You’ve probably never heard of Gina Rinehart. She’s known for having a lot more money than you.
Her father flew over a forlorn, desert, and deserted section of Australia in 1952 and thought, “Hey look! All these hills are the same color as my rusting farm parts… made of iron… hey…. wait a minute…” And so began the plodding industry that sends trains full of really old rocks out to the Australian coast, fills ships headed to China, adds the rocks to a hot industrial soup to make steel, and fabricates the foundation of your easy modern life.
Ms. Rinehart is now the empress of a modern empire that owns the rights to some of the largest land leases in Australia’s iron-ore Shangri-la. People often juxtaposed the two of us during my tenure in her father’s desert, owing to the lack of other females. My masculine compatriots would joke, “You’re the second richest woman in the Pilbara!”
My minority status was even more pronounced in the nationality department. While I didn’t reach out via the camp newsletter or anything, as a stranger-accosting aficionado I can pretty confidently assert there wasn’t another “Yank” for miles. (Er… kilometers?)
You’ll be surprised to learn Australians also were often a minority. Considering it’s their country, it’s stunning to recall how many times I worked or ate with a group that contained zero Aussies. Who, then?
- Kiwis. (New Zealanders.) Heaps and heaps of Kiwis.
- And Irish. So many Irish.
- And Brits. Welsh, English, and Scots in all their bewildering accents.
- And South Africans – who have, to my ears, the most gentle of commonwealth-descended speech.
I loved the Irish. Not only do they work their asses off (similar to the American work ethic with which I identify), they are friendly and hilarious. And that fantastic accent! Always talking about “trick waters” (three-quarters), “treading” (threading) pipe, finishing “da conner” (the corner), “beer-ohs” (Biros — a pen brand like Bic but used to refer to any pen), and things being rarer “den hen’s teat” (than hen’s teeth). These are great, great men.
The general work-site vernacular was almost as delightful, even when it didn’t come out of an Irish mouth. At first, the plethora of accents and unfamiliar vocab/culture created social experiences that were like sitting at a table of strangers speaking Italian. I picked up every fifth word and occasionally even understood the gist of the conversation. However, when I could understand them, I found my workmates’ expressions hilarious. Favorites:
- “copping pineapples” – getting chastised for inadequate work performance. A simile for the discomfort one would feel if a fresh pineapple was inserted… well let’s not embarrass ourselves here.
- “shit-house” – never the bathroom. Used exclusively to refer to an unprofessional finish. i.e. “Every single piece is a different length. That’s really shit-house.”
“on the piss” – in a work context, means “not level.” Derived from the general use of this expression to refer to someone who is drinking to get or to continue being drunk. i.e. “That light is on the piss. It looks really shit-house.”
- “rough as guts” – a shoddy job. A nicer way to say that something is or looks ‘shit-house’ or unprofessional. i.e. – “Mate, did you see Garrett’s welds? Rough as guts!”
- “under the pump” – under pressure. Similar to ‘under the gun’.
- “more delays, more pay” – a frequent employee quip to address the general disorganization and time-wasting that over-regulation causes. Similarly, “they’re wanking, I’m banking.”
- “turf it” – throw it away/get rid of it. What should we do with the leftover sheeting? “Turf it.”
- “full-lock” – winding a vehicle’s steering wheel all the way to the right or left.
- “A is for Australian, B is for Bullshit” – an expression one electrician used to remember how to connect A/B wiring in accordance with the Australian system.
- “fill your boots” – like ‘go for it!’ Not as common in general, but a daily favorite of my direct supervisor.
- “prick” – used in describing a difficult task. Welding in the sun during the hottest part of the day would be called “A right prick of a job.”
While we’re on genitalia euphemisms, yes, “cunt” is a prolific part of Australian profanity. Something can be “a cunt of a job.” Anyone can be a “fucking cunt, stupid cunt, or dumb cunt.” On the other hand, they can also be a “good cunt.” Anytime a profane American might say “fucker,” profane Australians say “cunt.”
fuckercunt is always late.”
fuckercunt is beyond repair.”
- “Now they want the
fuckercunt two days earlier.”
In probably the same amount of time it takes a 10-year old boy to become desensitized to slaughtering virtual humans on a gaming console, people dropping c-bombs every-other sentence ceased to shock me. As did a few other amusing expressions from the mouth of
- “perving on a chick” – creepily staring or otherwise giving unwanted attention to a female.
- “fucking idiot” – a term used to address everyone else on a worksite — especially if they aren’t trained in the same profession as the speaker.
“off my head” – getting really angry. i.e. “Mikey went off his head at Jim when he denied his leave (vacation) request.“
- “mean” – American equivalents: awesome, cool, sweet, bad-ass. i.e. “Eminem is so mean!”
- “wind up” – teasing someone to get a reaction. My crew was filled with guys who liked to “wind each other up.” I found it amusing that said dudes had yet to shed the youthful equation of personal value with seating location on our transport buses.
- “better to be looking at it than looking for it” – the reason you always cut cable and wires a bit longer than you think you’ll need.
And no vocab lesson is complete without expressions involving the Australian adoration for shortening words in (what Americans would see as) a cutesy way:
“sunnies tan” – the lines on cheekbones and foreheads that result from spending hours a day in the sun wearing sunglasses (sunnies).
- “rodgie” – used on the hand-held radios, because rodger/copy/affirmative are waaaaay too long.
- “subbies” – sub-contractors. Why do companies use sub-contractors to perform work they could easily do themselves? Because sometimes, they just don’t have the…
- “manny” (manpower!)
Also in the spirit of shorter, cuter words, a Philips-head drill bit is often called a “posi-bit.” In case you’ve never touched a drill in your life, a Philips-head looks like a plus (+) or “positive” aka “posi” sign. Other bewildering Australian equipment terminology:
- “tray” – the bed of a pick-up truck or big dump truck. i.e. “Let’s get all the bricks loaded onto the tray before we pick up those subbies”
- “witches hats” = traffic cones
- “hilti” – an SDS drill. Aussies love to refer to things using a brand name, even though Hilti makes way more than just SDS drills.
- “texta” – a marker — also a brand name, but used almost exclusively to refer to this object.
“cocky beak” – giant cable-cutters whose scissor points are shaped like a cockatoo-beak.
- “EWP” – an acronym used to refer to cherry-pickers/boom lifts: Elevated Work Platform.
- “multi-grips” – said “muldy”, not “mult-eye.” A reversal of the brand-name love. Americans would call these “Channel Locks” (a pair of pliers that look like an adjustable wrench at first glance).
“sleepers” – railroad ties
- “pigsty packing” — when things are stacked in cross-hatch/log cabin/Jenga fashion — with perpendicular layers.
- “kak-handed nibbler” — my favorite in this list… a nibbler is a specialty tool for cutting sheet metal, and kak-handed is a term used to refer to leftys.
While I may not remember the 84-hour-week lifestyle with fondness, I can easily see myself waxing nostalgic for the adorable expressions of Gina Rinehart’s Pilbara. ♣