The Australian-English phrase all over the place like a mad woman’s [+ noun] is a humorous extension of all over the place, which means:
– (literally) everywhere, in every direction, widely scattered;
– (figuratively) in a confused or disorganised state.
—Synonym: all over the shop.
The phrase all over the place like a mad woman’s [+ noun] occurs, for example, in the review by Simon Hughes of Aboriginal Melbourne: The Lost Land of the Kulin People (Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1994), by Gary Presland, published in The Age (Melbourne, Victoria) of Saturday 3rd September 1994:
Gary Presland takes the reader on an archaeological tour of the city and its environs. Thus we learn that Emerald Hill is the site of a long extinct volcano, that the flood-prone Yarra once meandered all over the place like a mad woman’s vomit (as it were) and that the MCG was once the meeting place of the local Aboriginal tribes.
These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences of the phrase all over the place like a mad woman’s [+ noun] that I have found:
1-: From a letter to the Editor, published in The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Queensland) of Wednesday 15th June 1932:
Sir,—In Saturday’s ‘Mercury’ I read with astonishment that the City Council had decided to allow the unemployment shed to be erected on the reserve generally known as the “Dump.” Might I suggest that this site is absolutely unsuitable for the following reasons: The vicinity of a dump or rubbish tip is no fit place for anyone to live. The joint health inspectors have condemned the place for human habitation. Apart from the tip itself, the reserve is bordered by mosquito-ridden mangrove and stinking saltwater gullies. […]
As the Council has gone to considerable trouble and opened up negotiations with the Harbor Board for a suitable camping reserve at the Town Beach, and these arrangements are practically finalised, it seems peculiar that the dump has been selected as a site for an unemployment camp. The idea of the camping area at the Town Beach was to cater for all campers—unemployed, pensioners, and the poor workers at present living behind Victoria Park—and not to have camps scattered all over the place like a mad woman’s knitting.
2-: From the column Gathered at Random, published in The Longreach Leader (Longreach, Queensland) of Saturday 14th May 1938:
We were down at the sheep dog trials on Tuesday, and boy, were they trials. We’ll guarantee that Job would have broken out in a lather of perspiration had he been there. The sheep were wild as hares and as soon as they were let out of the pen they scattered all over the place like a mad woman’s hair.
3-: From Riverslake, a novel by the Australian author Thomas Arthur Guy Hungerford (1915-2011), as published in The Mail (Adelaide, South Australia) of Saturday 22nd August 1953:
The wide green valley spread, with its river shrouded in naked willows; to the north the far view of the misty Alps, and nearer, the pattern of the bald hills and dark swathes of pine plantations. Only here and there groups of white buildings showed up, lonely amongst the open paddocks and the crowding armies of trees, with clusters of red-roofed houses and the tapering spires of two churches. Of a city, such as he had known, there was little sign, and yet it was there somewhere, the city of Canberra.
He remembered what someone in Sydney had said to him just before he left. “Cripes, mate, what a joint! All over the place like a mad woman’s knitting—bits of it here and bits of it there, and you go crackers looking for it. Stay here—at least there’s trams!”
4-: From Home for morning tea, a short story about an aerial combat, by Bernard Harris, published in The Bulletin (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 22nd June 1955:
I managed to drag myself to the turret. Super was shooting all right, and apparently bringing intense concentration to bear on his guns, but I had not been mistaken. He had been hit harder than I had at first thought. He was so badly torn about that it was a wonder he still managed to hang together at all. The very sight of him brought me almost entirely to my senses, but I waited until he had ceased firing before I touched his shoulder and indicated that I would help him down.
He turned briefly to look down at me out of a ghastly face that I shall never forget, motioned me away, at the same time intimating that he knew I had been hit on the head, then turned back to his guns.
[…] Next I looked up at Red and received a further shock.
[…] Blood was trickling out of his shirt-sleeves, spreading over his great hairy forearms and dripping down on to the parachute and dinghy-pack on which he sat. His face was so puckered-up in what might have passed as a wry grin that his eyes seemed closed, but he could see all right now, for he had corrected the aircraft’s cavortings and was even, I thought, nosing down towards the sea.
“You’re hit,” I said.
“Not even bad enough to earn me a day at Randwick races,” he said.
He pointed to his chest and I had a look. Right across the fleshy part of his huge chest was a bloody, jagged furrow that looked an inch deep. Compared with Super’s injuries it was hardly a scratch, but sustained by any ordinary mortal it might have been enough to have plunged us into the sea off-hand, and, as it was, it might well have complications that would be disastrous to us yet.
“He’s gone,” said Red, and for a moment I wondered what he was talking about. Then a shadow flitted directly over us and right ahead of us materialised as a fighter which curved gracefully down towards the deck, hit the sea in a neat, shallow duck-dive, sending water symmetrically flying in two sparkling, white-edged arcs on the sides of it, and waited until we had almost reached it before slipping quietly under.
“More of Super’s work,” said Red. “I told you he was some gunner. We’re not hearing each other and we don’t know what’s going on, but he’s doing a great job even while I’m all over the place like a mad woman’s orange-peel.”
5-: From Call me when the Cross turns over (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1957), by the Australian author D’Arcy Francis Niland (1917-1967):
But Fatsy came back and nearly took Fascinatin’s head off with a left upper-cut. In the end he was blood from head to hocks and all over the place like a mad woman’s custard. Fatsy, I mean. But that Fascinatin’s got no mercy. When you’re beaten by him you’re well and truly beaten and you stay beaten.
6-: From Norm and Ahmed (Sydney: Komos, [1968?]), by the Australian playwright Alexander Buzo (1944-2006):
Norm: Anyway, Ahmed, as I was telling you, I floored this bloody Kraut. Really laid him out. He was all over the place like a mad woman’s lunch-box. Just lying there waiting for me to kill him.