Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Did "Worser" Become "Wowser"?

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Sir, -- An item in the issue of the Queensland "Worker" of 30/6/47 interested me, as I consider I am connected with the origin of the word "Wowser."  

My version of the word's origin is that it came to light in 1898. There was a huge number of unemployed in Sydney and through the country. The Government Labour Bureau was in Chalmers St., close to the Chalmers Church, and opposite the old Exhibition Building in Prince Alfred Park.

Men mustered at the Bureau by the hundreds like forlorn sheep. Many of us joined the Surplus Labour League, and held meetings in the park and addressed the crowd of unemployed.  

A committee of 10 was elected, five were a working part, and when any one of the five got work others of the committee stepped up and filled the vacancy.

Mr. G. H. Reid was Premier, and received many deputations. To the first one he gave us £500 for food, and at a second another £500-- £1000, 200 pairs of blankets, and sent hundreds of men to the country clearing the Boganj Scrub on railway work and other places.

I got work for a couple of months and went back to the Bureau, and one morning was conversing with a man behind the church who was very dissatisfied with the actions of the committee and condemning them tooth and nail. I asked him where they did wrong and what they should do to improve conditions. I told him there would be a meeting in an hour's time and asked if he would be there. He said, "Yes." I found out his name. I was the third speaker, and after generalities I came round to those who would not help to make things better. I looked at the man and asked if there was a Mr. Phillips in the crowd. He did not answer. I looked in a different direction and repeated the question with no reply. I looked again in the direction of the man, adding, "I know he is here as I am looking directly at him," and he answered, "Yes."

I asked if he remembered the conversation we had behind the church that morning. He said, "Yes."

I said, "You complained that the committee had done nothing right and you mentioned things they should do, and I am asking you to come on the platform and tell the crowd what they should do to better conditions."

I asked him to come up several times and he refused. I then opened out on him, describing him for what I thought he was, and finished up by telling him he was not a "betterer"-- one who helped to make conditions better -- but that he was a "worser," one who made conditions worse.

We had a freelance who reported our meetings to the press, and whether the word "worser" was blurred and not plain and distinct I do not know, but the word came out WOWSER, maybe a printer's error.

I have heard Mr. John Norton many times while delivering election addresses using the word "wowser," and admit he popularised it.

The late Mr. C. J. Dennis also claimed he had something to do with its origin, stating he had used that word more than two years before Mr. Norton. My uttering of the word "worser" was in 1898, and I can place the time by an entry of wages in a book I have.


Broadwater, Richmond River, N.S.W.

(P.S. -- I feel very pleased to say I am a member of the grand old A.W.U. since the amalgamation of the Rural Workers' Union, and my ticket number is No. 47004.)

First published in The Worker (Queensland), 18 August 1947

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 1, 2012 7:01 AM.

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