‘things are crook in Tallarook’: meaning and origin

The Australian-English phrase things are crook in Tallarook is used of any adverse situation.

This phrase is based on the rhyme between:
– the adjective crook, which, in Australian English, is used to mean, of things, bad, unpleasant, unsatisfactory,
Tallarook, the name of a town in Victoria.

The synonymous rhyming phrase there’s no work in Bourke, from the name of a town in New South Wales, sometimes follows things are crook in Tallarook.

These are the earliest occurrences of things are crook in Tallarook that I have found, in chronological order:

1-: From All the wives will want to go: Humorous side of Lady Blamey’s visit, a comic text published in The Benalla Ensign (Benalla, Victoria) of Friday 24th January 1941:

“As I was about to say to my fellow Australians when you entered, my dear Senator—”
“Things are crook in Tallarook,” interrupted the latecomer.
“Perhaps,” continued the Prime Minister, “and in other places farther afield. That’s why I feel it my bounden duty to rush to the aid of—”
“Me, for a start if you don’t mind, Bob,” said the Senator.

2-: From Pillow Called “A Weeping Willow” In Slang of Australian Troops, by William Stewart, published in The Evening Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario) of Friday 24th August 1945:

With the 7th Australian Division at Balikpapan, Aug. 24—(CP)—[…] “Things are crook in Tallarook” has almost the same meaning as “there’s something rotten in Denmark.” Use of the expression usually draws the comment: “There’s no work in Bourke.”

3-: From Doncaster’s Turf Round, published in The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) of Monday 3rd December 1945:

I’ll go back to Friday to start today’s column. The day was spent on a property owned by Mr Brien Goodheart, near Trawool. And for the benefit of those who may not know their map of Victoria I might add that you get to Trawool by motor train on a branch line from Tallarook. Everyone has heard of Tallarook because of the famous verse which starts: “Things are crook in Tallarook.” But, believe me, things now in that part of the world are just the reverse. It’s a bumper season.

4-: From Personal Items, published in The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 27th April 1949:

A couple of years ago the committee of the Melbourne Royal Show were finding things crook in Tallarook and wondering how they were going to meet payment for the production of future blue ribbons to adorn the bulls’ necks. Alec G. Hunter, whose grin here presented by McBeath is well-known to turf-men, suggested night-trotting.

A synonymous rhyming phrase is things are crook in Muswellbrook, from the name of a town in New South Wales.

For example, the following is from the review of Spirit of the Never-Never, a television documentary film based on We of the Never-Never (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1908), an autobiographical novel by the Australian author Jeannie Gunn (1870-1961)—review published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales) of Monday 26th October 1981:

There are still those sun-burned, white inhabitants who regard it [i.e., the Northern Territory outback] as a male society; men who answer simple questions such as “How’re things?” with “things are crook in Muswellbrook, and there’s no work in Bourke”.

There are many other rhyming phrases. Several of them occur in the following is from A Collection of Twelve Items from the Australian Imagination, published in The Age (Melbourne, Victoria) of Saturday 25th April 1992:

A Depression poem (from the 1930s):
“There’s no work in Bourke,
No lucre at Echuca, 1
Damnall at Blackall, 2
Things are croook [sic] at Tallarook,
Got a feed at the Tweed, 3
No feedin’ at Eden, 4
Everything’s wrong in Wollongong, 5
Might find a berth in Perth, 6
In jail at Innisfail, 7
Got the arse at Bulli Pass.” 8

1 Echuca is a town in Victoria.
2 Blackall is a town in Queensland.
3 The Tweed is a river in New South Wales.
4 Eden is a town in New South Wales.
5 Wollongong is a city in New South Wales.
6 Perth is the capital of the state of Western Australia.
7 Innisfail is a town in Queensland.
8 Bulli Pass is a mountain pass in New South Wales.

In A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (Sydney University Press in association with Oxford University Press Australia, 1990), Gerald Alfred Wilkes (1927-2020) mentioned the following rhyming phrases:

things are crook in Tallarook
there’s no work at Bourke
got the arse at Bulli Pass
no lucre at Echuca
in jail at Innisfail
things are weak at Julia Creek 9
things are crook at Muswellbrook
the girls are bandy at Urandangie 10

9 Julia Creek is a town in Queensland.
10 Urandangi, formerly also Urandangie, is a town in Queensland.

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