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Monday, 25 March 2013

When did we start talking about "Down Under"?

Well, this one didn't go quite as I expected, but I had fun, and I hope you will as well.

Those who know me are aware that I have a longstanding interest in the Australian vernacular. I habitually speak with what used to be called "educated Australian".  I think they have another name for it now, but essentially, it is a form that Americans cannot distinguish from British (though Britons in Britain can, and Britons in Australia can—until they have been here about ten months).

The give-away, is that I can and do verge into general or even broad Australian when the moment merits it, and in all three accents, I use purely Australian terms.  Because I am still dabbling with some YA historical fiction set in the mid-19th century, I have for some time been noting earliest uses of terms in the National Library's Historical Newspapers Collection. At first, I tagged them, then I started putting them in a list, but at 200 items, it became unwieldy, so I established a web page.

The original aim was to avoid anachronisms: while a "billy" was known in the 1840s, it seems to have been confined to Van Diemen's Land until about 1855.  (I haven't added it in yet, but while Tasmania only came into official use in the 1850s, I have seen it in use as early as the 1820s.) Swag appeared in about 1851, but swagman only emerged in about 1861, and so it goes.  Anyhow, I started spreading the net more widely, and made my Harvest of a Quiet Eye (thanks there to Alan Mackay!) available to all.

So that is where all of my discoveries now go. About 99% of the links relate to newspaper articles, but there are also a few citations of books, where possible with links to an online version, but now I am starting something new (or I was when I started writing this: as you will soon see, the whole plan fell through).  This entry was started in part to give me a permanent link to point at which holds some photographs.

We in Australia refer to Australia as "Down Under", though many of us bristle when Americans attempt to cosy up to us by using it.  It just doesn't ring true when they say it.  We welcome Americans as guests and friends, but attempts like that always smack of an obnoxious big brother's patronising familiarity.  It brings out the xenophobe in us, and as an ally, a feeling of regret that even when they are talking to close cousins like us, some USians cannot avoid being offensive without any intention to be so.  Guys (and guyesses), just be yourselves, and all will be fine.

Like a number of Australians that I have asked, I assumed that "down under" was a World War II US coinage.  Yesterday, from something I saw, I believed for a while that it may be a great deal older.

So far, my newspaper researches have shown no use of the expression before 1855, and by then we had a sizeable American population: whalers, Yankee traders and gold-seekers for the most part.

Moving forward, I have two uses in 1907, and that is normally indicative of a new arrival that has been picked up from somewhere. One is from the Sydney Morning Herald, the other is from the Perth Daily News.
The other useful sign is that the April use is in double quotes, and that is normally an indication of a recently introduced term, but the main thing is that I have two hits, close together, and on opposite sides of the continent. Somebody out there was using it.

Significantly, the Perth use is quoting an English newspaper, so possibly it was English. The third instance was from The Queenslander in 1926, and that is in a gushing dispatch from London, so who can say?

On Sunday, I was at the Quarantine Station in Sydney, now decommissioned, but a centre for historical and environmental studies and other stuff. A great little place, and within (strenuous) walking distance of my home, and there's a bus as well.  They also run a boutique hotel and other nice stuff which may be unfortunate in some eyes, but things like that help pay the bills.

I was told that there was a new display, and so I went for a look. As a one-time museum person, I found it rather sterile and lacking in interpretation, just cases shoved full of stuff with no information, but I suspect that they are still working on those aspects.

Anyhow, I found a gem in the form of a headstone for a 27-year-old man who died there in 1837. It reads:

"ERECTED By ISABELLA SIMPSON in memory of her husband DONALD SCOTT mason who died augt 10th 1837 loq(??) aged 27 years.

"Scotia thy sons dowander (far) We find our graves in many dista-- l--ds."

Here are two close-ups of portions of the stone:


I am still looking into this: I thought perhaps Isabella meant "down under",  but possibly that it was a reference to down under in the grave, but that turned out not to be the case.

At this point in this narrative, I checked my email.  Peter Adderley and Matt Hunt had brought their minds to bear on my shots, and I now agree with them that it should be read as:

"Scotia thy sons do wander far. We find our graves in many distant lands."

Ah well, death of a great theory—and I won't now be referencing this page in my collection of early uses of Australian language.

Still, the "loq" or "lcq" has me puzzled, but no doubt that will be sorted in a few days.  I will come back and edit this when one of my good friends reveals the truth.

Meanwhile, I have found a new hobby: there are volunteers working up there to restore the vegetation and wildlife, something an old botanist like me needs to look into.

Footnote: Because I know something of the station's history, I should have realised that the headstone is a very early one, but I was zeroed in on "down under".  Somebody else was more interested in the back story of the headstone, and it is available here, along with a better picture, not taken through glass.

1 comment:

  1. The writing on the gravestone certainly looks like "lcq".

    However, if it was "loq", then it could refer to loquitur (loq.), meaning "he (or she) speaks"

    Interestingly, there is a Latin phrase that would be appropriate for the context:
    "Curae leves loquuntur ingentes stupent" (slight griefs talk, great ones are speechless)

    It would be interesting to get a definitive answer on this.