This was a controversial and divisive dictionary when it came out, but it's never really been surpassed and it's still essentially the cornerstone of Australian lexicography. It was first published in 1898 under the title of Austral English
, its editor one of those manic and slightly bonkers Victorian academics who had been born in British India and emigrated to Australia to try and make a name for himself. When the Oxford English Dictionary
was being compiled, Morris was fingered to supply them with interesting citations of vocabulary and usage from Australia and New Zealand. He was so enthusiastic about his duties that he soon had enough material for a book of his own: this is the result.
I said it was controversial – well you can imagine the reactions of many Australians at seeing a dictionary of their language overseen and written by some immigrant Brit who had been born in Madras and educated at Rugby and Oxford. And certainly an Anglocentric viewpoint is notoriously present in many of the definitions:
Midwinter, n. The seasons being reversed in Australia, Christmas occurs in the middle of summer…
It came in for some heavy criticism almost straight away, especially by Alfred Stephens
of the Bulletin
, and later again in Sidney J Baker's landmark work The Australian Language
. The main objections were that Morris had missed important colloquialisms that only a ‘true’ Aussie would know – with the word matilda
(‘swag’) particularly notable by its absence.
For all that, the scholarship behind this dictionary means that ‘Morris’ is still quite a important reference for Australianisms even now. Like his beloved OED, Morris's book is built according to historical principles with definitions illustrated by reams of quotations showing actual usage. This means that even where his definitions have become outdated or awkward, the information presented is still invaluable. An example, almost at random, to illustrate the general approach:
Humpy, n. (1) a native hut. The aboriginal word is Oompi; the initial h is a Cockney addition, and the word had been given an English look, the appearance of the huts suggesting the English word hump. (The forms himbing and yamba occur along the East coast of Australia. Probably it is kindred with koombar, bark, in Kabi dialect, Mary River, Queensland.) The old convict settlement of Moreton Bay, now broken up, was called Humpy Bong (see Bung), sc. Oompi Bong, a dead or deserted settlement. The aboriginal names for hut may be thus tabulated:
Gunyah / Goondie……New South Wales.
Mia-mia……Victoria and Western Australia.
Wurley (Oorla)……South Australia.
1846. C. P. Hodgson, ‘Reminiscences of Australia,’ p. 228:
“A ‘gunyah’ or ‘umpee.’”
1876. J. Brunton Stephens, ‘Black Gin,’ p. 16:
“Lo, by the ‘humpy’ door, a smockless Venus.”
(2) Applied to a settler's house, very small and primitive.
1881. A. C. Grant, ‘Bush Life in Queensland,’ vol. i. p. 133:
“To dwell in the familiar old bark ‘humpy,’ so full of happy memories. The roof was covered with sheets of bark held down by large wooden riders pegged in the form of a square to one another.”
1885. R. M. Praed, ‘Australian Life,’, p. 57:
“A lonely hut…and a kitchen – a smaller humpey – at the back.”
1890. Rolf Boldrewood, ‘Squatter's Dream,’ p. 247:
“He's in bed in the humpy.”
1893. Gilbert Parker, ‘Pierre and his People,’ p. 135:
“Shon McGann was lying on a pile of buffalo robes in a mountain hut – an Australian would call it a humpey.”
All that could be added to that nowadays is the source language, which is thought to be Turrubal.
Of course Australian English has changed a lot since Morris first came out, and this won't help you with things like bottle-o
, fair dinkum
, or bogan
– but as a historical dictionary it's a classic.