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Oi, Oi, Oy

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Latest: Wednesday September 27, 2000 09:42 AM


By Luba Vangelova, Special to

I first heard it back in January, while waiting for a free classical music concert to start in a downtown Sydney park. Like several hundred other people, we had arrived a few hours early to stake our place. We were peacefully enjoying our pre-concert picnic when a man in the crowd suddenly, and for no apparent reason, yelled, "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!"

About half the crowd yelled back: "Oi! Oi! Oi!"

I froze with a piece of baguette raised halfway to my mouth and exchanged a "What the hell?!" glance with my English husband. We'd just moved from the United States to Australia, and knew nothing of this ritual. Which, as it turns out, wasn't quite over.

Man, again: "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!"

Crowd: "Oi! Oi! Oi!"

Man: "Aussie!"

Crowd: "Oi!"

Man: "Aussie!"

Crowd: "Oi!"

Man (much faster): "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!"

Crowd (equally fast): "Oi! Oi! Oi!"

We turned to our Australian friend Frank for an explanation. He rather sheepishly explained that it was a national chant. As to why it was being invoked before a classical music concert, he couldn't say. Did the crowd feel the timpanist might need a little extra encouragement? At any rate, we were soon distracted by the spectator reclining on a blow-up sex doll wearing a floral sundress and zinc sun-block, and thought nothing more of the chant.

Now, during the Olympics, you can't get away from it. People are starting it at sporting venues, on trains, in downtown crowds. Some Australians love it, others hate it. Heeding an Arab proverb that it's easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world, I am gradually learning to accept it.

It turns out this chant is one of the many antipodean traditions, like public drunkenness and lawyers wearing wigs, that derives from Britain. According to one story, long ago, wives in Cornwall would call "Oggie, oggie, oggie!" down to their husbands in the tin mines, to let them know they'd arrived with their oggies, or Cornish pasties (meat pies).

This past century, a Welsh folk singer named Max Boyce began using the call at his concerts. Boyce was also a big rugby fan, and through him the chant went on to become a Welsh rugby club cheer. The English later picked it up, changing it from "oggie" to "Ozzie," in honor of a soccer player named Peter Osgood.

The Australians picked it up either when their sporting teams visited Britain, or when the Brits toured Australia. Either way, down here, it's only recently gained popularity. Maybe that's why some instigators actually manage to confuse the sequence, and stop midway through.

But the story doesn't end here. Like a virus, the chant has found new host organisms to spread it further. It has also adapted and spawned new variations. Brazilian fans have chanted it in its entirety, subbing "Brasil" for "Aussie." French teenagers have been heard calling: "France, France, France! Ai! Ai! Ai!" Slovenians: "Slo-ven-ia! Ja! Ja! Ja!" Even Americans have chimed in with: "U-S-A! Oi!

Oi! Oi!"

In a week's time, these visitors will leave these shores and return from whence they came, taking the chant with them. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Related information
Sydney Scene: A septic in Sydney
Sydney Scene: Relying on strange logic
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