Thirty years of Winnie and Wilbur: author Q&A

The much-loved duo of Winnie the witch and Wilbur her cat have celebrated their 30th year.

Friday the 13th of October marked three decades since Oxford University Press published the book series. Winnie and Wilbur are popular around the world, including in the UK, where they stared in a stage show in Birmingham and debuted on television, voiced by famous actors Katy Brand and Bill Bailey.

To celebrate the milestone and the release of the paperback Winnie and Wilbur Meet Santa today, we asked author, and Australian ex-pat, Valerie Thomas about her writing life.

When did you decide to become a writer? I think I always wanted to be a writer, and to publish at least one book.

How many books have you had published? I’ve had about 25 books published.  I signed the contract with OUP Australia just before they decided not to publish children’s fiction any more. Leigh Hobbs was the illustrator.

How did you meet illustrator Korky Paul? I met Korky Paul when the editor at OUP gave Korky my story, Winnie the witch, to illustrate.  It won a prize and so we kept doing more stories.

How long does it take you to write a book? Some stories take a long time. It’s thinking up the ideas that is hard. Once I have the story in my head it doesn’t take too long to write down.

What are you working on now? I am working on the next Winnie and Wilbur story at the moment, and thinking about the one after that.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? I have two writing tips. 1. Read as much as you can.  2. Write as much as you can. The more you write, the better your writing should be, but there are no guarantees on that.


What makes a word an Australian Law Dictionary word?

By General editor of the Australian Law Dictionary, Trischa Mann

Legal language is rich and diverse. It’s no exaggeration to say there are tens of thousands of legal words. Some are specially defined in legislation, others are refined over time by judges, but most are given their ‘natural meaning’. To find that meaning, lawyers uses a case-based form of reasoning by analogy which relies heavily on metaphor: slippery slope arguments, floodgates arguments, bright-line distinctions and penumbras of doubt. But where do we draw the line? A former High Court justice who detected a fatal flaw in a barrister’s argument used to say, ‘All very well, but is there not a knife in the napkin?’ Does that usage make ‘knife in the napkin’ a legal phrase? Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between ‘legal’ words and ordinary words, and the word-traffic flows in both directions.

So how did we select words for inclusion in the third edition of the Australian Law Dictionary (ALD)?

Some compact law dictionaries start with a big proprietary database and ‘cut it down to size’ for students and non-lawyers. By contrast, the ALD was designed from scratch, built from the ground up. For the first edition, we started with the core law subjects (called the ‘Priestley Eleven’, after the judge who chaired the education committee). We gave readers a one-page summary of each Priestley Eleven subject, including its core terms, and defined these terms in tinted boxes in the text. Related concepts emerged naturally in each area. We peer-reviewed and refined our lists, and asked academics in the field to draft or review entries. We want students to use legal words comfortably, so we weave our cross-references into the flow of the text rather than adding them at the end of the entry as others do.

Important words in ‘other subjects’ come next, as well as words ‘heard round the traps’ in the profession. These include words emerging in Bar and Law Society newsletters and journals on topical issues, and in student or young lawyer circles. We keep a constant eye out for these, and each new edition has had a sprinkling of legal words that are in the news or inform public debate. We give them a context to encourage legal thinking in place of opinion. Examples new to the third edition include Sharia law, Islamic banking and the burqa, as well as sexting and sexual servitude—all important topics with a social dimension and legal significance.

Other entries we think of as our ‘saving you embarrassment’ entries. We give pronunciation advice on tricky words, but not in phonetics (because we don’t think many people understand that notation). A magistrate recently confirmed my impression that young lawyers pick up court behaviour from American movies, and are prone to ask for a ‘continuance’ instead of an ‘adjournment’ (the term used in Australian courts). A warning about that finds a place in the ALD. Legal books and articles often use a gavel on the cover—we point out that in Australia auctioneers might bang gavels, but our judges don’t. And yes, it is ‘justice’ of the High Court, as set out in the High Court Act, not ‘judge’—but we have judges of the Supreme Court (called Justice Smith) and District or County Courts (Judge Smith).

