15 September 2023

When too much Aussie slang is never enough - just ask HG Nelson or the National Library

| Sally Hopman
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Seven koalas squashed together on tree branch

Let’s hope this branch, chockers with koalas, doesn’t come a cropper – read all about it in the new NLA book that spills the beans (but hopefully no koalas) on Aussie slang. Photo: NLA.

Crikey. When it comes to Aussie slang, no one can wrap their laughing gear more tightly around it than the great HG “Battered Sav” Nelson, a man of rarely just a few words.

So when a venerable institution like the National Library of Australia celebrates 50 years of publishing really good yarns about Oz or Aussies, who better than HG to spruik its latest guide to traditional and modern Aussie slang?

If you thought, like HG, that no slang is ever enough, have a Captain Cook at this corker of a book, entitled Fair Dinkum!

Using the NLA’s grouse pictures collection, and chockers with a few of the million or so items it stores on its shelves, Fair Dinkum! tells more Aussie stories than you could poke a stick at.

READ ALSO Want to have the last word on Aussie slang? She’ll be right – straight into the dictionary

It shows us who we really are, a bunch of yobbos who could talk under wet cement, within cooee of good taste and people who will always give it a burl, Shirl. Before you start your letter of complaint to the editor, fair crack of the whip, we were hardly trying to be legit – just trying to see how many slang words we could fit in the one sentence. Four. Must try harder. At this rate, we couldn’t even train a choko over a country dunny.

So, what is it about slang that makes us want to take the you-know-what out of it? Dead set, it’s all about poking fun at our own bits, and those of other people, while making them laugh at the same time. Bit of a spray, really.

Aussies are such masters of it. And don’t you love how we use animals to tell such yarns?

Everyone else in the world simply works hard. In Australia, we’re flat out like a lizard drinking, or, if we’re not the best of personkind, we’d be lower than a snake’s belly, or as mad as a gum tree of galahs or if it really gets too much, for us and them, we just head off, on the wallaby.

Two images with captions from new NLA book.

While an artist gives it a crack on the beach, someone else has tickets on themselves – find it all in the new NLA book about Aussie slang. Photo: NLA.

Where else in the world would it be windy enough to blow a dog off a chain (apparently something to do with climate change), go off like prawns in the sun (yep, that pesky climate change thing again) or chuck a wobbly just because you couldn’t organise a chook raffle at a poultry farm.

As Aussies, we will always give everything a good crack – ideally though not if you’re wearing speedos at the beach or if you’re a plumber. Otherwise, it might all go off, like a frog in a sock.

Then there are the ones that sneak in under the radar, words and phrases we know of, know what they mean, even use them, but rarely know why – except that they sound beaut. Like “Happy as Larry”. So who was Larry? We know it refers to some bloke who wore a grin on his chin, we just don’t know why.

Cover of a book

This 1969 David Beal photograph, titled ‘Australia Welcomes You: A Land of Friendly Birds: See Them Soon’, graces the cover of the new NLA book, Fair Dinkum. Photo: NLA.

Surprisingly we still use it, HG mentions in the book, even though Larry is not what you’d call a popular name anymore. Guess we do still use it because, according to HG, Happy as Bryce, or Happy as Dane don’t quite cut it.

We could go on for days, fitting more slang words into the one sentence until we’re full as a googs just to be in like Flynn, but we’re not going to make a meal of it. Let’s just see how the sausage rolls.

Anyhow, a woman’s not a camel, I need a drink – while we wait for the Guinness Book of Records bloke/sheila to confirm whether or not the story you’ve just read has more slang words in it than anything else ever written, ever, in the history of writing stuff. Ever.

See you round like a rissole.

Fair Dinkum Aussie Slang is published by the National Library of Australia.

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