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:
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
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
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
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
quay docks, wharf
Re Store Italian grocery store
rollie hand rolled cigarette
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