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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK

Mateship: Hit for six

Mateship mentioned in the preamble

Mateship, one of the most interesting and authentically Australian words to be given to the English language by the country, may have had its day.

An attempt by the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, to have the concept written in to the preamble to the constitution has failed. Faced with criticisms that it was too sexist, or inappropriate for a formal document, Mr Howard has dropped the idea.

[ image:  ]
He said he was "very sorry indeed" that the word had been omitted. He took the decision so the preamble would get the support, on the demand of the small Australian Democrats party which holds the balance of power in the senate.

"I took the view in the end that to allow the whole thing to fall over through a personal passion for a word I love very much would have been a poor ordering of priorities," he said.

The Democrats said the word was too macho, but Mr Howard had insisted that women were mates as much as men.

The country will vote in November on whether to accept a revised preamble, which also includes greater emphasis on the role Aboriginals have played and continue to play in the nation, as part of a referendum on becoming a republic.

Earlier in the year, Mr Howard insisted that that word was an accurate reflection of Australia's history. "It is the one word in all of this which is unarguably, distinctively, and grammatically and proudly Australian. You wouldn't find it in any other preamble," he said.

[ image:  John Howard: Not everyone's mate]
John Howard: Not everyone's mate
However, as well as charges of sexism and over-familiarity, some have pointed out that the word "mate" is also pretty handy when you have forgotten someone's name.

But the tradition of mateship, the reliance of (usually) a man on his mates, is a true Aussie tradition which does go beyond how you address a friend.

The concept stems to some extent from the legends of the lonely and often dangerous life of the bushranger.

Mateship was also significant in the trenches - both the trenches of WWI, and the gold-mining trenches of last century.

McKenzie Wark, a lecturer in Media and Communication studies at Sydney's Macquarie University said that the concept is a hard one for John Howard's Liberal Party.

Traditionally it has held a strong distaste for the masculine, working class, radical nationalist values from which mateship springs.

[ image:  ]
But he also points out that mateship was never an entirely white male concept.

"Mateship is about grassroots methods of dealing with cultural difference," he said.

"I think people's instinct was to reject top-down definitions of how multiculturalism was supposed to work, and to insist that inclusion is something that ordinary people decide on in their working and community lives."

Australian comedian Brendan Burns said mateship goes beyond being able to have a few beers with mates.

"Mateship is throwing up in the back of your your mates car and he doesn't complain," Burns said.

In the end, though, perhaps an expression of mateship is just out too much out of joint with the times to find its way into the preamble. Maybe Mr Howard would have had more luck if he'd used the words "male bonding" instead.

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