about the author

Chris Woodland has had a life-long interest in Australian folklore. While his hair was still brown he worked on outback cattle and sheep stations and maintains those earlier associations.

Chris Woodland

For many years he has made field recordings (housed in the National Library of Australia) of many bush personalities, including (Aboriginal and white) drovers, shearers, isolated women, poets, songwriters singers, veteran soldiers etc. Over the years Chris has been an active member of the Sydney Bush Music Club and Monaro Folk Music Society. He has been a presenter over many years on community radio 2XX in Canberra.

Now retired on a few acres near Termeil on the south coast of NSW, Chris spends his time transcribing the interviews he has made over the years and writing articles based on his collections and experiences, with occasional trips the the country "back o' Bourke'.


The Spent Dollar

© Chris Woodland

As the years roll by many customs, tools and words that were once in daily use fade from normal life, living on only in the minds of those that have experienced their presence. Eventually that which was once an integral part of every day existence is known only to the occasional historian or folklorist.

Those of a mature age are aware of items that much younger people have had no experience of except, perhaps, as a misty, ill-defined picture from the past that has been related by members of a dwindling, older generation. (Life-style changes came to country people much later than it did to their city counterparts: efficient sewerage systems, electricity, telephones, television and the like took ages to slowly snake out across the continent until now only the most isolated still have to generate their own electricity and rely on space-age telephonic services.)

flat iron

The younger generation(s) are, understandably, oblivious to once universal family home appliances: the copper for doing the (usually) weekly wash and often providing hot water for bathing; the charcoal or flat iron that was heated on the fuel stove to press the many shirts, blouses, dresses, trousers, handkerchiefs and other garments (in days long before wash-and-wear clothes were available, though probably dreamed of) as well as other household materials. Today, pan toilets, which were delivered smelling strongly of phenol and taken away by the 'nightman', would place people with no experience in their use in a decidedly anxious situation. The local grocer weighing out the sugar, biscuits, dates and other foodstuffs into brown paper bags would have many people of today suffering a culture shock, as they would when their order was delivered by a boy on a bicycle with the groceries wobbling about in the wire frame in front of the handlebars. The green grocer would not allow the customer to handle any of the fruit or vegetables before buying, unlike today when patrons serve themselves to keep costs down.

In the back country before 1960 it was common to see the many drovers plying a trade that had changed little since the very early days of the colony. Until roaring road trains carried the stock of the outback to the 'inside' markets and stations most drovers still used pack-saddles or wagonettes to carry their swags, tucker and gear, (though it must be acknowledged that rubber tyres for wagonettes were very popular), when moving the almost legendary mobs from camp to camp across the country. No more does the traveller see the once numerous brush yards, or brake, to house sheep on night camps. Now rotted away, these three-sided yards were erected from fallen mulga by the overlanders, the fourth side consisted of the camp and dogs chained at appropriate distances. Nor are seen the many remains of gidgee campfires that had burnt down to dust-sized ashes, dotting the outback stock routes. These basic hearths showed where the drovers had boiled their quarts, cooked with their camp ovens and warmed themselves after a chilling nightwatch around a mob of resting cattle that had been driven from far western and northern runs whose names have been immortalised by Ogilvie, Morant and the like.
The old saying that nothing ever stays the same is a very true one indeed, and currency is no exception to that adage.

" five bob" - five shillings

Just a few years ago the subject of Australian currency developed with three friends as we chatted over a glass or two of red wine around a glorious log fire in a rustic country restaurant. I was amazed that none of my companions (one male and two females) had heard of the pre-decimal currency dollar of my earlier days, nor of the much earlier colonial 'holey dollar'. On reflection it is significant that they were all just a few years younger than I and that two had come from middle-class backgrounds, at least one of whom had attended a private school, while the other came from a migrant family where English was their second language. The male was, and remains, a very learned person in Australian folklore and history. I came from a so-called working class background.

The dollar I knew from my earliest days until decimal currency replaced our previous pounds, shillings and pence system in 1966, had the value of five shillings, known in the idiom as 'five bob'. My father was the first person to make me aware of this term which related to any number of coins that totalled five shillings (the equivalent of today's 50 cents). At that time there was no dollar coin as such, it was a value. To my understanding the expression was not universally used throughout society; I can never recall a woman using the term - colloquialisms were avoided by the fairer sex. It seemed to be mainly used by the males of the so-called blue-collar working class. As such it was generally confined to the environments they normally inhabited.

Hotel Astra

As a lad in the early 1950s, selling papers outside the Hotel Astra at Bondi, it was not unusual to hear dollar mentioned in transactions, but probably the most consistent use of the word was by the punters. The betting fraternity would always be having a 'dollar outright on such-and-such,' or a 'dollar each way on (another hopeful)'. It appeared to me that the most common bet with the bookies, whether it be on the track or with the illegal S.P.s was a dollar - it seemed the standard bet. I am informed by others more familiar with 'two up' that the pre-1966 dollar was also a common betting value with that form of gambling.