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The Australian Bushman's Glossary


Henry Arthur Readford
May 23, 2011
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This was a thread originally started by Chutes in the traditional bushmens group but when completed was going to be posted here for all, Now that we have a place for it here I will post for all to add to the list.

It was Chutes idea to keep the Australian bush Vocab alive and as you can see the members of the group agreed and contribted to it. it is an ongoing list and i will continue to update it. And as it is now in main forum I will attempt to add pics to as many terms as possible.

The Australian Bushman's Glossary


Ant Bed - Not actually an ant's bed, but a termite mound. An extremely useful item, an ant bed was broken up and reduced to loose dirt where it was used for everything from wattle and daub building to making solid earth floors for structures. For the latter, it was often mixed with steer's blood which was kept for the purpose. The blood acted as a binder, and when fully dried and coagulated, left such a floor with a smooth and hard surface. Magnetic "ant beds" in the tropics are also a useful direction indicator as they run along a north/south line in order to regulate temperature for the termite colony.


Barcoo Fever - *A once common outback disease that had symptoms of nausea and vomiting and constipation. It has been suggested that it was caused by the consumption of water contaminated by cyano-bacteria some of the toxins are not deactivated by boiling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcoo_fever

Bark Hut - A dwelling structure made of bush poles (wired or nailed together) and roofed and walled with sheets of stringybark. Surprisingly, these structures were quite durable, although the roofing sheets needed to be replaced every couple of years due to the bark drying out, cracking and shrinking. Most settlers eventually re-roofed their bark hut with corrugated iron to ensure rain protection. Bark Huts are an example of bush carpentry.

Bedourie Oven - ~ Is an Australian adaptation of the camp oven, better known as a Dutch oven. Drovers working on Bedourie Station, in western Queensland, found that the cast iron camp ovens they use for cooking would often fall from their pack horses and sometimes break when they hit the ground. The idea for the Bedourie Oven was born from the frustration of the drovers missing out on a cooked camp meal so one made from mild steel was made. Being made from spun mild steel would mean it could be handled a lot rougher and if dropped would not break.

Big Paddock - An area of less complex terrain where a little bit of general knowledge of the topography, water systems and any coastline will help prevent you from becoming "bushed". Examples are the Gulf country (Gulf of Carpentaria) or the Cape (York).

Billy - A small tinplate kettle traditionally carried by travellers in the Australian Bush. The name "Billy" comes from the French Bouille, which directly translated means "pot". Some sources (NLA Trove) claim that this was a brand name of a French canned meat stew product sold in large numbers on the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s. The large, slab-sided tins were often retained as cooking vessels. Since Bouille is hard to pronounce, it was shortened to "Billy" and the name stuck.

Black Stump - Mythical demarcation line between explored and unexplored areas of Australia.

Bluey - another name for "swag". Named for the traditionally blue wool blanket used in a swag. *Also, someone with red hair, just because it isn't blue.

Boomer - A large (typically red) kangaroo.

Bough shelter - Traditional Australian term for a bush shelter made from natural materials. Closest North American analogue would be "Debris Shelter" or "Lean-To Shelter", if made from natural materials. The closest common Koori or Murri equivalent would be humpy or gunyah. Bough shelters are an example of bush carpentry.

Bowyang - string that men working in the bush tied around their trouser legs.

Break Away - = A narrow steep-sided ravine marking a fast flowing creek.

Bush Bass - *A home made stringed instrument usually made out of a wooden tea chest or oil drum as a sound box and a stick or broom handle and a cord or wire for the string. The low pitched sound was varied by changing the tension of the stick handle. Popular with bush bands.

Bush Carpentry - Also known as Cobb & Co-ing - A rough and ready method of construction using hand tools and (mostly) simple, unfinished materials. Bark and slab huts are examples of bush carpentry. Tools required were handsaws, crosscut saws, No.10 fencing wire, pliers, broadaxe, axe adze, shovel, iron pins or nails, mallet and a carpenter's square.

Bushed - Lost.

Bush Pot - Nesting pannikin and pot set, as per quartpot


Camp Oven - This one has two meanings.

1. A well-seasoned, cast iron pot with lid, typically placed on top of coals with more coals placed on top of the lid. Used for baking, roasts, etc. Most common usage of the term.

2. An improvised oven used in a permanent or semi-permanent camp. Designs include:-
a. Flat rocks arranged in such a way as to make a box. Clay or wetted down termite nest dirt is raked or brushed over the inside of the box, and is fired. This leaves a durable cooking surface. To use, a fire is built inside the box until the rocks are extremely hot. Ashes and coals are swept out, food to be cooked is added and the side-opening is blocked.
b. Earth mounded oven made from two 44 gallon drums mounded over with mud made from crushed termite nest.

