Not so fast!

I was editing an article about intermittent fasting (that is, not eating for all or part of a day, interspersed with normal (possibly restricted) eating on other days). 

Inevitably, I got thinking about the various meanings of fast, as an adjective or adverb meaning quick(ly), as an adjective or adverb meaning firm(ly), secure(ly) and as a noun or verb meaning an abstention/to abstain from food. doesn’t help. It lists the quick(ly) and firm(ly) meanings together, and notes that they are “akin to fast2” (that is, the noun/verb). has possibly too much information. As I understand it, the firm, secure meaning came first. The abstain from food meaning came next, and means, basically, to hold oneself firmly. The quick meaning came last. If you run firmly, you run quickly. (Fast asleep means firmly, securely asleep, not quickly asleep, which might be confusing to young children, who almost certainly encounter the quick(ly) meaning first.)

From hold fast has come holdfast, which means a firm grip, a staple or clamp, or an organ by which an aquatic plant or animal can attach to a surface. Note also Holdfast Bay, Adelaide, South Australia, which got its name after Colonel William Light, the SA surveyor-general found anchorage there in a storm.

Hang on, though, I’ve encountered the meaning of a small fortress. But that appears to be used only in fantasy novels; Wikipedia’s disambiguation page gives GRR Martin’s A song of ice and fire series as an example.

PS At a funeral this afternoon, the word steadfast was used.


the bottom of the harbour

Yesterday I walked around the Circular Quay and Rocks area of Sydney Harbour. A bonus was a full-sized cruise ship at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. A second bonus was that I found it was due to depart in 40 minutes, so I positioned myself on the footpath about Circular Quay station (where I’d been several hours before).

One of the reasons Sydney (first the settlement/town then the city/metropolitan area) is where it is, is that there is deep water right up to the shoreline – deep enough for the sailing ships of 1788 and, it turns out, for the cruise ships of the 21st century.

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“Hello, are you my cousin?”

In 1855, one of my great-great-great-grandfathers, one of my great-great-great-grandmothers and one of my great-great-grandfathers arrived in Sydney from England. They and several other children (born in England and Australia) eventually settled in a small town on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. Later, various members of the family moved to various other places, but the extended family is clustered around two rivers in mid-northern NSW. Various family members have researched the family history. I have some information from my grandmother and two distant relatives. but haven’t got seriously involved.

Today after church, the drinks were being served by a woman whose name tag showed that surname (which is not the same as mine, because I’m not a direct male descendant). I said “Are you related to the [name] family of [town] and [town]?” She said “No. There’s only me and my husband. You’re the second person to ask me today. The man over there asked me.” I’d seen the man with the same surname on his tag, and vaguely assumed that they were related. I asked him the same thing, and he said that he’d come from England as a boy with his father. I assume that he asked the woman “Are you related to [some given name] [that surname]”, not about the two towns I did.

I know I’ve got hundreds of  relatives on that side of the family, but with each generation fewer of them have that surname. I know some of the associated surnames (the married names of the daughters and some of the grand-daughters), but I’ll spot that surname first. There are several major businesses by that name, which we are not related to.

For a long time, I thought that those were my first ancestors to arrive in Australia, but last year I was looking at some information about the other side of my family, and found that one couple came in 1847. Apart from the fact that they had a daughter who became one of my great-great-grandmothers, we know nothing more about them.

Whatever else they might have done, none of my ancestors were convicts.


Yesterday I went to Yarramundi Reserve, a small and frankly not very interesting area at the junction of the Nepean, Grose and Hawkesbury Rivers, north-west of the Sydney metropolitan area. Yarramundi (or Yel-lo-mun-dy, or Yal-lah-mien-di, or Yèl-lo-mun-dee, or Yellomundee, or Yello_mundy, or Yellah_munde) was a leader and healer of the Buruberongal (or Boo-roo-bir-rong-gal, or Bu-ru-be-ron-gal, or Bu-ru-be-rong-al, or Boorooberongal, or Buribırȧŋál), a ‘wood tribe’ whose country extended inland from somewhere north-west of Parramatta towards and including the Nepean/Hawkesbury River.

A party of British explorers led by Governor Arthur Phillip met him and several others in April 1791, on an expedition to discover if and how the Hawkesbury (which they had previously explored upstream from its mouth) and the Nepean (which they had encountered after walking overland westward from Parramatta) met. As it turns out, the Nepean/Hawkesbury is essentially one river, but the two names have stuck, and this junction is the arbitrary point at which the names officially change. (The Grose River was named later; Major Francis Grose (later acting governor) did not arrive in the colony until 1792.)

