27 August 2008

The Australian adjective

Recent reference to "bloody" as an adjective, and my aunt's explanation of it, has reminded me of my promise to post verse which has been important to me, regardless of what anyone else thinks of it – a promise which I have shamefully neglected since The little furry rabbits.

This one, apart from its faint relevance to the "bloody" memory thread, has two reasons for inclusion. First, at eleven years old I found it very funny. Second, it was brought to my attention by the same aunt who explained (?) the word "bloody" to me. She visited us in Australia and, in a Gawler cafeteria, I commented to her on how pervasive the word was there. She called it "the Australian adjective", and recited this poem to me. Later, in Adelaide, she bought me a book (containing it amongst much other Australian verse) which, in retrospect, was the "hinge factor" that first turned me on to poetry. Which shows that being an offended nun does not preclude a sense of humour, nor intellectual honesty...

While I can still recite several poems from it, I no longer remember detail of the book. A search of the Australian National Library archives suggest that it was probably Mackaness' An anthology. Nor do I reliably remember how authorship of the poem was attributed; I find that it is now hotly disputed, with W T Goodge, John O'Brien and Will Carter the favourite candidates. Finally, it is variously titled "The great Australian adjective", "The integrated adjective" and "Tumba bloody rumba" - I originally posted this with my aunt's description as my own choice, but after the conversation with Poor Pothecary (in comments) have altered it.

It seems, in any case, pretty tame compared to current routine use of the "British adjective" (see my Quote of the Day for 02 June 2004, for instance).


I was down the Riverina, knockin' 'round the towns a bit,
And occasionally resting with a schooner in me mitt,
And on one of these occasions, when the bar was pretty full
And the local blokes were arguin' assorted kind of bull,
I heard a conversation, most peculiar in its way.
It's only in Australia you would hear a joker say:

"Howya bloody been, ya drongo, haven't seen ya fer a week,
And yer mate was lookin' for ya when ya come in from the creek.
'E was lookin' up at Ryan's, and around at bloody Joe's,
And even at the Royal, where 'e bloody NEVER goes".

And the other bloke says "Seen 'im? Owed 'im half a bloody quid.
Forgot to give it back to him, but now I bloody did -
Could've used the thing me bloody self. Been off the bloody booze,
Up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin' kanga-bloody-roos."

Now the bar was pretty quiet, and everybody heard
The peculiar integration of this adjectival word,
But no-one there was laughing, and me - I wasn't game,
So I just sits back and lets them think I spoke the bloody same.

Then someone else was interested to know just what he got,
How many kanga-bloody-roos he went and bloody shot,
And the shooting bloke says "Things are crook -
the drought's too bloody tough.
I got forty-two by seven, and that's good e-bloody-nough."

And, as this polite rejoinder seemed to satisfy the mob,
Everyone stopped listening and got on with the job,
Which was drinkin' beer, and arguin', and talkin' of the heat,
Of boggin' in the bitumen in the middle of the street,
But as for me, I'm here to say the interesting piece of news
Was Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin' kanga bloody-roos.

  • [query?] George Mackaness, An anthology of Australian verse. 1952, Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

    Poor Pothecary said...

    This recalls "Bloody Orkney", generally attributed to Captain Hamish Blair, who was stationed there in WW2. (There's an RAF equivalent, "Bloody Shrimpton-Bassett").

    Poor Pothecary said...

    PS There's another strong contender on the attibution list, John Patrick O'Grady; he's the one the National Library of Australia goes with. The Great Australian Adjective is a different poem, by WT Goodge.

    Dr. C said...

    I guess you're right, you pommy b*****ds have a monopoly on the "f" word. I was going to say that it was a Yank thing but we'er left wtih "eh" and "like".

    Felix Grant said...

    On t'other hand, Dr C, you have the extended "motherfucker" and "sonofabitch" options :-)

    Felix Grant said...

    Poor Pothecary (27/08/08): checked with some Australian friends ... three (of the eleven I asked - you can tell I'm a statisitician, can't you??) do have "Tumba Bloody Rumba" under the title The Great Australian Adjective while six assured me that it cannot be so. Three gave me your O'Grady option.

    Much confusion ... and, perhaps, material another "history, schmystery" post!

    Felix Grant said...

    Poor pothecary (27/08/08): Having trodden the mean streets of Wootton Basset for a short time as a kid, I was interested in that one ... alas, can't find the words! Bloody Orkney was fun though :-)

    My father used to sing a parody of There'll always be an England:

    "There'll always be a Canada
    While there's a pile of sand
    A great expanse of sweet nothing
    And the stormy winds do blow.

    We did not ask to come here,
    We do not want to stay,
    We'd rather fight the Jerries
    Than this bullshite any day

    ... [verses forgotten] ...

    The CO, too, down in SHQ,
    May his back break,
    His last breath take,
    And then he'll go to... well,

    There'll always be a Canada..."

    Can't find that one, either...

    Poor Pothecary said...

    Much confusion ...

    Just so. That said, one strong data point is that the WT Goodge poem of that name pre-dates the lot, having been in the Sydney Bulletin in 1899. Definitely a folklore-propagation situation.

    Felix Grant said...

    Poor Pothecary: "...Goodge poem of that name pre-dates the lot.."

    Fair enough! :-)

    In the light of that, I've gone back and modified the post slightly.