Is there such a thing?
I ask this because I can't distinguish ANY particular regional accents amongst Australians. I recall reading a forum where somebody said that they have a Melbourne accent, but what exactly IS a Melbourne accent and what is its characteristics?
There are regional accents but they're not all that different from one another. The case in Australia is nothing compared to what you find in North America or the British Isles.
I can't tell much of any difference between regional accents in Australia.
I know that some Australian accents make a distinction between the ''a'' in ''bad'' and the ''a'' in ''lad'' though. That's not an Australia only thing though.
Sometimes it seems that some Australians have a much stronger accent than others. For example, someone like Steve Irwin has a very strong Australian accent. I've heard other Australians that I have to listen to more carefully before I can rule out their being British.
The linguists arrange Aussie accents into a kind of spectrum from "Broad" through "General" to "Cultivated". These are just labels, for in actuallity it's a continuum. This continuum, of course, has more than one dimension but the Broad/Cultivated dimension is the most prominent. Steve Irwin is on the Broad side.
There is a regional aspect to the variation in Aussie accents. A lot of this is a city verses outback thing. In the bigger cities the accents are more towards the Cultivated end getting Broader as you move to smaller towns and into the bush.
However this is not the only regional variation that you can find in Aussie accents. There are different accents to be found in different states/territories and different cities/towns even in different suburbs. These differences, though, are much less obvious and you'd probably either have to be an Aussie (or maybe a Kiwi) or have a very good ear (or fancy equipment) to pick them up.
Oh, yeah, and by the way the Cultivated Australian accent is close to RP and that's why it can be hard to distinguish from a British accent.
You forgot to mention the "woggy" accents Jim.
I found an extract from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_English
"It is sometimes claimed that regional variations in pronunciation and accent exist, but if present at all they are very small compared to those of British and American English - sufficiently so that linguists are divided on the question. Overall, pronunciation is determined less by region than by social and educational influences."
I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of Australians can't pick up on any different accents from random people they speak to. You also never hear people say things such as "Oh, Rove McManus must be from Perth because of his accent".
In 1990 I talked with an Australian visitor here in Seattle about English accents and told him that there were a plethora of them in the United States but that Canadian English was pretty uniform except in Newfoundland where there was heavy Irish settlement. He told me that in Australia there was only a slight difference as you went from north to south. When I told him I thought that an Australian accent sounded like a British accent he said "Oh, Heavens no!". Later, I told a visiting London businessman about it and he said that the Australian was wrong. "It's British allright" he said, "A Cockney."
Favourite topic o' mine.
You should have told the bleeding Pom to leave his imperial/class sensibilities at home. =).
There may arguably be a fair bit of Cockney and Irish derivation in the Australian accents, but it is now so far removed that such comparisons say more about the person making them than about that which they are trying to describe.
Steve Irwin is a statistical anomaly in the range of Australian accents, everything about the man is out there including the accent. Good on him, he is such an innocent, passionate and honest bloke, but a caricature of him self nonetheless.
There are significant if subtle variations in Australia accents that are just as much cultural, economic, social regionalisms as they are geographical ones. Nowhere near as significantly different in kind as say Liverpudlian and the Queen's English, but I would argue that they are becoming more pronounced. (Pardon the pun)
Accent variation (and slang/language usage in general) is very important to me in the way I differentiate myself from others as it is for most people. The degree of that difference is not as significant as its existence.
Among the Australians I've encountered, I've noticed no greater variation in accent than one finds among Americans—that is to say, virtually no variation at all. On one or two occasions I've noticed spectacular exceptions to this rule, presumably the Australian equivalents of a Boston or New York accent.
In general, areas in which there is considerable mobility within the population will have very widespread, neutral accents. This applies to most of the United States and much of Canada, and apparently also to Australia. It does not apply to the UK, where people are far less mobile and so tend to develop localized accents. Still, there is homogenization of pronunciation at work in the UK, also, although it's very slow. The sort of city-by-city distinctions that seem routine in the UK would be inconceivable in the US, and perhaps also in Australia (?).