From drongos to dropkicks

From drongos to dropkicks
Editing Fair Dinkum! with H.G. Nelson
19 December 2016

Do you ever feel like a box of birds? Is a man ever a camel? Do you know someone who couldn't organise a chook raffle at a poultry farm? The language in our fortnightly publications meetings became considerably saltier (and decidedly un-Public Service-like) during the production of Fair Dinkum!: Aussie Slang with H.G. Nelson.

Spread from Fair Dinkum

Spread from Fair Dinkum!, featuring NLA images nla.cat-vn4082239 and nla.cat-vn558086

Given the rich fare on offer, coming up with a longlist, and then a shortlist, of phrases to include was a challenge. Our longlist included a broad selection of slang words and phrases grouped by theme. I'm not sure what it says about us as a people, but by far the biggest theme was insults.

We divided these into insults about people's looks (‘face like a dropped pie'), usefulness (‘couldn't train a choko over a country dunny'), brains (‘not enough brains to give himself a headache'), mental state (‘kangaroo loose in the top paddock') and trustworthiness (‘lower than a snake's belly').

Spread from Fair Dinkum

Spread from Fair Dinkum!, featuring NLA images nla.cat-vn6341783 and nla.cat-vn3800775

Then came the multiple rounds of culling. Each staff member was asked to tick phrases or words they themselves used or that they considered in common usage, and also ones that were particularly funny or interesting. The result is a good mix of traditional phrases, like ‘fair crack of the whip', and slang so widespread that it appears in the Macquarie Dictionary, like ‘pash' and ‘flat chat' and ‘ocker'.

Our pictures coordinator had a great time scouring the catalogue for images to illustrate the words. How would you illustrate ‘fair dinkum' or ‘bugger that for a joke'? The latter is my favourite image and phrase pairing in the book. A little girl in proper Victorian bow and bonnet observes the scene before her: a cockatoo has torn her doll to shreds, a porcelain leg lies on the ground and the rest of the doll hangs from the cockie's claw looking decidedly worse for wear. The girl looks livid. The image is titled Poor Dolly, but I think Bugger That for a Joke works just as well.

As a die-hard Hawthorn supporter, the image illustrating ‘I wouldn't be dead for quids' is another favourite. Let me take this opportunity to give the image of Dipper holding the '86 premiership cup another airing.

Spread from Fair Dinkum

Spread from Fair Dinkum!, featuring NLA image nla.cat-vn4103266

H.G. Nelson's glorious and anarchic use of language in his introduction provides the perfect counterbalance to the short and sharp definitions in the book. He takes us through his own attempts at introducing new phrases into the vernacular; the Sydney Olympics proved particularly inspiring to H.G. and his partner Roy as gymnasts did the ‘hullo boys', the ‘spinning date' and the painful-sounding ‘battered sav'. His work was a lot of fun to edit!

Spread from Fair Dinkum

Spread from Fair Dinkum!, showing H.G.'s spray and NLA image nla.cat-vn3279498

Fair Dinkum! is the gift book that keeps giving. I am well prepared with dinner party fodder after researching definitions for this book. As I pass the turkey to Auntie Mary this Christmas, I might tell her about the connection between the word ‘bludger' and ‘a prostitute's pimp'. When Uncle Barry asks for more ‘plonk', I might explain that the term comes from the Anzacs on the Western Front who had a bit of trouble pronouncing vin blanc. When someone inevitably declares themselves ‘full as a goog', I can clarify things by explaining that the Scottish children's word for ‘egg' is goggie. Then we'll probably all collapse, chockers and happy as Larry.

Fair Dinkum coverFair Dinkum!: Aussie Slang with H.G. Nelson was first released by NLA Publishing in November 2015

Comment: 
What about: Useless as tits on a bull. Or: Useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. Or: Like a rat up a drainpipe. Or: I'm on a hiding to nothing.
Comment: 
Or, 'Fair suck of the sauce bottle' (unfair treatment) 'Short of a snag on the barbie' ( dimwitted person) 'Starve the lizards' or ' Stone the crows' (when frustrated ) To have ' A Bee in ones bonnet' ( Be agitated) to 'Spit the dummy' (quit unhappily) Couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag" (Useless person)