(Edit: Note that the below was originally written in response to a post about reading books set in different climates, that’s since been lost in the Great Tumblr Nipplegate Purge of 2018.)

For the record, 99.9% of Australians wouldn’t know how to write about “the Outback” either. The vast majority of Australians live in the coastal and just-inland-of-the-coastal cities. Think roughly the climate, lifestyle, look, and smell (from the gum trees) of California.

This is how I know when non-Australians are trying to write about Australia: they make it out to be some weird cross between Mad Max and Crocodile Dundee. That “Australia” is as alien to most Australians as it is to US audiences.1 Honestly, if a U.S.-based author wrote a story set in San Francisco and transplanted it to Sydney, or a Canadian author wrote about Toronto and transplanted it to Melbourne, then it’d be more convincing than if they tried to write something “Australian”.

(And don’t get me started on how much I hate hate hate hate hate non-Australian authors appropriating Australia as their “non-racist-but-exotic” ~exotic~ setting. Faaaaaak aaaauuuuuff. In fact, fuck off right to buying this book instead. There you go. Australia by Australians. Now you’ve got no excuse.)

This is the thing that kind of gets to me about travel, though. While everywhere has a subtly different texture, for the most part, those things really are exactly that; subtle. It’s not about de-icing cars or shoveling snow; people do that everywhere (yes, even Australia). It’s about things like what radio station is cool, or what idiom and slang is in, or even less obvious things like the appropriate emotional reaction to certain events. This is the stuff that’s almost impossible to get right unless you’re native to a region (or have lived there a really, really long time).

Which, again, isn’t to say no one should ever write stuff set in places they don’t live. But maybe it is a call out to say more people should read about places they don’t live, written by people who do. Some of the similarities, and all of the differences, might surprise you.

  1. In fact I’ve written a short story which is about exactly how alien whitebread suburban Australian Lain finds “the Outback” in the form of a visit to Port Hedland, a desert mining town. It’s a three-thousand mile fish-out-of-water story. Same country, different worlds. []