The Word “Mateship” in Australian History and Literature


The term mateship as a specific Australian idiom can include various meanings in its essence. Its meaning can differ from the standard definition of friendship in a way that this form of relation or reference can be used between people who are actually not in friendship. This paper will analyze the values and the meanings that are put into the word “mateship” based on two short stories “Mr. Bloody Kearns” by Dal Stivens and “Lizards” by Barry Hill.

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“Mr. Bloody Kearns” by Dal Stivens is a short story about a train guard who is disgusted by everything in his life in a way that such values as friendship and loyalty have different meanings to him. The story is presumably taking place t the time of the depression with the usage of the term swagmen who travel the country searching for work. The word mateship as a term inclusive with loyalty among partners is absent through the story as the hidden hate that lies within Bill the train guard makes him realize every word of advice as a mock.

Bill understands the reasons the swagmen jump on the train, however his problems with the desire to keep his job never stops him from committing such an act as throwing the man from the train. However, his hate mostly resembled only in his thoughts and ideas were his mateship with the station-master who he sees every day puts some form of respect that even with his hate is disguised through his words, e.g. when he replies “So long” while thinking “fat old fool”. It could be assumed that this idiom puts limitations on one person in a way that he cannot say what he really thinks and instead his words and actions are covert.

On contrary, in the story “Lizards” by Barry Hill, the mateship shown through the eyes of the boy – the story’s narrator could be considered as his most memorable moments in childhood. The term mateship presented in this story is visualized as something steady and unchangeable. While the protagonist lists the changes that the country and the society went through along with the changes that occurred within him, it seems like the relation of his father with his “mates ” is the only thing that did not change over time.

This relation that is specifically connected to his father is some sort of attribute that is connected with them being loyal to each other in a way that he could not be part of it even when he became an adult. In this essence, the term mateship based on this story would be more of a commitment that is beyond the family and the flow of time.

If comparing the mateship in the two stories it could be said that in the first one “Mr. Bloody Kearns” it was more of an imposed relation that is formed by work ethics whereas in “The Lizards” it is a commitment that was made for life and could be equalized to family in the sense that it was similarly important.


Even without directly using the words “mate” and “mateship” in both stories, their importance is sensed throughout the pace of the narration. However, “Lizards” is a more apparent example to demonstrate the value of this word compared to “Mr. Bloody Kearns”.

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Works Cited

Stivens, Dal. Selected Stories: 1936–1968. Sydney: A&R, 1969. Hill, Barry. Lizards.

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"The Word “Mateship” in Australian History and Literature." StudyCorgi, 9 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "The Word “Mateship” in Australian History and Literature." October 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "The Word “Mateship” in Australian History and Literature." October 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "The Word “Mateship” in Australian History and Literature." October 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Word “Mateship” in Australian History and Literature'. 9 October.

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