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We say, they say (part two)

Monday, 21st December, 2015

The statue ‘Map the Miner’, also known as the ‘on of Cornwall’, commemorates the Cornish mining history of Kapunda in South Australia. Cornish miners and their families poured into SA in the 1840s chasing the copper mining boom, and many later ended up over the border in Broken Hill, mining for zinc, lead and silver. The statue ‘Map the Miner’, also known as the ‘on of Cornwall’, commemorates the Cornish mining history of Kapunda in South Australia. Cornish miners and their families poured into SA in the 1840s chasing the copper mining boom, and many later ended up over the border in Broken Hill, mining for zinc, lead and silver.

THANKS goes to many of my readers for their insightful feedback to my ‘We Say, They Say’ article, published December 4. 

With their help, I’ve tracked the origins of the Broken Hill “where’s it to/where are you to?” phrases, and discovered some other intriguing snippets along the way.

As I have learned this past fortnight, what most locals already know, is that the expression was indeed used by the Cornish miners on the Copper Coast, aka Little Cornwall - especially Moonta, Wallaroo and Burra Burra.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Cornish language (Kernewek, Kernowek) was spoken around Moonta, as it was reported to have died out by 1777. Nonetheless, when the Cornish miners migrated to the Yorke Peninsula they brought with them the few words and sentences that remained of the language and this use of the unique English dialect set them apart from other ethnic groups.

Obviously, some of that dialect subsequently made its way to Broken Hill with miners and their families in their relocation to Silverton and Broken Hill.

Another interesting insight from Broken Hill local Robynne Sanderson deals with the impact the Cornish settlement had on the Aboriginal English dialect of that region. When the Moravian missionary Julius Kuhn began teaching English to the Narungga children of the Point Pearce Aboriginal settlement near Moonta, around 1866, “it is possible they would have spoken English with a hybrid Cornish/Moravian (Czech) accent!”

This highlights just how evolving language really is.

As it happens, Australia was not the only foreign shore influenced by the Cornish language and culture; in the migration of miners to other reaches of the globe, examples are widely documented.

Another local, Margaret Lesjak, kindly shares with us her account.

She has friends who, on a trip to Canada, took in the remote island province of Newfoundland (now known as Newfoundland and Labrador).

Her friends reported that the phrasing used in Broken Hill “Where do you live to?” and “He’s from away” apparently is also very common there and found they could understand the locals’ turn of phrase, as it was just like that in Broken Hill.

After some initial research this is not surprising, as an estimated 80 to 85 per cent of Newfoundland English comes from the Southwest of England.

And while on the topic of English dialects, I cannot let this chance go by to share with you my favourite anecdote of all time, not from Cornwall but from Sunderland (near Newcastle upon Tyne) in the Northeast of England, home of the renowned Geordie dialect.

In 1995, my friend Catherine, the daughter of esteemed Broken Hill A-grouper Elizabeth Crowe, was working in the paediatric emergency department of a Sunderland hospital.

While on duty she was presented with a father holding his baby who said to her, “Barin e dead twisty”.

Completely baffled, she found an English friend to translate for her who revealed the father’s plea for help to be “My lovely baby’s very ill”. Classic. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked Catherine over the last 10 years to retell this story, but it never loses its entertainment value.

So, if you live in Broken Hill and are “from away”, next time you hear some Cornish phraseology, be thankful that it was the Southwest Country miners who settled on the Yorke Peninsula, and not those from the Northeast!

 Please send your feedback to annettenorthey@hotmail.com; PO Box 181, Broken Hill, 2880; or call me on 0439 889 973.

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