Talk Queenslandish in one easy lesson

A brief guide to the curious linguistics of north-eastern Australia.

I had the dubious pleasure of growing up in Queensland, a sun-soaked and slightly backwards part of Australia., second only to South Australia for its obscurity [1]. However, over the years I've come to remember Queensland speech with some affection, a dialect in which it is possible to have an hour long conversation that consists of a dozen repeated mono-syllabic grunts and not a single hard consonant. Indeed, if the world was to adopt the Queensland tongue, Ludwig Zamenhof's [2] dream would be fulfilled and we could all live in harmony, the only arguments being those over exactly how "bloody hot" it is and whose turn it is to get the beer.

While some of the Australian slang dictionaries list regional slang, they seem to be mostly the product of someone with an overly active imagination. To this end, I present this brief introduction to the speech patterns and vocabulary of Queensland. A warning: visitors to Queensland should not attempt to use this slang or to imitate the accent, as being called "a wanker" may offend.

General principles

The accent

Broadly speaking, Queenslanders follow the rural Australian accent, which is slow and twangy. However, Queenslanders' voices are less harsh, being softer, breathier and flatter. (This may make it sound quite attractive. Be disabused of this notion immediately.) The sound can be approximated by speaking through your nose and one side of your mouth, while squinting.

The ubiquitous mono-syllable

Why use ten words when clearing your throat will do just as well? Queenslanders have large and subtle repertoire of mono-syllables and grunts they can deploy as conversational shorthand. For instance:

A rising "ey?" at the end of a sentence

As with many Canadians, Queenslanders have the habit of tacking a querulous "ey?" on the end of every sentence. This translates as This thing that I have just said, is it not most worthy and correct? If you do not say otherwise, I shall assume so!

A protracted "arhhh ..." at the beginning of a sentence

A piratical device beloved of former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, this roughly means: I have something of the greatest importance to say. However, as I have not yet figured out what it exactly is, this extended groan will serve as a placeholder for the time being. Thus, it is impolite to interrupt someone "mid-arhhh", for they have already started talking, even if their speech is as yet devoid of nouns, verbs, a subject, any objects, or in fact any words at all.

An extended rising & falling "ohhhhh!" as a response

Hearing this peppered through conversations, an outsider might surmise that Queenslanders are in a perpetual state of faint surprise at everything. In reality, this has a looser meaning along the lines: Although I am tongue-tied, what you say is interesting, and you should continue, for I have nothing to contribute at this point. For example:

"The spare key is in the kitchen drawer."


"And saurian-like aliens have invaded our planet, dooming us to life-long imprisonment in their vast subterranean meat-factories, where our children will grow up as stunted albinos, having never seen the sun."


The sibilant duo-syllable

While it's an Australia-wide habit to abbreviate words, Queenslanders excel in this practice, hacking any words longer than two syllables down to just one and then tacking on a random vowel. Actually words of one syllables are often lengthened to two, and those with two syllables mutated to match this pattern. Hence, at the University of Queensland, engineering students were called "engies", journalism students "journos", music students "musos" and pharmacy students "pharmos". Personal names are often composed in the same way: "Gazza", "Warny", "Poida". Also see postie, Brizzie, rego, truckie, Gabba, rellies and many, many others.

Rhyming slang

For some reason, many Australian vocabulary guides have long lists of opaque rhyming slang. No one ever, ever speaks like this.

Obsolete slang

Due to old movies and the actions of over-enthusiastic and sentimental natives, there is a whole list of supposed slang that hasn't actually been used in the last 50 years. For example: "bonza", "cobber", "corker", "sheila", "strewth".

The Words


This list is very much in progress. Also, many of the words are not restricted to Queensland, but are favourites of the natives. Thus I've included them. Any contributions are welcome.

