New Zealand vs Australian English

Written by      

Malcolm Evans

Until the close of the 20th century, New Zealand English was regarded as an offshoot of Australian English, with Australian lexicogra­phers, such as Bill Ramson, claiming in 1966 that New Zealand English “seems to have borrowed heavily from Australian but given little in return”. A close study of rural terms in the two national dictionaries, the Australian National Dictionary (AND) and the Dictionary of New Zealand English (DNZE) shows the reverse is more likely.

This is not altogether surprising, when large-scale sheep-rearing was of greater relative significance in this small nation than for its larger neighbour in the 19th century. The New Zealand Official Yearbook of 1894 records that in 1890, New Zealand exported 1,533,393 car­casses of frozen mutton and lamb to Australia’s 207,984. Between 1883 and 1893, New Zealand supplied ap­proximately half the total quantity of frozen mutton and lamb into Britain, the Plate district (Argentina) two-fifths and Australia one-tenth.

A cursory glance at the Australian and New Zealand lexicons shows that while both might include the same entry word, its history, sense or use can be quite distinctive. In New Zealand a bush ranger is a sheep that misses a muster, a supervisor in a bush-cutting or forestry team, and a black cricket. The Australian bush-ranger had its first use in the criminal world and later was used for a swagger.

The term squatter in New Zea­land has never had the connotations and lore of the term as it was origi­nally used in Australia, the first ille­gal squatters in Australia being from the convict population. Absentee is another term with convict connec­tions in Australian English, but in the rural New Zealand context had the initial meaning of an overseas property owner, or more recently, an owner-investor who does not live on, or farm, a property. A further term with colourful origins is cocka­too, firstly in convict life in Australia and then for a tenant farmer, before its more recent use to describe a farmer with a small holding. Only this latter use has been applied in New Zealand, together with the more specific sense of agriculturist or arable farmer. New Zealand farmers sell four-day-old bobbies (male calves), which is the name for six-ounce beers in Western Australia. In colloquial Australia, commercial travellers are those individuals with bags under their eyes, while in rural New Zealand, a commercial travel­ler is a ram that jumps the boundary fence. In New Zealand high country parlance, a gullyraker is a musterer, while in Australia it is used for a cat­tle-thief or a stock-whip. Pinky is the mane given to a newly shorn sheep by Kiwis, while in Australia it is a cheap wine or a bilby. Coat-hanger and toast-rack are two Kiwi expres­sions for a thin cow; in Australia they represent the Sydney Harbour bridge and a Melbourne tram respectively. Amongst the numerous colloquial names given to New Zealand sheep are new uses for Australianisms, such as dingoes for merino sheep and dingbats for difficult sheep.

Terms where little separates the first recorded dates, as in smoko, recorded in New Zealand in 1864 and Australia in 1865, we can accept as Australasianisms, and there are many jocular terms shared between rural Australia and rural New Zea­land for which provenance has never been established. Well known and wry are some examples that farm­ers developed for their fellows—if a farmer is known to be bankrupt, he is flyblown, but when he is ill, he is dog tucker.

We recorded first the use of muster in the stock-gathering sense in New Zealand, along with mus­terer and general muster, and more surprisingly perhaps, run-holder. Although the domain of shearing is one that has historically been shared by New Zealanders and Australians through shearing gangs working in both countries, many terms show earlier or distinctive New Zealand use. Woolshed terms like blade-shearing, board, boardwalker, and full board have their first recorded use in New Zealand English.

Shed shepherds moved sheep in and out of New Zealand pens and New Zealand shearers leg a sheep to pull it on to the board, while leggings and tassels are inferior leg-wool. A sock in New Zealand English is also leg wool, other New Zealand wool remnants being trim­mings, locks and fleeces that can be locky. Piece is a wool term first used in New Zealand, and adopted by Australia, along with belly wool. Off the blades, pizzle stain, shed stain, waterpot and woolly-pointed are terms listed only in the DNZE, and apparently only New Zealand shear­ers play the piano when they select the sheep they will shear. Shearing terms like barebelly, bin, cut out, roll, roller, roller-up and tableman have first recorded use in New Zea­land. If New Zealand fleeces remain unrolled, the shed is described as snowed in, woolled up or woolled in, terms that have no lexical record across the Tasman.

New Zealand blade shearers at­tach bows, cockspurs and jockeys to their handshears, while a kinchela is an adjustment made to Australian shearing blades. Run-out is a distinc­tively New Zealand shearing term where shearers shear down the mon­eyside, known in Australia as the whipping side. New Zealand shear­ers and bush workers wear heavy black woollen sleeveless garments known variously as black singlets, bush singlets or bushman’s singlets, none of which is entered in AND.

New Zealand shearers skin-scratch or bootlace when they are careless, but Australians slum. Rougher shearers in New Zealand are known as smallgoods men, while in the AND, they are listed as tomahawkers or tommyhawkers. When a woman or a boss approach­es a New Zealand shearing board, a warning comment goes out in the form of brown shoes, ducks on the pond, red light or sixty-nine. Cover combs and snow combs are used in New Zealand but are not recorded in Australia.

Catch, catching pens, counting out pens and forcing pens have ear­liest records of use in New Zealand, and a dagger in New Zealand dags sheep or removes chips or rousie’s chewing gum, while in Australia a dagger is the name given to handb­lades. There is no record of bullseye, ring crutch or honeymoon shear in AND and tally book, tally out and tally pen are terms listed only in NZDE. A sheep that has missed a muster in New Zealand might be dubbed a bushranger, double-deck­er, double-fleecer, hermit or placer, although some of these terms have an additional specific application as well. A placer, cabbage-tree sheep or hermit is an orphaned lamb that has attached itself to an localised isolated environment or element in the environment. (Placer was recent­ly adopted by Australian farmers, but with a slightly different sense, as in an animal that has stayed in one place.)

The noun woolly for an unshorn sheep was recorded first in New Zealand in 1888, eleven years before that cited in the AND. Lambing paddock is recorded in both dictionaries, but the first New Zealand citation is 60 years older than the earliest Austral­ian one, while ram paddock was also recorded first in New Zealand. Freezer, as in an animal destined for slaughter and export, was coined in New Zealand, and later recorded in Australia. Hundreds of other ex­amples are documented at the New Zealand Dictionary Centre at Victo­ria University.

The earlier recording of numer­ous terms in New Zealand certainly shows an element of lexical autonomy that was not previously considered. We even rattled our dags before the Aussies (NZ 1968, Australia 1980), and it took some time for them to adopt blind gully and Gentle Annie. Such Aussie terms as hoop (rider), ging (shanghai), mickey (calf), mickery (waterhole), gibber (boulder), bushie (rural-dweller), gilgai (hole), tier (hill), and humpy (hut), have never been acquired here, and were definitely not heard near the legendary dog-dosing strip at Dunsandel.

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