Celebrating 110 years of OUP in Australia

In 2018, Oxford University Press is celebrating 110 years in Australia. To give that some context, when the office was opened in 1908:

  • Women had just won the right to vote in Victoria
  • Canberra didn’t exist
  • The recorded Australian population was 4,232,278, around 20 million fewer people than today.

The Australian branch now employs over 100 staff and publishes a vast array of educational books and dictionaries. The original purpose of the office, however, was to make life easier for a travelling book salesman.

The salesman was E. R. Bartholomew (initials were very big in those days), who had been recruited into the book trade from the YMCA in 1890. E. R. worked for the publisher Hodder & Stoughton (now an imprint of Hachette), selling books throughout England, Wales and Ireland in a single ‘autumn journey’.

Hodder had their sights set on a more exotic market – Australia. This faraway land was usually avoided by English publishers, mainly because it took six weeks by ship to get there. Hodder decided to minimise this problem by sending their salesman to Australia for a six-month stint, every two years. They also partnered with another publisher to share the cost of the long sea voyage. The other publisher, of course, was Oxford University Press.

So that was that. Every two years E. R. Bartholomew would set out to Australia with his supply of Hodder and Oxford books. And at the start of each trip, his boss at Hodder would bid him farewell with the words, ‘Mind you get back in good time for the autumn journey.’ Bartholomew was almost constantly on the road like this for eighteen years, the final four working just for Oxford. By that time, business was going so well that OUP decided that he should make the trip to Australia every year. E. R., who must have been exhausted by now, drew the line at nearly the whole year away from home and family, and asked if he could move permanently to Australia. The new branch opened in Melbourne in 1908.

The location decided upon was an office in the Cathedral Buildings, next door to St Paul’s Cathedral on Flinders Street. This made sense, since OUP’s main business in 1908 was selling bibles. E. R. was joined in the office by his son, E. E., and they quickly became the best known representatives of British publishing in Australia. E. R.’s sales techniques were more formal than those of 2018: he always wore a top hat while selling his bibles, and insisted that he and his customer begin business by sharing a short prayer.

The only other employees were an office boy who unpacked the boxes of books, and E. R.’s sister, Elsie. OUP’s business manager Henry Frowde employed no women in England, and looked upon Elsie quite unkindly, referring to her as ‘our typewriter’.

By 1914, the Australian branch was publishing its own books. The first was probably the Australasian School Atlas, intended for schools in New South Wales. This was followed by works such as A Short History of Australia, the Oxford Book of Australian Verse and the succinctly titled Physiographic and Economic Geography of Australia. This last book was banned in Western Australia because the author mentioned for the first time in print that Australia was mainly desert (bad for immigration apparently). The branch also had the rights to sell the books of the Australian publisher Angus & Robertson, including the classics Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and The Man from Snowy River.

E. R. Bartholomew retired in 1922, and was succeeded as manager by E. E., who stayed on until 1949. Between father and son, they were in charge of OUP’s Australian operations for almost 60 years. They’d be happy to know that the Australian branch is still going strong in 2018 and still publishing school atlases.


Eyre, F. (1978). Oxford in Australia: 1890–1978. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). ‘Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2014’. Accessed from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3105.0.65.001

The National Party

The enduring strength of a rural-based party in Australia—the National Party—has been rightly judged ‘unique’ (Costar and Woodward 1985, p. 2). Other developed countries have had rural-based parties, but none continued to prosper into the second post-war generation. In the 1920s ‘farmers’ parties’ burgeoned in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, but in the post 1945 period all discarded their rural identity, adopted Centre Party monikers, and, in some cases, underwent total ideological metamorphoses. In 1920s Canada, a United Farmers Party reigned in some provinces, and the Progressive Party had some successes at the federal level. But these elements ultimately subsumed themselves within the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, or the New Democratic Party. In New Zealand a small Country Party existed from 1925 to 1935 before disappearing.

But Australia’s National Party endures. It and its earlier incarnations (the Country Party, and the National Country Party) have provided one of Australia’s prime ministers, and seven of her sixteen deputy prime ministers. The party has, in the past, secured the premiership of Australia’s most industrialized state; has ruled in its own right in the fastest-growing state; and on occasion has won more seats than the Liberal Party in the largest state. Its share of the vote has fallen significantly since the 1980s. But in spite of the massive contraction of the relative importance of primary industries (from about 25 per cent of gross domestic product in the years of the party’s origin to only 2.5 per cent in 2013/14) one tenth of MPs elected to the 2013 House of Representatives caucused with the National Party.


