Thursday, March 27, 2008

On being an Aussie girl

Recently my good mate Nadia, whose passport says she's Pakistani though in fact she grew up all over the world, asked me to educate her about Australian girls, since she's going to be living here awhile (yay!), having just scored a scholarship to do her PhD on....something. Her exact questions were: 'What's it like here? What kind of stuff do girls here have to grow up with? What's the 'moral' climate like? What's expected here? What assumptions are made? What's the history?!?!? I know exactly NOTHING about Australian women. What should I be reading? What should I be watching? Is there something you read at some point that made a difference to you?'

I had a go at answering. The first book that came to mind was Puberty Blues. It might be outdated but it's also just not. For a historical perspective I suggested (off the top of my head) The Drover's Wife by Henry Lawson (hmm...probably worth tracking down some of the responses to that story Nadia, like Murray Baille's) and The Chosen Vessel by Barbara Boynton (google 'em up babies, they're both online for your reading pleasure), which I've always found chilling. I also edumacated her about the frigid test - that mean anything to anyone? Do I have to "please explain".

Does anyone else have any suggestions for Nadia? What should she be reading? What should she be watching?

I am deep with the curiosity about your answers.


  1. ahh, the frigid test. such memories.

    apparently there's a new test to check if boys are gay - you ask them to look at their fingernails, and if they curl their fingers over into a fist, they're straight, but if they spread their fingers and push their hand out flat (like a girl) they're gay.

    Australia... something about the beach? sport? BBQ?

    Books that spring to mind are Liz Honey's The Ballad of Cauldron Bay, Robin Klein's Hating Alison Ashley, James Roy's Town...

  2. Don't get me started! First, to the DVD's because seeing is believing. For sheer shock-horror hilarity, you have to send her a copy of 'Kath and Kim'. Also 'My Brilliant Career' to get a sense of landscape and history and Judy Davis is does quintessential Australian female beautifully. On the literary front, I'd suggest Kate Grenville's 'Joan Makes History' but make sure to point out it's very tongue in cheek. Then Shalini Akhil's 'The Bollywood Beauty' because it captures the female cross-cultural dilemmas well. Most of Helen Garner's work would be good - perhaps 'The First Stone' would be a good one to recommend. Ummm... I think I'd have to email you my complete list cause it's too long for a simple comment.

  3. Looking for Alibrandi I seem to remember quite liking.

  4. Just a note to Lili - I checked your fingernail test on a bunch of guys who were all hanging around our house - both straight and gay. They all curled their fingers over into a fist. When i told them why I'd asked they laughed but said wasn't it a bit offensive to think just cause you're gay that you're a big girl... then both gay and straight boys started flouncing around the room to prove their point. Another furphy laid to rest along with the frigid test.

  5. Anonymous8:57 PM

    Penni you're a gem. And thank you, lovely commenters, for your suggestions. I've got a lot of reading/watching/listening to do!

  6. I was going to suggest Looking For Alibrandi too. Yes definately Kath and Kim and SummerHeights High for a look at high school life :-) Both tongue in cheek yes, but I think they both capture the essence of Australian suburbia so very well.

    I truly loved "Tracks" by Robyn Davidson as a great portrayal of strength in a woman and tackling the Australian landscape.

  7. Anonymous10:15 PM

    I missed the frigid test (or blocked it from my memory). Must go ask Nic to check his fingernails, he is my big gay husband after all.

    Viewing suggestion - Brides of Christ

  8. Martin's so gay according to the fingernail test. How hilarious.

    Brides of Christ, Kath and Kim and First Stone are all fantastic suggestions. Also Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson.

  9. I really liked A Fortunate Life, although it's not very girl-oriented. I read They're A Weird Mob many years ago too, that was a cack!

    I think I learned a lot about being an Aussie by watching Neighbours (oh the shame) when I was 17 in lil ol' NZ. And The Flying Doctors, and those mini series with Sigrid Thornton from the 80s, what was it called? Something about a River.

    From another non-Aussie girl. :P

  10. Anonymous7:47 AM

    lmao, Nic is gay to according to fingernails

  11. I love the film 'The Castle' and 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' is a must see film. Romulus, My Father is a great memoir and Richard Roxburgh's film adaptation is a wonderful depiction of the Victorian bush in the 60s. Their is so much to read... But I really did like Katherine Sussanah Prichard's 'Coonardoo'. At the moment I'm reading Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung which is a very evocative memoir of a Cambodian-Australian family set in Melbourne's western suburbs.

  12. Anonymous7:34 PM

    Everything old is new again. I got Bob to do the fingernail test. Gay!! Then I told him why. Apparently boys at Bob's public school (C1938 -1942) did the test then with the opposite results. Curled fingers and a fist meant gay.

    The book of Picnic at Hanging Rock is worth reading as are both book and film of Playing Beattie Beau (Ruth Park)though the written word captures the world of Sydney's Rocks area in a much more magical way than the film. Poor Nadia won't have any time for study.

    Another suggestion is to listen to Saturday night country on ABC radio 10pmun til 2am. It's not wholly Australian but often features young and not-so-young women singers and song writers who are very talented and insightful.

    You can do it the privacy of your own headphones and noone will know you are listening to country music.

  13. I loved Playing Beatie Bow!

    My favourite is Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson. This novel took me completely by surprise. It is understated but beautifully written, something wonderful. Oh, and I for Isobel by Amy Witting is wonderful too. There are also some great girls in Winton's Cloudstreet.

  14. Yes: Looking for Alibrandi, Brides of Christ (I LOVED that), Summer Heights High - brought back memories of being a high school girl, I'm afraid.

    DVD: Love My Way, for Claudia Karvan's brilliant character (though I guess that's an Australian woman, not an Australian girl)

    Ummm ... trip to bookshelves ... Nadia Wheatley's The House that Was Eureka. Brilliant.

  15. PS. How I loved Robin Klein. Hating Alison Ashley was just wonderful, but Games is also a great book for looking at being an Australian girl, I think, and the dynamics of female friendships.

  16. Anonymous10:45 PM

    Muriel's Wedding, Black Rock, Sea Change (not totally chick, but worth it for Diver Dan, yumyum)

    Black Rock isn't specifically girl i suppose but it is a brutaly honest truth about growing up female in a coastal area of Australia.

    and Queen Cat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life.

    Thunderwith is a great book also.

  17. Oh yeah, Blackrock is a must. Good suggestions all. Yes to Games. And to Tirra Lirra and I for Isobel (two books i wish I'd written). I must read Romulus My Father.

    Oh you're all marvellous.

  18. And Mum's suggestions of country music is equal parts good and scary.

  19. I've got absolutely no idea what the frigid test is.

    Nadia, rather than reading - get out and about. Go to the country -frock up and go to a B+S ball; go on a girls weekend away and drink too much champagne and listen to 80's music; go to a pub, play pool and chat up some guys; learn how to ride a horse and a motorbike (assuming you can't already); backpack up to Cairns and stop and chat with locals along the way......

    For me "The Castle", "Muriel's Wedding", "Priscilla", "Brides of Christ" and "Picnic at Hanging Rock" are perfectly ocker. Scarily, "The Castle" reminds me of my own family. ;)

    Reading Cleo and Cosmo mags and wearing Bonds knickers are probably key to being an Aussie girl too. :)