15 tips for authors writing Australian characters
It warms my heart to know that romance readers love Aussie characters, but it takes more than the odd “no worries, mate” to get Aussie readers to believe that a character really is Australian.
To help authors out, here are 15 tips on how to make your Aussie characters more authentic. I’ve written them with romance authors in mind, but they apply outside of romance, too. Update: Check the comments for more great tips!
1. Eric Bana is a comedian, not a sex symbol. Do not, under any circumstances, compare your hero to Eric Bana unless he wears a mullet, and there had better be a very good explanation for that.
2. Aussies are obsessed with sports. Obsessed. It’s theoretically possible to have a hero—or heroine, for that matter—who doesn’t have at least a passing knowledge of cricket and/or footy (rugby union, rugby league or Aussie rules), but they’d better have a damn good reason for it.
3. We don’t buy coffee from Starbucks. The only exceptions to this rule are if: your character is still in high school; or the only other choice is Maccas (McDonalds). Even then it’s a close call.
If your character lives or works in a major city, there are no exceptions—not even if they’re in the US. I absolutely believe that any expat worth their salt will persevere until they’ve found a decent barrista within walking distance of work or home. We’re coffee snobs, and we only drink the good stuff.
4. We use the metric system. We measure distance in metres, volume in litres and weight in grams.
5. Welfare is nothing to be ashamed of unless you’re rorting the system. Aussies are generally proud of our social welfare system (although we like to whinge about bureaucratic bungling, but I digress). We assume people use the system because they need it. We are, however, enraged when we discover people abusing these benefits.
6. Many of us live at home for as long as we can. This is partly a financial decision, but also because we’re not forced to live on campus at uni if it’s within commuting distance. If your character comes from an immigrant family, it’s almost a given that they’ll be living at home until they take advantage of the first home buyer’s grant to buy property, or they take a job that’s too far away to commute daily, or they get married.
We’re also proud of our cultural heritage, so if your character has an Italian or Chinese or Greek or Irish or in fact any other ethnic background—and especially if their parents are immigrants—this will play a big part in their sense of identity. And on that subject, why aren’t there more Aussie heroes and heroines with Aboriginal backgrounds? Or paranormals based on the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime stories?
7. We love to travel and we love the outdoors. Working for half a year, then going backpacking for 6 months, isn’t unheard of, especially for the under 30s crowd. Lots of Aussies take a 2-year working holiday to the UK before they turn 30. If your character has lived or worked in one of the major Australian cities, they’ll have been exposed to a variety of cultures, and their eating preferences should reflect this. We get Chinese takeaway in clear plastic containers, not in those cute little white boxes.
8. Our financial year starts in July. Just in case one of your characters is an accountant. And while we’re talking about careers, not every Aussie hero/heroine has to be a sheep farmer, flying doctor or mining magnate. If your hero or heroine depends on the land for any reason—farming, grazing, wine growing, whatever—they need to worry about drought or bushfires.
9. We don’t like hearing people talk themselves up. We’re often accused of suffering from Tall Poppy Syndrome, and we’re suspicious of authority. This means that your billionaire Australian tycoon (under the Sexy imprint, not Presents or Modern Romance) may well be ruthless, but he’ll also be very good at empathising with your everyday bloke; otherwise, it’s hard to believe he could have been an effective manager on his way to the top.
10. We SMS from our mobile. We don’t text from our cell phone. We take the lift, not the elevator. We wear jumpers, not sweaters. We eat lollies, not candy. We have shops, not malls. We have petrol, not gas, stations. (They’re almost always self-service.) We take our cars to the garage for service. We step on the accelerator, not the gas. In fact, don’t mention gas unless someone’s having a barbie … or letting one rip. We have chips, not fries. We drink soft drinks, not soda. Babies wear nappies, not diapers, and they sleep in bassinets or cots, not cribs. We have Vegemite on toast instead of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. We drink Panadol, not aspirin, and we buy drugs from the chemist. We end sentences with a full stop.
11. We don’t drive to work in the city. Most people commute, unless your character is rich enough to either live in the city (but then, why would they need to drive in?) or successful enough that their employer provides them with a car space. When we do commute, we catch the train, tram, bus or ferry; we don’t ride the metro or take the subway. We get on the highway, the freeway or the motorway, but not on the interstate. We drive on the left side of the road.
12. We don’t say “off of”. Ever. There are no exceptions. Violation of this rule may result in your book being flung against the wall—that’s how strongly I feel about it.
13. Bathrooms are for bathing. Generally, though, we take showers. To relieve ourselves, we go to the toilet or the loo (in casual conversation). Dunny is used less frequently, although I remember saying it a lot as a kid. Maybe it’s a regional thing? I don’t know this for a fact, but I’ve been told that Aussie women are less likely to have a Brazilian than Americans, Canadians or Europeans. This may or may not be of use to romance authors.
14. Friday arvo (afternoon) is often known as beer o’clock. The legal drinking age is 18. This means pubs are often dominated by uni students who haven’t yet learned that puking on the footpath, not sidewalk, is quite unattractive. Australia has a drinking culture, as proven by having a Wikipedia entry devoted to Aussie beer. A lot of socialising after work happens with a schooner or wine glass in one hand, and this wouldn’t be frowned upon during a business lunch, either. (Unless your character comes back to work blotto, legless, or off his face.)
Anyone who even thinks about playing pool in a pub should be aware of Aussie pub rules (note the second last paragraph of that article).
15. Don’t root unless it’s a sex scene—in which case there’s no room for an ass. We barrack for our favourite sporting teams, and if we’re rooting it probably means the team won. We admire a nice arse. I suppose you could have an ass in a sex scene, but I’m not sure I’d still consider that a romance.
Okay, I’m stopping at 15, but I know there are heaps more we can add. I’m also fairly sure this list reflects my urban Sydney bias, so if you live in other parts of Australia, which ones would you remove, and what would you add in its place?
It’s over to you, readers—what other tips woul you give to authors writing about Aussie characters?