Thursday, July 30, 2009

Surfies, Roof Racks, the Stomp and Uggs

By the 1960s Australians had embraced town living and for the affluent middle class leisure was an integral part of their life style. The beach was regarded as an Australian treasure and advertisers wasted no time emphasising the suntanned, healthy, handsome beauties you might find there. Life was for the living or so the advertising copy went and blue skies, sunshine and sandy beaches were emblems of the good life in the Lucky Country.

In truth despite being the biggest island in the world where some of the best beaches can be found, Australia was then, and now a nation of people who mostly can’t swim. The nasty stingy things and fish that bite kept most people out of the water with sea swimming banned during daylight hours. So back in the 19th century the lure of the waves attracted only dare devil types who wanted to flaunt the rules and play in the waves. By 1903 beach bathing became legal and after numerous accidental drowning the new beach savers clubs were formed. Wave larrikins and life savers became sworn enemies.

Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku came to Australia in 1914 and brought with him his long surf board. His magnificence on the waves captured the imagination of the beach crowd who naturally wanted to acquire the same skills. Who could afford to spend time perfecting surfing were the well off and the beach culture then was a middle class preoccupation.

The first Australian (long) board riding champion was Claude West (1924), a few years later Australian surfers participated in the 1939 Pacific Games in Hawaii. The sport got a real injection when in the mid-fifties the US Lifeguard team touring Australia demonstrated smaller surfboards which allowed surfers to turn and manoeuvre. Not long after an Australian invented the roof rack. Surfing became a cult and like Rock’n’Roll, everything from the US (the epi-enter of surfing) was copied exactly.

Surfing had its own codes and the best surfers got the best beaches and the best girls (beach bunnies/babes or surfie chicks). The best beaches were often near or adjacent to the better living areas and these were jealously guarded (and still are). Surfing became a male preserve and unwanted visitors to prime surfing areas (cockroaches) were frequently threatened with physical violence. The new Rockers (mainly working-class kids) took a serious dislike to surfers and the ensuing rumbles in the sand were legend.

By the time of the Vietnam War more kids were tuning in and dropping out and beach communes became very much part of the counter culture with sex drugs and rock’n’ roll the mantra. Surfers now came from all walks of life and were generally bound by their intense love of the sport. Gradually the surf culture changed for the good as the sport grew and more success came in surfing championships. Whilst the language of surf is mainly American there are some Australian terms which have slipped into the lexicon. Bombora, of course describes a big wave isolated by deep water and breaking over submerged rocks (sometimes called a bombie or cloudbreak). If a sole surfer managed to ride that tube (inside formation of the wave) then he would be well stoked (delighted). A new surfer (jake or grommet) to the club (a cubbie) might problems to others on the surf and would be called a Barney. All in the sea have eyes are ever vidulent for Noah, (rhyming slang Noah's ark) a shark.

Somewhere along the line a group of entrepreneurial Australian surfers began backyard businesses making wetsuits, surf gear and board shorts. Soon Australian cottage industries like Quicksilver (1969), Billabong (1973), and Rip Curl had become household names quoted on the stock market.

A couple of jackeroos from Victoria and working here in WA crafted a pair of makeshift sheepskin boots with linoleum soles and used them to keep the feet warm on cold mornings. Slowly but surely UGG Boots became the footwear of choice across the surf crowd in the Big Brown land. They were taken to the US and became a worldwide sensation.

Australian surf culture had its own surf music with the best known example The Atlantics’ Bombora (1963).

Not only that it had its own dance craze called the Stomp.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

History of Australian Rock:Part Three

The early 70s (1970 to 1975) was a fertile period in Australian Rock history with veteran rockers and new performers joining in new formations to develop a more mature, progressive and distinctively Australian rock style. Some acts were successful within Australia and others with considerable international success. Australian music is often distinguished from the rock styles of other nations by its focus on melody and complex rhythms usually accompanied with humorous lyrics which were dry and often self-deprecating. Skyhooks were the first to write songs in Australia, by Australians, about Australia, and make money doing it. The Melbourne band formed in 1973 and considered themselves counter to glam rock. Skyhooks were ostensibly pre-punk rockers that revelled in camp costumes, lyrics, and on-stage activities that would shock. More importantly lyrist, Greg Macainsh wrote commercial songs about contemporary young Australians. Their first album, Living in the Seventies, rocketed to the top of the charts and stayed there for so long it became the bestselling Australian album up until that time. This was despite seven of the ten album tracks were banned by Australian commercial radio. Compare the glam rock of Skyhooks to the UK's Sweet.