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Grouching about editing

It is disappointing when an otherwise interesting book shows signs of being edited badly or possibly not at all. I am re-reading a book about Captain Arthur Phillip, the commander of the First Fleet and first governor of New South Wales. I don’t want to name and shame the author and publishing company, but without really trying, I spotted two main groups of errors.

Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark wrote two diaries which give a very personal account of his time in the colony. He was newly married with a young son in England, and spends most of his first diary pining for them. The book says “despite which he was quick to take an Aboriginal mistress in New South Wales, who bore him a child”. She wasn’t Aboriginal; she was a convict. Later, the book says he “later had a daughter with Mary Burnham, sent to Botany Bay for stealing clothes”. Later again, he refers to “Mary Branham”. The index has two different entries, one for each spelling. Some convicts used different names, or have their name spelled differently in different sources, but a modern author can and should choose and stick to one spelling. The Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Dictionary of Sydney both use “Branham”. He also writes about Clark’s vegetable garden on “a small island — still known as Clark’s Island”. Actually, Clark Island. (The bigger Garden Island got its name in the same way; it is now joined to the mainland and mostly covered by a naval base. Nearby is Farm Cove.)

Elsewhere, the author refers to “Count Jean-François de Galoup de Lapérouse”, a French explorer whose two ships arrived at Botany Bay just a few days after the First Fleet. Later, and on the same page, he refers to “La Pérousse” and “Lapérouse”. Likewise, there are two index entries, both of which have a spelling mistake and a language inconsistency: “Lapérouse, Count Jean-François de Glaoup and “Pérouse, Jen-François Galoup, Comte de la”. The Australian Dictionary of Biography calls him “Jean-François de Galaup La Pérouse” and the Dictionary of Sydney “La Perouse, Jean-Francois”. So what is the correct spelling? I don’t know, but if I was writing a book, I would check very carefully. (Note that the present-day suburb on the shore of Botany Bay is officially spelled La Perouse.)

I hesitate to criticise an author who has written at least 24 more books that I have, and an established publishing company, but these were glaring, and make me wonder what else the author(, editor) and publishing company have missed.

[edit, 8 Oct: reading onward, there’s another (unindexed) reference to ‘Pérousse’. Elsewhere, the king’s birthday was celebrated on 4 June 1788 and 2 June 1789. More  seriously ‘two rush-cutter women were speared and killed’ v ‘a 19-year old convict, William Okey, was killed while cutting rushes … The body of his companion Samuel Davis was found nearby’. If women were allowed out of the camp at all, it wasn’t in pairs. I won’t add any more that I find.]


(PS I don’t like giving any free publicity to corporate entities, but in this case it’s impossible not to.)

Some years ago (soon after I returned from Korea the first time, I think), I bought a quiz game made by a company called BrainBox. The shop had several in stock, but the one which I bought was of the countries of the world, which seemed most applicable to English language classes.

IMG_4069lowresI have used it several times a year since. On Tuesday I was browsing through a local shop and saw another game from the same company, about Australia. I went back and bought it on Thursday morning and used it that evening in class.



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Marching together

In 2000, the chamber choir I sang in and one other similar choir were invited by Sydney’s biggest concert choir to join it to form the choir for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. We got the best deal of any of the performers – we got to see the whole ceremony from high up in stands. (We sang one verse of the national anthem and an excerpt from the Te Deum by Berlioz during the entry of the flame and the lighting of the cauldron. RIP Betty Cuthbert (d 6 August 2017).)

There were two rehearsals – a closed one, with some stops and starts, the previous Saturday, and an open one, essentially continuous, on the Wednesday. The entry of the flame and the lighting of the cauldron were omitted, and the parade of nations was represented by the placard and flags bearers only.

On both occasions I noticed that South and North Korea were missing from the parade. They weren’t filed under ‘K’ or ‘N’ and ‘S’. (This was six years before I went to South Korea, but I have always been interested in the countries of the world.) There was an announcement for ‘Individual Olympic Athletes’ immediately before Australia (the host country always enters last) and I vaguely thought the Koreans would be marching there.

On the night of the ceremony (15 September 2000), after Kenya had entered, I noticed a lot of people standing at the entrance who obviously weren’t Kuwaiti. (Kosovo now also comes in between.) The announcements were given in French first, then English. There was a long announcement in French, and the digital screen was filled with writing. My French was just good enough to get the gist, but I wasn’t sure until the announcement in English came:

The delegations of the Korean Olympic Committee and the Olympic Committee of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, marching together as Korea.


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