Finally, we have our ‘Bramble Bush’ entries. Legal Realist Karl Llewellyn (2012) described law school as a ‘Bramble Bush’ in a little book of that name about law teaching. Llewellyn thought deep immersion in law was necessary to train good lawyers, but students also needed to be moved by law. Law had to break through students’ shallower impulses (to make money, gain prestige) and awaken them to the rewards of service in an honourable profession that loved the law. He started the book with a cryptic little verse:

There was a man in our town

and he was wondrous wise:

he jumped into a bramble bush

and scratched out both his eyes—

and when he saw that he was blind,

with all his might and main

he jumped into another one

and scratched them in again.

In a 1941 article, ‘On the Problem of Teaching “Private” Law’, Llewellyn said he wanted students to:

see a society whole, and not in the mere image of one’s client; to see a man whole, and know sympathy where another would know bitterness or scorn. To [practise] law better, and live life more richly, because law is lived as a humanity, and human – as wisdom, but as wisdom always needing art. Such are the things an author drives to get into some communication to the student.

Llewellyn tried to communicate these things through his text. The ‘Bramble Bush’ approach treats legal education as a process of ‘making a lawyer’ by fostering the skill of thinking like a lawyer, which is a matter of expertise through instinct. First there is a naïve, adversarial understanding of law. The student must ‘wrestle through’ the ‘Bramble bush’ which ‘scratches out’ a legally uninformed emotional response to cases, and then scratches in a deeper, legally informed emotional attachment to law itself. The deep logic of the rule of law becomes instinctive and intuitive, and legal language plays a significant part in that.

The new third edition retains the structure of the first and second editions, but has a broader reach and includes significantly more entries. At a personal level, I see the ALD as part of a larger struggle against lack of time for reflection and a certain dehumanisation of law as it becomes increasingly instrumental. The structures in place in law schools (timetables, curricula, pre-planned ‘outcomes’ for each area of study) may be administratively necessary, but they can have a deadening effect. Law students experience high levels of stress and depression. The third edition, like its predecessors, is crafted to instil legal culture and a love of legal language, and these ‘Bramble bush’ entries in particular try to encourage browsing. Although space is always tight, the new edition keeps the entry for ‘Bramble Bush’, because we think it is important. There is no knife in the napkin this time. But if you think you’d like it to be there, write to OUP and let us know. We are grateful for feedback and, as always, keen to improve. And that makes another category—‘reader requests’. So far, there have been a few, and we hope there will be more.


K.N. Llewellyn (1941). On the Problem of Teaching “Private” Law. Harvard Law Review, Vol. 54, No. 5, pp. 775-810.

K.N. Llewellyn (2012). The Bramble Bush: On Our Law and Its Study. New Orleans LA: Quid Pro Books.

Trischa Mann is the General Editor of the Australian Law Dictionary.


Bogans are not what they used to be, according to the latest dictionary update

If you thought you knew the definition of a bogan, think again.

Language is a continuously changing landscape, in which new words appear, others fade out of general usage and some evolve and take on different meanings.

Bogan is one of the evolving terms that attracted the attention of the team at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, which is responsible for editing the 6th edition of the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary (ACOD), released this week.

They provided the list below of terms that have evolved since they appeared in the 5th edition of the ACOD.


Bogan is one of the words which have changed since the previous edition of the ACOD was released. Bogan first appeared in the 1980s and was originally defined as, ‘a person who is regarded as being uncultured and unsophisticated, esp. such a person from a low socio-economic or poorly educated background.’

However, in the 2017 edition, gone is the reference to socio-economic status, with two (potentially insulting) definitions in its place.

The new definition reads, ‘an uncultured and unsophisticated person; a boorish and uncouth person.’

Rather than confining bogans to a certain socio-economic group, now any of us can be a bogan. The emergence of the term CUB ‘cashed-up bogan’ this century was an early indicator of this shift.

Generation X

The definition of Generation X has also changed over the years. Originally referring to, ‘young adults who were born in the mid 1960s to mid 1970s, typically perceived to be disaffected and directionless’, members of Generation X are no longer considered to be young or typically disaffected or directionless.

The  new definition of Generation X is, ‘the generation born after that of the baby boomers (roughly from the early 1960s to mid 1970s)’.


