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I don’t understand but I won’t make a scene.
Boomtown Rats, 1982

Fresh eyes and ears see (and hear) what flies under local radar.

One of the quiet joys of a mobile life is observing little local eccentricities, especially in vernacular. Australia as we know it is but a young country and culturally pretty homogenous. But even though we don’t have those charming little local dialects celebrated in other countries, we’re not all the same.

The Berra has its own special expressions, and my visiting friend and colleague James gleefully pointed out his two favourites this week.

The Shops
Usually teamed with a locality, we can’t think of another place in Australia that uses this phrase in quite the same way. Sentences like “I’ll meet you at the Ainslie Shops”, or “There’s a great new restaurant at the Griffith Shops” are standard in the Berra, but make out-of-towners giggle. They’d never say, “Meet you at the Redfern Shops”, and not just because they don’t have adequate body armour to undertake the excursion.

The Flats
Much like ‘The Shops’, ‘The Flats’ need a locality. They’re often housing commission, but can be govvie (see below) or even private. “I live across from the Lyneham Flats” sounds quite fine to a Berran ear, in a way that a Slurry Hills resident would think comic if he were to say, “I live at the Nickson St Flats”. (Though you might get away with it in Melbourne where one can refer to [housing] ‘commission flats’ this way.)

Those are James’s observations. I reckon there are some other very local Berran phrases, the use of which can render you almost instantly local(ish).

Northside and Southside.
Everyone in the Berra lives in one of these two locations, determined by your relation to Lake Burley Griffin. Not ‘north’, nor ‘south’; these are words for general directions, or incomplete descriptions used by stupid out-of-towners.

Govvie [GUV-ee]
Short for ‘government’, and used especially to describe the origins of one’s housing. When the Berra was under construction, the government apparently built a lot of little cottages to house the newly arriving public servants, and these form a lot of the housing stock in the Berra’s older suburbs today. You’ll hear young, newly-propertied couples at cafes discussing their shiny new mortgages by saying, “Yes, we’ve just bought in Bruce; it’s a little ex-govvie”.

This is a single word, used to describe the universal holiday destination for Berrans. It refers to any coastal locale south of Wollongong (mostly south of Nowra) and north of the Victorian border. Preferably your version of Downthecoast includes a shack purchased by your parents in the 70s and to which you take your spouse and children, usually arranged by argument with other siblings and inlaws. “I’ll be spending Christmas Downthecoast, because thankfully my sister and her idiot husband don’t get back from Adelaide until after New Year.”

At just over 18 months on the ground, I’m still far from local. Any suggestions for further Berran phrases I could learn will be gratefully received.


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