As a kid The Humpy was what my Dad, a Danish migrant, called the tiny workshop he’d created inside a built-in cupboard in the spare room. Because we weren’t meant to go into The Humpy, it was the best hideout for my siblings and I – when Dad wasn’t home.
Growing up, we often used humpy to refer to any cubby house we “built” inside the house or out. We were quite close to using it correctly in some of those instances.
Humpy (1873, also humpey, humpie) was adopted from the Yagara Aboriginal language. Yagara was spoken in the Moreton Bay area (QLD), where it meant a makeshift shelter in the bush.
The original word is recorded as oompi. It was Englishified with the addition of a cockney h and the shape of the huts helped nudge our spelling towards the hump word we already had.
Other words for temporary shelters from Aboriginal languages included:
- gunyah (from an area near Sydney) also adopted into English use, it was imbued with more positive and refined connotations than humpy. Think beach shack rather than rude dwelling. Sadly gunyah is no longer used.
- goondie (also from NSW)
- mia-mia (from near Melbourne and also from languages spoken in WA)
- wurley (oorla, from near Adelaide) wurley and mia-mia are terms for a shelter of stacked up branches.
The OED recognises humpy as Australian slang for a camel from 1934.
Mac hasn’t extended the same courtesy to our humpy friends but *does* provide another Aussie colloquial definition – the nickname for the Holden FX of the 1960’s. Google further suggests that the humpy era may be a decade earlier and include the FJ model.
NB. The lovely lexicographers at Mac have confirmed the above tweaks to the definition are due to be updated online in their next upload.