Abroad Perspective

The Australian adventures of a Canadian boy down under.

The Prime Possum and Other Unusual Aspects of Childhood in Australia

And now it’s time to take on another bizarre aspect of Australian culture.

Picture this, you’re seven years old again and watching TV in the evening. Inside you’re hoping and praying that Mom and Dad are going to let you stay up a little longer and that the dreaded word BEDTIME won’t be uttered in that voice of stern finality that you know so well.

You watch the clock with baited breath as the minutes tick by, 7:28, 7:29 … it’s so close you can taste it! Then, out of nowhere THE PRIME POSSUM strikes and all of your hopes of staying up late are shattered by one tacky song and a strangely disturbing man dressed as a giant marsupial.

 If you’re confused at this point I don’t blame you. The existence of “bedtime mascots” is one part of Australian culture that I still don’t fully understand. The basic premise is this; at 7:30 every night a variety of different characters show up totally uninvited, interrupt whatever you were watching and tell you that it’s time to go to bed.

Depending on which part of Australia you grew up in you may have experienced any number of different mascots. “Mascot” is the term that I’ve decided to use when referring to these confusing characters because no other word seems capable of capturing exactly what they are.

Big Dog was featured in the National Broadcasting Network out of New South Wales ‘ children’s program Romper Room for over 50 years. This half-century of devotion included a bedtime song where he was tucked in by his fellow Romper Room host Miss Kim. The most surprising thing about Big Dog is that he was on TV for over 50 years and nobody seems to have ever brought up the fact that he looks more like a bear than a dog. Kids in Western Australia are treated to nightly visits by Doopa Dog, a slightly depressed looking hound dog. Thankfully Doopa Dog appears alone and tucks himself in, like a good respectable mascot should. Southern Cross Ten features a song sang by a group of “workers” including a construction worker who evidently loves his teddy, an angry looking ballerina and a guitar-playing fireman.

Last, but certainly not least is the Prime Possum.

The Prime Possum invades the homes of thousands of Victorian Australians every night. He shows up at 7:30 on the dot and tucks boys and girls into bed while a goodnight song plays in the background. For some reason, none of the children seem concerned that a man in a costume is in their bedroom. Evidently the Possum is a regularly featured host on Prime’s Saturday Club cartoons, which may explain why these kids are so comfortable with what amounts to a giant rodent tucking them in. I would continue to discuss this, but talking about this Possum and the fact that he spends most of his day in an attic playing with children would only detract from our theme. Hopefully you get the point.

While all of these mascots are all different they do share one commonality. The mascots are only featured on regional television channels, which seems to send the message that country kids somehow need to be told to go to bed more than their urban counterparts. That’s blatant discrimination if I’ve ever heard it. I bet those city kids got to stay up till 8:30 or, dare I say it, 9 o’clock, the holy grail of all bedtimes.

Of course there are people for whom the Prime Possum was a dear friend and a big part of their childhood. To this day they will swear they loved the Possum and listened obediently ever night when he sang his creepy song.

That being said, in my experience bedtime was just about the worst time of day for a kid. It was right up there with math class and when the bell rings at the end of recess. I remember negotiating with the elegance of a lawyer from a courtroom drama to stay up for just another five minutes. So it’s not hard to imagine that if I had been born in Australia these mascots would have been my sworn enemies.

The most interesting part of all of this is that most Australians seem to accept these “mascots” as a regular and acceptable part of being a kid. On second thought, maybe that’s not so crazy after all. When you think about it, Canada has its own fair share of unusual children’s television characters. I’m talking about you Polkaroo, you creepy giraffe/kangaroo. I guess it just goes to show you that when grow up with something it’s sometimes hard to see how strange or different it really is, regardless of which country you call home.

Pinball, Sydney Vivid Festival.

Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Light Festival.

Taken by: Peter Thomas

Australian Nicknames

If you’ve ever spent time in Australia, or even had a casual conversation with someone from the Land Down Under you’ll know that Australians love to come up with creative short forms for words. Now when I used the word ‘creative’ I’m using it lightly. An Australian short form usually consists of adding a could z’s and either ‘a’ or ‘o’ to the end of a word. This is also a common practice that’s used for coming up with nicknames as I will now demonstrate.

