Why Do Australians Call Each Other “Mate”?

If you live in Australia or have travelled around Australia, chances are you’ve heard the word ‘mate’ a lot here. For instance, you might’ve heard, ‘G’day, mate’ or ‘How ya doin’, mate?’

Living in Melbourne, I’ve friends from different backgrounds, different ethnicities and different age groups living different lifestyles. Western, Asian, Indian, hippies, hipsters, corporate business types, baby boomer types – so many of them say ‘mate’ all the time.

Are we all 'mates' in Australia? | Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflecting.

Are we all ‘mates’ in Australia? | Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflecting.

The idea of ‘mateship’ goes hand-in-hand with the word ‘mate’. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, very broadly ‘mateship’ is ‘an Australian code of conduct that emphasizes egalitarianism and fellowship’. Throughout Australian history and up until today, saying ‘mate’ is a mark of Aussie culture:

1. Mateship as devotion to the nation and convict history

During the world wars and colonial eras, ‘mate’ was used among Australian ‘diggers’ (soldiers) as a term of encouragement, encouraging necessitous solidarity, trust and loyalty towards each other whilst putting their lives on the lines. Calling someone ‘mate’ while defending the country was an ode to brotherhood alongside facing the hardships of fighting wars.

Australian teacher Peter Baskerville put it this way: the word is profoundly tribal and goes towards forming bonds to withstand ‘duress faced by Aussie POW’s in the Japanese death camps of WW2’. This spirit is reflected in the mini-series Changi (miniseries) (2001), film Gallipoli (1981) and TV-series Anzacs (1985).

As illustrated in a scene from Gallipoli that was set in Australia in 1910: ex-railway labourer Frank Dunne and young stockman Archy Hamilton wander lost in the desert enroute to enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force. The dialogue between them goes:

Frank: There’s only one reason why I haven’t knocked you down mate.
Archy: What?
Frank: ‘Cause I don’t feel like carrying you to the next bloody water hole. Now shut up and don’t open your yap about the war again!

As such, our ‘mate’ back in the day is someone we have to put up with regardless of our differences. In his book Mateship: A Very Australian History, Dr Nick Dyrenfurth traces the term back to the very first white Australians and noted, ‘The convicts brought with them from Britain the term mate, and they used it amongst themselves. They even rather provocatively termed their jailors mate and the basic message was ‘you’re no better than us.’’

Sometimes we wonder who our 'mates' truly are.

Sometimes we wonder who our ‘mates’ truly are.

2. Mateship as equality and egalitarianism

These days ‘mate’ is tied to the idea of respect, fair opportunity and giving others a fair go in Australia; all for one, one for all. Our ‘mate’ is supposedly our equal and someone we accept no matter where they come from – you’re a person like me and I’m like you.

But ‘mate’ is also a sensitive word. During the 1999 Australian constitutional referendum there was debate about including the term ‘mateship’ in the preamble of the Australian constitution. It did not go ahead in a time where then-Prime Minister John Howard pushed for tougher rules surrounding migration intake and previously denounced multiculturalism alongside the One Australia policy. More recently in her 2011 Australia Day speech, then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard praised the spirit of ‘mateship’ and ‘a fair go’.

At pretty much all of the places I’ve worked in Australia, ‘mate’ gets thrown around every day. My white and female colleagues will call out ‘Bye, mate’ to anyone going home for the day, male or female, any gender in between. At a previous job where I handled inbound calls, clients on the phone have said to me, ‘Nah, mate. It went like this…’

3. Mateship as blokey culture…and more

Today ‘mate’ comes with stereotype: it’s associated with masculine culture, not usually a word that’s directed towards women or used by women. This stereotype dates back to over a century ago when Australian poet Henry Lawson wrote a short story titled Mateship and referred to the grandest of mates as ‘blokes’ – men.

The average Aussie thinks of ‘grabbing our mates for a beer over a barbie’ and ‘playing sport with our mates’ when they are bored – typical activities where generally more males participate in over females (as seen on Aussie beer and sport ads too). There’s also the general consensus here that Aussie guys usually don’t call their girls ‘mate’ unless they are pissed off with them, seeing them as a friend and nothing more.

Going back to the places where I’ve worked: guys call me ‘mate’ on platonic terms, and I don’t mind. Sometimes, though, I get called ‘darl’ which is considered the female equivalent of ‘mate’ and it irks me…and that’s another topic for another day.

Sometimes we just want to help and stick up for our 'mates'. Each and everyone.

Sometimes we just want to help and stick up for our ‘mates’. Each and everyone.

4. Mateship as a greeting

Often Australians use ‘mate’ as a simple greeting, as a way to address one as someone or somebody. It’s a way to politely get someone’s attention – our mate, someone we want to talk to – without even knowing the other person’s name. Or if we can’t remember their name.

