THEY are words that hold not just a meaning but part of our national identity. Words such as "togs" and "duds", "toddler" and "swag". Even this article is "spinning a yarn".
But according to author, journalist and renowned logophile Kel Richards, when we use these words, we don't just sound Australian. We're talking like convicts.
"We all talk like convicts," said Mr Richards. "We have taken these words on board. They're still part of our language."
And many of these words that comprised convict slang, or "flash" language, were first compiled and written down in Newcastle in 1812, when it was a notorious penal settlement.
The person who assembled hundreds of words and their meanings in a dictionary he titled "A Vocabulary of the Flash Language" was a forger, pickpocket and fraudster named James Hardy Vaux.
Kel Richards has just written a biography of Vaux, titled Flash Jim, detailing the life of the career criminal and his contribution to Australian English.
"It was the first dictionary ever written in Australia," said Richards. "I think in a sense it's almost symbolic. The first dictionary written in Australia was a.) a dictionary of slang and, b.) written by a convict. So I think the language started the way it was meant to go on, always a bit cheeky and irreverent.
"Because [Vaux] did that, we can now know that you and I have got hundreds of words in our vocabulary, which are basically convict words."
James Hardy Vaux had been first transported from Britain to the colony of New South Wales in 1801 for stealing. During that sentence of seven years served in and around Sydney, Vaux helped carry out what was the first census in Australia, tallying the number of people in the colony.
For unlike many convicts, Vaux was educated and from a middle-class background. But the life he followed, and the company he kept, revolved around crime.
"When he chose a criminal life path, he had to learn their language, and he learnt it as a second language," said Richards. "He had that mastery and he had the educational skill to understand it, analyse it, record it."
Having returned to Britain and his old life, Vaux was once more in trouble and transported back to NSW in 1810. In Sydney, he was charged again in regard to a theft and, as a repeat offender, was sent to Newcastle.
"Newcastle was known at the time as 'the Hell of NSW'," Kel Richards explained. "It was like a Supermax prison, it's where the worst people went."
Kel Richards said "Flash Jim", as he was referred to, was toiling unhappily in a coal mine. His way out of the mine was words.
"To do that, he wrote this dictionary," Richards said. "His thinking was that the flash talk, which had been invented by thieves sort of as a code language, so they could talk to each other and the police and the magistrates wouldn't know what they were talking about, had become part of the everyday language. And their gaolers couldn't understand it.
"The commandant at Newcastle, Thomas Skottowe, had to call in Vaux and get him to translate what the prisoner was saying.
"So Vaux's clever scheme was, 'I'll write him a dictionary that explains the flash language and what the words mean, and he'll be so impressed and so pleased, he'll take me out of the mines and give me a nice soft job at the quartermaster's store'."
The plan worked. Vaux secured a softer job, and some of the foundations of Australian English had been laid in Newcastle.
"The dictionary only turned up because he was in Newcastle," Richards said. "If he had never been sentenced to hard labour in Newcastle, I don't think he would have ever written that dictionary."
While doing time in Newcastle, Vaux also wrote his memoir, which, along with the dictionary, was later published in London.
According to Kel Richards, Vaux's book was the first autobiography written in Australia: "So this old lag, this old criminal, has got two firsts, and he wrote both of them in Newcastle."
While the way Australians speak has changed dramatically since Vaux's day, particularly with the influence of American popular culture, Kel Richards said "Aussie English" remained healthy and "still as bright as a box of budgies" - with more than a sprinkling of those convict words "Flash Jim" recorded.
"He deserves a hardy handshake," said Mr Richards of his biography subject. "But just check for your wristwatch after you've shaken hands with him."
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