I’ve always imagined my voice to be rich like oak or Bill Gates. I know that it has suffered the trauma of moving country, having a British parent and constantly raising in pitch when I get excited. But I want to imagine it has its own distinct quality — and in some way, that’s true.
One afternoon, as I scanned through a mother-of-two’s groceries, marvelling at her collection of superfoods, we started talking about siblings. I told her about my whopping five brothers and, rather than the expected and enjoyed praise, she asked if they all lived in Australia. As I fell quiet she noticed my confusion and clarified: she wanted to know if any of them still lived in America.
This has become a weekly occurrence. I’ll be weighing someone’s broccoli or pretending not to notice how many oreos are in their trolley and they’ll be looking at me quizzically. Not because I am so kindly ignoring their oreos but because they are listening closely. They’ll listen until even their nose has joined in on the furrowing and, finally, they will ask where my accent is from.
They are right to pick that it isn’t a home-grown accent. They will ask if I am Canadian, American, or even from the British Isles. After the first few customers asked, I stopped telling them I am originally from New Zealand because when I did they’d tell me I enunciate clearer than any New Zealander they know. And personally, I take the compliment but nationally, I am offended. At least, I want to be offended.
I’m often asked why I haven’t become an Australian citizen yet. I’ve been here nine years and I am adamant on not returning to live in New Zealand. Due to my mother I have British citizenship. I’ve travelled on my British passport before and it is the skeleton key to the Northern Hemisphere. In comparison, the New Zealand passport is like an unwritten promise from Australia that I can crash on their couch anytime.
I know that if it came to it, I’d drop the New Zealand citizenship, but I would feel guilty about it. Dropping a citizenship is a lot harder than dropping an accent — I don’t think you can do it by accident. Within a year or two of moving to Australia, all of my fishes weren’t paired with chups and bins were no longer chilly. My accent began moving past the point of being audibly from New Zealand. Since then I’ve been adopting all sorts of vocal quirks that have lead to a mish-mash vocal experience.
My accent is proof that I’ve been distant from my home country since I arrived in Australia. It’s been a betrayal by voice and the guilt I feel seems like more of a show; a desire to link myself to a national identity I can’t actually maintain. I’ll probably take the dive and become an Australian citizen at the twelve year mark, having spent equal time in both countries. Or, I could just do like the superfoods lady said, and watch more British television to even myself out. Because what’s more Australian than a bastardised British accent.
Lloyd Crackett is a writer living in Brisbane who works as a writer at Flickchicks and as checkout talent at a supermarket.
Kitty Allison is a writer and vis artist living in Brisbane. You can find her on twitter: @kitallison.