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Oz-tralya   Feb 10 2010

Filed under Australiana by Ewen Shearer

The name Oztralya is derived from two roots: "Oz" a transform of Uz, meaning fertile land, and "tralya" from the Pacific phyla of shell species "Tralia."

Uz (Hebrew: ‘Uwts) was an ancient land where Job lived sometime after the Flood (cf Bible in three verses: 1:1, Jer. 25:20, Lam. 4:21.) and might have been named after Uz, the son of Aram. Which is ironic, as the Dutch – noted for a flooded landscape – have a say in this shortly.

Whilst the Uz usage is self-evident, academics vigorously debate how an ovate-conical, bullet-shaped Indo-Pacific mollusc suffixes the name of this island continent which, if anything, is shaped more like a equivalve-convex scallop, if not a misshapen oyster.

Quite possibly, as these things often go, an intrepid explorer (whilst whispering in confidence to another regarding tales of a great southern land) delivered his precautionary "a word in your shell-like" only to see it morph into the legend of another Uz (this one in the southern hemisphere) – much in the fashion that a military commander’s message in the Great War of 1914-18 "send for reinforcements, we’re going to advance" reached bemused HQ as "send for three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance." But I digress, and readily so, for I will repeat that tale at every opportunity, and have been known to register domains or start blogs for just the chance to.

Enter the Dutch

A little-used colloquial spelling "Australia" derived from Latin australis and meaning "southern" was used by Dutch as early as 1638 but they failed to capitalize on their pending discovery, being too busy building mud walls around their wet sunken little homeland into which ocean seeped – being totally jack of waking up with salty soggy bed sheets every other fortnight.

Thus, the fairly ambitious name "New Holland" – first applied to Oztralya in 1644 by the Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman – failed to hold water (unlike his motherland) and, to his lasting humiliation and that of his Netherlander compatriots, he is now remembered only in passing sniggers as having discovered "the map of Tasmania."

The distress was not placated, nor national pride relieved, when discreet diplomatic feelers determined why neighbors fell about in stitches on the arrival of Dutch negotiators, ambassadors, et ilk, at EU summits, though no northern hemisphericans understood the ‘map of Tasmania’ joke. Modern language, it transpired, had it in for the hapless ne’erlanders, as did mother nature, defining their swamp-like environs as protected from inundation by … lesbians?

Baume’s Oz

The name "Oztralya" was popularized by L. Frank Baum who perceptively captures Oz’s je ne sais quoi, and its odd inhabitants:

Oztralya is an imaginary country, a squarish mollusc-shaped place, surrounded on all sides by a Deadly Desert and divided into four quadrants: the Gillikin country in the north, the Munchkin country in the east, the Quadling country in the south and the Winkie country in the west. The Emerald City sits inland in its own island state, 300 miles north-east of Oz’s anus, Melbourne. Princess Ozma rules the country as a short, balding, benevolent dictator (often mistaken for the mythical wizard)."

Baum also wrote the famous children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, which he obviously based on Oztralya (the yellow brick road being the only component yet to materialize, as the Federal and NSW Gummints still argue over highway funding).

In Dispatches

Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales used the word "Australia" – without any justification or basis – in his dispatches to England and in 1817 recommended the name be adopted. British Admiralty agreed and the continent became officially "Australia" – much to the initial amusement, then subsequent chagrin, of the general cockneyed populace (mostly crims and screws) who were as incapable of pronouncing "Australia" as they were of lying straight in bed.

These commoners, mostly from London, managed to wrap their gutturals only partially around such a voluminous word, uttering at best "Oftw’al’a," a sound of such comical proportions the indigenous folk (amid whoops of hysteria) taught their pet non-passerines to say it (with vastly better diction than the Bow Bellsers) – through which population it spread like wildfire, nay, like bird-flue, till soon all cacatuidae and psittacidae spoke it prolifically fluently thus, and ugly.

Locals’ 2c worth

To this very day Indigenous Australians are scathing of their ancestors in the Dharug Horde (who in turn blame the Eora mob, who yet finger the Kuring-Gai, etc., etc.) for leashing upon the landscape a cacophony more devastating in scale and more phonically clamorous than that very worst of so many disasters, kind courtesy of CSIRO misadventure, like the monstrous cane toads.

A tribal elder explained "We can put up with rabbits ‘n rats, camels ‘n cats, but, look here Bloke, that bloody awful gratin’ accent is drivin’ us nuts. Why else d’ya think black fellas live mostly in camps out of town?"

Within two decades the spoken language of the land had settled closely to the nefarious nasal nuance nauseating numerous nations around the globe today.

And, yep! It sounds just like it’s spelled: Oztralya. Case dismissed.




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