Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Australian Accent for foreign actors

As with most countries in the world, there is no single form of the Australian Accent. In basic terms, academics who study language recognize three main types of the Aussie accent, being Broad, General and Cultivated.

An example of the broad accent would be that spoken by the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. The population that live in rural Australian often speak with an extreme version of this Broad accent, characterized by very little opening of the mouth when speaking. This is colloquially described as “not letting the flies in”.


Movie star Paul Hogan could originally be described at having a broad accent, although his exposure to other international accents has now turned his regular speaking voice towards being General. Due to the obvious characterization of the Broad accent, it is the one most likely to be mimicked by non-Australian actors attempting the accent. It’s derived from cockney English, transported to Australia with convicts from the late 1700’s, but little of the cockney twang remains today.

The General Accent is the most easy to understand, but can be the most difficult to master for the foreign actor

Of all non-Australian actors, those from New Zealand and surprisingly South Africa appear to master this accent the best. Spoken mainly in cities (with variations across the country) it often includes affectations from other countries, due to the high level of cultural assimilation in Australian cities. Of the variation between capital cities, most surround the emphasis on syllables and vowels. For example, the town ”Newcastle” could be pronounced either as “New-Carrs-ell” or “New-Cass-ell” depending on the speaker’s native town. The General accent is also commonly used by TV and radio journalists.

The Cultured accent can easily be mistaken for an educated British accent. Most Australian’s can achieve this accent by ‘rounding the vowels’ and concentrating on speaking ‘properly’. It’s the native voice of actors such as Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill, although it is an acquired accent for Sam as he originally hails from New Zealand. Many Australian actors find work in the UK using this accent to play native British speakers. This Aussie author has been mistaken for a Brit in the UK itself when using this accent.

It’s difficult to phonetically describe or teach the Australian accent without one-on-one tuition and exercises. The teacher needs to identify the underlying accent of the non-speaker and then tailor a phonetic guide specifically for the student. This is not required in all cases of course, as some actors do have a ‘knack’ for accents. Listening, repetition, recording and listening again is another way of mastering the accent. This is the next best thing to immersion, which would require the actor to live among the native speakers for a longer period of time.

Speakers from North America usually nail the Aussie accent after taking the journey via a New Zealand accent. The New Zealand accent is similar, but with some significant vowel alterations, which an Australian can spot a mile off. As a brief example, a New Zealander would say “thes” instead of “this” and “eccent” instead of “accent”.

Generally, only Australians will identify a phony Australian accent. Non-Australian speakers can usually be convinced of the accent, unless they have spent some time Down Under. Your best Steve Irwin impersonation might work in most territories around the world, but for any Australian or New Zealand market work, a native speaker is a must.

A recent popular TV campaign in Australia for orange juice made a point of this. Ronn Moss from the Bold and the Beautiful is seen in the commercial dressed as a traditional Aussie horseman, touting the worst Australian accent ever. The tag on the commercial says “You can tell when it’s not Aussie”.

You can see the commercial here:



and learn more about what Ronn Moss thinks of his accent here:



Of course, using the Internet, a native Australian voice has never been easier to source. Many Australian voice-artists do significant international work at 24 hours notice from their own home studio (myself included).

Now, that ‘fair-dinkum’ Aussie voice for your kangaroo steak restaurant commercial is dead-set simple to source, mate.


(this article originally appeared at www.voices.com)