It is not surprising that technology has changed the words we use, and even the term ‘Internet’ itself has evolved. While previously defined as, ‘an international information network linking computers, accessible to the public via modem links etc’, it is now, ‘a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardised communication protocols’.


Just as technology has introduced new words, so has it changed others. A journalist was formerly described as, ‘a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio and television’, with the proliferation of internet news sites it has become, ‘a person who writes for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or prepares news to be broadcast’.

Mr Right

Changing social attitudes (and in some countries legislative changes) mean that women are not the only ones looking for the ideal future husband or boyfriend. As a result, the definition of Mr Right has changed from, ‘a single woman’s ideal partner or husband’, to ‘the ideal future husband or boyfriend’.

For more on changes to the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, see What do selfie stick, paleo diet and whatevs have in common?

What do selfie stick, paleo diet and whatevs have in common?

Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand today launched the sixth edition of its renowned Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, which includes more than 2000 new entries and over 3000 updates to existing words.

Edited by Mark Gwynn and Amanda Laugesen from the Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC) at The Australian National University, the sixth edition sees new words across technology, food, finance and economics, as well as social buzz words included in the dictionary.

Australia’s growing food culture and multicultural influences have resulted in new words emerging in the Australian lexicon, including achacha (the edible fruit of a South American tree with a large flesh-covered seed), kibbeh (in Middle Eastern cooking, a mixture of minced meat, bulgur or rice, and seasonings, typically served in the form of croquettes stuffed with a filling), and yuzu (a round, yellowish citrus fruit with fragrant, acidic juice, used chiefly as a flavouring). The influx of diet trends has resulted in words such as paleo diet, 5:2 diet, and meatatarian being added to the dictionary.

Reflecting changes in the economic landscape, finance and economics words such as debt ceiling, fiscal cliff, and onshoring have been incorporated into the latest edition.

The continual development of technology and social platforms has resulted in dark web, hacktivist, insta, photobomb, selfie stick, and zettabyte becoming common words in Australian English.

Fat shaming, First World problem, sandwich generation, and whatevs are also among the 2000-plus new entries.

Editor of the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary and ANDC Director, Dr Amanda Laugesen, says, ‘The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary not only offers up-to-date information on the English language as it is spoken in Australia, but also demonstrates the way the language is constantly evolving, reflecting social, political, and cultural change.’

The sixth edition of the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary provides guidance to usage and spelling of words, reflecting the most up-to-date research on the English language.

OUP ANZ Managing Director Peter van Noorden is thrilled to be launching the sixth edition of the dictionary.

“Every year, I’m intrigued by the new entries that make it into the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, which draws on the expertise of the Australian National Dictionary Centre and Oxford Dictionaries,” Mr van Noorden said.

“The English language continues to evolve due to influences and products that change the way we think or act. From technology to multiculturalism, to our changing global political landscape, new words are formed and become common in our everyday language.”

“We’re excited to cement these words in our dictionary, which continues to be a trusted and essential guide to Australian English.”

As part of Dictionary Day, Mr van Noorden encouraged the Australian public to get involved by submitting any words or terms that are new or used in unusual ways to Word Box. Words that are submitted may be included in future editions of the dictionary, or even become the Australian Word of the Year. Entries can be submitted all year round via the Word Box.

The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary will be available to purchase from 26 October at a recommended retail price of $44.95 (hardback) and $39.35 (paperback).  For more information, visit the Australian National Dictionary website.


Child voice and participation in decision-making relating to research, policy and practice

By Rebekah Grace

In the late 1990s I was working on my PhD research, which focused on the experiences of children and adolescents with Tourette’s syndrome. I came to know an insightful young man—let’s call him Jared—who drew a picture to describe what it’s like to be a nine-year-old boy who has a lot of adults interested in his life. That picture appears below.

Child voice

Figure 1: “Hey, get your hand out of my back”

Jared depicted himself as a ventriloquist dummy, and described parents, teachers, therapists, paediatricians and researchers as the adults who would come into his life and determine what he should say. He described feeling controlled by their expectations of him, and aware that they would not listen unless he said what they wanted to hear.

