Saturday, June 2, 2012


Travelling well depends on the joy that you find in small discoveries.

The trophy destinations - the Taj Mahals and Grand Canyons - are all well and good.  But they're not yours to discover.  Your experience of them can only be muffled by the layers of received experience from the generations of travellers who have preceded you.  It is the reputation of the place, after all, the previously agreed-upon value, that brings you there in the first place.

When I'm travelling, I'm always drawn in by the details of everyday life in a new place.  The way that it's polite to use both hands when you're handing money to someone in Korea, but impolite to use your left hand in Yemen - that sort of thing.

In Tasmania, I keep my ears open for the word "cobber".

Hobart is the second-oldest site of European settlement in Australia, and for much of its history it has been an unfashionable place, far from the cultural and economic centers of the country. These two qualities have combined to make it a refugium for bits of English usage that have long ago disappeared on Australia's North Island.

"Cobber" just means "mate", but it's a word that disappeared from the mainland generations ago.  Here in Tassie you still hear it, but its use is class- and origin-specific.  Stereotypically, it's a word that you hear from working-class blokes whose ancestors first came here in chains.  Which is to say that I don't hear it from my cohort of acquaintances, which is dominated by university-educated folks who came here from somewhere else in Oz.

So when I dropped off some templates at the sheet metal shop in Moonah yesterday, and the guy behind the counter called me "cobber", he made my day without knowing it - it was the first time on this entire visit that anyone used that word with me.

So that leaves one linguistic holy grail for the remainder of our time in Tassie - to hear someone address me as "cock".  This is a very Tasmanian form of address between blokes - as in, "G'day, cock, howyagoin?".  It's sort of like "mate", but to my ears a bit more affectionate, perhaps just because it's so much less generic than "mate".

"Cock", unfortunately, is clearly on its way out of common usage, and I'll have to either be very lucky or get more off the beaten path in Tassie to have someone address me that way.  I've only heard it with my own ears once.  And that, in a great modern/anachronistic twist, was from someone sitting in a stall in the Royal Yacht Club men's room, talking on his mobile phone...


  1. Hey I remember when that picture was taken!
    What a fun night in Hobart. The dinner, ice cream and music that followed! Miss you guys!

    1. yeah, that was a great night. And I guess I've been waiting for a chance to use that photo...