Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Mystique of the Jackaroo

The Mystique of the Jackaroo

By Carol Craftman
The Spirit News
December 6, 2076

A jackaroo is a young man (feminine equivalent jillaroo) working on a sheep or cattle station, to gain practical experience in the skills needed to become an owner, overseer, manager, etc. The word originated in Queensland, Australia in the 19th century and is still in use in Australia and New Zealand in the 21st century. Its origins are unclear, although it is firmly rooted in Australian English, Australian culture and in the traditions of the Australian stockmen.

The word jackaroo, also formerly spelled jackeroo, has been used in Australia since at least the middle of the 19th century and passed from there into common usage in New Zealand. Its use in both countries continues into the 21st century. The origin of the word is obscure and probably unknowable, but its first documented use was in Queensland. Several possibilities have been put forward:

  •     An origin from an indigenous language term for 'a wandering white man'.
  •     Another suggestion (1895) was for an origin from the aboriginal word for a 'pied crow shrike', a garrulous bird, which the strange-sounding language of the white settlers reminded them of. Meston explained his position in a newspaper in 1919.
  •     In this era the American cowboys were also called 'buckaroos', which was derived from the Spanish word 'vaquero'
  •     By 1906 Immigrants into Australia were often called Johnny Raws. From that it became Jacky Raw.
  •     By 1925 it was said that the term jackeroo originated from the fact that "one of the earliest [...] was named 'Jack Carew'."
  •     A 'Jack of all Trades in Australia' (Jack + kangaroo), has much popular support. The Brisbane Courier newspaper, of Queensland, on 5 July, 1929, page 16, stated in answer to a question from a reader 'POMMY' of Toowong:

        A jackaroo (sometimes spelt jackeroo) Is a young man learning experience on a pastoral property. (2) In the English language 'Jack' is compounded with a lot of words, and in the early pastoral days it was compounded with the "roo" in Kangaroo to indicate, perhaps, the aimless rushing about of the inexperienced station cadet.

    The Encyclopaedia of Australia stated in 1968 that it is "most probably a coined Australian-sounding word based on a [person] 'Jacky Raw'" Jackaroos (Jacky + Raw) were often young men from Britain or from city backgrounds in Australia, which would explain the pejorative use of 'raw' in the sense of 'inexperienced'.
    Arguably the most authoritative voice in 2010 was that of The Australian National Dictionary Centre of the Research School of the Humanities at the Australian National University, which provides Oxford University Press with editorial expertise for their Australian dictionaries. They have explained their reasons for making no final judgment, and raise another possibility, that 'jackeroo' is derived from an aboriginal word for 'stranger' rather than for a 'pied crow shrike'.
    The spellings 'jackaroo' and 'jackeroo' were both used from about 1850 to at least 1981. In 2010, the more commonly used spelling was 'jackaroo'. However, between the years 1970 and 1981, a sample of Australian newspapers referred to 'jackeroo' 18 times and 'jackaroo' 29 times.

Dubbo and Kimberley Technical and further education (TAFE) centres provide a certificate course of practical experiences for people who want to work as jackaroos or jillaroos on rural properties. The course covers practical aspects of farm work at an introductory level. The jackaroo and jillaroo tradition was still active in 2076, with some training provided on dude ranches, where some students go on to paid positions on "stations".