Until 1975, all commercial pop radio in Australia was broadcast on the AM band, in mono. Unless pop songs were three minutes long and contained no contentious or suggestive lyrics then they were just ignored and that meant many talented acts went unnoticed. The most commercially successful new wave band was Sydney’s Sherbet (a.k.a. The Sherbs and Highway) who formed in 1969. They were the first Australian band to reach $1M in record sales and scored a couple of Australian number ones. They started as a soul band doing Motown covers before Daryl Braithwaite joined them in 1970. After they won Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds in 1971 and a few line-up changes, Sherbet became an upfront pop band who wrote many of their hits and toured Australia often to the remotest regions. They had one international hit “Hozwat” in 1976 but in 1975 their first Australian hit was ‘Summer love’ when they were an Australian teen sensation.

Meanwhile elsewhere the world had gone mad for five lads dressed in plaid.

By the seventies national popularity was encouraged through of a variety of means. The traditional dance hall and disco were dead and much more reliance was placed upon the media to convey popular music. Changes to broadcasting meant the introduction of Double Jay to FM radio. The Go-set magazine had been introduced in 1966 as the first Australian Rock Magazine.

Founded in Melbourne by a couple of university students and aimed at a teenage audience and was soon distributed to other states. A popular feature was a centre page spread called The Scene which featured a ‘what’s on,’ this became compulsive reading for acts and their fans alike.

Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum wrote a weekly column for Go-Set until its demise in 1974. The introduction of colour television and Countdown had a phenomenal effect, gaining a huge audience which soon exerted a strong influence on radio programmers, because it was broadcast nationwide on Australia's government-owned broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Countdown was certainly influential in the rise of many Australian acts including Little River Band. Little River Band was formed in 1975 in Melbourne, Australia. The first formation of the band included Glenn Shorrock, lead vocals, Beeb Birtles, guitar and vocals, Graeham Goble, guitar and vocals, Derek Pellicci, drums, Roger McLachlan, bass, Rick Formosa, lead guitar. The band were made up of set consummate musicians with a definite soul background and started to produce some funky music. By comparison the Average White Band was Scottish and came out with similar music to Little River Band both could easily have been mistaken for USA bands. Make up your own mind as we play Little River Band, Average White Band with Steely Dan.

The Sunbury music festival which started in 1972 gave rise to a newer generation of tough, uncompromising, adult-oriented rock bands which was continued in the popular in the pub circuit, which followed in the latter part of the decade.

Festivals meant big sound bands could get rocking and there was no bigger band than ACDC. They were formed in 1973 by guitarist, Malcolm Young (Velvet Underground) after his band collapsed. He joined forces with his younger brother Angus (lead guitarist), and Dave Evans (singer), and they played around Sydney. They recorded “Can I sit next to you” which was produced by Harry Vanda (Easybeats) and older brother George Young (Easybeats) but it failed to raise much interest.

Phil Rudd (Coloured Balls) and Mark Evans (bass) joined the group when they moved to Melbourne. Bon Scott (Fraternity and The Valentines) was the drummer and driver and had much more experience in the business than the rest of the lads. When Dave took stage fright, Bon stepped in as lead singer, and when Dave left the band in 1977, Cliff Williams took his place. Bon Scott eventually took over and they were on their way to the top.

When Scott died in 1980 he was replaced by front man Brian Johnson (Geordie) and ACDC went on to became arguably the greatest and certainly the more enduring Rock'n'Roll band in the world.

History of Australian Rock:Part Two

The availability of US electric guitars gave macho credence to nerds who today may be found playing with their computer but then, thrived on electrifying their instruments and amplifying the sound. The single greatest influence came from a specky, geek from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK called Hank B Marvin. Although there had been many singer guitarists before him, he was the very first young non-American, guitar hero in rock’n’roll.

