" article at Wikipedia.


g'day

Universal, all-purpose, friendly greeting. Abbreviation of good day. Sometimes spelled gidday, which is approximately how it's pronounced.


gibber plain

a flat tract of desert strewn with small stones.


gross!

Disgusting, revolting. Usually an exclamation.


grotty

Dirty.

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hog

A selfish person, hence, to refuse to share.


hyper

Over-excited. Abbreviation of hyperactive.

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IMAX

A contraction of Image MAXimum. A film format with the capacity to display images of far greater size and resolution than conventional film display systems. An IMAX screen is usually 22 metres wide and 16 metres high. IMAX is the most widely used system for large-format film presentations, and there are about 280 IMAX theatres in 38 countries. For 3D films, infra red sensors in the lightweight electronic headsets worn by viewers alternately switch off the left and right eye liquid crystal lenses in sync with the images projected, creating the illusion of three dimensions. Visit IMAX Melbourne's website for more information, or see Wikipedia's IMAX article, which includes the history and technical details of the format.


Indigenous Australia

This group includes all of the Aboriginal words or concepts mentioned in Black Dog, with the exception of Kata Tjuta and Uluru, which are listed separately.

See the Australian Museum's Indigenous Australia for a good description of Aboriginal life and culture. Aboriginals in Australia includes photos of lighting a fire using the method described below, playing a didgeridoo, and throwing a spear using a woomera.

bush tucker

Food obtained by hunting and gathering (tucker = food).


didgeridoo

A wind instrument—a hollow wooden pipe one to three metres long and about five centimetres in diameter. Sometimes claimed to be the world's oldest wind instrument. It is played with continuously vibrating lips to produce a drone while simultaneously breathing in through the nose and blowing air out of the mouth to produce a note. Wikipedia has a detailed article on the didgeridoo.


"dot" painting

Perhaps the most recognisable form of Aboriginal art. Refers to a technique by which an artwork is created using dots of colour. See Wikipedia's article Indigenous Australian Art.


Dreamtime, Dreaming

In Aboriginal culture, the time when the world was created and life was established. See Aboriginal Australia Art and Culture Centre's The Dreamtime for a detailed explanation. The Australian Museum also has a series of movies of Stories of the Dreaming from various areas of Australia.


fire lighting

One method of lighting fires was to twirl a pointed hardwood stick (by rubbing the hands together with the stick between them) in a hollow carved in a softer stick. The resultant friction created hot coals which were used to ignite a supply of tinder, such as dry grass.


woomera

A throwing stick with a notch at one end for holding a spear. Allows the user to put more power into the throw.


Iron Man

A monument marking the site of the one millionth concrete sleeper laid on the railway between Tarcoola, South Australia and Alice Springs, Northern Territory. The sculpture depicts a steel "stick figure" carrying a concrete sleeper. See also sleeper.


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jelly

A wobbly, fruit-flavoured dessert, made by dissolving jelly crystals in boiling water, then chilling until it sets. Equivalent to the US jello.

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k

Contraction of kilometre, pronounced "kay". Sometimes used as a plural, pronounced "kays". Example: The Simpsons lived ten k (or ks) out of town.


Kata Tjuta

A group of monoliths, previously known as The Olgas. With Uluru, they form Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park—a World Heritage Area listed for its cultural and natural values.


knock it off!

Stop it! Take a break!

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Labour Day

In Victoria, celebrated on the second Monday in March. It commemorates the success of a nineteenth century trade union campaign for an eight-hour working day.


lamingtons

An Australian culinary treat, made by dipping 5cm cubes of plain sponge cake in chocolate icing, and then rolling them in desiccated coconut. See Aussie-Info or Joy of Baking for recipes.


learner permit

In Victoria the learner permit is the first step to becoming licenced to drive a car. It's available from the age of sixteen, and applicants must pass an eyesight test and a computer-based multiple choice theory test on road law. A driver with a full licence must be seated beside the learner driver at all times, and "L" plates must be displayed on the front and rear of the car. See the Vic Roads website for more information.


loony

A lunatic or crazy person. Usually used in a frivolous way.