When I took calls for work, callers have said to me: ‘G’day, mate.’ ‘How’s it going, mate?’ Can you look into this for me, mate?’ Sounds ‘bout right, mate’. ‘No worries, mate.’ ‘See ya, mate.’ No need to address me by my name at all.

5. Mateship as friendship…or not

Our mate, our friend. There’s often a sense of camaraderie around the term ‘mate’ when it’s used in conversation that flows along nicely. There’s also a sense that we don’t mind having each other in our lives. However, the word isn’t always used in a nice way and can be used in an ironic, hostile way. When politician Bill Hayden was dumped as Labor Party leader in 1983, a colleague sarcastically comforted him, ‘Oh mate, mate’. A few times on the phone at work, angry callers who refuse to listen to me go, ‘Now listen, mate’. ‘Fuck off mate’ is also something I’ve heard drunk people say on the streets of Melbourne.

'Mate' or not, often we want the best for others.

‘Mate’ or not, often we want the best for others.

* * *

In general, ‘mate’ is more casual than formal a word in Australia and everyone is pretty much familiar with it here. However it’s not always approved by the everyday person. In 2012, the word was banned by hospital Northern NSW Local Health for coming across as ‘disrespectful, unprofessional, disempowering’ – overly endearing in a sense.

Recently the word ‘mateship’ was swapped for ‘friendship’ on a sign along the sacred military site Kokoda Track, infuriating Aussie veterans. Local government reasoned that the term carried overtly Anglo-Saxon, male connotations – valid point and some have said the word is devalued currency, clichéd, overused and over-exhausted.

I don’t have a problem with anyone calling me ‘mate’, but it’s not a word I use. It just doesn’t form a part of my vernacular and as a kid I don’t remember hearing it much. I only started hearing it when I went to university, and I came to see that it’s a part of Aussie slang Australian English. Naturally, a typical Aussie bogan (the equivalent of the American redneck) would use ‘mate’ more than the recent typical migrant from Asia.

Though I don’t say ‘mate’, I don’t mind others using it – they can say what they want to say. Sometimes we take words too literally these days. Or maybe not.

What does ‘mate’ mean to you?

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136 thoughts on “Why Do Australians Call Each Other “Mate”?

  1. Mate = Australian. Always. 🙂
    But there’s a dark side of blokes mateship. It the U.S., it’s “I’ve got your back.” Even when your mate does something phenomenally stupid or illegal, it’s the idea that you would never, ever, rat them out. In fact, you’d back them up, even lie. 😦

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  2. HAHAH I love this article!
    I’m an Asian Australian, Melbourne boy myself and love the word mate!
    I think for me it represents the laid back Aussie culture that I love – that everyone is equal and gets along!
    But yeah, I think you’ve really covered the term well!!!

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    • Great point – mate as a part of laid back Aussie culture and we all get along. If you love the word mate, you love it. I’m inclined to think the generation today don’t mind the word much at all and embrace it as a part of life.

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  3. Mabel, I have read this post with great interest…well-researched and informative! Some words are like dialect, which can only be understood only by the people of a particular region… ‘Mate’ seems to be one such word! I know certain words, which are culturally or historically significant and are used by only by the people of that area, same is the case with cuisine, customs, outfits and colors… Growing up with them makes us used to them and they become a natural part of our personality.
    Thank you for a thought-provoking post!

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    • Such an intriguing thought there from you – that words like ‘mate’ tends to be an exclusive personality trait to a culture. Very well said. I think to many visitors in Australia, the word ‘mate’ can be a bit too personal sometimes…but most of us Australians are really laid back and friend. Thank you always for chiming in with your indepth thoughts, Balroop 🙂

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  4. Your photos are breathtaking Mabel and they made me smile as I’ve seen these exact same characters in the city of Melbourne 🙂 I really loved this post and learned so much about the history ‘mateship.’ I’ve always found it rather amusing how contradictory that word can be when Aussies are upset. They will say things like ‘now listen here mate’ or ‘calm down mate’ when that person is anything but their mate. I hardly ever use that word. I prefer to say ‘my friend’ as I do with you 🙂 – I hope you’re well and I cannot wait to see what you write about next! xxx

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    • ‘calm down mate’ Yes! I’ve heard that a lot too, people will say it to someone they don’t really like. In this instance the word is used with so much sarcasm, which I don’t find pleasant at all. I love ‘my friend’ and I love calling you ‘my friend’. Cannot wait to catch up soon 🙂 ❤ x

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  5. I’m guilty of calling someone mate when I’ve forgotten their name.
    It’s odd that despite a connection with sexual bonding, mating, mate isn’t often used for sexual partners.
    While I have work mates, I usually reserve the descriptive term mate, to a close friend.
    I remember as a boy being called china, as in china plate, rhyming slang for mate. It was said with more emphasis because I am of Chinese heritage although a fifth generation Australian bloke.
    I wonder what defines a blogger mate? I would define Mabel as a Blogger mate because we share comments on each other’s blogs and interact on other social media platforms.