Continue reading

Channelling my inner Bean?

9780195576801The final volume of the Centenary History of Australia and the Great War series is about to appear, bringing with it sensations of both satisfaction and relief. It’s always a relief when a lengthy project comes to fruition successfully and this one began in the planning and funding stages in 2007. It is immensely satisfying to have had a hand in a significant historical project and to have enabled a talented team of historians to give expression to their scholarship for a wider audience.

I was centrally involved in an earlier centennial project, also published through Oxford University Press, at the time of the centenary anniversary of Federation in 2001. That series, The Australian Centenary History of Defence, was a larger and more complex project than the more recent one but both share features in common. The first is the lead time involved. Multi-volume, multiple-author projects take time to put together and time to produce their outcomes: books. The pool of available and suitably-qualified talent is not large and most working historians already have a full slate of immediate and long-term commitments. Funding the research involves reasonably-sized outlays and must be secured from somewhere, while at the same time it is recognised that the project cannot meet salary bills for the authors if the budget is to remain within feasible limits. The necessary corollary of this is that work on the books will have to be part-time in most cases. All of these factors mandate lengthy lead times from inception to completion.

This pretty much describes the shape of the project that unfolded. Funding was secured from the Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy, on the basis that the series would constitute the Army’s major enduring activity during the Great War centenary. The timing here was fortuitous since it led to signed contracts before the Global Financial Crisis broke – which would most likely have entirely changed the outcome. Having agreed to support the project, successive Chiefs of Army were unwavering in their financial commitment in the face of some acute budget pressures over the next several years.

A subsequent Chief of Army used to joke that he was funding the project in order that I could ‘channel my inner [CEW] Bean’, a reference to the Australian official historian of the Great War whose 12 massive volumes (15 if you include the medical histories) are a memorial both to their author and the events with which he dealt. Our own series weighs in at a modest five volumes for a total of approximately 600,000 words, so in no meaningful sense were we attempting to imitate or otherwise compete directly with Bean’s history.

Not only have reading tastes (and attention spans) changed over the last century, but historians now have a wider range of contemporary sources available to them and can ask new or at least different questions of the evidence. As the work which underpins volume 5 in the series demonstrates, we are able to manipulate large data sets to gain definitive answers to questions about, for example, the composition and make-up of the AIF, enlistment rates across the war, or a host of things that previous generations of scholars simply could not. It’s not that we have set out to tell a different story (the Germans still lose the war) so much as tried to tell the story differently.

To this end we structured the series semi-thematically, driven by my belief that the interconnectedness of various aspects of the war and Australia’s experience of it are often lost sight of within traditional approaches that treat Gallipoli as separate from the defence of Egypt or the conquest of Sinai or which sees the Western Front in isolation from the rest of the war effort against the German empire. Equally, Australia’s military efforts are best understood in the context of the much greater Imperial and Allied projects of which they were a part. A quite different picture of the development and experiences of the Australian Flying Corps is imparted when it is seen as contributing to and benefitting from developments in British military aviation across the course of the war rather than as the story of four discrete squadrons operating in France and the Middle East. Finally, the politics of Australia’s war, its impact on the domestic economy, and the social cleavages and tensions that arose as the war dragged on did not exist in a vacuum, many of these issues had counterparts in Britain and the other Dominions, and such comparisons deliver a more nuanced understanding of their Australian manifestations.

The Great War constitutes one of the seminal formative events in the making and shaping of modern Australia. The men and women who fought in it are now gone and its events are confined to History with a capital ‘H’. A century on, our perspectives and understanding are and should be different from theirs. Our need to make sense of it all is no less great and we hope that the series contributes in a significant way to that process.