His playing style and the Shadows music gave inspiration to countless young musicians across the Commonwealth. Local dance bands in Australia and New Zealand played a wider variety of musical styles and musicians would have hundreds of songs in their repertoire. This included popular standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties as well as the very latest tunes. Many were from jazz, influenced by R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan, whereas others were inspired by American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy.

Notable alternatives to the mainstream pop emerged with 'surf' groups, like The Atlantics and The Denvermen (Sydney), and The Thunderbirds (Melbourne). Many of these bands later evolved into top Australian groups of the next decade, by merely adding a lead singer. (The Atlantics and Johnny Reb). The most successful of the Australian surf groups was The Atlantics who wrote their own material and scored an international hit with Bombora (1963).

Many people thought The Atlantics were an American band which actually was an advantage since deejays have confessed that if they had known they were Australian they would not have played their records. No matter, The Atlantics became the first international rock act from Australia. Their success mirrored Slim Dusty who scored an international hit with Pub with no beer, in 1959.

The Atlantics shared the international spotlight with other young Australian artists. Frank Ifield (country balladeer) and Rolf Harris (Australiana). In the UK, Frank epitomized the all Australian male, a handsome new age guy that could yodel; and Rolf, the quirky Australian artisan that could capture the public attention with his good humoured novelty and artistic originality.

All had a place in the pop charts and all three enjoyed international stardom. The most collectable Beatles’ album is a compilation with Frank Ifield called Jolly What! England's Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage, it was released by Vee-Jay Records on limited edition in the US in 1964.

At the time Frank was more bankable star than the Fab Four.

Sun arise, which I rate as one of the best Australian songs from the 60s was orchestrated by Johnnie Spence and produced by (Sir) George Martin. Rolf could not play the didgeridoo nor was there a player in England at the time so the didgeridoo sound was simulated by eight bass fiddles.

If longevity is a mark of success and originality these three pioneers are perfect examples, because they are with the exception of the disgraced Rolf Harris, still performing and recording.

Back in Australia several things were happening which would influence the music, yet to come? The Second World War had brought strong bonds with the US with thousands of military personnel stationed in Australia and New Zealand. Regular troop movements meant entertaining the boys when they were on shore leave. The home base situation continued long after the end of the war, into the cold war, with agreements such as ANZUS (1951), the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), 1954, the Antarctic Agreement (1961), and the Vietnam War. With virtual occupation status, local musicians forged music to suit and naturally absorbed popular stylistic influences such as Motown, soul music and funk genres into their live club performances.

It is impossible to consider Australian rock without reference to New Zealand and to acknowledge the role of New Zealand musicians have played in the development of art form. Many jazz and rock musicians came through exactly the same experiences in the Land of the Long White Cloud (especially Christchurch) before they made the journey across the Tasman Sea to become established acts in Australia. Examples include Max Merrit and Dinah Lee.

By the time the Mersey sound had arrived (many of the English beat groups were veterans of the German Club scene) local Australasian musicians were in complete sympathy with contemporary pop mod culture. A quarter of a million British born migrants arrived in Australia in the late fifties and early sixties most of which settled in the east with many in Adelaide. By contrast the 17, 412 American born, new Australians preferred Victoria. The more recent arrivals had just come from seeing the Stones, The Who, and the Beatles so their influence on Australian bands was immense. Once Australian artists started to write their own material bands like the Easybeats with song writers, Stevie Wright, Harry Vanda and George Young became the first Australian band to consistently top the charts with their own compositions.

Inspiration to others like Johnny Young from Perth saw the window of opportunity and were soon knocking their own Australia pop tunes.

Despite their immense success the Easybeats enjoyed in Australia they had only moderate success overseas. The same cannot be said for the Seekers and arguably the most successful of all Australian exports in the 60s, the Bee Gees.

History of Australian Rock: Part One

Rock and roll (rock 'n' roll) originated in the United States in the late 40s and spread to the rest of the world during the following decade. As a musical genre it was a hybrid cross-over of blues and country and became rockabilly, with Sun Records in Memphis, the centre of the movement. In truth Rock’n’roll was a systematic sanitization of black music (R&B) for an appreciative young white audience.