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    • Sorry to hear that you were called china in your younger days, Gaz. It doesn’t sound like it was very nice 😦

      Blogger mate. I like the sound of that (sounds a bit like the pen brand Paper Mate). Nice being your Blogger Mate Down Under 😀

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  6. I find the term to be something I think of when I think of Australia. I noticed it was used a lot when I was there. To me it is a unique piece of the culture. As culture piece it has both positives and negatives as you have mentioned in this post.

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    • ‘a unique piece of the culture’ I think you framed the word very well. It does seem most Aussies use ‘mate’ without thinking much about it, both in positive and negative situations – it’s what we call each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Such well thought and researched post, Mabel! I am wondering how you were able to find so many details? especially the one related to history?
    Out here in India, Mate is not commonly used. Large population speaks local language. Those who do use English especially the young people, “Bro” is how they address among themselves in males. I’m not sure about the Indians in Australia though. I’m sure they must have adapted to the local customs and language.

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  8. Lovely information and reflections on the history and use of the Australian term “mate”, Mabel. You’ve done well to cover it all. You’re right. The term is not often used for women, but I find my daughter and her young adult friends are using it now. My Hub finds it amusing when a young girl (such as in the Macdonald’s drive through) calls him “mate”.

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  9. RE: “the places where I’ve worked: guys call me ‘mate’ on platonic terms”
    That should be good, as they consider you “one of the guys” then right? That means they are keeping the working relationship strictly about work then right?

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  10. Very educational blog post Mabel. I knew mate was a cultural thing just didn’t know the history of it and why people use it. Always thought it had to do with pirates and sailors.

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  11. Mate means a friend or good friend to me… like someone whom you’re close to and there’s some kind of platonic bond between two people. Just don’t call me ‘honey’, especially if you’re of the opposite gender. My American male friend did it once and I almost yelled curses down his throat.

    When you write that ‘there’s often a sense of camaraderie around the term ‘mate’ when it’s used in conversation that flows along nicely.’ and ‘There’s also the general consensus here that Aussie guys usually don’t call their girls ‘mate’ unless they are pissed off with them, seeing them as a friend and nothing more.’, I’m instantly reminded of this Aussie friend who loved to call us ‘mates’ whenever we had a group conversation. The other friend – an Asian – calls me dude more often than he addresses me by name, lol.

    I don’t think I’ve ever used the term mate except by way of introduction, such as ‘xxx is my mate’. Even that is rare in itself. I prefer to address people by name because it’s more concise, as in everyone in the conversation knows who you refer to. Not sure if it stems from my strict parents. Also, when I approached the other team for the advocacy, I totally forgot his name in the heat of the moment. He didn’t realise that I was asking him whether he was doing okay (because he’s on defence and I was on prosecution). Embarrassing as crap for me, lol!

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    • Haha, you sounded very fierce against your American male friend. Like you, I am not a huge fan of being called that by anyone, no matter what kind of relationship. Then again, some might think addressing others by name is too formal to do in every day conversation.

      Dude. Bro. Buddy. Those are some of the terms Americans like to call each other. I don’t have a problem with that…but I’m also not one to use them very often except for ‘buddy’ which I do every now and then. It did sound like an embarrassing situation for you but I am sure he understood in the end. Sometimes you just get caught up in what you are doing in the moment 🙂

      I also prefer to address people by name, be it my mutual friends or those closer to me – even the terms ‘girlfriend’, ‘boyfriend’, ‘fiance’, ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ don’t sit well with me and they are not words I like to use. Not because I am anti-traditional but because everyone is unique with their name and a name carries with it a special kind of individually – and in a way I am addressing and accepting that person for who they are and not their status.

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      • Well, that was still alright. When another college friend pushed the wrong buttons, it escalated to beyond words. At least he was chivalrous enough not to return the hand. I guess that makes sense; very few of my friends here actually address me by name… unless they need/want something, lol.

        I’ve used ‘bro’ and ‘dude’ interchangeably with a couple of male friends – we’re all cool with it as long as we still remember each other’s names. Our minds were pre-occupied with the final advocacy that night, so I guess we weren’t physically there per se. I later found out that he probably didn’t hear my question because his heart was racing with nerves – it was evident in his voice during the advocacy. =( We managed to straighten things out after the advocacy ended, so it’s all good now. =)

        ‘… in a way I am addressing and accepting that person for who they are and not their status.’ I agree with you on this and that’s another reason why I prefer to call my friends by name. I only omit their names when we’re in each other’s peripheral vision. No wonder my good friend couldn’t help but snide that I’m prim and proper in a joking manner – all because I refuse to refer to him as ‘mate’. =.=

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        • I’d have to agree with you. Many of my friends don’t address each orher by name either. Only the closest ones do.