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mate

Has several uses. (1) A good friend—the sort who sticks with you through thick and thin. (2) An acquaintance. (3) Someone who is not a "mate" at all, as in "No photos either, mate. Out!" (4) A greeting, as in "G'day mate!" where the person being greeted may not be known to the greeter.


miffed

Annoyed.


Milo

A favourite drink of Australian kids since 1934. Milo is chocolate-flavoured, and made by mixing Milo powder with milk. It can be enjoyed hot or cold. The Milo website has all the facts.


Mount Hotham

A mountain and ski resort on the Great Dividing Range in Victoria.


MRI scan

Acronym for magnetic resonance imaging. A technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create cross-sectional images of the head and body. Provides a non-invasive way for doctors to examine the body—especially the brain, neck, spinal cord and soft tissues.

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never-never

Sparsely inhabited desert country; a remote and isolated area.

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Old Telegraph Station

Until 1872 Australia's news of the rest of the world came by ship, often months out of date. That year the Overland Telegraph line between Adelaide and Darwin was completed. It linked with a submarine cable to Indonesia, and an overland line to Melbourne.

The telegraph station at Alice Springs was one of twelve relay stations along the line, and the site of the first European settlement in the area. It was sited close to the natural spring that gave the town its name (the "Alice" was the wife of Charles Todd, the head of the government department responsible for the line; the Todd River is named after him). Today the telegraph station is the centre of an historical reserve, and the spring is surrounded by an oasis of green in an otherwise dry landscape.


one fell swoop

In (or at) one fell swoop: all at once.


outback

(1) Remote, sparsely inhabited back country. (2) Relating to, or located in, the back country.

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paddock

An enclosed piece of land on a farm, equivalent to the British field.


parka

A waterproof jacket with a hood. Equivalent to anorak.


PTSD

Acronym for post traumatic stress disorder. An anxiety disorder that can develop after a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.


Pub Squash

An Australian lemon squash soft drink. More information at Tru Blu Beverages.


put out

Annoyed or irritated. Also used as a verb: to annoy or irritate.

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Queen's Birthday

Since Queen Elizabeth II is Australia's head of state, we have a public holiday on the first Monday in June to celebrate her birthday. This should not be confused with her actual birthdate, which is April 21.

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Sale

A town of about 13,000 in eastern Victoria. Established in the 1840s, Sale has always been an important regional centre. The Sale community website is an excellent place to learn about the town, its history, and the surrounding area.


salt pan

A flat expanse of ground covered with salt and other minerals, formed when a salt lake evaporates.


Schools

These comments apply to Victoria, the setting for Black Dog, because systems vary slightly from state to state.

Numbering

Schools in Victoria have always been numbered. In 1862 the system of administration was changed and existing schools were renumbered in alphabetical order. Sale school became number 545. Since 1862 new schools have been added to the list in chronological order.


Terms

As in most other places, our school year begins towards the end of summer, but since we are in the southern hemisphere that means first term starts in late January or early February. We have four terms, each of about ten weeks. There are two-week breaks between terms, with a longer summer break from mid-December.


Year levels

Our schools have three tiers—pre-school, primary school and secondary school.

Children can attend pre-school (or kindergarten, usually abbreviated to “kinder”), which provides learning activities and social contact, from age three or four.

They usually begin primary school the year they turn five (for those whose birthday falls between 1 January and 30 June) or the year after they turn five (for those whose birthday is in the second half of the year). Parents can choose to delay their child's start for a year. Primary schools have seven grade levels: Prep, and then Years 1 to 6. Most children are eleven or twelve when they complete Year 6.

Secondary schools have six levels—Years 7 to 12, and most students graduate at age seventeen or eighteen. In recent years some secondary schools have split into separate campuses or sections: usually Years 7 to 10 in one and Years 11 and 12 in the other. These may be called junior and senior schools, but we don't use the terms "junior high" and "senior high" the way they are used in North America.

