Posted by: Tony Carson | 26 August, 2007

Mateship: what is it?

A new exam that immigrants will have to pass before admittance into Australia has at its core the 10 essential Australian values every citizen must embrace – focusing on ‘mateship and a fair go’ and including tolerance, compassion, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and secular government, equality of men and women and peacefulness.

What is mateship?

To me, it is an emotion that is both complex and simple. One of those things that ‘if you have to ask, you don’t get it.’

But I did ask about it while living in Australia for a year in the mid-90’s and I got a variety of answers, variations on the one’s given in this BBC article entitled Australia unveils immigrant tests

“Australia has a strong tradition of mateship in which people help and receive help from others voluntarily, especially in times of adversity,” it says.

“A mate can be a spouse, partner, brother, sister, daughter, son or friend. A mate can be a stranger.”

But there was one incident that wonderfully defined the term for me. I was going up to Darwin and a newly acquired friend gave me a name, address and phone number of someone who would show me around.

“What’s he like?” I asked.

The guy thought for a moment and said, “Ah, he’s no mate.”

And he wasn’t. He we smart, intellectual, contrarian, and a bit gawky, in a big boned way; thoroughly entertaining, pleasant and interesting. And never once did he say, “Ahhh, I donno.”

I don’t think mateship is something you can force on new immigrants. And I’m not sure you would want to.


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