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Do I Need a Glossary?

As we approach 26th January, I was reflecting on the Australian-ness of my novel Darwin’s Wake. Within the story there is unashamedly a call to reflect on our past, acknowledge that we didn’t get everything right and a call to accept the challenge of creating a better Australia for us all. The reference to Darwin in the title not only describes the location in which the climax of the story occurs but is a reference to the acknowledged ‘father of evolution’, Charles Darwin.

My first novel, Darwin’s Wake, is set in Australia of the 70s to the 90s. The language that I have used is typical of the period and places where the story is set. At times the language might not be polite or politically correct. It is language that, by today’s standards might cause offence, but it is language that shouldn’t be judged by today’s standards. To ensure that the reader is immersed in the story it is important to use language that typifies the time, characters and place.

As a writer, particularly as a first-time novelist, I am often asked if it might have been wise to include a glossary. The glossary could explain the terms of colloquial Australian language that I’ve used. It might also include those Sinhala words have used, in Kamahli’s (a woman of Sri Lankan heritage) dialogue.

I intended to include a glossary until I heard an interview with Tim Winton, an Australian author who I greatly admire. Winton sets most of his stories in Australia and writes in a language that is typical of the characters he describes. Winton’s response to the glossary question changed my mind. He told an anecdote of reading Mark Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn’ as a youngster. Many of the terms in ‘Huckleberry Finn’ were typical of the place and time in which it was set. Twain didn’t see the need for a glossary. In fact, it has been said, by Ernest Hemingway no less, "all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." High praise indeed. Winton went on to say that while, as a youngster, he might not have fully understood every term that Twain used, the context made it abundantly clear what the term meant.

I hope that my writing is strong enough to convey the meaning of the terms I've used (even those in Sinhala). A glossary might have been useful to some, but for others it would have meant that they were taken out of the flow of the story to check on terms they were unsure of.

I’m not about to argue with Winton, Twain or Hemingway, on the need for a glossary. I haven’t included one in the book, but there are some readers who might find a glossary useful. For those, I’ve included it here:

Word Definition

Amma Mother (Sinhala)

Appa Father (Sinhala)

Bali Indonesian Island, frequently visited by Australian tourists

bastard Slang term of derision, also illegitimate child

blubbering talking emotively and unintelligibly

booze alcohol

Brandivino Low quality brandy like drink (brand name)

Brut 33 cheap after shave, common in the late '70s (brand name)

Brylcream Hair oil common in the 1960s (brandname)

bugger Exclamation, also to sodomise

bullshit untruth or lie

burbs Abbreviation of suburbs

cark die, pass away

chunder vomit

claggy glutenous material, from Clag a common paste adhesive

clobber 1. hit, bludgeon, or 2. outfit, dress

crap Untruth, lies, or clutter

crayfish rock lobster

deckie Labourer on a fishing boat

Dhow Sea-going boat of Arab origin

dickhead Slang term of derision, fool, idiot

Dymocks Bookstore chain

flogging selling

fridge Refrigerator

Golden Breed Hawaiian surf shirt brand popular in the 1970s

Holden Australian made car, part of General Motors

Humpty Doo Town outside of Darwin, NT

mates good friends

namby pamby Lacking energy, strength, or courage; weak or ineffectual.

Northbridge Suburb of Perth bordering on the CBD

NT Times Darwin paper, often sensationalist

Papunya Small Indigenous Australian community in NT famous for art, particularly dot paintings.

Pattaya Tourist destination in Thailand

piss urine or to urinate, also beer

piss off derisive term meaning go away

pissed Drunk, intoxicated

prawn shrimp

pub hotel

quay docks, wharf

Re Store Italian grocery store

rollie hand rolled cigarette

roo kangaroo

shit load a lot

Sinhala Sri Lankan language

snags sausages, synonymous with BBQs

stingy cheap, parsimonious

taking a piss to urinate

taking the piss to make fun of someone of something

Tamil Tigers Sri Lankan Tamil separatists

Top End The northern region of Australia, commonly Northern Territory or Queensland

tosser term of disdain for a person (wanker)

tuk tuk Three wheeled, two passenger seat taxi common in Asia

ute Short for utility vehicle, pickup truck

VO Invalid Port Inferior fortified wine

warfie long-shoreman, stevedore, port cargo handler

waterboarding crude torture practice where the victim is almost drowned

wharf dock, jetty, port facility

Willeton Perth suburb

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