12 April 2019
Growing up in Baldivis, Trevor Walley knew a low shrub whose yellow-green fruits, which he called “snottygobbles”, were sought out as bush tucker. The scientific name is persoonia saccata which is the shrub-like form and not as commonly seen as the persoonia longifolia pictured. The first popular book on Western Australian wildflowers, Emily Pelloes marvelous Wildflowers of Western Australia published in 1921, gives it the common name of ‘swottie bobs’. The next popular publication, West Australian Wild Flowers, first published by the West Australian in 1935 and running too many reprints and new editions, did not mention persoonias at all. By the publication of Rica Erickson et al’s Wildflowers of Western Australia in 1973, the whole genus persoonia was referred to as “snottygobbles’. Where did this odd name come from?
A name’s origins
Common names are part of the living, cultural heritage, reflecting ordinary people’s knowledge of the land around them. As part of getting to know Australia, settlers would have transferred familiar name to unfamiliar, but vaguely similar plants. A good example is the name ‘buttercup‘ given in Western Australia to species in the genus hibbertia, not at all related to the buttercup of Europe. But they do have golden-yellow cup-shape flowers that spangle the bush in springtime.
In the United Kingdom, yew trees have squishy fruits with a hard centre. Growing up in Wiltshire, Penny Hussey called these fruits ‘snotty gogs’ (or snotty globs’) and remembers that naughty small boys liked to put them where a girl could inadvertently squidge them—like down the neck of her blouse. The girls, of course, responded with obligatory squeals of disgust! Arriving in WA, the children would soon have discovered any squishy fruits, especially if shown them by Aboriginal friends. It is likely they simply transferred the name to their new land as an oral tradition.
Such things were not written down until much later and can change during this time, especially if they were part of the lore and language of school children. But once a name becomes formalised in a widely distributed publication, a common name ‘becomes‘ set.
So this is how we think the name snottygobble got here –via settlers’ kids. Although the plant was well known to be good bush tucker, alas no Nyoongar name—also transmitted in oral tradition—seems to have survived. Perhaps all the kids just like the name ‘snottygobble’—it is a super word—so that’s the one that remained in use.