(Dr) Jeffrey Grey
Professor of History, UNSW Canberra
Series Editor, The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War

To learn more about the series, please visit our World War 1 Centenary page

Horace Hart: the fascinating creator of an Oxford classic

Shortly after I became Editorial Assistant at OUP, my manager lent me a book called New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors. It’s a useful and interesting book for an editor, as it tells you:

  • to avoid the greengrocer’s apostrophe (e.g. lettuces instead of lettuce’s)
  • the correct way to indicate stammering, paused or intermittent speech (“P-p-perhaps not,” she whispered.)
  • how to capitalise locations in outer space, such as the Milky Way or the moon
  • all 28 letters in the Welsh alphabet.

The original author of this book was Horace Hart (1840–1916), who was Printer to the University of Oxford and Controller of the University Press. According to OUP archivist Martin Maw, being the Printer in the late 1800s meant spending the working day (6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.) in the Oxford Printing House, a ‘warren, [where] one might meet attendants in the hot drying room sporting large paper hats against the sweat, blacksmiths, carpenters, or the chief wetter in the Wetting Cellar, moistening paper from the Wolvercote Mill in a shallow indoor bath’.[1] In our office, we don’t even have paper hats, let alone a Wetting Cellar.

When appointed to his role, Hart overhauled OUP’s dated practices: he introduced new types of printing (monotype and collotype), he travelled to Germany to purchase new fonts, and he expanded OUP’s ink factory. He also issued Rules for Compositors and Readers to ensure consistent first-proof correction – this would later become known as Hart’s Rules. The Preface of my updated version notes that the book ‘was originally a slim twenty-four-page booklet intended only for staff at the printing house … but Hart decided to publish it for the public after finding copies of it for sale’. [2]

Hart had a notorious temper – he was described by a later Printer as ‘a tyrant’ and once fell into a rage on seeing his compositors singing carols at work. The constant stress of the business is one explanation. According to Maw, Hart was required to balance the needs of ‘the Publisher, the Secretary, and the authorities in his parent university, his employees and their union, his suppliers, and the customers of his trade’.[3] These demands were too much: a series of nervous breakdowns led to Hart’s divorce and his retirement from the Press in 1915. The following year, he neatly folded his gloves on the bank of a lake and drowned himself.[4]

Despite his flaws, Hart’s influence on OUP was enormous and continues to this day. Hart’s book, for example, is the reason we spell Shakespeare the way we do. So next time you’re looking up whether to hyphenate a compass point (south-south-east), remember the man behind Hart’s Rules.


New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide

Alex Chambers is an Editor in Higher Education. He is a keen supporter of the Melbourne Demons, well-placed commas and the communal sweet jar.

[1] Maw, M. ‘The Printer and the Printing House’, in Louis, R. (ed) (2013), The History of Oxford University Press: Volume III: 1896–1970, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 222
[2] Ritter, R.M. (2005), New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors, Oxford: Oxford University Press, vii
[3] Maw, 219
[4] Winchester, S. (2003),The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 121

The Anzac Legend

Ever since news of the landing at Gallipoli first reached Australia via the reporting of the British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, the achievements of the AIF have become embedded in Australian national consciousness. By the end of the war the AIF had come to be regarded as one of the premier Allied fighting forces, and [General Sir John] Monash as one of their most successful generals. Reflecting the widespread militaristic outlook of the early twentieth century, Gallipoli was regarded as the nation’s ‘baptism of fire’, which was understandable given that its only previous military involvement had been in the much smaller scale South African (Boer) War. What was, and is, less understandable is the suggestion that Gallipoli marked the birth of the nation, as if the very achievement of Federation in 1901 by peaceful means and the introduction of universal suffrage (Indigenous inhabitants excepted) was less significant in the history of the new Commonwealth. One hundred years on from the landing of 25 April 1915, ‘Anzac’ remains a contested concept that attracts vigorous criticism and impassioned defence. The fact that scores of thousands turn out every year at dawn services throughout the country suggests that the AIF as the original Anzacs continues to inspire new generations.

Mackay Regional Council

Anzac Day ceremonies became an annual fixture after the war. This one, held around a temporary memorial, was in Mackay, Queensland, in 1929.

