Australia: Colloquialisms & Menu Guide

Visitors to Australia, aware that English is the main language, are often surprised to find themselves having difficulty in understanding what is being said. This is because Australians scatter their conversation with colloquialisms which confuse the uninitiated and leaves them "looking like a dill."

The list below gives a few of the most common colloquialisms used in relation to food and wine:

Amber Fluid—beer. "Let's have a drop of the amber fluid."

Anzac Biscuits—crisp biscuits (cookies) made from wheat flour, rolled oats, desiccated coconut and golden syrup. Reportedly made for the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) during World War I.

Bag of Fruit—nothing to do with edible fruit. This is Australian rhyming slang for a man's suit—"He was dressed to kill in his bag of fruit."

Balmain Bug—small type of crayfish named after the trawlermen of a suburb of Sydney. Excellent eating.

Banana Bender—not an instrument for bending bananas, but an expression for a person from the state of Queensland. Usually considered to be an insult.

Barbie—a barbecue. Very popular in Australia.

Barramundi—Aboriginal name for a large tasty fish found in the waters off Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Often shortened to barra.

Bickie—a biscuit or cookie.

Billy—a metal can for making tea over a camp fire. Thus you have BILLY TEA which is a strong brew made by boiling water in the can over the camp fire, throwing in a handful of tea leaves and swinging the can at arm's length in great circles five or six times. This action settles the tea and produces a good brew.

Bottler—not a machine for putting liquid into bottles but an expression for someone (or something) who performs well. "He's a little bottler."

Bottle Shop—a place for buying alcohol. Usually part of a hotel.

Brunch—breakfast and lunch in the same meal. Usually served about 11 am as a social occasion.

BYO—bring-your-own. Restaurants which are not licensed to sell alcohol will allow people to bring their own. They usually charge a "corkage" (about $2-$5) to open the bottle and provide glasses. Also used for private parties when you may be told to "BYO booze."

Booze—alcoholic drinks.

Chips—French fries or potato crisps. To "spit chips" means you are very angry.


Clayton's—a soft drink that was promoted as a substitute for alcohol. Now often used to describe something that is not what it seems.


Cuppa—a cup of tea or a tea-break.

Damper—unleavened bread baked in the ashes of a fire. Was originally wrapped around a stick and cooked in the coals of a campfire. Today it is usually cooked in a camp oven (iron pot) which is buried in the hot coals. A popular variation is to mix the flour with beer giving it a slightly malty flavor. The name comes from the practice of damping the fire so the bread can be cooked in the glowing embers.

Dill—it could mean the popular herb, but if being used to describe a person it means a simpleton or a fool.

Esky—a brand name which is now used generically for a cooler to carry drinks and food to barbecues and parties.

Floater—(or pie floater) a meat pie in a plate of soupy peas or gravy. Devotees say this is a good cure for a hangover.

Grog—general name for alcohol. Someone who has drunk too much will say they "feel groggy".

Lamington—cubes of sponge cake covered with chocolate icing and shredded coconut. Believed to have been named after Baron Lamington the governor of Queensland between 1895-1901. Usually served with morning and afternoon tea. Often home baked forcharity fund raising events and school fetes.

Lilly-Pilly—bush tucker. An indigenous purple berry.

Lolly—candy or boiled sweet. Lolly water is soft drink. If used when describing how a person acted it means they lost their temper.

Middy—a medium-sized (9-oz.) glass of beer. Used in New South Wales and Western Australia.

Morton Bay Bug—small crayfish from the waters of Queensland and northern Australia.

Muddie—a mud crab. Large delicious crab found in the mangrove wetlands of Queensland and New South Wales.

Mullet—a fish of the Mugilide family. But if you hear the expression "he looked like a stunned mullet" it means the person being spoken about appears to be bewildered, surprised or uncomprehending.

Off—when used to describe food it means the food is rotten.

Pavlova—a dessert of a large soft-centered meringue filled with whipped cream and fruit. Named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Usually shortened to "pav".

Possie—a position or spot. If you are going on a picnic you will have to "find a good possie to spread the blanket".

Prawn—a popular decapod crustacean—a shrimp in America. A "prawn night" is a social function where prawns and beer are served. Also a weak or insignificant person.

Pub—public house, hotel or bar.

Sanger—sandwich. Also sango.

Schooner—large glass of beer (15 oz).

Shandy—a mixture. Most commonly used to mean a glass of beer with a dash of lemonade.

Shout—an expression used when paying for something for another person. Used a lot with groups in pubs where each person takes a turn in buying a round of drinks—"your shout".

Six-Pack—package of six cans or bottles of beer.

Snag—a sausage.

Stirrer—not a wooden spoon but a troublemaker - "he is a stirrer." To stir is to provoke someone.

Stubby—a short, squat bottle of beer.

Tea—a beverage made by infusing dried tea leaves. But also means a light meal taken late in the afternoon or the main meal served in the evening.

Tinnie—a can of beer.

Tomato Sauce—called ketchup in America.


Turps—alcoholic liquid. When Australians say they have had "a night on the turps" they mean they have been drinking most of the night. To "go on a bender" means to go on a wild drinking spree.

Vegemite—a brown yeast extract which is spread on toast and sandwiches. Loved so much by Australians that it is virtually a national food.

Witchetty Grub—a large, white grub that lives in the roots of certain types of gum trees. Greatly prized by Aborigines as good "tucker".

Yabby—freshwater crayfish.