aerial ping pong
Australian rules football. In the UK and most of the world, "football" usually means soccer. In the USA, it means gridiron. In Queensland, it means rugby. By contrast, in Victoria (the south), it means "Australian rules", a mobile and quick game with some resemblance to Gaelic football, although no one is really sure where it came from. In any event, Queenslanders regard Aussie rules as an effete abomination of their own rugged and violent sport.
In Australia, this means "from south-east Asia" - China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia etc. etc. In the UK, "Asian" refers to the Indian subcontinent - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh - whom Australians blithely group together as "Indians", which I'm told is roughly congruent with the US meaning.
banana bender
Someone from Queensland. Note that Queenslanders never use this word themselves. Never ever ever.
Not necessarily a bad word, often used for comic or dramatic effect as in "you bastard", "dumb bastard" or "who was the stupid bastard that suggested that?". The word "mongrel" has a similar usage.
In Australia, "beer" always, always means "lager".
Used to mean (1) an argument or quarrel, or (2) the default nickname for someone who has fair skin and red hair, or (3) a type of cattle dog (blue heelers). In a few centuries, Queensland vocabulary will probably consist solely of this word and a series of surprised grunts.
An exclamation of surprise and delight."I won the casket! Bonus!"
bottle shop
What you durn foreigners would call a liquor store or off-license.
Derogatory term for someone working class or from the wrong side of town. You could argue it's to do with them being uneducated and working class, but it's really more to do with them wearing ugg boots and flannel shirts, driving panel vans and listening to heavy rock. You know a bevan when you see one. Known in Melbourne as "bogans" and Sydney as "westies".
big smoke
The big city.
Macrotis lagotis or the rabbit-eared bandicoot. Looking like a cross between a mouse and a minute kangaroo, this cute little fellow lives in the arid deserts of Australia. In recent years it's been adopted as an indigenous replacement for the Easter Bunny - rabbits being a major pest in Australia - and shops have started selling chocolate bilbies. Unfortunately, the bilby population is slowly dying out. There's something peculiarly Australian about replacing a traditional fertility symbol with an animal that has trouble reproducing.
A man, used in the same sense as "guy" or "fella". As in: "Who called earlier?" "I dunno, some bloke."
Someone lazy. Usually used in the sense of unemployment, as per the radio shock-jock's favourite phrase "dole bludger". Can also be used as a noun ("having a bludge") or verb ("can I bludge off you?").
Universal word for cafetieres or french press coffee makers, and a glowing tribute to the dedication of the marketing division of the Bodum kettle company.
Pronounced BRIZbin. The capital of Queensland. Also called "Brizzie".
A recent name for Brisbane, not always used ironically. Its origin is obscure, but probably refers to Brisbane's efforts to turn itself from a sleepy regional centre into a bustling international metropolis.
Bundy and coke
Relatively cheap and toxic drink made from coke and Bundaberg rum, and the cause of at least one embarrassing alcoholic moment for nearly everyone who has grown up in Queensland. Australians travelling overseas are stunned by the fact that Bundaberg rum is marketed globally, just like a name brand that people might deliberately seek out. Given that it tastes like a low quality diesel fraction, this is deeply mysterious.
bush pig
Someone ugly. While bush pigs are certainly not attractive, why they get singled out for this backhanded abuse is unclear.
Not to be confusing with the English meaning, this means roughly "to laugh so hard as to soil yourself". As in: "When Tanya backed her ute into the mailbox, I was cacking myself."
The Golden Casket, Queensland's version of the lottery, and used colloquially in the same sense: "One day when I win the casket ..." One of those words that you don't notice until leaving the state and then wondering if a lottery was really marketed like some pirates chest overflowing with dubloons.
A pharmacist or pharmacy.
A cockroach. Also a cockatoo. Also, a New South Wales word for farmer. Curiously, all are present in large quantities in Queensland.
Charmingly, someone from New South Wales. Also known as "Mexicans" (as in "south of the border").
One of a set of internationally confusing terms. In Queensland, "school" means "school" as in the first 12 years of basic compulsory education. However, some of the posher schools (and you don't have to be very posh to be posh in Queensland) call themselves "colleges", while others use the term "secondary college" to differentiate years 8 to 12. After school, one can on to tertiary education at a university, or a "college", which is usually a small university campus or institute that does vocational training (what one might call a "polytechnic" in the UK). Also used to describe the residential halls at major universities. So you can go to college at a college and when you finish, you move on to college where you stay at a college.
To collapse from exhaustion. Often used as a sign of just how hard you were partying last night.