Rock’n’roll had long been an African-American euphemism for sex but when DJ Alan Freed used the term to describe a music genre, the term stuck. The fast beat with double entendres in lyrics only endeared itself further to the hearts of the baby boomers, keen to shed the doldrums of the post war period. As Jazz was to the Flappers, Rock’n’Roll was to the 50s teenagers. The music’s secret was in its rhythm, which was basically a boogie woogie blues rhythm (8 beats to a bar, and are 12-bar blues) with an accentuated back beat, almost always on snare drum. In the earliest forms of rock and roll, which date to the late 1940s, the piano was the lead instrument (Fats Domino "The Fat man" -1949/1950), but by the early fifties, the saxophone had taken over as lead, and eventually this was replaced in turn by the lead guitar.

By the late fifties rock and roll groups consisted of two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), an electric bass guitar (which replaced the double bass) , and a drum kit. In most people’s minds Bill Haley’s Rock around the clock was the beginning of the movement, but honours should go to “Crazy Man, Crazy" which first hit the American charts in 1953.

The follow up was a cover version of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," became the first ever rock'n'roll song to enter the British singles charts in December 1954.

"Rock Around the Clock" was recorded in 1954 but did little until it appeared a year later behind the opening credits of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford. The film did not show in Australian cinemas until 1956 and the single was the first released by Festival Records. Needless to say it became the biggest-selling record in Australian history (150,000 copies).

Keen to cash in on Haley’s popularity there was a follow up film showing Bill Haley in concert which included footage of the crowd hysteria that accompanied his live performances. It was this that gave Australian kids the lead and like every other teenager across the Western World, they jived in the aisles and ripped up the seats.

Now inspired to play the music, legions of copyist sprung up everywhere, playing in the suburbs across Australia and thrilling local revellers in the dance halls. The first Australian rock’n’roll record was Frankie Davidson’s “Rock-a Beat’n’ Boogie (a Haley composition) which sold reasonably well although it was generally dismissed as a novelty record.

In the US racial tensions had surfaced with African Americans protesting against segregation, but in Australia that 'race' connection meant nothing. Instead the development of a teenage culture widened the Generation Gap between kids and their parents and young Australians broke their shackles with the Old Country, following the new American heroes of Haley, Presley and Little Richard. Every Australian city developed its own local heroes but that is where they would have remained because distances were too great. Teenagers listened to the jukeboxes in milk bars and were trained to their transistor hoping to catch maverick radio presenters like Stan Rife (Melbourne) and John Laws (Sydney), spinning the latest releases from overseas.

All that changed with Johnny O’Keefe who was inspired by Bill Haley, gave up a retail career to bop. Johnnie O'Keefe and the 'Dee Jays' released a Bill Haley song You Hit the Wrong Note Billy Goat in 1957, which was beginning of Australian home grown Rock’n’roll.

Keen to catch the new trend of teenage entertainment Channel Nine launched an Australian version of American Bandstand in 1958, compared by Brian Henderson and a year later, 1959 ABCs "Six O'Clock Rock" went to air with Johnny O’Keefe, at first a regular contributor before becoming the resident host.

This was based on BBCs “Six Five Special.” More often than not in Australia the actual artists were not always available to appear which gave local talent the opportunity to perform cover versions or mime to the latest hits. Popular Australian acts which whipped up excitement included Lonnie Lee & The Leemen, Dig Richards & The R'Jays, Alan Dale & The Houserockers, Ray Hoff & The Offbeats, Digger Revell & The Denvermen and New Zealand's Johnny Devlin & The Devils.

Col Joye and the Joy Boys was the star feature on Australia's Bandstand TV Show and Johnny O’Keefe’s nemesis.

Col’s style was more country than rocker but did reasonable cover versions before eventually writing his own material with progressively more chart success than Johnny O’Keefe. Lee Gordon was a North American millionaire and music promoter who came to Australia in the early 1954. He set up a circuit of venues across the Big Brown Land using open air stadium previously used for boxing promotions. Initially he had brought big name artists like Sinatra, Johnny Ray and Frankie Lane to sing but in 1957, Gordon’s Big (Bog) Show, included Bill Haley and the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly.

At first he showed no interest in local talent and although Johnny O’Keefe wangled his way into the show the impresario remained ambivalent. Then when Gene Vincent was delayed in transit Gordon was forced to replace him with Johnny O’Keefe, ‘The Wild One” put on the show of his life and won the crowd over and impressed the impresario so much, he became his manager.