Cane Knife - a broad-bladed, almost cleaver-shaped machete used for harvesting sugar cane and bananas in QLD and Northern NSW. Came to be used for light scrub clearing as a camp tool in place of a machete. Typically made of lighter, flexible metal than a machete and designed with a hook-shape protuberance on the back edge to assist clearing away cut vegetation. The Cane Knife is the traditional Australian equivalent of a machete.

Cobb and Co. - Two meanings...

1. Name of an overland passenger and freight company utilising horse-drawn coaches.

2. Term for bush carpentry, used particularly in Queensland. i.e. "that shed was Cobb & Co'd". Named for the Cobb & Co Hitch typically used two join structural pieces together with fencing wire and pliers. See Bush Carpentry for more info.

Cobb and Co Hitch - *A method of tying fence wire to secure parts of a fence and posts, beams and rafters etc in 'bush' structures.

Cockies Gate - = The common wire and wooden (now steel) gates found on properties.

Cooee - = A contact call used over distance to locate a group or individual, later used to get a persons attention.

Coolamon - Aboriginal term for a bark or carved wooden dish. A general purpose vessel for food and water carrying over short distances, for eating and drinking out of and for boiling in - using heated rocks.

Coolgardie Safe - *A low tech refrigeration unit based on the cooling effect of evaporating water. It was invented in Coolgardie W.Australia in the 1890s (goldrush). It is basically wire and hessian over a wooden frame. The hessian is kept moist by water slowly dripping from a small tank
on top. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coolgardie_safe

Cornstalk - A native-born white Australian, so-called from how quickly they grow.

Croopers - ~Goldfields term to describe mounted Policemen.

Currency - Australian, as opposed to British (Sterling) born.


Damper - A basic bread, cooked in a camp oven or in the ashes of a fire. This is a lightly rising bread, so in the absence of self-raising flour or yeast, there were a few options - One was to add white ash to the flour before mixing the dough at the rate of 1 tbsp of white ashes to a pound (about 450g) of plain flour. White ash is soda ash and will make the damper rise. Another option is to mix a bit of flour and water and let it stand and ferment. After fermentation, mix it with more flour and water to make the damper dough. Lastly, a portion of the dough can be kept aside for the next baking. This is called sourdough.

Dead Heart - The Centre of Australia, named for Ernest Giles' 1906 book of the same title. Contrary to the title of the aforementioned book, the Dead Heart is full of life and Indig. people have been making a living from it for tens of thousands of years.

Dingo's Breakfast - ~a pee and a good look around. i.e. "I had a dingo's breakfast this morning".

Downs Country - = open grassland featuring heavily drought resistant grasses, also known as Savannah.

Drinking with the flies - Drinking alone in a pub

Duckboards - ~nothing more than timber slats attached to timber rails on a path or walkway, purpose to prevent boots sinking in mud.

Duck-walkers - ~ built from scrap timber lashed over boots to prevent slipping in mud.

Duncan - Another name for a swag.

Dungal Swag - ~ A two-compartment tuckerbag in a saddlebag configuration designed to be worn over the shoulder. Named after Myles Dunphy and Herb Gallop, who designed and marketed a more sophisticated version of the design.



Flier - Female kangaroo

Forester - Male kangaroo

Furphy - Unfounded rumour. Named after the Furphy's brand water tankers common in army camps during WWI and on homesteads afterwards. Much like today's Americanised term "water cooler", men would gather around the Furphy to chat and gossip.


Green hide - = Raw hide, untanned dried animal hide

Gunyah - A typically temporary rough indigenous shelter made from a bush timber framework with strips or sheets of bark laid across to water proof it. The term comes from an Indig language group (the Dja Dja Wurrung) from the goldfields area in Victoria. As with the humpy and bough shelter, there was no set design for a gunyah, its design was determined by the terrain, the vegetation and the local resources.


Hatter - ~A godlfields term to describe a digger that works alone.

Hexham Greys - Large mosquitoes found in the Hunter River estuary. Stories often told about how they are strong enough to carry off sheep.

Hughie - God. When pleading for rain, you cry "Send 'er down, Hughie!"

Humpy - A small shelter made from natural materials. originally a Murri term originating in the Brisbane area of Queensland, it entered common usage with European settlers and is still used to describe any primitive one or two man shelter, especially one made from stringybark or paperbark. Also see Bough Shelter and Gunyah.



