Don't get lost in the mallee

Jan 28, 2019
None Aussie Word of the Week

Each week, we have a look at a slang word from Australian English. You can see other Aussie Word of the Week posts from the Macquarie Dictionary here.

This week, our word is mallee. Technically, there are a number of meanings for mallee, including any of various Australian species of Eucalyptus or a tree with growth habits similar to one of these trees. It is also used in the phrases fit as a mallee bull and strong as a mallee bull, which respectively mean to be very healthy and very strong.

Finally, its other very common colloquial use is for any remote, isolated or unsettled area, or the remote outback in general. This is thought to be Australian Aboriginal in origin, from the Wembawemba language of southern NSW and Victoria.

It is seen here in use in this poem from Leon Gellert in 1964.

The Brolga or Australian crane

Holds dancing orgies on the plain;

And students of the Russian Ballet

Have crept in crowds across the mallee

Far beyond the desert grasses

To where the Brolga holds its classes


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Bob - Jan. 29, 2019, 3:47 p.m.

Growing up in Melbourne and its surrounds in the 60s I remember Mallee connoting a vast stretch of very remote and arid country sparsely populated by tough and resourceful people who barely scratched a living from its fragile soils. I've since learned that besides the Victorian Mallee South Australia and Western Australia also have Mallee districts. But perhaps the Victorian is the archetypal Mallee; that's where the Federal electoral division of Mallee is after all. We have Mallee fowl, Mallee soils, and Mallee roots. My grandfather used to talk about Mallee gates, makeshift affairs constructed from fence droppers and wire. In Western Australia, and elsewhere for all I know, these are often referred to as cocky gates, and in Footrot Flats cartoons as Taranaki gates.

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Macquarie Dictionary Admin - Jan. 29, 2019, 4:11 p.m.

Thank you for your comment, Bob! How fascinating.
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