Definitely Limericks by Rory Ewins


It looks like you’re coming in last,
But the leaders all crash; you skate fast
And win gold! Be like Steven:
Do a Bradbury. Even
“Unbeatable” foes can be passed.

At the 2002 Winter Olympics, Australian speed skater Steven Bradbury came from behind to beat four other finalists in the 1000 metres when they crashed and piled up on the last corner. As a result, his name has entered Australian vernacular to mean winning unexpectedly in a sporting event, especially thanks to luck or others’ lack of it. Bradbury, however, has pointed out that hanging back from the pack on the off-chance that some of his competitors would suffer just such a mishap was a deliberate strategy—one that paid off spectacularly.

Farewell, possums! I know you adore
Me, but no, I’m retiring before
People find me a bore.
Like Dame Melba of yore,
Though, I’ll soon be returning for more.

Dame Nellie Melba, a famous Australian opera singer of the early twentieth century, is remembered in local idiom for doing a Melba: that is, announcing her retirement but then returning for numerous farewell performances or comebacks. Another great Australian Dame, Edna Everage, did much the same in the years before the death of her handler Barry Humphries.

Don’t tell him I’ve stolen his clobber!
He’ll bloody well murder me, cobber.
Betrayal ain’t cool—
Even kiddies at school
Know the worst thing on earth is a dobber.

Dob is Australian slang for informing on someone: you can dob on them, or dob them in. Someone who makes a habit of dobbing on people risks getting a reputation as a dobber, which at school is about the worst thing you could possibly be, like a snitch raised to the power of tattle-tale. Clobber, meanwhile, means clothes, while cobber is an old-fashioned term for a pal or friend.

What are these that I’ve found in my pockets?
Some Tesco receipts? What a shock: it’s
A sign my jeans—gosh—
Haven’t been through the wash
Since I flew home to Oz (different dockets).

The UK chain Tesco doesn’t have any supermarkets in Australia, but if it did it would have to start calling its receipts dockets.

The Doctor replaces his faces
On a semi-occasional basis.
As a Time Lord, he tries
To prevent the demise
Of the Universe (where Time and Space is).

He declared on his lengthy CV,
“I am doing my third PhD.
Merely one’s not enough
Of that doctoral stuff,
And two doctorates? No! I want three.”

Said the doctor, a brain surgeon, “Strange.
Science tells me that physics can’t change,
But the Ancient One’s shown me
It can, which has blown me
Away. Let’s make time rearrange!”

Doctor Strange, a Marvel Comics character created by Steve Ditko in 1963, has become one of the key characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After a car accident, New York neurosurgeon Stephen Strange travels to the Himalayas to study the mystical and martial arts with the Ancient One, eventually taking over from him as Sorceror Supreme. With his newfound powers, he can do all kinds of freaky stuff, like make readers and viewers forget the existence of Mandrake the Magician.

Does a dodo have doeskin? Oh, no.
No, he doesn’t. That skin’s from a doe.
No, a dodo has feathers,
Not smooth, supple leathers—
Or did when he lived, long ago.

A cetacean researcher once said,
“There’s a bottle-nosed whale up ahead.
Take a look at that dœgling—
His blowhole is gurgling.
Why can’t he use tissues instead?”

“Just a glass of dog’s soup for me, thanks,”
Says my date. I reply the phrase ranks
As the strangest I’ve heard
In some time. “That old word?
It’s the beverage from rainwater tanks.”

Dog’s soup started out as 19th-century U.S. slang for rainwater, but by the 1930s had evolved into a term for drinking water. It hasn’t lasted.

The dollar’s a currency unit.
Ascetics and hermits impugn it,
But others embrace it.
We love it, let’s face it.
Let roses and daisies festoon it!

Given all that the name represents
(More enticing than shillings and pence—
Far less baggage, you see),
Many countries agree:
Calling currencies dollars makes sense.

Fully 36 countries use 22 different kinds of dollars, from the familiar US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong dollars to those of Tuvalu, Belize and Kiribati. Many were introduced in the aftermath of decolonization, replacing local or British pounds, shillings and pence.

