Q From Bob McGill in Texas, and Kimberly Phelps in New Jersey: In your January 27 issue, your Q&A section included a letter from a Ms Marden asking about Old Blighty. She referred to being asked its origin by ‘an Ocker’. Of course that prompted me to wonder about Ocker. I assume it to be a slang reference to an Australian. But whence?
A An Ocker is certainly an Australian, but one of a particular type: a rough and uncultivated working man. Think of the Australian characters in the Crocodile Dundee films, especially the Paul Hogan one, all stereotypical Ockers. An Ocker can be boorish and aggressive, blinkered, often strongly nationalistic in speech and outlook, though my impression is that tolerance and good humour are as common.
The archetypal Ocker may be pictured in shearer’s singlet, shorts and thongs, leaning against a bar, sinking large quantities of beer. He will certainly be speaking in a characteristically slurred and mangled Australian accent with lots of slang, a lingo parodied as Strine, from an Ocker way of saying Australian. (The word Strine, incidentally, was invented by Alistair Morrison in 1964. He used it the following year in the title of his book, Let Stalk Strine, under the pseudonym of Afferbeck Lauder, whose name needs to be said with a Strine accent to fully savour its flavour.)
The original Ocker was a character of that name played by the Australian comedian, actor and writer Ron Frazer, in a late-night satirical television series The Mavis Bramston Show aired between 1965 and 1968. However, the peak in popularity of Ocker seems to have been a little later, during the period of the Labour government of Gough Whitlam (1972-75).
The name is a variant on Oscar. It’s actually much older than the television programme, since anyone in Australia with the first names of Harold or Oscar might in earlier times have been nicknamed Ocker, for no very obvious reason that I can discover. (In the 1920s, a cartoon called Ginger Meggs included a character called Ocker Stevens, so anyone with the surname Stevens was also likely to be called Ocker.)
It’s now rather out of fashion, since Australians have shrugged off the “cultural cringe” of earlier days and now prefer to think of themselves as more sophisticated than Paul Hogan’s characters.
[I’m grateful to Martin Mullin for his help with this answer.]