MEANING AND EARLY OCCURRENCES OF THE PHRASE NO GOOD TO GUNDY
The Australian-English phrase no good to Gundy means of no use or advantage whatsoever, no good at all.
These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences of the phrase no good to Gundy that I have found:
1-: From Western Stories, by ‘an Inverell Templar’, published in The Inverell Argus (Inverell, New South Wales) of Friday 29th August 1902:
As we sat round the camp fire the night before the roll call at a big shearing shed on the Barwon, […] a sound of someone pushing his way through the scrub was heard […]. ‘Good night chaps’ came a voice, and with a general ‘Good night mate’ from our party, a man with a stockman’s moleskin pants, a swag covered with calico, and a black billy in his right hand, followed by a half-bred cattle and bull dog, walked into the firelight and announced himself as Mulga Bill, and said he had walked all the way from Blanky Bourke and couldn’t get a thing to do but blanky scrub cutting at a quid a week and tucker, and hadn’t had a square feed of meat for a week. […] The said scrub cutting may be all right for rouseabouts and leather-necks, but when a bloke can shear his 160 a day and earn his ten jim a week it’s no good to Gundy.
2-: From Mechanics’ Institute Billiard Tournament, published in The Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (Mudgee, New South Wales) of Thursday 13th August 1903—apparently, here, the phrase is used punningly in reference to the nickname given to one of the competitors:
The billiard tournament at the local Mechanics’ Institute is “booming merrily along,” and this week should see the conclusion of the first round. […] The heat between “Gundy” (20) and A. C. Gaskin (75) provided the closest contest of all. The latter made the pace very willing, and appeared to be capable of scoring, no matter to what measures of safety the former resorted. The game looked as though it were “no good to Gundy,” for his opponent seemed to know too many of “those classical shots,” but he kept plugging away, and eventually pipped the limit man by 1 point.
3-: From Truth (Brisbane, Queensland) of Sunday 12th June 1904:
Ford’s Filching Fingers
Birnberg Blows His Bugle.
Arrest in Albert-street.
Michael Ford is a lantern-jaw youth of 20 years, whose appearance denotes the consumption of many packets of cigarettes and indulgence in other vices of a not less undesirable kind. A case was closed at the City Court on Tuesday which shows that Mick is a leary cove who kicks about Albert-street when he isn’t working. He has been known to work. Anyhow, on Saturday night last a biped a rung or two higher up the social scale in the person of Lionel Birnberg went in to the Oriental Hotel in the fashionable thoroughfare named when Ford, who had two other gay sparks with him,
“PUT THE ACID ON HIM”
to shout. This, however, in the words of the latest vernacular, was “no good to Gundy,” and little Bernie refused to do in.
4-: From the Wagga Wagga Express (Wagga Wagga, New South Wales) of Tuesday 13th September 1904—Mr. Moloney is the defendant’s solicitor:
At the Police Court on Monday, the adjourned case of the Police against Ellwood MacNiven, for using bad language on the Wagga Racecourse, on September 27th, came on for hearing. […]
Mr. Moloney: He [= the defendant] would admit the “No Good to Gundy” business.
Mr. Moloney explained to the Bench that “No Good to Gundy” was an expression which stockmen used if the offer made to them did not suit them.
5-: From The Hospital Excursion, by ‘N’Importe’, published in The Macleay Chronicle and Bellinger Advertiser (Kempsey, New South Wales) of Thursday 24th November 1904:
I beheld a red-headed boy clasping his left ear with his hand. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Are you crazed with fear or crossed in hopeless love?” Are you—“That bloke there stuck the lit end of his cigarette on me ear,” said the boy. “What bloke?” I asked. “That there bloke with the stror ’at.” “My sweet angelic youth” said I to him of the straw hat “Do you not know that you should do unto others as you would be done by? Have you never been taught in Sunday School to—in fact to—to—in—what the dickens do you mean?” Teach him not to give me no lip, the East Kempsey swamp hog,” said the youth. “But,” I said, “your [sic] are older and wiser than he. You should have reasoned with him. You should have remembered that though ‘sticks and stones may break your bones, names will never hurt you.’” “No good to Gundy,” he said. Gundy was, I presume, the name of the youth, though I knew none so called.
