November 3rd, 2014
Even with the end of the semester rapidly approaching now that lectures are over, I managed to squeeze in time to read. This past week, I finished a classic Aussie book that one of my local friends recommended to me. The title is Tomorrow, When the War Began. I could immediately tell that it was written by an Australian, not an American author. Before I talk about my experience with the book, I will give you some background (spoiler alert!).
The story starts with Ellie, the protagonist, organizing a camping trip into the bush with six of her friends. The teenagers depart and enjoy a normal week of camping, but come back to find their homes abandoned, dogs and livestock dead, and all the adults gone. With no one to give them guidance, they go around their city and try to figure out what has happened, and when they start to realize they have been invaded, they try to deny it. Once the group accepts that an invasion has really taken place, they continue to investigate and understand the situation. During this time, one of them recovers from a minor gunshot wound and the teenagers work out a plan of action. While part of the group heads into town for reconnaissance, the rest of the teenagers strike back and destroy a bridge on the main road, a road that the enemy is heavily dependent on for supplies and movement of troops. However, the excitement and pride in damaging the road dwindles when the bridge crew returns to camp to find that one of the girls in the reconnaissance crew, Corrie, has been shot in the back. The story ends with Corrie’s boyfriend Kevin driving the wounded girl to the hospital in town controlled by the invaders, hoping that the two of them will be treated well and can avoid giving up the rest of their friends.
From reading this novel and discussing it with my friend, I discovered quite a few Aussie slang words and learned the context in which they are used. In the very first paragraph, I saw the phrase ‘rack off’! Through examining the context of its use and asking a local friend about the word, I learned it is similar to the American phrase ‘piss off’ meaning go away or get out of here. A rack is slang for a motor-bike, so telling someone to rack off is like saying ‘get on your bike and go’. I haven’t heard this term much when spending time with my Aussie friends, which I suppose, is a good sign that they enjoy my company.
The next few words I learned seem to be used more in the country than in the city, which is probably why I haven’t heard them very often. First, the word ‘dunny’ is another word for toilet, specifically an outhouse or other kinds of outdoor toilets. The term is derived from an older word ‘dunnakin’ which refers to a privy. Primarily, the word is used to distinguish between flushing and non-flushing toilets, which is most likely the reason I haven’t heard it much since I live in the city. Even when I was in the country for rogaining competitions, the word toilet was used since the outdoor facilities had a manual pump for flushing.
The other country word is ‘chook’. I had never heard this term before, so when it came up in the novel I asked my friend about its meaning and learned that a chook is a domesticated chicken. She had been raised in the country, and the word seemed so commonplace to her that she was confused, thinking I was asking about an alternate meaning of the word. Even after telling me that chooks are chickens, she still seemed surprised that the word was slang to me, and not part of my every-day language. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember seeing the word chicken in the novel, just the word chook. This heavy use of the term would explain why my friend was so surprised that I had to ask for a translation.
Another word I had to ask about was ‘jackarooing’. A character in the story mentioned jackarooing before he got smart, put on a collar and tie, and became an insurance agent. To me, this meant nothing until I learned that the term means living as an apprentice on a sheep station. Since many of the teenagers, including Ellie, were rural kids, it made sense that this seemed to be a lifestyle they were familiar with.
Finally, another word that I saw a lot in the book was ‘keen’. I’ve actually heard this word a lot and it seems to be very common throughout Australia as I’ve heard people use it everywhere from Adelaide, to Cairns, to Melbourne. Keen means interested. For example, if someone asked me to go rock climbing, I would say that I’m keen. I might also say that I am keen to visit New Zealand, although I won’t get the chance to unless I make a return trip to this part of the world. The prevalence of this word in the novel as well as on the streets demonstrates how integrated it is in Aussie language. Along with the word heaps, I will probably have included keen in my everyday language by the time I fly home.
Apart from Aussie lingo, I learned that camping and bushwalking can be popular activities among Australian youths, especially those who live in rural areas. In the story, it was implied that Ellie and her friends had gone camping numerous times. The main difference was that this was the first time they would camp without adults. The teens also had a lot of camp gear such as tents and stoves, and were familiar with how to build campfires. In reality, while it seems like few city kids in Australia go camping regularly, quite a few of my friends who are from a rural or suburban background have gone on many bushwalking and camping trips. In this case, I suppose the relationship between the frequencies of camping and hiking trips to the amount of time you spend in the city is similar to how it is at home.
Lastly, another topic that came up in the novel was possible reasons for invading Australia. At one point, the characters talk about why the enemy has chosen to attack Australia instead of another country. It is never stated who the invaders are, but it is mentioned how there are countries north of the continent that have a lot of people and very little land while Australia has an immense amount of land compared to the population. I hadn’t given much thought before to the topic of Australia’s low population density in a military sense, so I asked my friend if this was a concern at all for Australians. Taking a moment to think, she explained that having heaps of land did not really make Australia a more enticing political target. A large majority of the land is not arable and thus not conducive to supporting human life. In the story, a lot of the families in the rural community were not farmers, but raised sheep and cattle. It seems like in reality, Australia’s geography makes it a low priority military target. The land is unappealing since it is not arable, land-based attacks are not possible since it’s an island, and the isolation from other countries leads to the added challenge of easily moving large amounts of troops and supplies in and out of the country.
At the end of the day, reading Tomorrow, When the War Began and discussing it with my local friend gave me insights into Australian culture and politics. I heard more Aussie slang and learned about the cultural pastime of camping and bushwalking and its relationship to one’s lifestyle. The most enlightening part was discussing the geography of Australia and seeing how it could impact foreign military policies and action toward the country. The book itself was also an entertaining story and I plan to read the next one in the series, The Dead of the Night, before I leave Australia.