This study was conducted during a time of rapid growth in research on child voice and participation in response to the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the rising influence of James and Prout’s ‘new sociology of childhood’. Research in the years that have followed have demonstrated that children of all ages can be competent conveyors of their own experiences when asked questions in an appropriate, respectful and developmentally appropriate way. Perhaps Jared’s experience would be different if he were nine years old today and, in line with the UN convention, the sharing of his thoughts and experiences would be encouraged and valued by the professionals and others in his life … perhaps.

Talking to children and young people about their lives

Over the last twenty years, we have seen a growing body of high quality Australian research that captures the perspectives of children and young people: from research on children’s experiences of early childhood school transition to research within the child protection field; from understanding the perspectives of young people who are homeless to research in public health; from research with young people with disabilities to research with children who are new arrivals to Australia. The landscape of Australian child voice research is broad and leading the way in acknowledging that children and young people are important stakeholders in the service systems that are intended to support them.

Listening and responding

Certainly, the intent to listen and respond to the child’s voice is present across the Australian government and many service organisations, as evidenced by the consultation structures in place and some key national policy initiatives. For example, the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020 and the Early Years Learning Framework both recognise the importance of children’s participation. Direct consultation with children has also been identified as a priority by the National Children’s Commissioner in addressing children’s human rights. Most Australian states and territories have government-funded youth peak advocacy bodies. Many non-government organisations have youth advisory groups, and there are a small number of organisations whose main purpose is to support the voice and advocacy of children and young people, such as CREATE (the national association of children and young people in care) and CanTeen (the national association for young people living with cancer).

Nonetheless, moving from research and policy to practice is not easy, and the extent to which young people are listened to and involved in decision-making processes very often depends on the receptiveness and approach of the adults encountered in different service contexts.  There are examples of practitioners and educators who do seek the perspectives of children and young people, engage them in decision-making and who use child reflections to inform their practice. For example, an Aboriginal-led organisation called Winangay has developed ‘Kids Say’ cards used by some child protection workers to engage with Aboriginal children in out-of-home care and facilitate their active involvement in decisions about their lives and about the maintenance of their cultural identity and kinship networks.

However, research evidence suggests that many service providers remain unconvinced that children have the capacity to express a well-reasoned view and are at risk of being easily manipulated. Some argue that consultation requires resources their organisation does not have, or they are concerned that they do not have the skills required to engage children well. Some worry that prioritising child voice might compromise child safety (or other outcomes) or might undermine their own professional authority. Listening to child voice should not be confused with abandoning professional knowledge and experience. It is, however, about being willing to share the expertise and give value to the insight that can only come from the children who are living with the challenges you are seeking to resolve.

Opening the way for impact

The great challenge moving forward is one of application—how do we effectively take all that we have learned from research and all that is stated in policy so that it has real impact at the level of practice? The truth is, for children with complex support needs, our current systems and approaches are not making enough of a difference. An impactful service response requires significant and serious engagement with the most overlooked stakeholders—the children and young people—who will carry the consequences of the decisions that are made about the services and supports available to them.

Rebekah is one of the authors of Children, Families and Communities. She is Senior Researcher, and Macquarie University Vice Chancellor’s Innovation Fellow, in the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University.




Further Reading

Bell, J. et al. (2008). Rewriting the rules for youth participation.  Report to the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme.

Bessell, S. & Mason, J. (2014). ‘Putting the Pieces Together: Children, Communities and Social Capital in Australia. Australian National University. Accessed from

Grace, R., Walsh, R. & Baird, K. (2016). Connection, special objects and congruence. Early Child Development & Care.  DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2016.1251915

James, A., & Prout, A. (2015). Constructing and reconstructing childhood. London: Routledge.

Moore, T. et al. (2008). Too Important to Ignore: Children’s Views on Homelessness. Parity, 21(8), 20.

Fattore, T. et al. (2009). When Children are asked about their well-being: Towards a framework for guiding policy. Child Indicators Research, 2(1) 57-77.

Finding new Australian words

By Julia Robinson, editor and researcher at the Australian National Dictionary Centre

It’s a year since we celebrated the launch of the new Australian National Dictionary, with its 16,000 Australian words and meanings. Since then we have not been taking it easy and neither has Australian English—we began collecting new words even as we sent off the manuscript to the publisher. We now have more than 300 items worthy of further research.

