25 November 2012


This one is for you Berty.

Mateship is a pretty big thing for we Australians. It is something that goes a bit beyond friendship. Mateship is a term traditionally used among men. It is a term frequently used to describe the relationship between men during times of challenge. It is not exclusive to men though. Particularly in these modern times. I have quite a few good mates who are women. 

The popular notion of mateship first came to the fore during the First World War. During this period the word 'mate' became interchangeable with the word 'digger', which had its roots in the Australian gold digging fields of the 1850s. During the 'Gold Rush".

The myth of the digger and the larrikin hero is an important part of the Australian experience of pastoralism. It has links as well to the early days on the goldfields and in bush ranging, shearing and in droving as well. In the classic Australian historical novel - Settlers and Convicts which was first published in 1847, Alexander Harris wrote this of the relationship between male pastoral workers in the early days of Australia - when it was a British colony: 

‘... working together in the otherwise solitary bush; habits of mutual helpfulness arise, and these elicit gratitude, and that leads on to regard. Men under these circumstances often stand by one another through thick and thin; in fact it is a universal feeling that a man ought to be able to trust his own mate in anything.’

Through thick and thin. Absolute trust. 

I love it.

The great Australian poet Henry Lawson wrote in his work "Shearers":

They tramp in mateship side by side -
The Protestant and Roman
They call no biped lord or sir
And touch their hat to no man!

Mateship was further defined through the experiences Australian soldiers had in wars. It was refined in abhorrent moments that were experienced in trench warfare, concentration camps, hunger, injury, forced labour and the boredom and terror of conflicts. The Australian historian Paul Sheehan wrote in his 1998 work - "Among the Barbarians":

In the [Japanese POW] camps the Australians discarded their differences and became a tribe, a tribe which was always the most successful group. The core of this success was an ethos of mateship and egalitarianism which not only survived the ultimate dehumanizing duress of the death camps, but shone through as the dominant Australian characteristic.

Discarding differences. Nice one Paul. 

This sort of shit makes me proud. 

Modern Australia should reflect on this. Our current day immigration and refugee policies are shameful. They are disgraceful. They lack compassion, humility and humanity. They make me ashamed. 

Wake up you fucker politicians.

My very best mate Berty lives in the US. He married a septic. That's rhyming slang for you un-Australians. A septic tank = a yank. Obvious huh? 

Dana is Berty's wife. She is wonderful. I love her like a sister and she is also my mate. Berty and I went to school together and we shared many first experiences. We stole our first car together we smoked our first spliff.  At one point Berty and I  dated two sisters. The Baumgartners. His went on to be an Australian Olympian and mine was a nutter. I always got the nutters. I seem to be a magnet for lunatics.

It is a cross that I bare.

I was best man at Berty's wedding. It was in San Diego in California. In the US of A. I wrote a poem for the occasion. I don't think the Americans got it. 

I didn't give a fuck. 

The poem was for Berty. 

I also read a eulogy at Berty's Dad's funeral. His name was Brian. I cried all night after that and well into the next day too. The loss of Brian was as profound as anything I had ever experienced. It was a real kick in the guts. I wept for Berty and I wept for me too. 

As with any of my mates, I would do anything for Berty and he would do the same for me. We wouldn't even have to ask. We'd just know. Distance doesn't dilute mateship and it doesn't weaken it. Berty and I haven't lived in the same country for many years. Decades actually. When we do see or talk to each other it is just like it's always been. 

We are like an old pair of slippers. 




We will be mates forever.

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