          Good to hear you worked things out with your male friend. Better to clear things up because you never know if they thought it the wrong way in the heat of the moment 🙂

          Hahaha. It is quite true addressing someone by name can be a bit prim and proper. But most of the time it shows you are giving them your attention 🙂

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          • Oh, that was the second incident. 😅 The first incident involved a second chap, who’s also from the advocacy stream, hours earlier. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because he was speaking to someone else. I jumped in when their conversation died down, said my thing and went my way. I’ll PM you on this, Mabel – it’s much safer.

            ‘But most of the time it shows you are giving them your attention 🙂’ – exactly! It makes life easier to address by one’s name for me and I won’t confuse a for b, lol.

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            • Haha, I get it now 😀 In high pressured situations, it can be confusing to tell what one really means – and also, maybe slip of the tongue.

              Exactly alright. Addressing someone by their name, you make it clear who you are speaking to and they know you are speaking to them.

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  12. I think it is over-used now, more than what it was meant to be used for earlier. No wonder, it is still not formally recognized!

    I am happy to read what it means formally though…always wondered about it when they call others mate in Aus Cricket Team.

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  13. A great blog post and I learned a lot, Mabel. 🙂 I originally saw “mate” as a male reference.
    Now you said: “There’s also the general consensus here that Aussie guys usually don’t call their girls ‘mate’ unless they are pissed off with them, seeing them as a friend and nothing more.

    Going back to the places where I’ve worked: guys call me ‘mate’ on platonic terms, and I don’t mind. Sometimes, though, I get called ‘darl’ which is considered the female equivalent of ‘mate’ and it irks me…and that’s another topic for another day.”

    I agree “darl” would piss me off in the workplace. It’s like being called “girl” and I don’t want other women in the workplace calling me girl.

    In our govn’t workplace, the casual term sometimes might be “folks” or “:guys” ….in general (emphasis). But where I’ve worked in the past few decades in private and public organizations in Canada, the reference to always male, is not desired..if the corporate culture is striving to treat all employees with respect. So one doesn’t use those terms in emails, just address “All” or start of with Good morning in the email.

    Intriguing about “mate” in the past possibly, for high level document like the constitution. One should never incorporate a colloquialism in a formal legal document because that is what a constitution is. If is a foundational national legal document.

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    • Spot on that ‘darl’ is like calling someone ‘girl’…and you’d feel like there are hierarchical powes at play in some way. I’m hearing ‘guys’ less and less in the places I’ve worked and here in general in Australia – and it tends to be used when someone wants to get a group’s attention.

      It sounds like such inclusive places you’ve worked in, Jean. ‘Hi all’ is also a pretty common way my workplaces have started off group emails, doing away with gender and demographic and focusing on everyone as a team instead.

      Agree with you on not including colloquail language in policy and legislation. Informal language can have myriad meanings and can refer to so many things, which can be confusing – it’s language that is open for interpretation.

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  14. Mabel I had no idea where the term came from but certainly have long associated it with Australia. It always seemed so warm and friendly to me. As if Australia was one big friendly country. I know it seems like a broad sweeping brush to say everyone in a country is welcoming but we certainly felt that way during our visit.

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  15. As always, Mabel, you have a huge gift for looking into the depths of a concept that I had never considered. The linguistic and cultural use of “mate,” and how it relates to different situations. I really appreciate that! I think the part I enjoyed the most was when you talked about using “mate” to grab someone’s attention when they want to contradict you. That was interesting to me.

    Your article reminded me of one of the aspects of the English language – at least American English – that I wish we did better – the plural “you”. I find myself wanting to say “you-all” – which we do have as a regional expression (in the South and Texas, as y’all) – because sometimes just saying “you” to mean more than one person is not quite enough. – like in email. If it’s casual enough, I do just type you-all, so that I’m clear. But it’s not quite as challenging as the sister-aspect, our missing non-gendered singular pronoun. He … she … they? I have a friend and writing colleague that does go by “they” and you have to sort of train yourself to say “they” instead of he or she … and it still sounds strange to the ear. You’re always looking around for that second person of the “they”!

    Thank you, Mabel! Have a great Friday! 🙂

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    • There are certainly a lot of interpretations behind ‘mate’. I’m sure I have missed our some along the way…

      ‘you all’. That is interesting. I don’t hear that much here in Australia so maybe it is an American thing. I’ve heard my dad said it before to me and my brother as a kid, when we were misbehaving :/

      Like your colleagues, I prefer to use ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’. But agree it can be confusing – you tend to think someone is referring to more than one person when they are referring to one particular person, who could be one out of anyone.

      Personally I also dislike ‘Mr’ and ‘Miss’, and also ‘husband’, ‘wife’, ‘fiance’ and so on. Preferably I’d address someone by their name – engaging with individually when I’m with someone.

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  16. Hello Mabel! (Or am I allowed/supposed to say ‘g’day mate’?)