Our list is deliberately inclusive since we can’t know which terms will prove to be stayers. A number are new or recent coinages that just missed our editorial deadline; others are older terms we rejected as having too little evidence, but now look more established; some are speculative; and some simply flew under our radar. Here is a sample of the terms under consideration as future entries.

Familiar Australian words such as bush, koala, Anzac, and preference (the political sense) are the basis for newer terms: bush rave (a rave party in the bush); koala diplomacy (the loan or gift of koalas to another nation’s zoo, as a form of soft-power diplomacy); Anzac fatigue (what we feel after over-exposure to Anzac centenary commemoration); and preference harvesting (the flow of preferences to a micro-party or independent as a result of strategic preference deals).

We continue to coin terms related to politics. The double-dissolution federal election last year alerted us to the abbreviation double D, and the same election helped popularise the democracy sausage (the sausage sandwich you buy on election day at a polling booth sausage sizzle). The term sixty-sevener (a campaigner for the 1967 referendum) glances back in time; current concerns are reflected in quarry vision (our continuing fixation with coal as a major source of energy and revenue). A nickname for Greens politicians may be more ephemeral: tree tories (conservative on economic policy).

State-based terms are represented on our list, especially from Tasmania. Tassie tuxedo (a puffer jacket); turbo chook (the Tasmanian native hen, a flightless bird with a fast turn of speed); and flannelette curtain. If you live on the wrong side of the flannelette curtain in Hobart, you live in the poorer suburbs—the wrong (flannie-shirt wearing) side of town. Western Australia gives us white, a term for a western rock lobster that is a pale pinkish-white colour after moulting, and white run, the annual event in late spring when whites migrate in large groups to spawning grounds in deeper water. Branch-bombing (branch-stacking) also seems to be associated with the west.

The typical Australian habit of creating words with an ‘ie’ or ‘o’ ending is still going strong. Recent coinages include convo (conversation); deso (designated driver); devo (devastated); smashed avo (seasoned, mashed avocado on toast); reco (surgical reconstruction, as in knee reco); nettie (a netball player); parmi (parmigiana, as in the dish chicken parmi); and shoey (the act of drinking alcohol out of a shoe to celebrate a victory).

The word kangaroo continues to be productive in Australian English, contributing to kangatarian (a person who eats kangaroo meat but avoids other meat, on environmental grounds). The trend for using ‘roo’ as a suffix in the names of national sporting teams (Socceroos, Hockeyroos, etc.) continues with the Wheelaroos (our wheelchair rugby team). We have also found ‘roo’ in wazzaroo, a one-off coinage for a roadkill kangaroo (‘was a roo’).

Several well-known Australians contribute to our list. John Farnham’s fondness for farewell shows is celebrated in Johnny Farnham comeback and chuck a Farnsie (referring to a comeback, especially after a farewell performance or retirement). Rugby League player Trent Merrin’s private life is alluded to in doing a merrin (having a partner who is considered out of one’s league). The historical figure Ned Kelly still has a grip on our imagination. He gives his name this century to the Ned Kelly letterbox (a letterbox resembling Kelly’s armour, especially the helmet, where the eye opening is the mail slot). The expression Black Caviar odds (very short betting odds) honours the four-legged legend of the racetrack, Black Caviar, undefeated in all her starts.

Our concern for wildlife is apparent in the terms resnagging (putting old logs back into river systems to restore habitat for native fish) and pinky (a pink, hairless pouch young, especially a baby wombat or kangaroo). An orphaned pinky may be rescued from the pouch of a female killed on the road, and relocated by carers into the pouch of a surrogate mother. We have seen this described as pouch-surfing, a play on ‘couch-surfing’. An old term we’ve discovered recently for a baby mammal is platypup, a name for platypus young, first used in the 1940s with reference to the first platypus bred in captivity.

Finally, we have collected a number of new idioms, such as calm your farm (calm down, relax), a twenty-first century expression we share with New Zealand; and more new starts than Centrelink (referring to someone who has had more chances or opportunities than they may deserve). For variants on established Australian idioms, Mark Gwynn discusses some results from our social media campaign elsewhere in this issue.

