Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms

This section contains a selection of Australian words, their meanings, and their etymologies.

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A resident of Queensland; a person born in Queensland. Queensland was constituted as a separate colony in 1859, having previously formed part of New South Wales. The first evidence of Queenslander to describe a resident of the new colony occurs later that year.

1878 J.H. Nicholson Opal Fever: No violence! Let us remember we are gentlemen and Queenslanders.

2013 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 18 December: Just as well we Queenslanders are a non-parochial lot, always considerate of the feelings of southerners.

A transferred sense of Queenslander appeared in the 1980s. It refers to a house of a style built in Queensland from the 1870s onwards, timber-built and typically set high on stumps, with exterior weatherboards and corrugated iron roof, a wraparound verandah, and good ventilation. The design maximises air movement in humid conditions.

1990 R. Fitzgerald Busy in the Fog: Isn't our house grand? It's an old Queenslander.

2013 S. Thorne Bonzer: A typical weatherboard ‘Queenslander’, it was built for the climate—up on stumps for the air to circulate underneath, with verandahs and lots of louvres.


A small, short-tailed wallaby, Setonix brachyurus, of south-western Western Australia, including Rottnest and Bald Islands. (These islands are free of quokka predators such as foxes and cats.) Quokka was first recorded in 1855, and comes from Noongar, an Aboriginal language of this area. Quokkas are the size of a cat, and have long greyish-brown fur and rounded ears.

1968 V. Serventy Southern Walkabout: It is the famous quokka, one of the pademelon wallabies, which creates most interest. It was this wallaby, mistaken by Dutch visitor Vlaming for a large rodent, which led to the island’s name, Rottnest or ‘Rat’s Nest’.

2004 Australian Geographic July: Beneath the trees live various marsupials, including WA's largest mainland population of quokka and the honey possum or noolbenger.


Any of several marsupials of the genus Dasyuris of Australia and New Guinea. Quolls are cat-sized marsupials with long tails, pointed snouts, brown fur, and distinctive white spots. They are nocturnal and hunt insects, birds and small mammals. The word quoll derives from Guugu Yimithirr, an Aboriginal language of north-eastern Queensland. Joseph Banks, botanist with James Cook’s voyage of discovery in 1768-71, recorded it in his Endeavour journal in 1770, when the Endeavour was beached for repairs on the site of present-day Cooktown. However quoll was not the name that European settlers used; native cat was the common term for this animal until the mid 19th century. From the 1960s the word quoll began to replace native cat, and today quoll is the dominant term.

1770 J. Banks Endeavour Journal: Another [quadruped] was calld by the natives Je-Quoll.

1987 Wildlife Australia (Autumn issue): It is only in recent years that distinctive native names have been proposed to replace the ‘tainted’ European ones. Quoll for native cat, for example.

2013 Herald Sun (Melbourne) 13 May: Ms Leonard has hand-reared three kangaroos, a wombat and two quolls.

Updated:  19 October 2017/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications