Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Quintessential Aussie

Marina over at Pecked by Ducks expressed puzzlement over what 'uniquely Australian' might mean.

I think I have part of the answer.

In today's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald is a story entitled: Wedgies and petty theft tie up consular staff.

To quote Tim Elliott's story:

Touching up a Singapore Airlines flight attendant, giving drinkers 'wedgies' at Oktoberfest and pilfering bar mats from Phuket bars. Australians love to travel and are, it seems, finding ever more unorthodox ways of extending time overseas - even if it means bunking down in the lock up.

"Australians go everywhere, and everywhere they go they get into trouble," a senior official from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says. "It makes you proud."


It's the last comment that made me smile. It's the type of innocent, carefree roguishness, otherwise known as larrikinism, that identifies an Aussie abroad. Such behaviour is rarely malicious, more filled with mischief in the pursuit of a good time. We are, after all, the children of a penal colony, like Americans are the children of Puritans. That essential beginning colours our upbringing in a societal way.

Not that everyone has ambitions of petty larceny here or that all Americans are prudes. No, it's the ideology that sinks in through osmosis. (Okay, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.)

But it's difficult to translate that type of persona onto the written page; that positively identifies a character as being Australian unless a writer states as much.

For example, a southern drawl anywhere else means Texas or Louisiana, a southern state. Here, it's Victorian or Tasmanian - and we do have subtle variations on our accents - though you have to listen carefully.

I've read a number of books with Australian characters, though not Sandra McDonald, and I've been vaguely disappointed in the characterisation and speech patterns. But to write about a true Australian character, and there are many, would render the piece nearly indecipherable to overseas markets.

It's not just words like car boot (trunk), torch (flashlight), garbage bin (trash can), flats (apartments), chemist (pharmacy) and other words, it's the phrases as well, the comparative lexicon: dry as a burnt chip, up and down like a bride's nightie (or fiddler's elbow, if you want to be polite), flat out like a lizard drinking, the frog and toad, a dog's eye and sauce, a dangler or a jiggler.

Not the old cultural cringe, either, but an evolution of language. An Australian is laconic, a master of the understatement and the bleedin' obvious.

No wonder I love this country, for all it's idiosyncrasies and the harmless, innocently funny behaviour of its' people.

1 comment:

Pandababy said...

Yes, carefree and innocent rogues and the pursuit of a good time, harmless and funny behavior on top of a land that is simply magnificent - that is what I think Aussies are made of. Also generous and friendly and casual. Things I like in people. Also being laconic (good word there).

Aussies just make me smile. Like panda bears and koalas.