    When I first read the title I thought to myself, ‘do we really still do that?’. When I first visited Australia in 1989 (less than a year before moving here permanently) I remember reading a book of Australian slang, most of which doesn’t seem to be used any more – not in the 1990s Sydney and definitely not today! I think many of those terms even a Crocodile Dundee character would have trouble fitting in to his lingo. Maybe Melbourne is quite different, but I feel like Sydney has been heavily influenced by American language and culture – perhaps more than in other Australian cities – and I think terms like ‘dude’, ‘buddy’, and ‘guys’ are far more prevalent here than ‘mate’, and all of them seem to be more American in origin than Australian.

    That said, I think the idea of mateship (points 1 and 2) still comes across when thinking on historical things like ANZAC Day services. Definitely there’s still the prevalence of tall poppy syndrome in typical Australian culture and the idea of egalitarianism – or everyone being equal – is very popular. It can be both good and bad – regardless of the politics, I like that some past prime minsters were notable for enjoying things like a cricket game the same as any other ‘average Aussie’. On the other hand, I think there can still be room to acknowledge and respect high achievers (not necessarily just in financial or political terms) without disparaging such folks.

    On point 3, again maybe it’s the Americanised Sydney culture, but I’ve heard of some people (not me) call the women in their groups ‘guys’ just the same as the men. I don’t know if it’s another case of political (over)correctness or just a desire for the girls to be seen as ‘one of the boys/lads/mates’. I haven’t heard anyone use the term ‘darl’ in a long, long time. Like ‘love’, it sounds like something old country men from the 1950s might use, but not so much today. I certainly wouldn’t use either of those terms!

    Point 4: I think if I use the word mate it’s probably most likely in this context. As you say, it’s a nice way to call someone – perhaps usually a male – whose name you might not remember straight away. With so many people joining my church in recent years it’s hard to keep track of everyone, so it can be quite useful in this context! Also, I remember one of my past employers – I got to know his family as well – would call his sons ‘mate’ sometimes, eg ‘hey mate, would you give me a hand with this?’

    I think point 5 is the less-than-friendly counter to point 4. Just as the term can be used to refer to an acquaintance in a friendly way, it can be used in a hostile manner too.

    I can understand the upset at the change from ‘mateship’ to ‘friendship’, regarding the Kokoda Track sign. The term ‘mate’ does have stereotypical Australian connotations, while ‘friend’ is very much generic and could apply to anyone. Like the article you linked to mentioned, the bond of a ‘mate’ in battle – someone you can rely on – in contrast with someone merely being a ‘friend’ seems quite stark and the term ‘friendship’ doesn’t seem to capture that.

    One last thing: I notice some Indigenous folks will use the term ‘fella’ in a somewhat similar way to what a non-Indigenous Aussie might use ‘mate’. I think it’s quite nice that some Indigenous Christians I’ve met will call on God as the ‘big fella in the sky’. And there’s no disrespect in that, but rather an endearment and closeness in the same way that Jesus called on God as ‘Abba’ or father – or perhaps more accurately, ‘daddy’. (:

    PS Nice to see some more of the Melbourne street life. I was in and out of Melbourne again last Tuesday. With the morning fog delaying flights I had less than four hours in the office before I was heading home again! x.x

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    • You can say ‘g’day mate’ whenever you want, Simon. Whatever suits you 🙂

      Having lived in Sydney for a bit, I do feel it is more cosmopolitan and as you said, Americanised. Also commercialised too. It really is very interesting to hear that you don’t often hear ‘mate’ there. Maybe that is confined to the metropolitan areas, and maybe a different story if you go further out. ‘Dude’ I’ve rarely heard in Melbourne. ‘Buddy’ you hear a bit more and sometimes I call some of my male friends and colleagues that. ‘Guys’ not so much, but I’ve heard people using it when they are trying to get the attention of a group of people.

      Definitely agree there is a kind of tall poppy syndrom around the word ‘mate’ and egalitarianism. Not that it is all a bad thing. Sentiments like these make a mark in history and give us a better idea of the stories that played out in the past – and maybe also the present. ‘Mate’ is a great example of this: the (positive) sentiments behind it still are every part of Aussie culture today. Past is such an important part of our lives and some of us feel strongly about tradition, and that thought would be in line with the Kokoda Track incident.

      I like to think that most of us want to fair opportunity among each other, but Melbourne has some way to go to achieve this. ‘Darl is still so commonly used here, and so is ‘love’. They really are very popular colloquial names for women and often you feel there’s some kind of power plays going on. Similarly, I don’t like addressing others as ‘Mr’ or ‘Miss’, and even terms like ‘husband’, ‘wife’, ‘fiance’, ‘boyfriend’, ‘girlfriend’ and so on aren’t words I like to use. Not because I am against what they mean, but I prefer to call others by their name – engaging with their individually and personality and not their status.

      Yes. Fell and Indigeneous Australians. Come to think of it, very veguely I’ve heard some of them use it. Very interesting to link it altogether. Language does come full circle at times.

