Cheers to ‘shoey’ and ‘smoko’: How the two Australianisms went global

“So let me set the scene,” sings Eamon the lifesaver, a snarling guitar below his words. “It’s two in the afternoon and 34 degrees.” Too hot for a bloke like Eamon, you’d think, his lily skin complementing his ginger mullet. But the singer keeps marching, confessing, “The Queensland harsh summer heat had me sweating buckets up and down my street.”

Thirty-four degrees, and 18 million YouTube views – that’s the nutshell history of Smoko, the 2017 debut single of The Chats, a shed-rock trio out of Noosaville. Seeming more Weasley than punk god, Eamon Sandwith meets a tradie “perched atop of his milk-crate throne”. Meet Josh Price, the hi-vis guitarist, while Matt Boggis and his drums appear beside the cyclone fencing.

Verse by verse, the song tackles Centrelink payments and lastly lifesaver Eamon ignoring a drowner at the beach, “Coz I’m on smoko, so leave me alone!” Repeat. Repeat. The tone is cranky, the riff catchy. To the point a million offshore listeners began to wonder what the hell smoko meant.

Viral songs can also see their novel lyrics spread. Warren Zevon taught me Naugahyde, Jay-Z (Manolo Blahnik) and B-52s (bikini whale). As for Smoko, the song’s narrative, plus the video, set the scene for most fans. Despite the tradie opting for a sausage roll over a rollie, the slang’s meaning is guessable. Graspable. But where did the Australianism first appear?

Queensland, suspects Mark Gwynn, a senior researcher at the Australian National Dictionary. Around 1850, says Trove, the work-break initially owning an -oh ending, much like rabbit-oh (the Depression’s door-to-door bunny vendor) and bottle-oh. Even a fleece-oh (a shed’s wool sorter) needed scones, a cuppa and a durry for smoke-oh, the breather evolving into smoko over decades.

Varied sources claim smoko also identifies the snack, just as playlunch (or recess) denotes both a tween’s mini-break and its allocated carrot sticks. Better eating and cleaner lungs, in fact, have widely stubbed out smoko’s implicit fag, yet the label perseveres, thanks to punk history and subsequent Google searches. So long as we don’t succumb to grabbing a vape-oh.

Harry Styles does a shoey at his Perth concert.

Or downing a mid-morning shoey, that other homegrown slang amplified by music. This time Harry Styles is to blame, the English idol swigging water from his Gucci plimsoll after a recent Perth concert. “I’ll be discussing this with my therapist at length,” he admitted.

A day later, a million chatrooms argued the merits of glugging sock juice, plus the ritual’s genesis. Turns out Russian ballet stars are among the suspects, claims UTS academic Dr Liz Giuffre, talking to the BBC after Harry’s caper. Or maybe we should accuse Tallulah Bankhead, the paparazzi capturing the actress at London’s Ritz in 1951, quaffing bubbles from her stiletto in a so-called toe-st to her success.

Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian F1 champ, accelerated the custom in 2016. Other local sport stars followed, including golfer Hannah Green and ultra-marathoner Nedd Brockman. Musicians too, punk rockers leading the charge, though Harry Styles made the word catapult, running the risk of athlete’s mouth with his Dr Scholl skol as concert climax.

Dr Giuffre is a fan – of the shoey and probably Harry, too. “There’s nothing dignified about it. The shoey is saying ‘I’m not up myself’. Australians love people to win, but we don’t want people too over the top or too proud.” In one pongy slug, the shoey stamps down any tall poppy murmur. That sour sip of victory is how the winner tells onlookers, “See, I’m keeping my feet on the ground – or my socks, at least”.

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