Have a Captain Cook...

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 August, 2004, 12:00am

For the newly arrived immigrant hoping to become a true blue banana bender or a fair dinkum sandgroper, it could be just the go. A college in Sydney is offering lessons in understanding Australian slang to migrants who find themselves bamboozled by the country's colourful argot. While many arrive with a firm grasp of textbook English, they are often left scratching their heads when faced with phrases like 'she'll be right' (everything will work out fine), 'take a squizz' (have a look) or 'as flash as a rat with a gold tooth' (a person who has a high opinion of himself).

Australians' nicknames for each other are similarly confounding: a 'banana bender' is a Queenslander, 'sandgropers' hail from Western Australia, while 'crow-eater' is a mildly derogatory term for the people of South Australia ('fair dinkum', 'true blue' and 'dinky-di' all mean authentic or genuine). The nine-week course, by the Eastern Suburbs Community College, aims to acquaint students with 200 of the most common colloquial phrases.

Some slang is common to other English-speaking countries, such as the United States or Britain, but much is specific to Australia. The passion for abbreviating words, for instance, means that Australians talk of packing their 'cossies' (swimming costumes) and 'sunnies' (sunglasses) to go to the 'barbie' (barbecue) for a couple of 'coldies' (cold beers) in the 'arvo' (afternoon). Speaking genuine 'Strine' (Australian) also necessitates slurring words into each other or lopping off entire syllables. So, how much is it? comes out sounding like 'emma chisit?', while air-conditioner becomes 'egg nishner'.

'A lot of people who come to Australia from other countries can speak English formally, but they go to work and they don't know what the hell's going on,' said course teacher Ilana Katz. 'I've had people who have been here 20 years and still have problems.'

To complicate matters further, Australians, like London's Cockneys, speak in rhyming slang, although it has been given a distinctly antipodean twist. 'Have a Captain Cook' means take a look, a 'septic tank' is a Yank, and 'frog 'n' toad' is a road. 'As dry as a dead dingo's donger' is not something you will hear often in Sydney or Melbourne, but it might be uttered by an Outback farmer lamenting the lack of rain. Insults are a particular speciality: 'he's got a face like a sucked mango' is one of the few which are printable.

Understanding such peculiarities could be an uphill battle, even for the most dedicated student. Those who despair of ever grasping their work colleagues' lingo would be well advised to chuck a sickie.