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A painting titled Smoko time with the AWLA

"Smoko" (also "smoke-o" or "smoke-oh") is a term used in Australian, New Zealand and Falkland Islands English for a short, often informal break taken during work or military duty, although the term can also be used to describe any short break such as a rest or a coffee or tea break. Among sheep shearers in Australia, "smoko" is a mid-morning break, between breakfast and lunch, in which a light meal may be eaten.[1]

There is a town in Victoria, Australia called Smoko, which "gained its name in the 1850s because gold seekers regularly stopped here for a smoke and a rest on their way to and from the goldfields".[2]

The term is believed to have originated in the British Merchant Navy,[3] and was in use as early as 1865.[4] The term is still in use in the British Merchant Navy today. The tradition of a smoko in the Australian sense seems to have begun amongst sheep shearers in the 1860s.[5]

Although a slang term, the word "smoko" has been used in government writing and industrial relations reports to mean a short work break.[6]

The term "smoko" has found an American foothold after being popularized by the Australian pub-punk band The Chats.[7]

Smoko as an Australian institution[edit]

The smoko break in Australia has become an institution symbolic of working culture and even of workers' rights. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission has arbitrated cases of industrial action over workers' entitlement to a smoko break.[8]

There are, however, considerable health and productivity concerns about smoke breaks, and non-smoking workers are sometimes concerned that their smoking colleagues take more time on breaks.[9]

In 2006, the Australian government's Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources banned the "smoko" from its Canberra offices,[10] prompting then Health Minister Tony Abbott to declare that the "smoko has had its day".[11] In January 2010 the Health Department announced a ban on its employees taking cigarette breaks, or "smokos."[12]


  1. ^ McDonald, Roger (1992). Shearers' Motel. Sydney: Picador. ISBN 0-330-27351-5.
  2. ^ Mevissen, Andrew (4 June 2006). "Weird place names". The Age. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  3. ^ Lind, Lewis James (1982). Sea Jargon: A Dictionary of the Unwritten Language of the Sea. Sydney: Kangaroo Press. ISBN 0-949924-22-9.
  4. ^ Ayto, J.; Simpson, J., eds. (1992). The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ "The Australian Tobacco Timeline" (PDF). University of Sydney. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 October 2009. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  6. ^ "Glossary of common industrial relations terms". Department of Employment and Industrial Relations (Queensland). Archived from the original on 28 March 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Smoko by The Chats". 3 October 2017. Retrieved 29 September 2018 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ "Application to Stop or Prevent Industrial Action". Australian Industrial Relations Commission. 17 October 2002. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  9. ^ "Workplace 'smoko' unfair". The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 October 2003. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  10. ^ McKenzie, Sheena (7 October 2006). "Ban the smoko? No way, gasp diehard smokers". The Age. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  11. ^ "Abbott says smoko has had its day". The Age. 6 October 2006. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  12. ^ Wallace, Natasha (13 January 2010). "Health Department bans staff smoke breaks". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 29 September 2018.