Thursday, May 23, 2013


I needed a fairly short and straightforward post here as I'm not home or in my regular routine for a week or so. But after reading and reviewing Adrian Hyland's Moonlight Downs over the last few days, I realized that there was one word that kept cropping up in his book that I had glossed over one too many times. It's not one of the aboriginal words, or one of the Australian slang words, both of which he provides a helpful glossary for. No, spinifex is just a word for some plant that apparently grows in abundance in the Australian Outback. And I think elsewhere, as I've certainly come across it before--somewhere.

At the very least, it's time to get a visual.


Well, this is presumably what much of the terrain in Moonlight Downs looks like, as Wikimedia Commons tells us that this is a picture taken in central Australia. 
But spinifex--straightforward? No. Because when you look up spinifex in say, Wikipedia, it will tell you that this is a coastal grass of Australia and New Zealand. Now not to give anything away, but as far as I can remember, no one in Moonlight Downs goes anywhere near the ocean. Coastal spinifex grass looks like this:
The seed head

The grass

What people in central Australia call spinifex is actually a grass called triodia, which grows in hummocks and grows in arid land and is not part of the coastal genus spinifex at all.
Sometimes I think the word gods are just messing with me. 
Of course, this is all an English and Latin layover of a native plant first named by the aboriginal peoples completely differently. Baru was the name it was given by at least some of the different peoples there. As with some plants and animals that native people of America knew well, multiple uses were found for spinifex, including making food from its seeds, adhesives from its resin and shelter using its long grasses.
 Various dictionaries tell me that spinifex comes from the Latin for "thorn maker". But spina in Latin also means spine, and I think it's more their porcupine like spines that gave these plants their name.


  1. Seana

    Yes its all over the place up there. Adrian doesn't live in the Outback anymore but up in Northern Victoria which is an odd place. In winter it looks a lot like Scotland or Ireland but in the baking summer you know you are in another continent completely, especially in the dry when all the thirsty hungry roos come out...

  2. Thanks for the clarification. In the interview I picked up, he did mention that he didn't live in the Outback anymore, but in that one it said he lived in Melbourne, which I knew couldn't be true from a few comments he made on your blog.

    To be honest, though, I have very little sense of the geography of Australia, except for its shape and that I happen to know where Tasmania is.