The Australia Day long weekend has been and gone – over three days, we’ve celebrated our sunburnt country with flags, snags, the annual Australian Lamb campaign — and the usual deluge of slang that defines our vernacular, not least of all ‘Straya’, which seems to have experienced a surge.
We’re not sure how or when it happened, but this product of our laconically lazy lingo now embodies everything hashtagable about a range of uniquely Australian phenomena: “Koala chases woman on quad bike because ‘Straya”; “Snake shuts down Sydney train platform, because Straya”; “Terrifying, giant spider found crawling in Woolies salad because ‘Straya”; and “Wallaby went for a hop along the Sydney Harbour Bridge, because ‘Straya”.
It could be considered the latest iteration of ‘Strine’ — that classically Australian way of speaking first coined in the 1965 book “Let Stalk Strine”, by Professor Afferbeck Lauder (aka Alastair Ardoch Morrison). In the book, we learn an egg nishner is “a mechanical device for cooling and purifying the air of a room”; egg jelly is used thusly: “Well, there’s nothing egg jelly the matter with her. It’s jess psychological”; and laze and gem is used at the start of a public speech: “Laze and gem, it gives me grape leisure …”.
Most know the well-worn slang term “dinkum”, but few of us probably know that this Aussie word, meaning truth, dates back to around 1879, when it was first used in Sydney’s The Evening News (23 August). And while Strine is distinct from slang, citations of Straya can be traced back more recently to 1988 — our Bicentennial year — when Fairfax language columnist Alan Peterson lamented pronunciations such as uhStralia, ‘Stralia and ‘Straya. Nothing new here either — there were debates during Federation as to whether the country should be pronounced ‘Orestralia’, ‘Osstralia’ or ‘Awstralia’.
Some might argue Straya is taking our much-loved language short-cuts too far. On the flip side, it could be testament to our shared appreciation of our humorously efficient, make-do approach to language that speaks volumes about our practicality.
Perhaps the bottom line is to lean into our larrikin lingo – not only on Australia Day, but every day. Embrace all things Strine – onya ‘Straya!