From then onwards the Australian packages had the famous and not so famous, side by side. Sharing the bill with Gene Vincent was Little Richard who wowed the audience, but after seeing a sputnik, thought he had a signal from God and relinquished all his worldly goods to take up religion.

Touring dance bands in Australia and New Zealand carried a much bigger repertoire than most and were as likely to need to play the popular standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, as they would the latest tunes. This made Australasian musicians very accomplished with many from a jazz background. Some were influenced by R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan, whereas others were inspired by American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy.

A notable alternative to the mainstream pop fare emerged with 'surf' groups, like The Atlantics and The Denvermen (Sydney), and The Thunderbirds (Melbourne).

Many of these instrumental groups survived into the Beatles era by adding a lead singer, and several evolved into some of the top bands of the next decade. Without doubt the introduction of the electric guitar and availability of US guitars gave macho credence to nerds who today may be found playing with their computers, but then, the nerds thrived on electrifying their instruments and amplifying the sound. The greatest influence in the next phase of Australia rock came from an unlikely source, a specky geek from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, with the unlikely name of, Hank B. Marvin (Brian Robson Rankin).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Talking Australian: The Push - The Invasion from Downunder

Whilst many romantically associate Australiana with the early settlers and the struggle to establish a national heritage much of what we now know as Australian comes from the 1940s and the diverse influence of the Push. Push was the name of a small-time street gang in Sydney's The Rocks district in the 19th century and there they might have remained had it not been for a Scotsman by the name of John Anderson who was a professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney.

Anderson was a liberal free thinker and started a Freethought Society which he called the Push named after the rebellious, anti-establishment larrikins. Frustrated by the War and constrained by liberal thought Push was a non-political group with anarchist overtones and upheld free speech and free love. The reputation of the weekly group grew and attracted an array of angry young men and women who would eventually become key players in the Arts and Sciences of Australia.

Post-Colonial Australia was staunchly conservative with views and policies today we might find offensive. Post-war Australia had seen women gain greater freedoms working outside the domestic sphere and the 'Sydney Scene' of artists, writers, actors and intellectuals opened their door to women. The war years had forced Australian bohemians to stay in the Big Brown Land but now many wanted the same freedoms others appeared to enjoy overseas.

In North America the radical Beat Generation had rejected mainstream American values and were experimenting with drugs, spiritiuality and alternative forms of sexuality. The new Australian hedonists (pleasure) wanted to celebrate the same non-conformity and spontaneous creativity. From a university based club, Push became a café society for Australian radicals only they met in the back room of a pub (where else?). The Royal George Hotel, now the Ship Inn, Sydney.

Barry Humphries described the Push as 'a fraternity of middle-class desperates, journalists, drop-out academics, gamblers and poets manqués (failed poets), and their doxies (mistresses)'. Key members included: Darcy Waters (anarchist and thinker), A J (Jim) Baker (author), Harry Hooton (poet), Robert Hughes (artist), John Olsen (artist), Frank Moorhouse (writer), and Barry Humphries (actor and humourist).

Women drawn to Push included Germaine Greer (writer and feminist), Wendy Bacon (writer), Lillian Roxon (journalist) and Eva Cox (writer and feminist) among many others.

By the late fifties and early sixties London had become the Mecca for many of the Australian artistic community. Earls Court was known then as "Kangaroo Valley" and artists like: Brett Whitely , Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd were the toast of the town and everyone who was anyone was wearing Jenny Kee .

Blighty offered a brave new world to the Australian exiles and soon performers like Rolf Harris, Slim Dusty, Frank Ifleld and the Seekers had not only Earls Court at their feet but the rest of the world in a buzz. Talking Australian became a fashion fad and all the more so when Richard Neville brought to London a small satirical magazine called Oz.

