Aussie Humour (Ian M. Johnstone)- Introduction

AUSSIE HUMOUR – introduction

Contributed by Ian M Johnstone


Contrary to rumours in rival Olympic swimming camps, Australians do not swim from birth.  Most are, however, fed humour with their first solids, and keep an appetite for it for life.

Mary had a little lamb,
Her father shot it dead,
And now it goes to school with her,
Between two chunks of bread.
(June Factor, Captain Cook Chased a Chook: Children’s Folklore
in Australia, Penguin Books, 1988, p.10)

Humour is a very precious and distinctive part of our culture.  It enlivens most conversations, aerates our very attitude to being alive, and saves us from being shrunk-wrapped in smugness, or constipated with seriousness.  Our readiness to joke, and to see the funny side of things, contributes hugely to our national spirit.  A dash of absurdity, often coarse or insolent, helps us feel at home, and glad to be Aussies.

Of course Americans have their own humour.  They have it in the New Yorker, and it is quarantined in a specially labelled section of The Readers Digest.  They have Mark Twain, James Thurber, W. C. Fields, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, and so on.   Americans have everything.  In USA everything is in abundance, and sometimes overdone, like litigation.   But they don’t have a sense of humour like ours.   The English used to show off their best humour in Punch, but of course now it spills into seemingly innumerable comedy shows on TV.  They have the Two Ronnies, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Monty Python, The Goons, Rowan Atkinson, Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers, Billy Connolly, Dave Allen, John Cleese and so on.  But they don’t joke in the way we do.  And neither do they have our larrikin streak, our mischievous tendencies to impudence and insolence, and our disdain for status without merit.

America, Britain and Australia all have great individual humorists, but in Australia we all have a go.  We are all amateur comedians.  Australians get up in the morning and joke about the news, chiack each other at work, enjoy Leunig’s cartoons, give anyone and everyone, including politicians, funny and rude nicknames, show a good natured contempt for their colleagues, and then laugh heartily at H. G. Nelson and Roy Slaven calling the League and so on. [See Brian A. Taylor, “Mucking About with People’s Names in Australian English”, Australian Folklore, No. 8 (1993), pp. 112-137.]

Our humour is everywhere and all day:  unconfined and unexpected, irreverent and incorrigible, ubiquitous and irrepressible.  It is part of our natural environment, and, like trees, it improves the atmosphere.  In fact humour is almost as essential for us as oxygen.