Jacky Howe - A sleeveless shirt. Named after Australian gun shearer Jackie Howe, who in the 1890s, cut the sleeves off his undershirt. Originally a light flannel t-shirt like garment, the term has come to be associated with blue or black truckies' or shearers' singlets.

Joe! - ~A warning that a police man is coming.

Joe Blake - Cockney-style rhyming slang for snake.

Joey - Infant marsupial

Johnnycakes - A traditional indig method of cooking with ground seed meal or starch from fern rhizomes. Identical in execution to "ash cakes" from North America, except they are cooked directly on coals, not in ash. Can be made with self-raising or plain flour. A variation is sweet johnnycakes whereby the dough is laced with sugar, fruit peel and raisins and even with a dash of rum or whiskey for extra flavour.

Jump up - = An isolated flat top hill with steep sides


Kero Tin - 4 Imperial Gallon rectangular tinplate kerosene container. Used for a wide variety of improvisations, along with the wooden shipping case they were packed in.


Lager-phone - *(AKA "Murrumbidgee River Rattler") Australian version of the English Monkey stick. A home made percussion instrument made from beer bottle tops loosely nailed to a stick, The sound is made by tapping the instrument on the floor and hitting with a stick in the middle. Popular with Bush bands.

Long Paddock - *The traveling stock routes that criss cross the country (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_route). Term also used when putting stock out to graze beside the roads during hard times.

Lurk - A dodge, scheme or easy job.


Matchet - Australian term for Machete.

Matilda - See "Swag" or "Bluey".

Mob - a group or amount of anything. e.g. "Mob of cattle", "What mob are you with?", "Just had a big mob of rain".

Murrumbidgee Blanket - A split-open chaff bag, well-washed and softened by boiling and used as a quilt or blanket.

Murrumbidgee Whaler - a lazy swagman, one who spends six months of the year snoozing by the river instead of working.


Noggin - A wooden cup carved from a tree burr. Very similar in concept to a Scandinavian Kuska. The term originated in England and came over to Australia with the First Fleet. Despite this, the term and the noggin itself saw general usage in Australia until at least the 1940s.

Nose bag - Slang term for a tuckerbag. Named after the bag full of grain strapped to a horse's snout so it can eat on the move.


On the pea - Gone crazy (result of eating the poisonous Darling Pea).


Pack Horse Bagman - a form of swagman with a small team of pack horses who travelled the Northern Territory and North Queensland seeking work.

Pad - = The well worn paths made by animals, especially Cattle.

Pannikin - Tin plated sheetmetal mug. These were far more common in colonial times than was enamelware.


Quartpot - Nesting billy can and pannikin set. Usually oval cross-section rather than round, meaning a little less bulk for carriage on horseback where space is at a premium. More commonly used by stockmen than anyone else and sometimes called a bush pot.


Raw prawn - response to someone asking too much .e.g. "don't come the raw prawn with me."

Rainbow - someone who shows up at the end of a job. e.g. "You always see the rainbow after the storm". Military origin.


Saddling Paddock - A place where it's easy to pick up women.

Settler's Friends - Greenhide and stringybark, which made useful rope and twine.

Shepherd's Box - ~ Typically sheep were watched by shepherds during the day, and by a hut-keeper during the night. Shepherds took the sheep out to graze before sunrise and returned them to brush-timber yards at sunset. The hut-keeper usually slept in a movable shepherd's watch box placed near the yard in order to deter attacks on the sheep. Dogs were also often chained close by to warn of any impending danger to the sheep or shepherd by dingoes or natives.

Shepherd's Companion - Willy Wagtail bird, which often rides on a sheep's back, plucking bits of wool for its nest.

Shiralee - Swag

Slab Hut - A dwelling structure made from planks roughly hewn from logs. These are the Australian analogue to a North American log cabin, and were constructed in a similar fashion, but with thinner walls. Slabs were generally placed vertically but some huts were constructed with horizontal slabs if enough timber was available. Any gaps between the slabs were packed with clay. Roofing was originally sheets of overlapping stringybark or rough wooden shingles, but as it became more widely available, most settlers re-roofed their dwellings with corrugated iron. Slab huts are an example of bush carpentry.