A living language is never fully contained between hard covers. Even so, we have been surprised by the number of potential Australianisms we’ve identified in a short period of time. We hope to continue gathering new words at a similar rate over the course of the next twelve months as we move towards launching the Australian National Dictionary on the Internet.



Social media and classic Aussie idioms

By Mark Gwynn, editor and researcher at the Australian National Dictionary Centre

This year the ANDC is using social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, to find variations on a number of well-known Australian idioms. The responses we receive are providing evidence for our Australian English database, and may be considered for inclusion in future editions of our dictionaries.

The established idioms we have looked at so far are to have a head like a robber’s dog, to be a stubby short of a six-pack, and to chuck a wobbly.  Evocative expressions like these and the creative use of idiom are typical of Australian English, so we were not surprised by the positive feedback from social media users when we asked them what similar expressions they knew based on these forms.

Here is a brief summary of our findings to date.

  • To have a head like a robber’s dog (to be very ugly or unattractive). This is first recorded in the 1940s, and we already had evidence of these established variants: a head like a drover’s dog, a head like a beaten favourite, and a head like a sucked mango. We had a great response on social media, with our followers providing many variants including: a head like a bucket of smashed crabs, a head like a chewed minty, a head like an angle grinder, and a head like a kicked-in biscuit tin. A number of followers also suggested variants on a similar idiom with the same meaning, replacing ‘head’ with ‘face’: to have a face like a dropped pie and a face like a smacked bum.
  • To be a stubby short of a six-pack (to be very silly, mad, or eccentric). First recorded in the mid-1990s, this is one of a number of idioms, with the same meaning, that follow the formula ‘an X short of a Y’. The formula is found in standard English today, but the earliest evidence is Australian. Established Aussie variants include: a sausage short of a barbie, a sandwich short of a picnic, a zac short of a quid, a kangaroo short of a full paddock, and a few snags short of a barbie. Our followers responded enthusiastically to this form and provided a number of variants including: a boiled lolly short of a raincoat, a few bricks short of a wall, a few slices short of a loaf, a few spring rolls short of a banquet, a few peanuts short of a Snickers, and two wafers short of a communion.
  • To chuck a wobbly (to become angry or to have a fit of temper). This idiom dating from the mid-1980s is a variant of the British English to throw a wobbly. In Australian English the word chuck, meaning ‘to perform’, ‘to do’, or ‘to put on’, is found in a number of established forms including: chuck a berko, chuck a mickey, chuck a willy, all with the same meaning as chuck a wobbly. As well, there are several other chuck forms with different meanings, such as: chuck a browneye (make the rude gesture of bending over and exposing one’s buttocks and anus); chuck a sickie (take a day’s sick leave from work, when often not ill at all); and chuck a uey (do a U-turn). We asked for other idioms based on chuck, but this request elicited the least response on social media. Our followers struggled to provide variants, with the exception of chuck a tanty, chuck a hissy fit, and chuck a lucky seven.

Do you know of any other variations on these idioms? We would love to hear about them. And please stay tuned to our social media platforms (@ozworders and Australian National Dictionary Centre, ANU) for the next idiom to get a guernsey in our search.


Celebrating World Teachers’ Day with the best and worst teachers in literature

More than a few famous writers started their professional lives as teachers, or taught at schools or universities between books.

Before Dan Brown wrote his bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, he taught English and Spanish, while William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies might have been inspired by his experience teaching high school English and philosophy. Frank McCourt, Joanne Harris and Philip Pullman were among the other best-selling writers to have spent some time as teachers.

So, there is little wonder that teachers have frequently appeared in books, often inspiring or protecting their young students. But, not all fictional teachers are presented in such a favourable light.

To mark World Teachers’ Day, here are some of the most memorable teachers in literature.

Miss Honey (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

Matilda was surrounded by horrible adults, from her self-absorbed parents to her terrifying headmaster, Agatha Trunchbull. But Miss Honey provided a ray of light for Matilda, protecting her from the worst of her parents and the cruel headmaster. Every child dreams of a kind and gentle teacher like Miss Honey taking them under their wing.

