Meaning and origins of Australian words and idioms - Galah

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The word Galah comes from Yuwaalaraay and related Indigenous languages of northern New South Wales.

In early records it is variously spelt as galar, gillar, gulah, etc;

The word is first recorded in the 1850s.

The bird referred to is the grey-backed, pink-breasted cockatoo occurring in all parts of Australia except the extreme northeast and southwest. It is also known as the red-breasted cockatoo and rose-breasted cockatoo.

Some early settlers used the galah as food.

In 1902, The Truth newspaper reports...

The sunburnt residents of that God-forsaken outpost of civilisation were subsisting on stewed galah and curried crow.

Some writers report that galah pie was a popular outback dish.

The galah, which usually appears in a large flock, has a raucous call, and it was perhaps this trait which produced the term, galah session, for a period allocated for private conversation, especially for women on isolated stations over an outback radio network.

F. Flynn in Northern Gateway 1963 writes...

The women's radio hour, held regularly night and morning and referred to everywhere as the "Galah Session". It is a special time set aside for lonely station women to chat on whatever subject they like.

More generally, a galah session is a long chat.

A. Garve, Boomerang 1969...

For hours the three men chatted...It was Dawes who said at last...

I reckon this galah session has gone on long enough.

Very commonly in Australian english galah is used to refer to a fool or an idiot.

This figurative sense is recorded from the 1930s and derives from the perceived stupidity of the bird.

The following quotations give an indication of how the term is used...

1951 E. Lambert.Twenty Thousand Thieves...

Yair and I got better ideas than some of the galahs that give us our orders

1960 R. S. Porteous, Cattleman...

The bloke on the other end of the line is only some useless galah tryin' to sell a new brand of dip

1971 J. O'Grady, Aussie Etiket...

You would be the greatest bloody galah this side of the rabbit-proof fence

From this sense arise a number of colloquial idioms...

To be mad as a gumtree full of galahs is to be completely crazy.

To make a proper galah of oneself is to make a complete fool of oneself.

A pack of galahs is a group of contemptibly idiotic people


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