14 July 2005

The singular beauty of Australian placenames

'In the late afternoon, I stopped at a roadhouse for petrol and coffee. I studied my book of maps and determined that I would stop for the night in Hay, a modest splat in the desert a little off the highway a couple of hours down the road. As it was the only community in a space of 200 miles, this was not a particularly taxing decision. Then, having nothing better to do, I leafed through the index and amused myself, in a very low-key way, by looking for ridiculous names, of which Australia has a respectable plenitude. I am thus able to report that the following are all real places: Wee Waa, Poowong, Burrumbuttock, Suggan Buggan, Boomahnoomoonah, Waaia, Mullumbimby, Ewylamartup, Jiggalong and the supremely satisfying Tittybong.

As I paid, the man asked me where I was headed.

'Hay,' I replied, and was struck by a sudden droll thought. 'And I'd better hurry. Do you know why?'

He gave me a blank look.

'Because I want to make Hay while the sun shines.'

The man's expression did not change.

'I want to make Hay while the sun shines,' I repeated with a slight alteration of emphasis and a more encouraging expression.

The blank look, I realised after a moment, was probably permanent.

'Aw, you won't have any trouble with that,' the man said after a minute's considered thought. 'It'll be light for hours yet.'

- Bill Bryson, 'Down Under', 1999.

1 comment:

jenny said...

yes, poowong is a place. i spent the first 13 years of my life there!