Miss Temple (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

What is it about teachers standing in for absent or neglectful parents? In Jane Eyre, Miss Temple gives Jane one of her first tastes of kindness and love, doing her best to shield her from the cruelty of the headmaster and showing her small kindnesses that Jane has rarely experienced before.

Miss Harris (The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson)

Like the best teachers in real life, Miss Harris is kind and patient, and identifies Gilly’s intelligence. While Gilly, like Matilda, had few solid and reliable sources of support at home, Miss Harris provided a sense of benevolent stability.


These teachers were respected and adored by their students. However, not all depictions of teachers in literature are quite so positive.

Sheba and Barbara (Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller)

Both Sheba and Barbara have their own flaws in Notes on a Scandal. While Sheba embarks on an affair with her student, Barbara also displays worrying behaviours, from her obsession with her colleague to her vindictiveness on finding out about the affair and satisfaction on reporting it. Sheba might be unstable, but Barbara is cruel. They are two teachers that most parents would prefer not to have in front of their children’s classroom.

Julian Marrow (The Secret History by Donna Tartt)

In some ways the perfect teacher – passionate, inventive and knowledgeable, in other ways, Julian Marrow is one of the worst. He draws his students in, ultimately betraying them. Was he the mastermind behind the book’s central crime? Or was he merely a narcissist? Either way, he is far from the ideal teacher he might seem to be.

Agatha Trunchbull (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

Matilda might have eventually come under the protection of the lovely Miss Honey, but before that, she fell victim to Agatha Trunchbull. With her heaving chest and her huge presence, she despises children and dolls out cruel punishments including making a student eat an entire birthday cake on his own, in front of the class, and spinning a girl around by her pigtails. Miss Trunchbull is the stuff of children’s nightmares.

Who do you think are the best and worst teachers in fiction?

Oxford Word of the Month: October – lady tradie

WotM header

nouna female tradesperson.


Tradie is a word first recorded in Australian English surprisingly recently—in 1994. Despite this, it has become entrenched in our lexicon. It is conveniently gender-neutral; as job titles began to shift in the 1980s away from being masculine, the popularity of abbreviated forms increased (for example fireman to firie), thus avoiding cumbersome forms (such as fireperson).

But while tradie should be a word that refers to either sex, the use of the term lady tradie reveals that many people assume a tradie to be a man. Lady tradie is first recorded around 2006, used as the name of a painting business run by a woman in Geelong. Evidence suggests other women have made use of the ‘Lady Tradie’ title as a business name.

While the word lady now seems old-fashioned, and many women see it as patronising, it has no doubt been partnered with tradie because of the rhyme. It is now used widely, if usually in contexts where the issue of gender and the trades is being discussed, such as this discussion of a young girl’s ambition to secure an apprenticeship:

Blayney High School’s Eliza Ewin is a future lady tradie and she is starting early to develop her skills and get a taste for the industry. (Blayney Chronicle, 7 September 2014)

And in this discussion of a radio station’s search for Perth’s ‘hottest tradie’:

So far we have two lady tradie finalists—one is a roof carpenter and the other is a sparkie. There are model good looks in our trade force out there. (West Australian, 16 September 2014)

Morning television host Samantha Armytage described herself as a lady tradie in 2016 when preparing for a design segment on the show, and the label is also used by websites and Facebook groups that promote the work of women as tradespeople and provide support networks for women in the industry.

But not all female tradespeople embrace the term unreservedly. Fiona Shewring, who founded the organisation Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen (SALT), has questioned the term because it suggests women are not equal to men within the industry:

‘Girls don’t realise they can do this work’, said Ms Shewring, who rejects the popular term ‘lady tradie’ because she feels it puts an unnecessary focus on gender. ‘Saying “lady tradie” has a connotation of not being a full tradie … Jobs shouldn’t have a gender’, she said. (ABC News, 11 August 2016)


Despite this concern, we continue to see the term used in the media, attesting to the fact that we do not yet consider that a woman is just as likely as a man to be the tradie who knocks on our door—but she may be in the future.

Lady tradie is being considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.