      It was certainly foggy in Melbourne this week. Hoping for a quick winter and spring comes soon. Hope work went well 🙂

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      • G’day, Mabel! 😀

        In country NSW, I imagine ‘mate’ might still get used a bit. Things do seem different in ‘the big smoke’. Another American term I thought of after writing the first time is ‘bro’, but maybe that’s just from my brother watching/reading things on-line (‘don’t bro me if you don’t know me’). Yes, ‘guys’ is perhaps more applicable in calling the attention of the ‘mob’ you’re with.

        Aye, there’s a lot of focus these days on the connotations of the (white) Aussie male in the term ‘mate’, but as you say I think the positive aspects of the word can apply to all of us in some way, whether man or woman, Indigenous or not, Caucasian, Asian, or something else entirely.

        Along with ‘mate’, as you mentioned, the idea of ‘a fair go’ still seems to be part of our culture. Maybe in Melbourne those who still say ‘darl’ or ‘love’ don’t mean it disrespectfully, although the terms do seem archaic to me! I feel like ‘mister’/’miss’ might be used in the context of a teacher reprimanding a student, but not much elsewhere. I don’t think it makes sense to talk to a husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend using that word instead of his/her name! Yes, calling someone by name implies a closer connection, that you know them rather than just know of them.

        There’s also ‘blackfella’ (Indigenous) and ‘whitefella’ (anyone not Indigenous, whether they are ‘white’ or not!), which can also be used in a derogatory manner, but fortunately I’ve mostly heard them used politely. I don’t mind being a ‘whitefella’ Aussie!

        A bit foggy for us this morning too, but not too bad thankfully. I like the temperate autumn/spring and wouldn’t mind a bit longer winter if it means not so many bushfire-inducing hot summer days! I’m still not wearing my winter coat yet. I was dreading the work trip but thankfully the day wasn’t as intimidating or non-constructive as I feared it might have been.

        Thanks for your continuing engagement with the community.

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        • ‘Bro’ has always sounded friendly to me – as you said, it is a shortform of the word brother’. Another word I thought of is ‘homie’, which is another American term if I’m not mistaken. I use this word with one of my good friends from Malaysia, but that’s about it. I don’t think it’s a word that’s said much here in Australia.

          That is a good point – hierarchical salutations can be important in the context of early learning as it can teach kids respect. Most of my friends and colleagues don’t use the terms husband/wife/girlfriend/Mister etc. anymore. But some acquaintances do and they are pretty adamanat on addressing each other that way, as in in introductions. Now that you mention it, it makes sense – calling each other by name implies a close connection. Not only do you respect the other person as an individual, but you see them as a friend or at least someone to be valued and appreciated.

          I came across this quote by the Dalai Lama and thought it would be fitting in this context: ‘An open heart is an open mind.’

          I’ve already busted out the winter coat last month. Wishing summer was hea already. Hope you enjoy winter 😀

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          • If it’s actually meant as short form of brother, sure, I think that’s fine. But ‘bro’ as in the same meaning as ‘mate’, I doubt that’s local.

            Actually, I was thinking in the context of a teacher scolding a student, ‘now look here, miss/mister…’, but I agree that calling an adult Mr/Mrs is a mark of respect and something that seems to be fading in our current generation. I will usually say Mr/Mrs with my elders and only use first name once I’m given permission. Using first name without permission implies a familiarity that isn’t always there… though now that I think about it, in the workplace it’s pretty much a given that first names are always used… so I suppose it depends on the context.

            To welcome someone with open heart and mind is a good thing indeed. I do think many of us are more close-minded than we like to admit, though. 😉

            Some mornings have been a bit chilly but not worth carrying around the coat yet, in my opinion. On the other hand, winter is the perfect time to visit places like the Pilbara. Summer time is way too hot!

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            • That is a very good point, that in workplaces here in Australia we all go by our first names – symbolic of equal playing field, everyone has a part to play and something to contribute. I suppose that where ‘mate’ comes in too, and a lot of us who use it simply mean well. I really can’t imagine using Mr/Mrs/etc in the modern, corporate workplace. How times have changed from when we grew up and from many decades ago.

              Stay warm, Simon. Winter is coming 😀

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              • Makes me wonder how it plays out in the Australian military – I knew someone from high school who joined the army, but I haven’t heard from him in years. I suspect it will differ from unit to unit, where to draw the line between respect, deference to authority, how much teasing or harassment there is of newbies or those of lower rank, etc.

                Ha ha, I don’t even watch that show, but know where that phrase comes from.

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  17. When I hear mate then I associate Australia immediately with it. Knew a couple of Aussie back in Finland from university and army, was always great fun listening to them.
    For me Australian English sounds always so relaxed compared to British English but then again I only know it from those few friends and then ofc from movies

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    • Australian English is very relaxed, so much so if you are not Aussie, it can be hard understanding how locals here speak. I’ve thought about doing a post on that…we’ll see.