Country Womens Association. Loosely like a paleo-conservative and rural version of the YWCA, this is where all the country girls go to stay initially when they move down to the big smoke.
Somewhat like "nerd" or "geek", but more a comment about a lack of sophistication which makes it closer to "yokel". Of course, making this accusation in Queensland is absurd at the best of times ...
As in "old digger". Strictly speaking, this only applies to Australian veterans of WWI, but can be used generically to describe any old bloke, especially a curmudgeon that glares at you when you enter "his" pub and later assails you endlessly with stories of how he saved you from the Hun at El Alamein.
A duvet, comforter or quilted eiderdown used as a bed covering.
deep north
An allusion to the American "deep south", used by non-Queenslanders to refer to (supposedly) fundamentalist, racist, Bible-bashing, inbred Queensland. Curiously, it's since been used by those in southern Queensland to refer to far north Queensland, with somewhat more justification.
A cigarette, particularly a hand-rolled one.
Sibilant duo-syllable for "football", thus shortening a word with two syllables to one with two syllables ...
To rummage around or search for something. While this is usually applied in the domestic context, it can be used for hunting for gems or mineral deposits.
A lie or tall story.
The Queensland Cricket Ground at Woolloongabba. During summers it becomes the most highly televised and observed place in the state.
gone troppo
Gone mad (because of the heat) or moved to a hot place (where they will go mad because of the heat).
go walkabout
A strangely cliched but genuine bit of slang, meaning "to get lost" or "or wander off". So your car keys could "go walkabout" and when someone fails to show up for a meeting, they're "gone walkabout".
hole in the wall
A cash machine or automated teller. I could make some comment about how this reflects a cargo-cult mentality towards banks and money. But I won't.
A pub, as in a place where you would drink. Also sometimes actually means "hotel".
hit the turps
To go on a drinking binge. Of course, "turps" (via "turpentine") means "alcohol".
A vague but enthusiastic positive comment, much like "excellent" or "massive". As in: "How was the party?" "Mate, it was huge."
A similar meaning to huge. Sometimes, it even means "big".
Possibly archaic, but used as an exclamation of how great something is. As in: "I brought two slabs of beer" "Hunt!". The antonym is "unhunt". I was told this word derives from "hunt out a bargain", which seems just as likely as any other possibility.
Possibly archaic or of restricted usage, for a while in the early 90s this meant "to destroy utterly". Probably derived from a very forgettable movie.
A small square of sponge cake covered in chocolate and desiccated coconut. A true Queensland icon, as schools often raise money by having "lamington drives" in which parents make large amounts of lamingtons for school-children to hawk door-to-door. That the education of the next generation in "The Smart State" depends in a large part on these sales of sponge cake is an irony that has apparently missed the populace.
Variously, "you there", "friend", "companion", as in "Hey mate" Excuse me, may I have your attention?, "Thanks mate" Thank you, my friend, "Well, you and your mates can just piss off" Your entourage is no longer welcome in this establishment, and "Who's his mate?" What is the identity of the person standing next to him?. Note that mate is a gender neutral term.
Mosquito. That damn sibilant duo-syllable again.
What might be called a "deli" in New York or a "cornershop" in London, a small local store that contains one copy of every object in the known world that you only buy for an inflated price because it's just too far to the supermarket.
A cat, especially a plain-old, domestic, no-particular-breed-at-all cat. I can't believe you didn't know that.
no drama
"No problem". Also used as "no worries", "zero sweat".
Some one from Pakistan. Oddly enough, in England this is an incredibly loaded racial epithet, but in Australia it's just a way of describing nationality, modified into a sibilant duo-syllable - just like "Kiwi", "Pommie" "Yankee" and Windies - and has no negative connotations at all. In summer the ads for the cricket cry out "The Pakis are coming!", which must cause English migrants to have a fit. Also see Asian.
packing it
Roughly analogous to "shaking in their boots" or "trembling with fear", but used for comic or dramatic effect. "Mate, when Davo saw the the cops in his rear vision mirror, we were just packin' it." Also used as "packing", and "packing her/himself".
To make a flimsy excuse to get out of something. "Did Gazza show up to the party?" "Nah, he piked. Said he had to drive the girlfriend to work."
Can be used in the American ("angry"), English ("drunk"), anatomical ("urinated"), meteorological ("rained a lot") or movement ("ran away") sense. As in: "Davo was so pissed that it was pissing down, he got pissed and pissed himself so we pissed off." As is often the case in Australian speech, context is everything.
Bag, suitcase or satchel, especially one used for school. Probably derived from the English word "portmanteau". Endlessly confusing to the rest of the Australia, where for many years "port" referred to a popular style of fortified red wine, originally from Portugal.
