- The name of the Barcoo River in western Queensland has been used since the 1880s as a shorthand reference for the hardships, privations, and living conditions of the outback. Poor diets were common in remote areas, with little access to fresh vegetables or fruit, and as a result diseases caused by dietary deficiencies, such Barcoo rot-a form of scurvy characterised by chronic sores-were common. Katharine Susannah Prichard writes in 1946: 'They were nothing to the torture he endured when barcoo rot attacked him. The great sores festered on his back, hands and legs: his lips split and were raw and bleeding'. Rachel Henning, in a letter to her sister in 1864, makes fun of her Irish servants' fear of scurvy, for which they eat pigweed, 'rather a nasty wild plant, but supposed to be exceedingly wholesome, either chopped up with vinegar or boiled'. Another illness probably caused by poor diet was Barcoo sickness (also called Barcoo vomit, Barcoo spew, or just Barcoo), a condition characterised by vomiting. 'Barcoo was rife among the kiddies and station-hands; vomiting attacks lasting for days laid each low in turn'. Happily, Barcoo can also denote more positive aspects of outback life: a makeshift resourcefulness - a Barcoo dog is a rattle for herding sheep, which can be as simple as a tin can and a stick - or rough and ready behaviour: 'The parrot's language would have shamed a Barcoo bullocky'. Barcoo can also typify the laconic bush wit. Patsy Adam Smith relates the following story: 'I see you've learnt the Barcoo Salute', said a Buln Buln Shire Councillor to the Duke of Edinburgh. 'What's that?' said His Royal Highness, waving his hand again to brush the flies off his face. 'That's it', said the man from the bush.
Australian idioms. 2014.