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Jim’s Australiana Spot – 2UE - December 1, 2013

Aussie Yarns – Jim’s new book is out tomorrow!

Harry Morant
The Cover of Jim's New Book


1 What is the connection in our language between old-fashioned methods of making cloth and telling stories?
  The term YARN SPINNING comes from the old fashioned method of making wool and cotton clothing
2 Aboriginal humour in action… what were Festival organisers TOLD ‘Moomba’ meant? What does it REALLY MEAN?
  Let’s have fun/up your bum

Yarns are the way we have preserved and developed our Aussie sense of humour. 'Aussie humour' seems to be about laughing at ourselves & supporting the underdog.

There are Irish and Cockney elements in our humour. The more dry, deadpan humour might come from the settlers and convicts who hailed from Yorkshire, Lancashire, the West Country of UK, but what is often forgotten is that indigenous Australians have a unique sense of humour and are among the most amusing people I know to sit and yarn with. Aboriginal humour is broad, self-deprecating, ironic and rude.

Yarn spinning is one way of building a bond between individuals. Shared yarns help us to become a group - a family, good neighbours, a team, a profession ...friends.

Amongst Aussie men the social group was often the drinking group and yarn spinning in the pub after work was a very strong Australian tradition. In the bush men yarned around the campfire or in the pub, while women formed informal groups for 'afternoon teas' or yarned at the CWA Hall, or over the back fence in the town and city.

We all love amusing or strangely coincidental stories, whether they be family yarns or work related anecdotes. If you have ever socialised with group who are all from one profession you have no doubt heard their 'yarns'. Teachers’ reminiscences, doctors' stories, truckies’ stories, builders' experiences - every profession or sport or hobby has its own store of folklore and yarns.

How Would I Be !?

This is the archetypal 'Aussie Yarn' and has usually been attached to Tobruk. It is sometimes known as 'The World's Worst Whinger'.
The deadpan self-depracating black humour of the story somehow seems to fit the dry Aussie humour that sustained the troops at the Siege of Tobruk. The Aussies took the German insults and attempts to destroy their morale and used them to boost their morale and thumb their noses at their enemies.

I first struck him first in a shearing shed near Longreach in far western Queensland. He had a smoke stuck to his bottom lip and was wearing a dirty old blue 'Jackie Howe' singlet. He'd just shoved a cranky old ewe down the shute and was taking a deep breath when I nodded and asked the usual Aussie question by way of greeting.

“How'd ya be?”

He didn’t answer for a few seconds, he just looked at me as if I'd crawled out from under a log, took the 'roll-your-own' smoke out of his mouth and scratched his head.

'How would I be?' he said slowly, 'how would I bloody-well be!?'

'How the bloody hell do you think I'd be?' Get a look at me, will you? I'm covered in dags and burrs, these bloody shears are blunt and the shearing engine only works when it feels like it.

'The boss of this place is the lousiest bastard in Australia, me missus is chasing me for maintenance on three kids that aren't mine and I haven't had a beer for weeks.

'Last time I got a beer in me mitt some dopey bastard knocked it out of me hand and then the publican threw me out of the pub for hitting dopey bugger!

'The cook in this shed should be cooking for murderers in some prison, his gravy and his custard taste exactly the same and he's the only bloke I know who can make eggs taste like India rubber!

'How would I be!? How do you bloody well think I'd be!?'

Next time I saw him he was sitting outside the recruiting office in Brisbane with a pile of army gear in his lap.

I should have known better but the words were out before I could stop myself, “How'd ya be, Cobber?”

“How would I bloody well be?” he said, “Take a gander at me, would ya! Get a load of this bloody outfit; look at me bloody hat - size nine and a half and I take a six and a half; get a bloody eyeful of these strides, you could hide a brewery horse in the bloody things and still have room for me; they gave me one shirt four sizes too big and one three sizes too small and look at these boots, there’s a enough leather in the bastards to make a full set of saddle and harness; and they told me this was a man’s outfit! How'd I be? How do you bloody well think I'd be!?

I next saw him in Tobruk. He was seated on an upturned ammunition box; tin hat over one eye, cigarette butt hanging out from his bottom-lip, rifle leaning against one knee, trying to clean his fingernails with the tip of his bayonet.

I should have known better, but I asked him: “How'd ya be, Digger?”

He swallowed the butt and fixed me with a fearsome look. “How'd I be? How would I bloody well be? How would you expect me to be? Six months in this bloody place being shot at by every Fritz in Africa and used as target practice by the bloody Luftwaffe ten times a day! I'm eating bloody sand with every meal; there's flies in me hair and eyes, frightened to sleep a bloody wink, expecting to die in this bloody god-forsaken place and copping crow every time there’s a handout of a job to anybody. How'd I be? How the bloody hell do you expect I'd be?”

Well, he must have died at Tobruk, because the last time I saw him I was dreaming - and he was in Heaven.

I know I should have known better but I said ‘G'day Old Mate, how'd you be?”

 “How'd I be? How in the bloody Heaven's name do ya reckon I'd be?

'Get a look at bloody regulation nightgown, would you! A man trips over the bloody thing fifty times a bloody day and it takes a man tern minutes to lift the bloody thing when he wants to scratch his shin. And get a gander at this bloody right wing, feathers missing everywhere - a man must be bloody well moulting! Get an eyeful of this halo - only me bloody ears keep the rotten thing on me skull.
'How would I bloody well be? Cast your eyes over me bloody harp; five strings missing and there’s band practice in six minutes.

'How'd I be? How do you bloody well think I'd be!?'



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