Australia travel tips: Australia ballads and "flash" language.

The Cockney convicts, with their overwhelming oratorical abilities and colorful expressions, soon gained power over their duller cousins. Illiterate or poorly-educated, they brought to Australia their own street literature, the ballad. Even to the jangling of their own prison chains, the Cockneys sometimes turned the sound into music and began singing and dancing.

Of all the songs brought to Australia by the convicts, one of the most typical was "Adieu to Old England" or "The Transport's Farewell".

Ballad "Adieu to Old England"
Come all you wild young native lads
Wherever you may be,
One moment pay attention
And listen unto me.
I am a poor unhappy soul,
Within these walls I lay
My awful sentence is pronounced,
I am bound for Botany Bay.

The luckless convict, having been brought up "in tenderness" by devoted parents, becomes apprenticed, but falls into a "harlot's company". Tokeep his mistress, the apprentice turns to crime, but is taken by the authorities, brought before the judge, and sentenced with transportation to New South Wales.

Nearly two generations of "settlers" after the First Fleet arrived in Australia, a staggering 87 per cent of the population were either convicts, ex-convicts or of convict descent. These early individuals were largely town- and city-bred petty criminals, often first-generation exiles from the Irish and English countryside.

What they all had in common, of course, was a shared criminal slang, called "flash" language, and this became the third major influence on the linguistic development of Australia. Although most of these terms died a natural death or never gained wider currency, a few passed into mainstream Australian English.

The best known "flash" term is "swag", defined in a book on the language in 1812 by James Hardy Vaux (who was transported three times) as stolen "wearing-apparel, linen, or piece-goods." In due course it became standard Australian for "a bundle of personal belongings" and immortalized in the song "Jolly Swagman" ("Waltzing Matilda"), Australia's unofficial national anthem. Other "flash" terms found in the same song are "bill-abong", "billy", "jumbuck", "tucker-bag", and "coolibah tree".

Dumped into an empty landscape and thrown back on their own resources, the early settlers had to make old words serve many functions. "Back", for example, has dozens of uses in Australian English, from "back-block" to "outback". So do "station" and "stock". It was a frontier society and its spirit was expressed in its language.