Omma y kewsir Kernewek

Robynne Sanderson (right) and Don Mudie with a Cornish flag and crib tin. Photo credit PICTURE Nardia Keenan

Tedden a worry for ‘cousin Jack’ and ‘cousin Jenny’ at Under the Silver Tree bookshop, where a new sign proclaims ‘Cornish spoken here on Wednesdays and Fridays.’

Robynne Sanderson is studying the modern Cornish language online and has discovered “dozens and dozens” of Cornish surnames in town.

“Because there are so many people in Broken Hill with Cornish ancestry, I thought there might be people interested in doing a little taster to learn tamm a Gernewek (a little bit of Cornish).

Many Cornish surnames describe places, which is different from the work descriptions often found in English surnames, such as Baker or Smith.

“My Cornish ancestors’ family name was Goldsworthy, which is an anglicised version of gol (feast-day) and serry (field),” said Robynne.


“If you’ve got a surname that starts with tre (town) — Tregonning, Trenary, all those sorts of names -that’s Cornish.”

Like Don Mudie, whose maternal grandmother was a Trevilyan until she became a Roberts, which was originally the Cornish surname, Robert.

“My grandmother on my father’s side had the maiden name of Couch,” said Don

The surname, Chynoweth, means ‘new house’ because it is made up of chi (house) and noweth (new), according to Robynne.

A bookshop is a lyver (books) ji (house) — a house of books.

“Ji means house and chi means house,” said Robynne.

“It’s so that the words flow nicely when you speak.

“All Celtic languages do it.”

The Cornish language, like Welsh and Breton, originated in Brittany in France.

If the language is lyrical, the Cornish dialect is even more so.

Cornish expressions in Broken Hill included the Looard edden deaf (the Lord isn’t deaf) and tedden all beer and skittles (it isn’t all beer and skittles).

“A Cornish man in Broken Hill would refer to another Cornish man as ‘my cousin Jack’ and that man’s wife as ‘my cousin Jenny,” recalled Don.

“I remember in Broken Hill ‘omemade or boughten pasties.”

My first store boughten doll was also a phrase.

Celtic words abounded in Don’s family.

“My cousin was eight years younger than me and he still used the word borreed instead of borrowed,” he said.

A superfluous word was often inserted into a sentence.

“My grandmother would say ‘We, I think it’s broken,’ where ‘we’ did not mean ‘you and I,’” said Don.

Cap’n (Captain) was the name for the mine boss, which was important because Cornish people followed the mines.

“Most Cornish people in Broken Hill came from the goldfields in Victoria and, even more so, from the Moonta district in South Australia, which was part of the ‘Copper Triangle’ with Kadina and Wallaroo,” said Robynne.

“My grandmother’s family went to the Victorian goldfields and my great-grandfather came to Broken Hill.

“The rest of the family stayed in Victoria.”

Don recalled South Broken Hill and Railway Town as the suburbs where Cornish people lived.

“There was a part of South Broken Hill called Moonta Town,” he said.

“James Hebbard was a Cornish manager at Central Mine, called Sulphide Corporation, and his house is now the Harold Williams home.”

After a Cornish chat at the bookshop at 29 Sulphide Street, Robynne will tell you Wolkom os.

“Cornish is a little bit like Yoda in Star Wars,” she said.

“Yoda would say, ‘Welcome you are.’”

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