What words would you use to describe your best friends? Many of us call them many things. Some use “buddies,” others “brothers” or “fellas.” In the roaring 1920’s guys referred to their male friends as “chaps.” You may have heard “mateship” if you’ve visited Australia.
Mateship is an Australian cultural idiom that embodies equality, loyalty and friendship.
In 1914-1918, during the turbulent years of the Great War, mateship described the bravado and comradery that existed between guys. It was a word that found its roots in the culture of Australian men serving on the front lines. It was while undergoing the brutal and sobering campaigns of Gallipoli that Australian soldiers began to forge strong bonds. In ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) legend, the Australian mateship idea gained a wider audience when other soldiers watched the Aussie comradery.
What does it mean to be a mate? While the origin of “mate” can trace its references back to 1175-1225 with French and Persian influences, it found its inherent meaning within Australian history. It is a colonial term borrowed from when criminals were sent to Australia on convict ships. When the first mates on the ship made it through tough moments together, it was known as mateship. These men shared common experiences and challenges under harsh conditions, and this unique environment for friendships gave way for mutual respect toward each other. This term was later adopted for co-workers in the underground mines and men that toiled on the land.
When you consider the life that these men shared, it is no wonder that it triggered something special. The term “mateship” resurfaced during the war years, where men from all walks of life, with some as young as 15 from Australia and New Zealand, were thrown in together. Among that rowdy lot were bankers, farmers, businessmen, university professors, lawyers, doctors, ministers, shop keepers…guys from every trade you could think of. They answered the call to serve their countries with distinction. This was in the summertime when temperatures soared. The lack of sanitation, ammunition, food, medicine and basic essentials caused men to break from their stoicism and display banter, friendship and devotion for their mates serving alongside them in the trenches. While they were physically at their lowest, together these men were at their highest. While this account from Anzac cove in WWI traditionally goes down as the greatest defeat in Australian history, mentally and on some spiritual level it shaped the idea that friendships amongst men were considered sacred and needed to be protected.
In three words a mate could be defined as a Commonality, a Counterpart, and a Comrade.
Commonality: I remember reading an article by C.S. Lewis where he said,
True friendship is born at the moment when one says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…. ‘
Friendships are born when you realise you have common ground in a room full of strangers. My closest mates are all different from one another. But, I have common ground with them. Some are fellow Christians, some are historians, a few like Sci-fi, comics, WWE wrestling, all American sporting codes, and even deep literature.
The reason that C.S. Lewis was spot on is because genuine friendships begin when you do not try to be someone that you are not. You are comfortable with your own interests and dislikes. You may just strike up conversations with people that have the same tastes and distastes as you. In other words, give everyone a fair go.
Counterpart: Great mates or comrades are born when you realise that they hold you accountable in life. They help you through your weaknesses and show you where you need to improve. Great mates counterbalance and in some ways complement and lift you up when you are at your lowest. Recently I was having a hard week, so I caught up with a mate over a beer, and it was not the fact that we talked about the issue on hand, it was the fact that I was simply able to unleash. In every respect a mate is normally that person that sacrifices their greater good out of respect to see others lifted up. Likewise, when this happens, just be sure to return the favour. Mateship is all about sticking by your mates through thick and thin.
Comrade: One of my favourite ways to describe a good mate is a comrade. It’s a military term that denotes a fellow defense member. However, this term also goes further. It usually involves comradery and banter. I remember when I was younger watching the Lethal Weapon movies and laughing uncontrollably at the discussions that took place between Mel Gibson’s and Danny Glovers’ characters and thinking these men were nuts. Yet, they worked brilliantly together as a team on every case. They had top quality banter, they joked, and poked fun at each other over trivial things. Why? Deep down they respected each other as comrades, and they could laugh with each other.
Mateship is all about being there, being present, and having a laugh when you need to. In Australia, this is called the larrikin spirit.
So with this in mind I began by asking, “How would you describe a good friend?” I would like to finish by asking, “Are you that friend or mate for someone else?” I seriously believe it is when men have a shared experience and they are able to face life head on with no defeat. When you surround yourself with those likeminded people, your days become so much more valuable and greater for it.