The Donbas, in the east of Ukraine,
Has for over eight years known the pain
Of Russian “persuasion”—
Now outright invasion—
In their quest for its coal, gas and grain.

Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk (together, the Donbas) had been fighting the Armed Forces of Ukraine from 2014 until Russia’s invasion in February 2022. Russia controlled most of the Donbas by mid-2022 and proclaimed its annexation at the end of September 2022, even though the AFU had already begun pushing it out.

When Putin tried to take Luhansk,
The AFU replied, “No thanks.”
When Putin asked, “How goes Donetsk?”
His generals hemmed and hawed, “Don’t esk.”
To seize control of coal and gas,
He’s torn apart the whole Donbas.

Donburi’s a Japanese word
That has now become English, I’ve heard.
Surely our words suffice?
It’s a bowl, what, of rice?
With a meat or veg topping? Absurd!

Ah, but it’s the way you make it: how you steam the rice, how you cook the seafood, meat or vegetables... Donburi can also mean the bowl in which such dishes are served. There are, of course, dozens of Japanese loanwords in English, dating back to the 1800s. The Oxford English Dictionary added this one in 2024.

A voter in Oz—where, you’ll note,
It’s compulsory—stubbornly wrote
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6”
Down his ballot (not ticks),
Thus completing his donkey (haw!) vote.

A few features of the Australian voting system seem unusual to voters from other parts of the English-speaking world. One is that our elections use preferential voting, where you number the candidates on the ballot in order of preference (rather than crossing the box next to a single candidate, or ticking or checkmarking it). Another is that every adult must vote in state and federal elections (and enrol in the first place) or risk being fined. While the thought of compulsory voting gives libertarians the willies, it means that Australian political parties play to the centre rather than to extremes: they don’t need to devote resources to getting out the vote but do need policies that will appeal to as many voters as possible.

You can lead an equine to water, though, but you can’t make him drink. Because Australia also has secret ballots, there’s nothing to stop apathetic or angry voters from handing in a blank ballot, known as informal voting (constituting about 5% of votes), or from numbering boxes from top to bottom or bottom to top, known as a donkey vote. Because they’re properly numbered, donkey votes are formal votes, and they can make a difference in close races. Changes to how names on ballots are displayed have reduced their impact but not eliminated it; it’s estimated that the donkey vote is between 1% and 2% of votes cast.

Other countries do experience donkey voting, even where voting is voluntary: for example, if voters are asked to vote for multiple positions but are interested in only one or two, or when they’re asked to rank candidates within the party they support but aren’t familiar with all of them. But Australia remains the donkey voter’s spiritual home.

The sooner it’s bedtime, the sooner
I snuggle up tight with a tune—a
Great song for a duvet,
“(Get) Into the Groove”, eh.
I’m really a fan of ma doona.

The down-filled quilts known in Britain as duvets are in Australia called doonas, which although annoying for anyone called Donna did give rise to this classic pun when Madonna first hit it big.

With defeat for his team on the cards,
Kev was willing to do the hard yards,
Puttin’ on one last spurt.
Bloody hell, mate, it hurt!
Now Australia sends her regards.

Kev here represents the handful of batsmen over the years who have brought Australia’s cricket team to victory on the final ball of a match.

I enjoy macho stand-ins, but when
I saw Ringers, I soon thought again.
The heroine’s double
Had twice as much stubble
As both of the film’s leading men.

The fictional blockbuster mentioned here bears no relation to the 1982 short of the same name, or any movies made after 2010.

The dough-faced apprentice’s head
Resembled the stuff that makes bread.
“You’re the helper I need,”
Said the baker. “Agreed?”
“I can rise to the job,” the lad said.

In Australia, out on the downs,
Lie a few sleepy ranches and towns.
You imagine they’re hilly,
Like Britain’s? That’s silly:
They’re flat as a pancake, you clowns.

Well, some are a bit hilly, but most of Australia’s grasslands are flat, like the prairies of North America—either way, we call ’em downs.

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