Word watch: Tothersider

The Australian National Dictionary's AMANDA LAUGESEN treks to the west to look at language used to describe Australia's huge distances.

Working on the history of the Australian English vocabulary allows for fascinating insights to be gained into the Australian past.

It is possible to trace the mental geographies that have shaped colonial and modern Australian sensibilities in the range of terms that describe the land, its distances and its differences.

Terms such as outback, never-never, far north, far west and the more recent tyranny of distance suggest the way distance and geography shape Australian sensibilities.

One such term that illuminates the long-standing difference between Western Australians and those living in the east is tothersider (t'othersider), a term used by Western Australians to describe people from the eastern states.

I was reminded of this term when my sister, recently visiting Canberra from Perth, used the expression over East in reference to things from, or activities in, the eastern states.

Tothersider was first recorded in reference to a person (most often an ex-convict) from Tasmania in 1866.

Tasmanians similarly referred to mainlanders as tothersiders.

But the Western Australian usage, first recorded in 1872, is the one that most strongly suggests the distance that separates Western Australians from the rest of the country, a distance both geographical and, to an extent, mental.