A Guide to Australianisms in ‘Dr Huxley’s Bequest’

Dr Huxley’s Bequest is about two Australian teenagers, Rosy and Jaz, who live in Sydney and speak Australian English. I think most of their Australianisms make sense in context. However, when I uploaded the Kindle version, Amazon.com was VERY CONCERNED about terms such as ‘esky’ and ‘ute’. So, for those readers who aren’t Australian, here’s some additional information about the Australian terms and cultural references in Dr Huxley’s Bequest.

Firstly, an esky is a portable cooler or ice box, usually made of sturdy polypropylene. Inside is ice or those freezable ‘ice’ bricks, which keep your freshly-caught fish, barbecue meat or canned drinks nice and cold. Eskys are usually big enough to use as a picnic seat or, if your boat sinks, a flotation device. Apparently in New Zealand, they call them CHILLY BINS! New Zealanders have the best slang.

A biscuit is a cookie. I’ve talked about this before.

Australians, including Rosy, are very fond of putting slices of pickled beetroot in their salad sandwiches and hamburgers. We also put canned pineapple on pizza.

A ute, or utility vehicle, is a pickup truck with an enclosed cabin for a couple of passengers and an open flat-bed platform at the back. According to Wikipedia, the Australian ute was “the result of a 1932 letter from the unnamed wife of a farmer in Victoria, Australia asking for ‘a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays’.” Traditionally, Australian utes have a couple of hay bales and some cattle dogs bouncing around in the back. In Dr Huxley’s Bequest, Jaz’s dad keeps his gardening equipment in his ute.

A eucalypt is a eucalyptus tree or a ‘gum tree’, native to Australia and to other parts of the world. You already know that, don’t you? I don’t know why Amazon.com had a problem with the word. Anyway, there are hundreds of different types of eucalypts, all beautiful and usually home to a lot of interesting and extremely noisy wildlife. Some of these animals are extremely possessive of ‘their’ gum tree:

While on the topic of big bullies, Ned Kelly was a murderous, racist thug who is inexplicably worshipped by many contemporary Australians. He was born in 1854, the son of an Irish convict, and started his criminal career at the age of fourteen when he bashed and robbed a Chinese-Australian farmer. He spent the next ten years stealing cattle and horses, robbing farmers and shops and banks, and killing people. He’s best known for his decision to make body armour and helmets out of old ploughs. This, he asserted, would be bullet-proof. It was, but it was also extremely heavy, which made movement difficult, and it didn’t cover his legs. So when Ned Kelly was finally cornered, the police shot him in the legs and he fell over and was captured, and later hanged. Captain Moonlite is another bushranger mentioned in Dr Huxley’s Bequest.

Finally, Rosy makes a brief reference to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’. This was a very successful advertising campaign in the 1980s, devised by the Cancer Council of Victoria to encourage Australians to protect themselves from the sun. That’s because Australia is a very hot place and contains a lot of fair-skinned people vulnerable to deadly skin cancers. In the ad, a singing, dancing seagull tells people to Slip on a shirt, Slop on some sunscreen lotion and Slap on a hat:

If I’ve missed anything and you find something confusingly Australian in the book, feel free to ask about it!

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