Bean concluded his final volume of the official history by hailing the story of the AIF as a ‘monument to great-hearted men; and, for their nation, a possession forever’. That the AIF was able to achieve what it did truly is a remarkable story. It would have been almost inconceivable in the decade following Federation that Australia could raise a substantial force within a matter of months and dispatch it to fight in distant campaigns. Yet from the moment that Australia entered the war and opened recruiting until the first convoy sailed from Albany, less than three months had elapsed. It was because of the work of countless military and civil officers, and with the support of large sections of the Australian community, that the initial force of 20 000 men—one infantry division and a light horse brigade—was raised so quickly. That was a significant achievement in itself, but the ultimate expansion (and probably over-expansion) of the AIF to a strength of five divisions and the best part of two mounted divisions was, by any measure, an extraordinary effort on the part of a small (and new) nation. By 1918 the AIF was, by any reckoning (and here we can avoid the extravagant claims of some cheerleaders), among the best fighting forces in the empire and, indeed, in the whole of the Allied camp. In the process it produced officers (many from the ranks but also from the pre-war Militia/Citizen Military Forces) who could command at every level. Monash was the outstanding Australian officer that the war produced, and in some circles he was touted as a possible commander-in-chief for the whole of the British Expeditionary Force, but this move to elevate him to the very top was as much a political campaign as it was a sound evaluation of his capability. He was supported by a legion of subordinates, many of whom grew into their positions from a very low base of experience: war was to be the great teacher. The war also produced thousands of soldiers of all ranks who performed their duties efficiently and effectively.

Underpinning these achievements was, first, a training scheme that quickly developed into one that could turn untried civilians into soldiers in a short period, for time was always of the essence. From its arrival in Egypt in December 1914, the AIF had barely four months to create a semblance of a military force from the mass of raw recruits that had embarked in the first convoy. Thereafter as reinforcements arrived in Egypt and, after the failure of the Gallipoli campaign, in Britain for eventual deployment on the Western Front, the training system developed the capacity to keep units at the maximum strength that the flow of recruits would allow. This was no mean feat.

The second, and often overlooked, factor underpinning the exploits of the AIF was the complex yet efficient administrative system that was developed, one that extended from the front lines to the bases in Egypt, France and Britain, all the way back to Australia. It is a source of wonderment a hundred years on to see the level of detail that was recorded on an individual’s file and the efforts that were made to communicate to families the particulars of their loved ones at the front, thereby ensuring public support for the AIF, even when wider questions were increasingly contested. More generally the act of keeping track of movements, equipment and all the support functions necessary to keep the AIF in the field required remarkable administrative abilities across the whole of the AIF and the Department of Defence.

What made all this possible? In the first instance it must be recognised that although the AIF was largely formed from scratch in terms of the bulk of enlisted men, it did not spring from nowhere. The small cadre of officers who formed the tiny pre-war professional army, together with the more robust officers and men of the CMF (a number of officers quickly showed that the rigors of a campaign were beyond their mental and physical capacity and were let go), provided a solid base on which to build. Such men as [Inspector-General, Brigadier-General William] Bridges had honed their skills through experience, in Australia and in South Africa, and on attachment to and working with the British Army. It is fashionable in some ignorant circles to decry the influence of the British Army on the AIF, but the fact is that the AIF fought as part of a larger British formation: the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli, the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front and the Eastern Expeditionary Force in Egypt, Palestine and Syria. Besides the indispensable support that the British Army and Britain more generally made available to the AIF, which was far beyond the capacity of Australian industry to provide, the British Army was, for better or worse (decidedly better by war’s end) the source of imperial military doctrine that made it possible for such a formation as the AIF to slot easily into wider operations.

Similarly, access to British training establishments was critical in enabling the AIF to develop over time its operational skills while, without the resources of the British Army medical system and its supporting network of hospitals, especially in Britain, the AIF could not have sustained the level of medical care that it was able to afford its sick and wounded. British officers who served with the AIF, from Birdwood down, rendered invaluable service, especially in such areas as staff work where the Australian military lacked deep experience. Again, much popular writing denigrates British officers (contemporary cartoons in unit newspapers mercilessly lampooned the monocled ‘toffs’ of the British military establishment), and there were certainly cases of incompetent British officers being posted to Australian units (just as there were incompetent Australian officers), but on the whole the

British officers who were attached to the AIF performed well, and the AIF would have been hard-pressed without them.

