Bunyah words


‘I’ll have to have a glim at it when I go into town’ said Les Murray. I noted the use of glim and checked it out when I got home.

We have glim in the Macquarie Dictionary as an obsolete word for a light or a candle, originally from thieves’ slang in Britain.  It had some use in WW11 in the phrase douse the glim meaning ‘put out the light’. But really glim had a life in colonial Australia and has passed out of use.


This use of glim meaning ‘a look’ is Scottish and, as far as Les is concerned, is part of his inheritance from the Scottish community in which he lived. It reminded me that there were other words which Les identified as being special to Bunyah, the valley near Taree where he grew up. These are listed in a glossary to the book of poems, On Bunyah.

His first entry is agen meaning ‘by the time that’ as in Agen he arrives, I’ll have finished the job.  This is strongly Scottish in flavour.

To skitch comes up in the shout to a dog – Skitch ‘im, boy. This is an encouragement to the dog to block a sheep or a cow and stop them from running away. It is a variant in Australian English of the British dialect use of scotch meaning ‘to hinder or impede’, and that comes from a more basic sense of the word, ‘to prevent something from slipping or moving’. You scotch a ladder by wedging its base.  A bit of regional dialect but not particularly Scottish.

There are other words that are Aboriginal borrowings, such as muttai for a corn cob, or googery for a rough shelter under which you can make a fire.

The item, bullraut, took me down an interesting path.  Trove threw up one other citation for bullraut from, of all people, Barry Humphries who was commenting on a parade in Canberra in 1973.  ‘I was forcibly struck by the high level of mediocrity it achieved’, he said, and went on to add that he thought the introduction of Queensland fauna, such as the sea wasp, the cane toad and the bullraut, might have livened things up. 

Then I discovered that the more common spelling was bullrout, the name of a freshwater fish with a barb that gives a painful sting. The origin of the name is  unknown but early spellings indicate that it is a compound of bull and rout.

It turns out that the fish makes a very loud sound when it is pulled out of the water. There is a British dialect word rout with variant spellings raut and rawt that means ‘a loud sound, as made by cattle or any animal’. That brings bull into play as an intensifier indicating great size, volume, etc. Possibly we have an origin for the word. Isn’t speculation fun?

The Bunyah glossary is another glimpse (should that be glim) into the wealth of words in regional Australian English.

Sue ButlerComment