      It is very interesting to hear so many people think of Australia when they hear the ‘mate’ :O

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve always asked myself this question! Thanks for clarifying!! 🙂 Here in Yorkshire, people call each other “love”. “Hey love, how are you doing”, “Thank you, love”, …. The first time a guy called me love at the supermarket, I thought he was hitting on me but actually … he was not! Everybody use love like someone would use mate in Australia!! 😀

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    • Hahaha! In Australia ‘love’ is also used a lot. And like you, when a guy called me that I thought he was hitting on me too. I do not like this at all 😀 English can be so relaxed in some part of the world.

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  19. Interesting as usual, Mabel. Now I got some explanations! Watching Australian movies has brought “mate” to me, and I guess I see it as a positive and friendly word. I am just back from Ireland, and noticed how often they use “luv”, or love, when greeting people, or just talking to them. As you say about “mate”, I can also say about “love” – I would not use the word myself, but I am not bothered when others do.

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  20. I had no idea the word mate has such a long and complicated story! I think we don’t have an equivalent in Spanish. In Spain, young people call each other “tío”, which means uncle but they use more in the sense of “dude”. (BTW I think the word dude in English is very funny, must be because of the movie The Big Lebowski xD).

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    • I also didn’t know the word ‘mate’ was so complicated until I looked it up a few years ago. Then the way many Aussies used it started making sense. It sounds like if you don’t know Spanish, you can use ‘tío’ all wrong 😀

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  21. I have heard the word being used in TV shows that show an Australian story or set up. A similar word is used a lot is Bloke, Never knew about the history attached to this but happy to know and thank you for sharing 🙂

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  22. You really are good at ferreting out details, Mabel. The journalist in you. 🙂 🙂 I can understand war veterans taking offence at the misuse of the term, but not really otherwise. Perhaps because I’m very casual myself in the use of words like hon, darlin, sweetheart… It’s never meant harmfully. G’day mate always reminds me of the Australian tennis. 🙂 🙂 G’day, Mabel!

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    • I used to be a journalist, Jo. I worked in a newsroom at one Australia’s public broadcasters, and also did community radio for five years 🙂 🙂 🙂 Haha, g’day mate and tennis. Never heard that connection before… I’m very amused 😀 😀 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Hi I saw your blog on Indah’ blog. I’m following your blog now.

    I’ve also wonder why they say mate 😜. But then we say dude here in the US. In the Philippines people call others depending on what or who they are. They call an old lady grandma or even mom (strange huh!).

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  24. Another interesting post, Mabel. 🙂 I love reading your insights and the research your put into each one of your posts is fantastic. I appreciate it! I think, I’d like to be called mate. It’s got a nice warm ring to it. And given what it stands for — who wouldn’t need a friend these days? Have a good week ahead!

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  25. Interesting background and history behind the slang “mate”. I heard a lot in the movies and they did it with an accent. It is not the word I am using often, especially when I live in North America.

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  26. Thanks mate or darl for an interesting coverage of the term. In India, the ‘young’ words doing the informal-social rounds are dude, bro, buddy, chum, bum etc. In older corporate circles, the words are boss and chief, used widely regardless of one’s position in the pecking order. It is different in the echelons of bureaucracy and academics. There is no one-size-fits-all word like the Aussie mate. The hierarchical overhang kicks in to inform expressions, be it formal or informal.

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    • ‘chum’ I haven’t heard that one in a while, Raj. Sounds like you know a lot of ‘cool’ words. You are young, and young at heart as always 😀 The corporate world has its own rules, and it is the way it is. Good on you for respecting that and taking what you can away from it.

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  27. Liebe Mabel heute ist ein schöner sonniger Montag was will man mehr bei so herrlichem Sonnenschein fühlt man sich gleich wohler viele liebe Grüße Klaus in Freundschaft

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  28. Lovely article, it made for some nice reading.

    You covered the majority of the uses of “mate”, but there is a more… negative use for the word, one in which it has the exact opposite meaning.

    While mate is often used as an informal and lighthearted greeting, people can and often do use “mate” to replace much more crude and offensive words, often profanity.

    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a blue (a fight) between two guys where words like c**t, d***-head and others were substituted for the word “mate”, while out for a drink at the pub.

    It has a rather varied use for such a simple word.

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    • Thank you so much. That is interesting to hear, that mate is commonly used as a euphemism for profanity. I’ve heard the world being used within heated conversations but usually thought during those moments, the word is used sarcastically. And angrily. It sounds like a simple word, but there is so much more to it.

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  29. Hi Mabel, I feel like I’m being educated here with your variety of cultural posts. Well done! I think of the terms ‘mate’ and ‘bloke’ as Aussie slang but not in a negative way. I’m surprised by the history of the word “Mate” and it’s full meaning. It’s too bad that it has now become a more negative connotation when it began as a term of loyalty between men. Interesting how vocabulary changes over time. Here in Canada, we say ‘eh’ all the time. Unfortunately, there is no good reason for it. There is no historical reference. Another funny term is the boys (and some men) call each other ‘Dude’. My Beau has even called me that on occasion, usually when he is trying to make a point with me, that I’m just ‘not getting’. I don’t mind him calling me that though (but not in bed!) haha.