Nevertheless, although it is essential to acknowledge the inevitable reliance of the AIF on its far larger British counterpart, we should not underestimate the element of self-reliance that eventually made the AIF the force that it was by 1918. We should remember also that the fledgling force of 1914 bore little relation to the AIF of 1917–18. That it should become so highly valued within Allied circles was due in no small part to its officers, whose professional ability grew with experience. Monash, for example, had not done very well at Gallipoli; three years of hard fighting on the Western Front turned him into a leader to rank with the best. Those who held commissions in the CMF more on the basis of their social standing than because of their perceived ability were quickly weeded out in the AIF: demonstrable merit rather than background became the test for commissioning and promotion, an approach that served the AIF well.

Much has been made of the egalitarianism of the AIF, especially compared with what was regarded as the hidebound, class-conscious British Army. Emphasis on the latter can be exaggerated, but it is clear that officer–men relations in the AIF were more relaxed than in the British Army, not least because by the second half of the war many officers had come from the ranks. The AIF became notorious for the ill-discipline displayed by its members of various occasions, not only in comparison with the British Army but also with the Canadian and New Zealand forces. The vast majority of disciplinary cases arose from minor transgressions—drunkenness, overstaying leave, being out of bounds, using obscene language and so on—but there was a significant number of cases of criminal behaviour. Minor lapses in discipline and displays of ‘larrikinism’ could be excused as a release from the stresses of the front line, and in any case they largely escaped the attention of the public in Australia. It was a different matter when troops returned to Australia and engaged in public rowdiness and, in some cases, in such discreditable behaviour that there was danger of a public backlash against them.

‘Mateship’ is often touted as a peculiarly Australian characteristic, but this is a gross exaggeration, as though this tendency to stick together, whatever name is given to it, was not equally to be seen in every other army, especially those from the sister dominions. Australian troops might have been more overt in their demonstration of mateship, but the Diggers were no more concerned about their fellow soldiers than their counterparts from Canada and New Zealand, or indeed from the British Army. Australians did not have a monopoly on small group cohesion. What they shared in particular with their dominion counterparts was the fact that they were away from Australia for exceptionally long periods, and very few got home leave. This naturally focused emotions and a sense of responsibility on the soldier’s immediate surroundings—his platoon and company. The ‘fellowship of the trenches’ was a very real motivating factor that enabled men to endure the rigors of war.

[Charles] Bean was right when he wrote that the AIF became for Australia a possession forever.

The bitterness of the conscription campaign took years to fade and had long-lasting political effects, but the reputation of the AIF remained undiminished. When a second AIF was raised in 1939 it seemed only proper that, following in the footsteps of its famous forebear, it should adopt the names and numbering system of the 1st AIF (thus 2/10th Battalion, 2/12th Battalion and so on), with its divisions following on sequentially from the five divisions of the First AIF. Whatever the prevailing views about the Great War and ‘Anzac’ are—and they regularly change and mutate—the AIF is rightly firmly established in Australia’s consciousness as one of its great achievements.

9780195576801This extract is taken from The Australian Imperial Force.  Volume V of The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War series.

Explore Australia’s role in the First World War with our forthcoming local publishing, including a five volume series ‘The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War’.

ISBN 9780195576801 | Jean Bou & Peter Dennis | $59.95 | 26 May 2016

Image source: Mackay Regional Council

The History of ‘Mate’

Mate is one of those words that is used widely in Englishes other than Australian English, and yet has a special resonance in Australia. Although it had a very detailed entry in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (the letter M was completed 1904–8), the Australian National Dictionary (AND) included mate in its first edition of 1988, thus marking it as an Australianism. A revision of the OED entry for mate was posted online in December 2009, as part of the new third edition, and this gives us the opportunity to test the extent to which the word can be regarded as Australian. Not one of the standard presently used senses of mate in OED is marked Australian. What are they doing to our Australian word?

One of the OED senses that matches an AND sense is mate used as a form of address. OED says: ‘used as a form of address to a person, especially a man, regarded as an equal.’ This sense has been in use since the sixteenth century.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25, 2011 : Memorial service with War Veterans on Anzac Day

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 25, 2011 : Memorial service with War Veterans on Anzac Day

The OED notes that mate is not used in this sense in the United States, and Australians will be aware from its use in British television programs that it is not exclusively Australian. It is interesting, however, that the OED’s one quotation to illustrate the sense after the 1940s is from the Australian novelist Peter Carey in 1981, in an example that demonstrates its use by a woman: ‘“Come and sit here, old mate.” She patted the chair beside her.’[1]

The AND definition differs slightly from the OED one: ‘a mode of address implying equality and goodwill; frequently used to a casual acquaintance and, especially in recent use, ironic.’ Examples of the ‘ironic’ usage include: (1953) ‘I’ll remember you, mate. You’ll keep!’;[2] (1957) ‘I’ve just been sweating on an opportunity to do you a damage, mate.’[3] The quotations chosen to illustrate the OED entry, do not include this ironic, and sometimes hostile, use of the term.

