Becoming Australian

‘You talk funny.’

Becoming Australian

I ran through a list of possible retorts to my interlocutor, a fifth-generation Australian of Mediterranean background. That there was no need for baby talk. That making fun of someone’s accent was rude. And that I would rather die than allow my speech to morph into the flat tones of hers.

I said none of these things. Instead I stopped peppering my sentences with the word, ja. After my reference to the car’s hooter drew gales of laughter, I made a note to call it the horn. I learned that a jersey was something you found in a cow paddock and that bringing a plate implied putting something edible on it.

I ditched lorry for truck, cooler box for esky, and braaivleis for barbecue. Slip–slops became thongs, robots were replaced with traffic lights, and tackies changed out for sandshoes. It wasn’t long before arvo, doco and fair go slid off my tongue as if it had been lubricated with a midi of amber fluid.

I explained that where I came from ‘just now’ meant soon, but not right this minute. That in barracking for your favourite football team it was acceptable – in fact, encouraged – to say that you rooted for them. And that buying a round of drinks did not involve shouting at anyone.

After thirty plus years, there are a few things I have not embraced. Like aspirating the eighth letter of the alphabet. ‘She’ll be apples’ will never find its way into my speech. And I shall always sound the word maroon as it is in goon, regardless of whether it is a verb, adjective or a Queensland rugby team.

A few weeks ago I played back a recorded interview between myself and another person. The sing -song lilt had gone. Every sentence finished on an upward inflection. The aah sounds were as broad as those of a raven. I no longer talked funny.