ORIGIN OF THE PHRASE NO GOOD TO GUNDY
The origin of the phrase no good to Gundy is unknown.
Very early, the question of its origin was raised, and various explanations were proposed—but none is particularly compelling, and some are ludicrous.
The following query, from a person signing themself Ham C., was published in The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales) of Thursday 5th December 1907:
Much ink has been wasted by “Abo.” and other liars over “boshter,” “bonzerina,” “blitherer,” etc., but can any of the many sons of Ananias give me the origin of the frequently-used expression “No good to Gundy”?
The same periodical, i.e., The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales), published three responses to Ham C.’s query:
1 & 2-: On Thursday 19th December 1907:
“T.A.W.”: Re “Ham C.’s” inquiry (B. 5/12/’07) as to the origin and meaning of the expression “No good to gundy.” “Gundy’ is a corruption of a Welsh word meaning to steal, shake, pinch, or hook, and the expression simply means that a thing is not worth stealing.
“William V.”: “Ham C.” (B. 5/12/’07) asks for the origin of the expression “No good to Gundy.” Gundy is an abbreviation of Gundagai, and the phrase originated way back in 1852—the year of the big flood, which caught up Gundagai in its embrace, and scattered it over Riverina, and threw bits of it as far as Thargomindah. On the eve of the catastrophe a bullocky pulled into Gundagai, and camped at the old crossing on the Murrumbidgee. After tea, he had a look round the town to make sure that it was all there, and then turned into bunk in the waggon. He woke at daylight, feeling sea-sick, and found himself afloat. Mistrusting the seaworthiness of his craft, he made haste to get from under the tarpaulin, and with a plunge and a splash, was safe among the branches of a gumtree. After disentangling a few codfish from his whiskers, he looked towards the blank that had been Gundagai, and remarked sadly, that “’Tweren’t much good to Gundy.” In confirmation, I might mention that the tree is still there.
3-: On Thursday 2nd January 1908—the noun trap (i.e., one whose business is to ‘trap’ or catch offenders) designates a policeman:
“F.H.R.”: Re “Ham C.’s” query (B. 5/12/’07). It is some five years since I first heard the expression, “No good to Gundy,” and though I inquired from many users of the phrase this is the only explanation of its origin I could discover: A mounted constable was bringing a darky named Gundy down to Bathurst for trial at the Quarter Sessions. In the same carriage were some young men who procured much whisky at Wellington refreshment room. Now, blacks are notoriously slippery prisoners to escort, and Gundy’s hands were fastened behind him. Every time the trap was asked to drink he refused, and of course Gundy was not allowed to imbibe either. This put Gundy in an unenviable frame of mind, and when one of the boys playfully held the bottle about a foot in front of the aboriginal’s nose and begged him to “Do have a drop,” Gundy threw one black foot in the air, and deftly kicking the bottle of whisky through the carriage window, yelled “No plurry good to Gundy.” The policeman held Gundy in a corner while the froth flew from his mouth like it does off a pint of beer when a Welsh farmer does the blowing. Then he addressed a few words of wisdom to the young men, which caused them to change their carriage at the next stop.
In The Australian Language (Sydney and London: Angus and Robertson Ltd., 1945), Sidney John Baker (1912-1976) proposed a different origin:
No good to Gundy, an elaboration of the simple “no good”, has been current since 1907 or before, and probably had its origin in America. There is a township in New South Wales named Gundy and attempts have been made to link the phrase with this place. The origin is more likely to be found, however, in the old U.S. phrase, according to Gunter. Gunter was a noted mathematician who gave his name to works of precision and accuracy.
In The English Language in Australia and New Zealand (London: Longmans, 1966), the New Zealand-born Australian linguist and teacher George William Turner (1921-2003) explained that alliterative effect and phonetical factors proper to Australia may have contributed to the currency of the phrase:
The phonetic quality of words is more important in affective than in other uses of language. The unexplained phrase no good to Gundy, meaning simply ‘no good’ perhaps appeals because of its alliteration and the ‘Australian sound’ of the -nd- sequence, frequent in Aboriginal place-names (Gundagai, Goondiwindi, Gundaroo and many more).