Slush Lamp - An improvised oil lamp which burns melted animal fat or vegetable oil. One variation: A wick of cotton rag or natural cordage is loosely wound around a twig. A layer of clay is stuck into an empty tin, etc. The twig is poked into this and rancid or otherwise contaminated fat or oil is poured into the tin. The wick burns like a candle, fed on fat/oil by capillary action. In the pioneering days, the slush lamp was more common than candles or kerosene lamps. However, it was smelly, sooty, smoky and messy.

Smoko - = To take a short break in the work, originally to roll a quick cigarette or pack a pipe and get out of the sun for the length of time it took to smoke them, later used to refer to a short meal break also.

Stirring the Possum - Doing something controversial just to get a reaction.

Strike-A-Light - Steel for use with flint, chert or quartz to make fire. Originally an English term, its use carried over to colonial times in Australia and North America.

Sugar Bag - This one's got two definitions...

1. Literally a 70lb sugar bag. Made from calico or closely weaved hessian, this is how sugar came from the refinery and it's how it was bought in bulk for remote area use. They were approximately the same size as a pillow case is today. The sugar bags, like hessian potato or chaff bags, were used for a variety of purposes from making bedding to tuckerbags, to making "poor man's fibro" for shed-building. They'd sew a bunch of bags together and then render them with a cement slurry. A couple of coats later and you've got a rough looking wall which is the equivalent of fibro.

2. Native Bee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trigona_carbonaria) hives are called sugarbag in Qld and the NT due to the method used to extract the honey. When a hive is raided, the combs are broken up and smashed inside a sugar bag. The bag is twisted, as if wringing out a towel, and the honey is dripped into a bucket or other receptacle, where it is left overnight allowing pollen, bits of wax, etc. to rise to the surface where they can be skimmed off.

Sundowner - ~A swagman who would arrive at homesteads or stations at sundown when it was too late to work, taking in a meal and disappearing before work started the next morning

Swag - An arrangement of blue wool blankets and light canvas or proofed calico used for sleeping. Often other items would be rolled in the swag and it was carried on a strap (or rolled towel) over the shoulder, making it the traditional Australian equivalent of the backpack. Traditionally, swagmen carried a swag along with a tuckerbag over the other shoulder and a billy in the hand. The swag was also known as the bluey, the Duncan, the shiralee or the matilda. For more info on traditional use and carriage of the swag, see - http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/11759/. Further description of the swag circa 1910s - The swag is made of a piece of American cloth 1 yard wide and 2 yards long, and 4 saddle straps for securing and carrying it together with the nose bag of food. The sleeping bag is a blanket with the edges and bottom sewn and a canvas cover.

Swagman - ~Itinerant workers who, during the economic depressions of the 1860s, 1890s and 1930s, travelled from property to property seeking work. The term is derived from their bedding roll, known as a swag.

Swy - the game of Two-Up


Traps - ~Goldfields Police man on foot.

Tucker - Food. The term was originally an ironic/humourous one. Women in the early to mid 19th century wore a frilly strip of lace at their bust. This strip was called a Tucker. The term was then used to describe any bib or eating handkerchief tucked into the collar of a working man's shirt during meals. In the 1850s the term began to be used to describe food in Australia.

Tuckerbag - Typically a linen haversack, tied sugar bag or a sidepack containing provisions including salt beef or pork, tea and sugar, flour and dried beans or corn. Also known as a nose bag.

Tucker Box - Traditionally a repurposed red gin case, this was used for carrying not only non-perishable and preserved foodstuffs but also the basic cutlery, crockery, etc. needed for a meal. The tucker box was used mainly as a camp item by teamsters, timber-getters and stockmen since it was heavy and bulky. It had steel fly meshed holes at either end for good cross-ventilation and had a tight-fitting lid. When food and utensils were taken out of the box for a meal, a sugar bag was spread over the top of the box as a makeshift table cloth to catch any crumbs or spills. When the meal was finished and the box was packed up, it doubled as a convenient seat for around the campfire.




Wagga Rug - A split-open chaff bag, well-washed and softened by boiling. Sewn to one side is an old wool blanket which has gotten too thin through use to keep out the cold.

Waltzing Matilda - *Taking to the road with a swag/bluey and a famous song about a swagman defying authority.

Warrigal - Originally an aboriginal word meaning "untamed", which could apply to cattle, dogs or women. Now almost exclusively used to describe dingoes

Waterbottle - Traditional Australian term for water canteen. Originally a military term inherited from the British during Colonial times.

Wattle - Two meanings (which are related)...

1. Common term for any of the Australian native species of Acacia plant. Named after the use of the plant in building as below.

2. A woven framework during building construction typically made from interlaced acacia branches and boughs. From the traditional English term of the same name. The aforementioned woven framework was rendered with clay and the resulting form of construction was known as "wattle and daub" or "wattle and dab".