In Australia:

Aaron = Azza

Barry = Bazza

Darren = Dazza

Garry =  Gazza

Karen = Kazza

Lauren = Lozza

Sharon = Shazza

Warren = Wozza

I’m not making this up. This is what people actually call their friends here.

There’s also:

Damon = Damo

and finally, 

Daniel = Dangerz

But how about other popular Aussie names you might ask. Do they get nifty nicknames too? Sadly, no. To my knowledge Bazza is reserved for Barry and not Bruce and Hamish? Well, Hamish is just Hamish, but then again, you get to be called Hamish and that’s kind of special all on its own.

About a month ago I wrote a post about Aussie Slang and one of the terms that I defined was the word ‘bogan’. Since I’ve been in Australia I’ve heard this word used to describe all different kinds of people and I’ve never really been sure what a real bogan looks like. Until now that is! This video acts as the definitive description of what it means to be a bogan. Enjoy.

This sticker can be found most Australian bathroom stalls. Just in case you didn’t know that sitting down, not crouching gargoyle style, was the preferred technique for taking care of bathroom business.

Australians and Alcohol

Another one of the many stereotypes that exist about Australia is that the people here like to drink beer and lots of it. I’ve been here for almost four months and after thorough investigation I have to admit that this is also 100% accurate.

 Aussies love to come home from a tough day working in 40-degree heat and crack open a few cold ones. Beer in Australia comes in a variety of different serving sizes, which can make ordering a beer a little tricky. The smallest is called a “pot” and is about 285 ml, next comes a “schooner” at 425 ml, then comes the internationally recognized pint at 586 ml. You can also get a pitcher of beer, but it’s called a “jug” instead and usually weighs in around 1125 ml. If for some reason you find beer serving sizes insanely interesting a more advanced breakdown of Australian beer sizes can be found here.

Going out in Australia introduces another set of problems. Let’s say you want to go out to a bar and throw back a couple of beers with the boys (or girls, it doesn’t pay to discriminate).  If you walk around looking bars you’re not likely to find anything. This is because most bars in Australia are actually called “hotels.” There’s an interesting story behind this. During the late nineteenth century pressure from the temperance movement forced the Australian government to put stricter legislation in place. One of the new laws stated that in order to get a license to sell liquor a business had to offer rooms. I suppose this was to encourage safer drinking practices and to provide people with a place to sober up. Thus the hotel/bar phenomenon was born and has been confusing tourists ever since.

Besides relaxing after a hard days work or having a casual drink with friends hotels are also an ideal place to witness another Australian tradition called sculling.

Sculling is essentially the same as chugging, but Australians have perfected the art. This guy has it down to a science.

Beer prices in Australia are only $10-15 more then they would be in Canada. Still, $50 for a case of Coronas is a little outside the price range for your average university student. So what is a financially challenged Journalism student supposed to do on a Friday night? The answer is one word, GOON.

Goon you say? What on earth is this guy talking about? Let me explain. Goon is a slang term for boxed wine. We’re talking about 4 liters of soft fruity white or a medium dolce blanco, and not the type that gets better with age. This delightful beverage is stored in a metallic bag that looks like something that belongs on a space station. Because of its simple beauty and futuristic design Australians have seen fit to rename this bag “a goonsack.”

The proper technique for drinking said sack has been dubbed “the goon lean back.” I’ve seen the goon lean back done in all manner of places from university classrooms to public transport and it never fails to impress me with it’s simple elegance.

It consists of leaning back in your chair with the goonsack held proudly above your head, glinting in the sunlight. Then you simply open the rubber nozzle and let a soft stream of warm, yellow liquid cascade through the air and into your waiting mouth.

Yeah, it’s about as disgusting as it sounds and if you thought I was describing something else say, urination, that was because that’s pretty much what it tastes like.

The debate over which flavor of goon is the least revolting is a heavy one. Friendships have been ruined and family ties destroyed over whether a dry white is better than a fruity white. However, there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, don’t drink red goon, EVER. I foolishly gave it a try once and the taste does not bear a description.

When it comes to goon my personal favorite is called fruity lexia. The appeal of fruity lexia is twofold. First and foremost is its strong, masculine name. The second is a simple little rhyme that goes “fruity lexia makes you sexia.” Despite its grammatical errors the idea of becoming “sexia” with every sip has always been a big encouragement while I try to choke it down.

