While I was reading this book, news came that Peter Casserly, the last surviving digger who fought on the Western Front in World War I, had died, aged 107. Like Marcel Caux, who died in 2004, aged 105, Casserly always repudiated the Australian glorification of Gallipoli, refusing to participate in Anzac Day marches, join the RSL or even to talk about his wartime experiences. Yet after eighty-seven years of silence on the subject, Casserly had not forgotten the language that diggers used in 1917. The Sydney Morning Herald report of his death quoted from an interview he gave. ‘Another time Fritz derailed a train with English soldiers on board,’ he recollected, adding that, ‘Jerry was always trying to blow up the train with all its ammo.’ The soldiers’ terms to refer to their enemy, the Germans (or ‘the Hun’, as it pleased supporters of the conflict to say then), were Fritz, the pet-form of the common German given name Friedrich, and Jerry, an English pet-name that echoed the word German. Likewise, the Turks were called Abdul and Johnny Turk.
Amanda Laugesen’s Convict Words is a dictionary of the characteristic or salient words of early colonial discourse, the lexis of the convict system and transportation, which survived until 1840 in New South Wales, 1852 in Van Diemen’s Land, and 1868 in Western Australia. It is not immediately clear what sort of readership is envisaged for the book. It would not occur to many people interested in Australian colonial history to address the subject through the words the actors in that history used, and the book does not directly answer most of the questions the enquirer might have in mind, unless of course it were convictism itself. As for word-buffs, the limited range of the target lexis – convict words in this narrow sense, and not necessarily Australianisms – may not have suggested itself as an engrossing topic.
This amusing doggerel, furnishing the epigraph to ‘On Queer Street’, the eighth chapter of this book, neatly sums up the status that Oxford Street currently enjoys as an emblem of, and shorthand reference to, the large and vibrant Sydney gay world. Its campy note evokes an older gay world of queens and drag (what in fact the US slang term gay originally meant in the 1920s and 1930s), which was how gay Oxford Street began in the late 1960s. That all receded but did not vanish with the advent of macho fashions and behaviours, clonery, leather, and Muscle Maries in the 1980s, which marked the second wave of US influence following the willing embrace of gay liberation in 1970 and after. Oxford Street is now known to the world as the site of the Mardi Gras parade, far and away the largest street celebration in Australia and probably the largest gay and lesbian street celebration in the world.