Summer Bay bait shop owner Alf Stewart (aka actor and legend Ray Meagher) talks Calum Henderson through some of his famous Aussie vernacular.
One of my favourite things to do as a teenager was come straight home from school and binge eat little bags of chips while watching Home and Away. It was an idle ritual built largely around a worship of one man: Alf Stewart.
Hot surfies and shady crims came and went from Summer Bay, but you could always rely on Alf. He is the show’s one constant, a stubborn old bloke standing firm against the tide of change and shouting “now hold on a flamin’ minute.”
Ray Meagher (pronounced “Marr-guh”) has portrayed Alf since the show began in Australia in 1988, and is responsible for contributing what is probably Alf’s defining feature – his use of old Australian bush vernacular.
What is the etymology of “stone the flamin’ crows”? What does “strike me roan” mean? These are questions I have carried with me well into adulthood.
When Ray Meagher came to Auckand to help promote the upcoming stage show Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical, I finally got the chance to ask Alf himself.
Flamin’ _____ [hell / mongrel / galah etc.]
The writers wrote “flamin’” [for Alf] early on. They used to write “flamin’ heck” and some writers still write “flamin’ heck” but I don’t do “flamin’ heck” – it’s “flamin’ hell” if you’re going to say anything like that.
Sometimes producers get precious about you saying a particular word, like ‘hell’ is a bad word. And I say “oh so hell’s a bad word is it, but it’s OK for the Braxtons to put guns to people’s heads and deal drugs and everything else? But you want me to not say flamin’ hell?” [goes into Alf Stewart voice] Flamin’ hell, that’s ridiculous! [laughs]
Stone the flamin’ crows
This came from a stock and station agent in a small Western Queensland town called Dirranbandi. I grew up in the district around the town and I don’t know if it originated there, but yeah, I stole it from Dick Backhouse.
When I was very young I can remember him with a rum and coke in his hand. As he’d have another one there’d be more rum and less coke, and when he got warmed up “stone the flamin’ crows” would appear more and more –
“Stone the flamin’ crows mate you wouldn’t buy that mob of sheep from that bastard nah nah you wouldn’t feed ’em I mean look at ’em they’re skinny they won’t go on the truck they’ll die before they get to the next… stone the flamin’ crows a bloke must be mad!”
– y’know so I remember as a kid thinking it was funny and so that’s where that came from. It was never the naughty f-word. I don’t remember Dick ever swearing.
Strike me roan
Roan is a colour. It’s somewhere between – you know if you see a chestnut horse, that deep chestnut colour, roan is a bit redder than chestnut but with a whitish sort of thing through it. I always knew it is as a colour of a horse, roan. It’s definitely not brindle, no no brindle’s different.
“Strike me roan” again came from that Dirranbandi area, from a bloke called Bill Kean who was a real character. The original strike me anything for me came from an Australian vaudevillian character called Roy Rene who played a character called Mo McCackie, who used to say “strike me pink” or “strike me lucky.”
This fella Bill Kean used to say “strike me pink” but in moments of exasperation he’d be sick of pink so he’d say “strike me flamin’ roan” or whatever. It’s a particular lunatic’s version of an old expression, there’s really no logical sense to any of it.
Don’t come the raw prawn
That expression has been around in Australia forever. I don’t know where it came from. I trot it out every now and again but it’s probably trotted out by dinosaurs like me all over Australia so it’s certainly not mine.
[On preserving the expression for future generations] That’s part of the brief for me – when people change things I want to change them back. You get kids on the show now, and also the way some of the writers write the show, they just pick up Americanisms. I nearly vomit when I hear them. “No no no that’s American!” [laughs]
I’ve got nothing against Americans, they’re lovely, but we’re Australians. We don’t have to copy every bloody thing they say.
Click here for more information on Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical you flamin’ galah
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