Besides the goon lean back there are a variety of other drinking games that one can do with a goonsack. “Slap the Goon” is a popular activity. It consists of you guessed it! Slapping the goon sack before you drink. Another popular goon based activity is called “Goon-of-Fortune” or “Wheel-of-Goon.” It’s a simple game based off of the popular game show Wheel of Fortune. Goonsacks are attached to a revolving clothesline, which is then spun. Whoever the goonsack stops in front of then has to take a drink. It’s as simple as that. You can watch a video with some hip Aussie youth playing Goon-of-Fortune here.

If you ever find yourself in Australia I encourage you to give goon a try, it’s a university tradition. That being said please remember to always drink responsibly and make good choices. Otherwise you could end up like this guy.

This is an Australian postman or “postie.” They fly around on these little 110cc Hondas. Just one more thing that makes Australia amazing.

This is an Australian postman or “postie.” They fly around on these little 110cc Hondas. Just one more thing that makes Australia amazing.

A Brief Guide to Aussie Slang

One of the most attractive things about Australians is their accent, right? Well here, in no particular order, is a quick guide to Australian slang so the next time you find yourself in conversation with a gorgeous somebody from Down Under you’ll actually be able to understand what they’re saying.. kind of.

Larrikin –someone who jokes around, deadbeat, doesn’t take life seriously

Whinging - complaining about something 

Maccas - McDonald’s restaurant 

Hoon –somebody who drives recklessly

Bogan-white trash, lower class white person, redneck

Shout – covering somebody, ie buying them a drink

Spud- someone who’s dumb as a doornail, not the sharpest tool in the shed

Wanker- someone who’s a jerk, tool

Cobbar – mate, friend, buddy

China - mate, friend, buddy

Pinny – an apron

Loose – someone who parties hard, off the rails unpredictable, crazy. 

Unit – a person (Loose Unit, crazy guy, Massive Unit, muscular guy)

Top Bloke – great guy

Hekkers/Hectic – crazy, out of control “That party last night was hectic!”

Fair Dinkum – true enough, indeed, genuine

Mate – friend, pal, buddy

Shelia – a girl, a woman

Billy – teapot

Bludger – a lazy person

Dole – welfare (Dole Bludger, someone who lives off welfare)

Bottle-o - liquor store

Brisvegas - Brisbane, capital city of Queensland

Budgie smuggler – speedo

Cozzie – bathing suit

Cubby house – garden shed

Dero- a tramp, hobo homeless person

Ute- Utility vehicle/small truck

Paddy Wagon- police station wagon

Doovalacky – when you can’t remember the name of something. Same as a “thingamajig” or a “whatsit”

Durry –cigarette, dart

Feral -scummy, gross, unhygienic person

Nipper- a young person, kid, child

Lollies- candy, sweets

Mozzie- mosquito

Pokies -slot machines, poker, gambling

Poms- English people, person from the UK

Prezzy-present, gift

Ridgy-didge- original, genuine

Roo bar – crash bar on front of cars to protect against hitting kangaroos

Root – having sex

Salvos- salvation army

Schooner – medium beer glass roughly 400 ml

Snags- sausages

Squizz- to look at something. “Take a squizz at this.”

Sunbake – tanning, sunbathing

Sunnies – sunglasses

Swag – a bedroll, sleeping bag, a one-person tent (not something in a Bieber song)

Trackie dacks- sweat pants

Up oneself – really full of yourself

Corkie – Charlie horse, sore muscles

Thongs – flip flops (This caused some confusion when some American girls were told they wouldn’t be allowed to wear “thongs” into a night club)

Australian Sayings/Figures of Speech:

Note: Some of these a a little inappropriate. You have been warned.

Off your face/Off your tits – wasted, drunk

Flat out like a lizard drinking – running really fast, sprinting 

Useless as tits on a bull - useless, can also be used sarcastically. “Bob’s about as useful as tits on a bull.”

Dry as a nun’s nasty – very, very dry

Spit the dummy – throwing a tantrum, get really angry

She’ll be right – it’ll work out, it’ll be ok

Tall poppies – successful people “tall poppy syndrome” cutting down/insulting people who are successful

Hit the turps- going on a drinking binge

He hasn’t got a brass razoo – someone who is really poor

Anything “As” - “That was hectic as”  ”Maccas is cheap as” 

Bloody Oath/ F**kin’ Oath – that’s certainly true, damn straight

         How could something that looks so wrong feel so right?