What people from Queensland call themselves, but also a local style of house. It is built on stumps (and thus raised off the ground) with wide verandas and a tin roof, and is gloriously suited to the local climate.
x's right
From experience, this is the construct that causes the greatest amount of confusion in non-Queenslanders. It occurs variously as "It's right", "You're right", "She's right" (but never "He's right") and means in answer to an offer of assistance It's fine / don't worry / don't bother / it's oka y.Note how it conveniently reduces a lengthy two word phrase to a terse two word phrase.
Car registration or tax disk . Because "registration" has, like, four syllables in it ...
Relatives. As in: "I have to go and visit the rellies."
Irrevocably broken. As in: "Your hard disk is rooted mate. Need to get a new one." "Root" also means "to have sex".
A battered potato cake ("potato scallop") such as you'd buy in a fish and chip shop. Also - confusingly - the battered fish (Patinopecten sp.), also as you'd buy in a fish and chip shop. Queenslanders use the same word to refer to both, instinctively recognising from context which meaning is the intended one. For example: "I'd like 4 dollars worth of chips and a couple of scallops." "OK. Anything else?" "Ah ... throw in a few scallops as well." "Coming right up." This turns out to be a similar usage form the North of England.
The "Schoolies' Week", an end-of-year week-long party held down the Gold Coast by those graduating from school. Also attracts a large number of predatory or infantalised university students.
A scratchcard, with slivery panels that you rub off, such as used in the lottery or on public transport.
A measurement of amount of beer, specifically 24 tinnies or stubbies on a cardboard pallete. If it's a box of large bottles of beer, it's called a "carton". This is what people bring to parties. Reputedly, some truckies measure the length of their trips in slabs or cartons. If you're driving on Queensland roads, this is probably something you didn't want to know.
Expressing comical disappointment or regret. "Mate, when I found out that Lorraine had actually wanted to go out with me, I was spewing." Also used in the sense "to vomit". Go figure.
A word I used for years before finding no one else knew what it was. To spruik is to promote, advertise, proselytise, argue for but with the faint connotation of the carnival barker than of an honest argument. Can also be used as a noun to describe the product or output of said spruiking.
A surfie.
One of the immense farming properties you'll find in the outback. Sometimes just called a "property", never a "ranch" or "farm".
A quick look, an assessment, a once over. Used as both noun and verb. "Let me have a squizz at that." Interestingly this appears to be an old bit of English slang, derived from "inquire" and "inquisitive".
Semi-trailer or articulated lorry to you Poms. This is what Queenslanders mean by truck.
A small bottle (about 500ml) of beer. See tinny. "Stubbies" are also a popular brand of shorts.
Derived generally from "suspicious" but again, used as an adjective and a verb, with two different meanings. "Seems a bit suss" (this item is anomalous, nay untrustworthy) or "I sussed out a good deal" (using my raw cunning, I was able to derive a solution).
Thank you.
Rubber sandals, what someone from the UK might call "flip-flops" or "jandals" in New Zealand. Essential for the beach, everyone owns a pair of these.
this arvo
Pronounced as one word thiSARvo. This afternoon.
A tin (can) or beer. See stubby.
Bathers or swimsuit. Sydney-siders say "cossie", which is anathema to Queenslanders.
A truck driver, but when I say truck, I mean semi.
A U-turn in a car. "So I did a u-ee ..."
ugg boats
Uggies, thick sheepskin boots that are universally loved by bevans, inexplicably so, given Queensland's tropical climate.
Small utility truck.
whinging Pom
The archetype of the English in Australia, who seem to spend their whole time complaining about the weather, delays in public transport and poor service in restaurants. Like many stereotypes there is a small vein of truth, although in their defence, I can attest to the presence in London of thousands of "whinging Aussies".
Someone from the West Indies, and almost always someone from their crickte team.
Someone of Greek or Italian extraction, and sometimes anywhere non-Anglosaxon as long as you have a swarthy complexion. One of those complicated words that used to be derogatory (as it still is in England) but was later reclaimed by young Greek- and Italian-Australians, and has so become almost respectable. Almost. Wogs can call each other wogs but don't you try to. Has an implied image of brashness, loudness, trashy pop-culture, big hair and muscle cars.
A prude or conservative, stereotypically reactionary, anti-alcohol, anti-sex and luddite. According to the rest of Australia, Queensland is full of them. This fails to explain the brisk tourist trade.
The chosen beer of the sunshine state, a golden ambrosia compared to the filthy slop that passes for beer in other states.
yum cha
Confusing this one. A near universal word used to describe the meals bought from trolleys in Chinese restaurants. From observation, this isn't what the Chinese call it, and elsewhere it's called "dim sum". Further data points are welcome.

[1] For non-Australians who doubt me: quickly name as many of the states and/or capitals of Australia as you can. See what I mean?

[2] The inventor of Esperanto.