‘sunstruck bone’: meaning and origin

The Australian-English phrase sunstruck bone refers to extreme thirst or to extreme dryness.

This phrase occurs, for example, in Date lines, by Peter Black, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Saturday 9th April 1977—the author gives an account of his visit to an Australian friend living at Cairns, in Queensland:

He got me playing golf on the ninehole course at Half Moon Bay, though considered objectively anyone who enjoys golf in a temperature of 90 degrees, except as a means of working up a thirst like a sunstruck bone, has to have no more sense than a frog has feathers—or, to use another vivid Australian idiom, be as mad as a stunned mullett [sic].

The earliest occurrences of the phrase sunstruck bone that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From the first stanza of a poem, by a person signing themself ‘M.’, published in The Worker (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 2nd September 1893:


I waz trampin’ from the ’Umbug to get to Murril Crick,
When, ’earin’ something by the track, where scrub an’ brush waz thick,
I sees Old Tom adodgin’, then I ’ears him, groanin’, say—
“A sun-struck bone ain’t drier than my throat this blessed day!”

2-: From the opening lines of Stiffner and Jim (Thirdly, Bill), by the Australian short-story writer and balladist Henry Lawson (1867-1922)—as published in The Worker (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 1st September 1894:

We were tramping down in Canterbury at the time, swagging it—me and Bill—looking for work on the new railway line. Well, one afternoon, after a long, hot tramp, we comes to Stiffner’s Hotel—between Christchurch and that other damn place (I forget the name of it)—with throats on us like sunstruck bones, and not the price of a stick of tobacco.

3-: From the opening lines of A Bush Publican’s Lament, by the Australian short-story writer and balladist Henry Lawson (1867-1922)—as published in The Sun (Kalgoorlie, Western Australia) of Sunday 22nd September 1907:

I wish I was spifflicated before I ever seen a pub!
You see, it’s this way. Suppose a cove comes along on a blazin’ hot day in the drought—an’ you ought to know how hell-hot it can be out here— an’ he dumps his swag in the corner of the bar; an’ he turns round an’ he ses ter me, ‘Look here, boss, I ain’t got a lonely steever on me, an’ God knows when I’ll git one. I’ve tramped ten mile this mornin’, an’ I’ll have ter tramp another ten afore tonight. I’m expectin’ ter git on shearin’ with ol’ Baldy Thompson at West-o’-Sunday nex’ week. I got a thirst on me like a sun-struck bone, an’, for God sake, put up a couple o’ beers for me an’ my mate, an’ I’ll fix it up with yer when I come back after shearin’.’

4-: From The Independent (Footscray, Victoria) of Saturday 2nd April 1921:


Messrs. C. Lovett, S. Cant, W. Smith, and D. Mitchell represented the Footscray Bowling Club at the Bendigo Easter tournament, and had a most enjoyable holiday.
Another well-known member of the local club, whose neck is analogous to a sunstruck bone (in the matter of dryness, not whiteness), also made the trip, but returned next day, because he could not get his teeth into the Bendigo beer.

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