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    • Thanks, Lisa. Always so kind. True that is has a negative connotation to it these days, and it is especially so when we’re talking about sensitive issues like politics, gender, class and race. I never knew Canadians like saying ‘eh’. It sounds like a very casual word and very friendly too 🙂

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  30. Americans, present company included, love Australia and Australians. To me, “mate” is an indicator of how casually friendly and open most Aussies are. I see it only as a positive thing and was surprised at your examples of how it can be used negatively. Although I suppose if I really thought about it I’d say I do indeed think of it as a more masculine term. And I too would hate “Darl”. UGH!!!

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    • You summed up the general consensus of ‘mate’ very well, Tina. ‘Darl’ really, really peeves me off too. Can’t stand being called that one bit. To me it sounds too close to ‘doll’ and so many of us are more than just a doll.

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  31. I have been known to call someone mate when I have forgotten their name. Ooops! :/
    But it is a very Aussie thing to say, too. Not sure I would call someone mate tho, unless it is a joke, and I am taking the mickey. I love the way your mind works lil sis, you really are such a wonderful source of information and knowledge. Thanks MAAAAATE! Haha.

    Sending you giant hugs and love. xo

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    • Haha, very funny, big sis! It is a very Aussie thing to say. When others say it, you don’t realise it. ‘Mate’ really is a part of our culture here. My mind works in the strangest of ways…big hugs right back at you xxx

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  32. Interesting background to the word I wasn’t aware of. Same as you, I have no problem with the word but rarely use it. It depends on the people I’m with. And sometimes when I’m overseas, I’ll use it just to keep appearances up. LOL 🙂

    But it all comes down to context. It can be used in a very cynical and aggressive way as you indicated.

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  33. It has taken me time to get used to the word ‘mate’. I have never used it, but working along Brits and Aussies, I do hear it occassionally enough. It was interesting to read about the history of the word in your country because I associate that word with the British. And to be honest, I find it a funny word. I’d never say, “Good night, friend” because that’s what it would mean for Americans. Or even, “Good night, buddy”. Naaahhhh. 😀

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    • It has surprised me that many (at least in the comments) don’t really associate the word with the British. I’ve been guilty of using ‘buddy’ myself in some instances. To me, it comes across as a very friendly term 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Did a quick survey at work. Brits use it too – and associate the word with them…maybe your powers of suggestion put the Brits out of your commenters minds 😉

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  34. Oh how interesting, Mabel! I didn’t realize that mate stands for equality and fairness between people when said… so it applies to men and women, is a casual term, is, well, part of the everyday language for Australians by the sounds of it. For me, I like to say “hun” a lot to my friends (guys and gals). Another quality post, Mabel xx

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  35. You are one of my on-line mates, Mabel – that means I respect you and your writing and I enjoy our banter. If we are ever in the same coffee shop I’m sure that I would address you as ‘mate’ at least once 🙂 …. I’d probably say “Gosh mate – aren’t you cold, dressed in just shorts and singlet top” hahaha! Stay warm mate 😉

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  36. Hi Mabel! Another of your lovely thought provoking posts and dont know how I missed it. Better late than never eh? Mate is so typically Australian and quite likely that those who use it don’t even realize that they are using it. While mate is generally used in the connotation of a friend in India everyone is family! Men on the road are bhaiyya or brother. This is true especially for girls who say that to the cabbie, the road side vendor – I also do it, pretty subconsciously. And no one really minds – at least I havent heard anything to dispel that notion. Bhaiyya is convenient in the sense it is ‘ageless’ and even younger brothers maybe addressed as bhaiyyas as can older. Although in Bengal all males on the road are ‘Dada’ or older brothers from the time they step into adulthood. I am sure it is a bit of a problem when children in the neighborhood grow older and fall in love 😀 Much older men are called Uncle. But it is us girls who get a raw deal. Behenji is sister – but young unmarried girls are rarely called Behenji and if they are it is considered an insult because the implication is that you are not hip and well dressed enough and you probably have come to town from the interior villages 😀 And the moment girls get married, they are instantly promoted to Aunty. So I have been Aunty for the past 30 years, though at a few recent instances I have been called Mataji (mother) and ‘Maashima’ (mother’s sister) much to my husband’s amusement as it has the same connotation as Behenji plus they have one foot in the grave 😀 Enough of ranting mate! Have a great day 🙂

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  37. I love the images in this post, Mabel. I wonder if the “dude” in the USA has similar meanings to “mate” in Australia. It is interesting to learn about the mateship..and it’s kinda a “saviour” word if we forget the other person’s name 😀

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