This range of usage with the primarily positive mate is analogous to the range of usage with the primarily negative term bastard in Australia. Bastard is mainly used in a derogatory way, as it is in all Englishes, but in Australia it can also be used in a good-humoured and even affectionate way. Sidney Baker captured the range of meaning when he wrote in 1943: ‘You are in a pub knocking back a few after work and being earbashed by a mate. At length he reaches the point he has been rambling round so long and, after a pause, you (the bashee) say: “You’re not a bad old bastard—for a bastard!”’[4] The heavily ironic Australian use of mate is enshrined in a famous quotation from Australian political history. In 1983, Labor Party leader Bill Hayden recalled a moment when there were rumours that he was to be dumped as leader, and a colleague comforted him ‘Oh, mate, mate’. Hayden commented: ‘When they call you “mate” in the N.S.W. Labor Party it is like getting a kiss from the Mafia.’[5] Although possibly not exclusively Australian, this ironic and sometimes hostile use of mate is certainly more common in Australia than elsewhere.

The primary Standard English sense of mate is illustrated by this OED definition: ‘a companion, fellow, comrade, friend; a fellow worker or business partner.’ It is this part of the sense that receives special attention in the Australian National Dictionary. The first thing AND does is to separate out some shades of meaning, and so one of them is: ‘an acquaintance; a person engaged in the same activity.’ This sense covers quite a range of relationships, but the essential point about it is that the relationship involves no close bond of friendship. Typical examples include: (1919) ‘The boy had joined his mates in one of the little cemeteries on the Western front’;[6] (1934) ‘Seventeen of our mates were killed in the mining industry last year’;[7] (1972) ‘A mate in Australia is simply that which a bloke must have around him. Mates do not necessarily want to know you.’[8]

This separation prepares the way for the essential Australian sense of mate, and the sense that validates its inclusion in a dictionary of Australian words: ‘a person with whom the bonds of close friendship are acknowledged, a “sworn friend”.’ Some of the central quotations that establish the sense are these:

(1891) Where his mate was his sworn friend through good and evil report, in sickness and health, in poverty and plenty, where his horse was his comrade, and his dog his companion, the bushman lived the life he loved.[9]

(1977) ‘He’s me mate. I gotta help ’im,’ he stated simply and incontrovertibly.…
There was no answer to that, Gunner knew: the outcome of this incident had been predetermined by the peculiar chemistry of compatibility, by social mores and by the almost tribal ties of marriage, all pledged with countless beers. It was personal, traditional, and deeply masculine.[10]

Especially in many of the early examples of this kind, the emphasis is, as in these passages, strongly masculine. Henry Lawson writes in 1913: ‘The man who hasn’t a male mate is a lonely man indeed, or a strange man, though he have a wife and family.’[11] And a writer in the Bulletin in 1945: ‘You can’t kid me that a woman could ever be a mate like you an’ me know it.’[12] In 1960: ‘“My mate” is always a man. A female may be my sheila, my bird, my charley, my good sort, my hot-drop, my judy or my wife, but she is never “my mate”.’[13] In the early records there are occasional references to women, but when they do occur they lack the intensity of emotion associated with the male references: (1923) ‘My wife is standing at the gate—No man could have a better mate’;[14] (1946) ‘Sally was elated by his recognition that she could be a good mate.’[15] It is intensity of emotion that characterises the male references: (1986) ‘Silence was the essence of traditional mateship. … The gaunt man stands at his wife’s funeral; his mate comes up, says nothing but rests a gentle hand briefly on his shoulder.’[16]

In addition to mate, the word mateship appears in the quotation at the end of the last paragraph. In Standard English, mateship can mean ‘the state of having a mate; a pairing of one animal with another’ (OED), but it is the human sense of mateship that is exclusively Australian. The OED defines it as ‘the condition of being a mate; companionship, fellowship, comradeship’, and labels it ‘chiefly Australian and New Zealand’. AND defines it: ‘The bond between equal partners or close friends; comradeship; comradeship as an ideal.’ Some of its seminal and early uses, not surprisingly, come from Henry Lawson, since it is a concept that was forged in the bush tradition. In ‘Shearers’ (1901) Lawson writes:

They tramp in mateship side by side—
The Protestant and Roman
They call no biped lord or sir
And touch their hat to no man!

