by Mem Fox Posted on 03:31PM, 27 August 2010 Be the first to comment
Coming home is always good. I’ve been known to weep at the sound of an Australian accent in Los Angeles airport before I’m even on the plane, let alone the accent of a Qantas pilot welcoming everyone on board. What is it about coming home, about us?
A few years ago I landed in Sydney after being away for weeks on a busy work trip. I’d been on and off planes every two days, scalded by my experiences in every airport since I’d left home: endless check-in queues, ghastly food and astonishing rudeness at security. So of course I was dismayed to have go through security yet again in Sydney airport.
Almost blind with tiredness, I was wondering which queue I should join when an airport worker, a true-blue Aussie bloke with a friendly smile said, ‘Try that one, darl.’ Had he really said darl? Tears rushed to my eyes. I looked away quickly in case he thought I was sad. Sad? I was ecstatic to be home again, surrounded and supported by the warmth and laid-back familiarity that we Australians are so famous for. And the language, oh, the language!
I remember my father talking about buying a new pair of strides. Who says strides these days? We probably say trousers, and some of us sinners, influenced by television from you-know-where, might even being calling them pants by now. I mourn for the passing of our dialect and hope that our unique way with words never dies out entirely.
My mother used Australian words wonderfully.
One of my most vivid memories is of her ability to swear without swearing.
‘Caesar’s ghost!’ she’d yell when a car cut in front of her, or when the wrong politician was elected, or I announced I was to be engaged to an Englishman. And if she wasn’t recalling Caesar’s ghost she’d be stoning the crows, when there were no crows around to stone. I put ‘Stone the crows!’ into the mouth of a character in one of my picture books, hoping to keep the phrase alive. There’s so much punch to it. It blasts heat into a conversation, blue skies, shimmering light, vast distance: Australia. It leaves ‘Good heavens!’ in the shade of an old oak tree in England.
One of my closest friends has unconsciously refused to move her Australian lingo out of the 1950s into which she was born. Talking to her is a delight, a nostalgic trip back in time, a weepy reminder of my long-gone parents.
‘Arh, jingies,’ she still says, at the appropriate moment, ‘you’re not still feeling cactus?’ When I was reading Tim Winton’s Cloud Street on planes, away from Australia, I had to choke back sobs of homesickness: the language made me feel I was meeting my friend on every page; that my parents had come alive again.
I guess we can all recall the wit and savagery of many politicians in the last generation who have managed to say things in a peculiarly Australian way, using words unique to the time and the country: blistering perhaps, on occasion, but side-splitting also. Recently, a journalist got his own back by describing a well-known, gravelly-voiced politician as ‘the man with a voice like forty miles of bad road.’ How Australian is that? It’s so lively and hilarious and—apt!
Ah yes, it is indeed the warmth and familiarity, but even more, it’s the unique words spoken in their drawling, corrugated-iron accent that make Australia my particular, beloved home.
Mem Fox AM is Australia’s most highly regarded picture-book author. Her first book, Possum Magic, is the best selling children’s book ever in Australia, with sales of over four million. Mem has written over thirty five picture books for children and five non-fiction books for adults, including the best-selling Reading Magic, aimed at parents of very young children.