Over the last two years of secondary school students work towards attaining the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE). This is a period of intensive study aimed at preparing students for university.

Our schools don't use the terms often used to describe North American students—freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.


shanghai

A child's catapult or slingshot. Usually made from a Y-shaped stick and a strip of rubber cut from an inner tube.


shoot through

Leave, go away, often hurriedly.


sister

A senior nurse, especially one in charge of a hospital ward.


sleeper

A beam providing support for a railway track, equivalent to the US crosstie or tie. The sleepers on the new Ghan line are made of concrete. See also Iron Man.


snakebite

Australia has some of the most venomous snakes in the world. There are around 3000 snakebites each year, and of these one or two result in death of the victim. Although death doesn't usually occur in less than four hours, prompt action helps to ensure that the patient can be treated successfully. The recommended first aid technique involves pressure and immobilisation. A firm bandage is used to apply pressure to the bite area to slow the spread of the venom through the body, and the limb (most bites occur to arms and legs) is immobilised with a splint or sling. This is the technique to which Clare refers in chapter four of Black Dog. The University of Sydney's Australian Snake Bites is a good article on our venomous snakes, their identification, and treatment of their bites.


station

(1) A property where cattle or sheep are raised for sale. Roughly equivalent to the US ranch. In order to carry a viable number of stock in the dry conditions, outback properties need to be huge; they are usually measured in square kilometres rather than hectares. For example, Anna Creek Station in South Australia is the world's largest working cattle property at 24,000 sq. km. (2.4 million hectares, or nearly six million acres). That's bigger than Israel and nearly as big as Belgium. (2) The place where a train stops.

The word is used in both ways in Black Dog.


stir

To tease in a light-hearted, friendly way—just for the fun of it.


stuff, stuff it, stuffed, stuffed up

This expression has several forms. In Black Dog, it has various meanings, depending on the context. (1) stuff - to ruin or wreck. (2) stuff it! - damn it!; forget it! (3) stuffed - exhausted; ruined or wrecked. (4) stuffed up - made a huge mistake.


swing bridge

A bridge that turned 90 degrees on a central pylon to allow boats to pass on either side. The one at Sale was built in 1883 just below the confluence of the Latrobe and Thomson Rivers. It carried South Gippsland Highway traffic until it was replaced by a bypass and two new bridges upstream in 2002. It has since been restored. See Sale Swing Bridge.

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tea

This is where Aussies really confuse the rest of the world. There are two meanings. (1) A drink made from tea leaves (or more usually these days, teabags) infused in boiling water. (2) The evening meal—also known as dinner, which can also mean the midday meal, as in "Christmas dinner." Tea should not be confused with supper, which is a late-night snack, often served at the end of meetings and conferences. Confused? I am too.


The Wet

The monsoonal rainy season—November to March—in northern Australia.


torch

A small battery-powered portable electric light. Equivalent to flashlight.

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Uluru

A sandstone outcrop, one of the world's largest monoliths. Previously known as Ayers Rock, or simply The Rock. With Kata Tjuta, forms Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park—a World Heritage Area listed for its cultural and natural values.

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veranda (or verandah)

A roofed open (or partly open) area attached to a house, with the same floor level as the house. Similar to porch or portico.

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witchetty grubs

Large, white, edible, wood-boring grubs—the larvae of several Australian moths and beetles. They are large and cylindrical, mostly white with brown heads, and grow to about 7cm in length. They can be eaten raw or cooked. See the Wikipedia article Witchetty grub for details and a photo.


Woodstock

A brand of bourbon. Available as full strength spirit or pre-mixed with cola. Originally a New Zealand brand, it's been available in Australia since 1997.


wuss

A timid person, especially a male.

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yarn

(1) A talk or chat. (2) An exaggerated story or tale. In both senses the word is also used as a verb: to talk or chat, or to tell stories or tales.

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(1) Australian English, Language Capitals, accessed May 21 2008.