Widowmaker - ~ Broken off limbs that are hanging freely in a tree to be felled or in the trees close by, is aptly named for causing fatalities amongst timber getters and oblivious campers who would pitch their tents below large trees during windy weather.

Wild Dog - Original settler's term for "dingo". Still in widespread use in QLD. In many other areas, the term is used to describe feral dogs, i.e. domestic pets or hunting dogs lost or let loose, who have bred or interbred with dingoes.




Legend of Contributors -
= Chutes
"*" = Hairyman
"~" = Auscraft
"=" = Templar
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Jack Abasalom
Jan 6, 2012
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Melbourne. [ Outer South East.]
Great list. A number I've not heard before. I guess if you have cockies gate you should also have cockie to explain that it's a farmer...and a cockatoo, and perhaps the cockroach as queenslanders call them cockies too.


Ludwig Leichhardt
Sep 13, 2011
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Ironbark, SEQ
Sheila: A woman.
On the wallaby track: Unemployed.
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Mors Kochanski
Jun 11, 2011
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I got one to add :)

Bush telly : campfire


Malcolm Douglas
Jul 31, 2012
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Nthn Vic
cockie's cotton- soft iron fencing wire...use it to fix anything from a hole in your hat to a split shovel handle and a million other things

Dunny budgies- those big green blowflies that you never hear or see until
2 seconds after you drop yer strides for a no2 then they're everywhere!

Barcoo dog - old jam tin lids treaded together on a loop of wire as a rattle to give sheep a bit of a move
on while droving or when yarding them
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Bushman Ben

Les Stroud
Jul 2, 2012
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I had a good laugh at Warrigal. I live near Warrigal road in Melbourne and I must say that the drivers on there are quite untamed!

Love the idea, I'll have to rack my brain for some nuggets.


Richard Proenneke
Staff member
Mar 26, 2012
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Illawarra NSW
we have a Mt Warrigal here in the Illawarra...as far as I have ever known Aboriginal for Wild Dog Hill or Native Dog Hill. Mt Warrigal best known for Test Cricketers Shane & Brett Lee that grew up here , parents are still here at Mt Warrigal

to keep with the cricket term :)..

To Pull Up Stumps - To cease doing something, at least for the day - stop what you are doing, usually to go home


John McDouall Stuart
Jun 13, 2011
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A few more:

Squatter: was one who occupied a large tract of Crown land in order to graze livestock. Initially often having no legal rights to the land, they gained its usage by being the first (and often the only) Europeans in the area.

Selection: referred to ‘free selection before survey’ of Crown land in some Australian colonies under land legislation introduced in the 1860s. These acts were intended to encourage closer settlement, based on intensive agriculture, such as wheat-growing, rather than extensive agriculture, such as wool production. Selectors often came into conflict with squatters, who already occupied the land and often managed to circumvent the law.

Cockie/Cocky: a Farmer. Often specific to the farm e.g. Cattle Cockie, Cane Cockie, etc

Homestead: the main home and some outer buildings of a rural property

Home Yard: a fenced portion of land around a Homestead that served the basic needs of the household e.g. fruit, vegetable and flower gardens, lawn, and sometimes a small enclosure for orphaned stock animals (lambs, calves, foals, chickens, ducklings, etc)

Station: term for a large Australian landholding used for livestock production. It corresponds to the North American term ranch or South American estancia. The owner of a station can be called a grazier (which corresponds to the North American term rancher) or Pastoralist. Because Stations were mainly in isolated locations, they often had the facilities of a small township – bakers, butchers, cooks, a school, blacksmiths, mechanics, medical facilities, etc. Stations were also stock specific – cattle stations or sheep stations.

Bullock Team: Used especially for carrying goods, the bullock cart is pulled by one or several oxen (bullocks). The cart (also known as a jinker) is attached to a bullock team by a special chain attached to yokes, but a rope may also be used for one or two animals.

Bullocky: A bullocky is an Australian term for the driver of a bullock team.

Jackaroo: male trainee Station worker

Jillaroo: female trainee Station worker

Stockman: Experienced person working with livestock on a Station, predominantly on horses. Australian version of a cowboy.

Drover: Experienced Stockman moving stock (predominantly sheep and cattle) over long distances.
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Henry Arthur Readford
May 23, 2011
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Walker thanks I can;t believe we didn't include those already.
Thankyou to all the other contributations I will add to list , I will mostly do updates weekly