‘without a bone in the truck’: meaning and early occurrences

The Australian-English phrase without a bone in the truck and variants are used to comment on the lack of work done.

I have not discovered the origin of this phrase. The only clue that I have found is from Thesaurus of Traditional English Metaphors (London: Routledge, 1993), in which Peter Richard Wilkinson (born 1926) lists …and not a bone in the truck in the “sub-section of images” that originated in butchering, together with words and phrases such as shambles and I’m speaking to the butcher, not the block!.

These are the earliest occurrences of the phrase that I have found, in chronological order:

1-: From one of the unconnected paragraphs making up the column Pars Pithily Put, published in The Prahran Telegraph (Prahran, Victoria) of Saturday 21st March 1891:

A false alarm of fire on Wednesday night sent all the district brigades clattering down Chapel-street only to find that they had to turn back “without a bone in the truck,” as a derisive by-stander put it.

2-: From the account of a game between Essendon and South Melbourne, in Football Gossip, by ‘Follower’, published in The Leader (Melbourne, Victoria) of Saturday 30th June 1900:

As things were, the Southerners prevailed at every point. It was something of a novel sensation—and rather an unpleasant one, I fancy—for Essendon to adjourn at half time withouta bone in the truck,” while the Southerners had scored 23 points.

3-: From the account of a Salvation Army meeting held at the Melbourne Town Hall, published in Truth (Sydney, New South Wales) of Sunday 9th August 1903:

The chairman either slept, or displayed a masterly inactivity, regardless of the fact that the hands of the great clock at the end of the hall were climbing quickly round to 9 o’clock. As one of the audience put it, “not a bone was in the truck,” which is Salvation Army parlance for nothing having been done.

4-: From the interview of one Skinny Smack, who had been “Lord Lieutenant of Applecross”, published in The Sunday Times (Perth, Western Australia) of Sunday 21st January 1906:

Good-bye, Skinny.
“Good-bye. ’Tis to me the very acme of joy to get away. I got a blooming cartload of magazines to sell, an’ gorblime, there’s not a bone in the truck yet!”

5-: From The Sun (Kalgoorlie, Western Australia) of Sunday 26th January 1908:

By “Bluebush.”

“Deer Stringy,—Y’ll be surprised to heer I’m still living the gay an’ festive life ov a man about town, […] I’ve started takin’ on a bit of noospaper work […]. Larst Toosday as I was moochin’ down Hannan-street […], a “Sun” bloke claps me on the back, and sez, sez he, “Bill, me ’ero, yer just the very man I’m lookin’ fer. We’re ded short of a pea of your intellectual calliber and refinement,” he sez, “to do the Lulu Benstead konsert fer us—Will yer take it on?” “Right oh!” I sez, spittin’ on me ’ands to get a better grip of the situashon […].
I gets to the ‘function’ a bit late […]. Slingin’ me frame into a chare, I takes out me note book […].
“Then, as far as the String Quartette (speckin’ by the Kard, old boy) went, this blanky “Sun” bloke ’ad me so side-lined and Scotch-hobbled, and kramped up, that free use of the pencil was outer the question—fer they ’avn’t found no man yet as can rite ’igh klass kritisism in a krush pen. Well, there I was—4 or 5 acks gone outer the korrobery * and not a bone in the truck yet—and all, mind yer, owin’ to the want of latitood. Then at larst on comes the bit o’ skirt we ’ad all come ter ’ear—and see.”

(* The literal meaning of the noun corroboree is a nocturnal festivity with songs and symbolic dances by which the Australian Aborigines celebrate events of importance; this noun is from Dharuk (Australian Aboriginal language of the Port Jackson area) garaabara.)

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