Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved reading. She grew up in the bush and one of her favourite places to read was curled up in the branches of an old coolibah tree.
Now I'm quite cynical when it comes to the matter of representation in books, and this is why; as a child I almost never related to the main characters in any tangible way. They were American or English kids whose families either struggled in working class neighbourhoods or were well off. They were worried about being grounded or not getting invited to parties thrown by people they didn't even like.
In fact, the characters I related best to were completely fictional. They had bigger problems to worry about and were more mature than most teen characters. They inhabited the realms of fantasy or space, fighting for their home or looking after their family. These characters were so human, so similar to me in their traits and actions that I could imagine being in these worlds better than immersing myself in most teen fiction. Kids can relate to books, even when their own lives are dismally underrepresented in the genre, and still enjoy these books even if the characters are more alien to them than ET.

This topic has been fresh in my mind now as yet another fiction book hits the Christmas reading recommendation lists. Outback Australia is a topic that doesn't appear often in books, and when it does, to my mind it is grossly misrepresented. For the children of the bush when we do see our home in literature it isn't drawn by someone from the bush, rather by someone who has a story they want to set in an exotic locale.
Crime, family secrets, murder, suspicious characters and dark backstories are staples of the outback novel. When a book flashes itself as a story about a depressingly cliche water-deprived town with the villain hording precious resources, readers lap it up. Readers who've lived the starker reality of this tale are more likely to sigh and leave it on the shelf, wondering whether others imagine a lack of drinking water is simply a fictional plot device, enhancing the evilness of a baddie.
The reality of the Australian Bush I've discovered over time isn't truly understood by many. In fact Australians themselves are guilty of cluelessness in this area. Ask someone from a ranch in Texas and a Sydney local what life in the rural parts of Australia is like, and the rancher will probably get closer to the mark.
Let me stress this: life in the bush is hard, yes. It's probably harder that life in the city. But especially for the kids growing up in the bush, we don't see it like that. The kids of the bush need stories that deal with our home in the same practical manner we do. Rationed water isn't a dystopian nightmare, it's what you do every day until the next rain comes. The bush isn't a desolate empty place, it's full of entertaining and fascinating characters, from the echidnas that waddle up to the house chasing ants, to the sometimes hopeless postie that brings the mail, to the workers that come from all walks of life to camp in the shed and do their job, even the brolgas that want to steal the chicken feed.
In all reality, living in the bush is more like an over-the-top comedy, the circumstances creating fantastic and wild events in all our lives.
Kids need stories that see the bush the way they do. Stories like Karen Wood's Diamond Spirit books, the Audrey books by Christine Harris and Christine Bongers' Dust are some of the examples I was lucky enough to discover as a kid. And it's not just bush kids that should be able to read these stories. If city kids could read about the outback from a bush kid's perspective maybe the next generation will have a better understanding of what it's like to live out here. Even better, maybe adults should read these books, since there's precious little in adult fiction that deals with the Outback as locals see it, and not in dull, flat stereotypes.
To the writers and creators out there, I hope next time you pick an exotic locale for your story, you'll take the time to meet and understand some of the fantastic characters that inhabit it before you fill it with your own creations.