Oz started in Sydney and ran from 1963–69. It moved to London and became part of the established underground publications in 1967. The Sydney Oz was a university newspaper which was heavily influenced by Private Eye and grew to include contentious issues such as censorship, homosexuality, abortion, police brutality as well as regularly satirising public figures. London Oz featured regular contributors included Germaine Greer, artist and filmmaker Philippe Mora, photographer Robert Whitaker, Lillian Roxon, cartoonist Michael Leunig, Angelo Quattrocchi and David Widgery. The magazine’s contents enraged the British Establishment with a range of left-field stories including heavy critical coverage of the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, discussions of drugs, sex and alternative lifestyles, and other contentious political expose. Oz soon became a target by the Obscene Publications Squad, and their offices were raided on several occasions.

Eventually in 1971 the editors (Felix Dennis, Jim Anderson, and Richard Neville) were brought to trial for obscenity and a very famous case in the High Court followed. The defence lawyer was Sir John Mortimer QC (author of Rumpole of the Bailey) and despite his best efforts the "Oz Three" were found not guilty on the conspiracy charge, but were convicted of two lesser offences and sentenced to imprisonment.

The trial brought the magazine to the attention of the wider public and John and Ono actively protested against the court decision. Apple released "God Save Us" by the ad hoc group called Bill Elliot and the Elastic Oz Band to raise funds and gain publicity.

All convictions were overturned at the appeal trial and although the editors went onto other things Oz London was inevitably silenced.

The Push made its mark and was key in laying the foundations of the 60s counter culture in Swinging London.

As part of the same movement Barry Humphries introduced Aunt Edna Everage (Melbourne Housewife) to an unsuspecting British public transfixed with ‘That was the week that was’ (BBC).

Barry Humphries not only established himself as a comic genius but was a leading force in the new satire cognocente. His small cartoon in Private Eye magazine took on a completely new life of its own.

Barry McKenzie was the story of an Australian yobbo and his travels to London. It became so popular two very successful Barry McKenzie films were made starring Barry Crocker and directed by Bruce Beresford. From now on in everyone wanted to talk Australian and thereby the foundations for Strine were laid.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Talking Australian: What brings us together sets us apart

It was once recorded the greatest gift to linguistics Australians ever made was their natural ability to invent idioms. An idiom, just in case you are unsure is a figure of speech, phrase or word whose meaning cannot be determined by a literal definition. That is the meaning is figurative and the knowledge of this is only known through common use. Sounds complex well here is an example: “To kick the bucket.” This does not mean to actually hit the container with your foot but instead to ‘shuffle off this mortal coil,” “Pop your clogs,” or simply, die. Idioms are like poetry and not only add visual imagery to a sentence they also enhance its power and emotive appeal. Language experts believe idioms are not a specific characteristic of any language but instead are thought to be part of the culture that speaks the language. Linguistic Determinism is a psychological theory that proposes the structure of a language shapes the user's thoughts. Experts believe what we say, and more, how we say it, gives valuable insight into our character. Hence the fondness for continually adapting English through shortening, substituting and combining words contributes not only to an evolving language but also says much about the Australian psyche.

Marcus Clarke was a writer in the 19th century and was convinced Australians used language either to convey notions of their inner thoughts or as a code which to the uninitiated meant one thing, but to those in the know, something quite different (and usually the opposite to the meaning of the words used perverse meaning). Take ‘bluey’ as an example, in Australia ‘bluey’ is red, elsewhere it is blue. To the uninitiated talking Australian can appear incomprehensible yet Australians seems to have no problem in comprehension. For example, take the colloquialisms 'flat out like a lizard drinking' (meaning - working very hard on a task) or 'standing like a bandicoot on a burnt ridge' (i.e. feeling lonely and vulnerable). Dazed and confused, someone might wander 'like a stunned mullet'; in a furious rage, they will be 'mad as a cut snake' and in a state of undeniable lifelessness they will be 'dead as a maggot'. The clever use of comparisons in these colloquialisms raises startling images.

Another characteristic of Talking Australian is its lilt, tones are very important and with the abbreviation of words to emphasize the stressed syllable, it follows the general pattern of how English sounds when it is sung. According to Valerie Desmond in The Awful Australian (1911), she speculated the practice of the voice rising and falling with unexpected syncopations similar to the intonation of the phrases in Chinese speakers. This may have been influenced by the Chinese in the mining communities. Other typical elements of the Australian language are the joining of two words to form a new one, such as bushranger or stockman.

Experts believe to confuse their captors and maintain their own community new Australians of the convict period spoke in a cryptolectic code. At first much use was made of rhyming slang which was familiar to many of the early convicts who had originated around the London area. According to John Camden Hotten (1859) Cockney rhyming slang probably originated in the 1840s with costermongers (street sellers selling fruit) but the penal colonies started in Australia in 1788 which would suggest either rhyming slang was not as prevalent as previously thought or predated Cockney slang. Rhyming Slang phrases are derived from taking an expression which rhymes with a word and then using that expression instead of the word. For example "look" rhymes with "Captain Cook". Through familiarity ‘Having a Captain Cook” can be further abbreviated to, ‘ava Captains." This is typical of the Australian pen chance to abbreviation. Other examples might be “g’day” for "good day" and ‘arvo’ for "afternoon. Another example of language innovation was to reverse the meaning of some words like "bastard." Instead of its literal meaning or as an insult it was used as a term of endearment. To ears unfamiliar with the developing Creole this would appear confusing and the only way to know the true meaning of the discourse would be to listen to the tone of the sentence. The combination of novel words, rhyming slang and tonal communication had the authorities at a loss. This allowed the convicts to make their captors the figure of ridicule. And we have never stopped lampooning authority thank goodness. Here are my four favourite put downs:

'couldn't find a grand piano in a one-roomed house'
'couldn't blow the froth off a glass of beer'
'a chop short of a barbie' and
'useless as an ashtray on a motorbike'.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Talking Australian: Tall Poppies, Whingers, Wowsers and Wankers!

Australia has become renowned as a country without social classes and with a strong commitment to social equality. It was often held as an example of an egalitarian society with commitment to the fair go. This environment has given rise to the socially leveling tall poppy syndrome. Australian culture disapproves of the vain, individuals with ‘superior’ airs, instead valuing and glorifying figures of tangible success and humility such as the unsung hero and the quiet achiever. A person who stands out from the crowd by being successful, wealthy, or famous may be called a tall poppy. It is often remarked that Australians have a tendency to ‘cut’ tall poppies down to size by denigrating them, to rubbish or knock them, if they are conceited in their success.

An epithet is a descriptive word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing. It is a metaphor, for example 'Jimmy the Pomm,' or 'Chopper' Read. Abusive epithets such as whinger and wowser have become a colourful and expressive part of the Australian lexicon. These words express characteristics deemed undesirable in Australian society.

A whinger is someone who complains excessively and without validity. It originates from an early English word, ‘whine.’ In Australian ethos there is considerable social stigma attached to whinger, as in ‘Whinging Pom.’ The anti-social, ineffectual behaviour of a whinger is strongly reproved whereas the underdog, the struggler or little Aussie battler is ‘the brave and determined survivor despite all odds.’ Whinger has connotations of weakness, self-pity and the inability to cope with the pressures of life in a mature manner.

A wowser (1895) is spoil sport, wet blanket, guardian of morality, a prudish tea totaler. The provenance of ‘Wowser’ is thought to from Yorkshire and the words ‘wow’ meaning to howl like an animal or grumble like a human and; wowsy’ an exclamation of surprise. In 1916, Australian poet C. J. Dennis defined a wowser as “an ineffably pious person who mistakes the world for a penitentiary and himself for a warder”. The concept of the wowser was initially associated with religion and elicited other related epithets including bible-basher and devil dodger. In 1870 hot-gospellers in the State of Victoria were called as Rousers or Wowsers. Religious wowsers were frequently perceived as intolerant, outspoken and censorious ‘fanatics’ or ‘fundamentalists’ and are often seen to actively protest against the habits or pastimes of which they disapprove, especially gambling, promiscuity and the consumption of alcohol. In 1899 journalist John Norton (1862-1916) wrote in the Truth newspaper and is generally considered to be the author of the acronym WOWSER to stand for “We Only Want Social Evils Remedied (or Rectified)” and this was generally applied to social do-gooders. Wowser is the cultural antithesis of the Australian larrikin.

Another abusive epithet in Australian English is the word wanker used as a metaphor for persons who indulge in egotism and self-indulgence. The noun was derived from a 19th century Yorkshire dialect and meant simpleton. Its association with Onanism was related to madness thought to be caused by self abuse but in Australian English it became analogous to vanity by bragging. Perhaps not the most favoured word in the Australian lexicon its meaning is clear and represents a good example of a rude word saved from the brink, just like ‘bugger.’

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Talking Australia: Bodgies, Bludgers and Bogans

In the early fifties juveniles delinquency became a major concern in Australia so much so the youths were given the name bodgies (for the boys); and widgies (pronounced weegies) for the girls. Not since the Larrikins and larrikinesses of the previous century had Australian seen such public display of loutish behaviour. Adolescent unrest post Second World War was of course universal amongst the baby boomers and coincidentally arose with the introduction of rock’n roll in the mid fifties. Similar malcontents in other countries went by different names such as the teddy boys and teddy girls in the UK.

The term bodgie first appeared in 1945 and was used by the forces when describing unreliable maintenance men or sly guys. Bodgie came from the noun, bodger, meaning ‘something or someone false or unreliable, dodgy; something badly made or shoddy’. In Europe bodgers had been itinerant laborers who rough cut wood in the preparation of clogs. The shoes would eventually be crafted by clog makers by which time, the bodgers had move on. The rough blocks of wood were the result semi-skilled workmen and the term ‘to bodge’ became associated with shoddy work.

After the War, the Black Market thrived around city ports and wide boys (known as spivs) tried to pass off inferior cloth as quality American-made whenever they could. In Sydney this inferior fabric was called bodgie and when the wide boys started to speak with faux American accents they became known as bodgers or bodgies. By 1950, bodgie was used in Australian English to describe something that was unreliable, false or counterfeit. When working class kids were seen in Kings Cross Milk Bar or gathered on street corners and getting up to youthful pranks there was moral outrage.

The Woolloomooloo Yanks were the first street gang to be called Bodgies and wore zoot suits and suede loafer shoes (Yes the same blue suede shoes that Elvis sang about). By the mid fifties bodgies’ dress became more rock’a’billy with bright satin shirts tight trousers and either leather flying jerkins or belted velvet cord jackets. The bodgie outfit was complete with a long, shaggy, Cornel Wilde haircut.

The influence of America was unmistakable and coincided with a heavy American military presence in Australia.

The word Widgies was an abbreviation of wigeon meaning a girl or female teenager. Apparently the term is used to describe ducks and likely means ‘wiggle.’ Widgies wore short hair, tight sweaters and jeans.

The violent aspect of the bodgies could easily be described as the action of ‘bludgeoners.’ This was English slang originally used to describe `a low thief, who would not hesitate to use violence'. The 19th century bludgeoner carried a bludgeon `a short stout stick or club'.

By the end of the nineteenth century Australians had shortened the noun to bludger (1882) and the term was generally used to describe a violent person who lived off immoral earnings. They were also called Stick Lingers and believe it or not there were also bludgeresses but neither term survived beyond the first decade of the twentieth century. From this time bludger referred to anyone who appeared to live off the efforts of others and that included white-collar workers (1910). Cadger and bludger became emotive terms among the Australian workforce and by 1976 the term dole bludger was used to describe anyone who exploited the system of unemployment benefits by avoiding gainful employment.

The derogatory term ‘Bogan’ is more often used today to describe an unsophisticated, sultry type likely to be a dole bludger. Always wrong to make generalisations, of course, and the Australian term ‘bogan’ was known in the 19th century long before there was social security. Banjo Patterson wrote of bogans in his poem, “The City of Dreadful Thirst.

The term Bogan then and now means a young person who is considered to be ‘an outsider.’ The typical characteristics of the modern bogan (also known as petrol heads) is anglo-celtic males who drive large Australian built cars, drink Australian beer, listen to Australian Rock music, smoke and feverishly follow Australian sport. Other traits include wearing black jumpers or Ts with black jeans and baseball boots. The ubiquitous checked jacket and mullet hair style is of course a must.

Mullet was a 19th century derogatory term meaning a stupid person and was transferred to the "business in the front, party in the back" hairstyle in the 60s when it started to become popular. By the 70s nearly everyone from Paul McCartney to David Bowie had a form of mullet. Now whether it was Billy Ray Syrus or the Beastie Boys that heralded the end of the mullet as fashionable is unclear.