And in ‘Before We Were Married’ (1913):

River banks were grassy—grassy in the bends,
Running through the land where mateship never ends.

It is a tradition that is continued in the First World War, and memorialised in the remembering of that war: (1935) ‘The one compensating aspect of life as then lived was the element of mateship. Inside the wide family circle of the battalion and the company were the more closely knit platoon groups.’[17]

When in 1999 Prime Minister Howard proposed a draft preamble to the Constitution that included the sentence ‘We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship’, there was some public outcry over the inclusion of a term that, because of its role in a male tradition, appeared to exclude half the population. Prime Minister Howard argued that mateship was ‘a hallowed Australian word’, although his co-author in the draft preamble, the poet Les Murray, confessed that it was ‘blokey … a man’s thing’.[18] This debate was a sign that the Australian myth, which mateship embodies, perhaps no longer has the power that it held in the past. The association of mateship with Australian egalitarian traditions was articulated most clearly by Russel Ward in The Australian Legend (1958): ‘He believes that Jack is not only as good as his master but, at least in principle, probably a good deal better. … He is very hospitable and, above all, will stick to his mates through thick and thin, even if he thinks they be in the wrong.’[19]

The power of this myth may have weakened, but it is only through an understanding of the historical background of terms such as mate and mateship that we can understand why they have such a central place (even when contested) in the Australian psyche, how their Australian meanings differ from their Standard English meanings, and why they belong to the core set of terms that the core set of terms that help to express Australian values.

This extract is taken from What’s Their Story? A History of Australian Words. The real stories behind some of Australia’s unique and best-loved words are ready to be told. This is a collection of words that have interesting, challenging and often disputed stories to be told about their origins.

ISBN 9780195575002 | Bruce Moore | AU$21.95

[1] Bliss (St Lucia, Qld, 1981), p. 95.
[2] T.A.G. Hungerford, Riverslake (Sydney, 1953), p. 50.
[3] B. Reed, Cass Butcher Bunting (Port Melbourne, 1957), p. 38.
[4] S. Baker, The Drum: Australian Character and Slang (Sydney, 1959), p. 69.
[5] Bulletin (Sydney), 13 September 1983, p. 60.
[6] A. Wright, A Game of Chance (Sydney, 1919), p. 9.
[7] Red Star (Perth), 3 August 1934, p. 2.
[8] K. Dunstan, Knockers (North Melbourne, 1972), p. 52.
[9] ‘Smiler’ (A.A.G. Hales), The Wanderings of a Simple Child, 3rd edn (Sydney, 1891), p. iv.
[10] R. Beilby, Gunner: A Novel of the Retreat from Crete (London, 1977), p. 177.
[11] H. Lawson, Triangles of Life and Other Stories (Melbourne, 1913), p. 237.
[12] Bulletin (Sydney), 12 September 1945, p. 12.
[13] D.M. McLean, The Roaring Days (London, 1960), p. 1.
[14] J. Moses, Beyond the City Gates (Melbourne, 1923), p.96.
[15] K.S. Prichard, The Roaring Nineties (London, 1946), p. 224.
[16] Bulletin (Sydney), 21 January 1986, p. 36.
[17] J.P. McKinney, The Crucible (Sydney, 1935), p. 63.
[18] Advertiser (Adelaide), 25 March 1999, p. 4.
[19] Cited from 2nd edn (Melbourne, 1966), p. 2.

Oxford Festive Gift Guide for Adults

Need some help with your Christmas shopping this year? We’ve got you covered.

‘Tis the season for gift guides, so we have selected a variety of titles to help you buy for all of the foodies, history buffs, marketers and word nerds in your life. Books make the best gifts so take advantage of our special offer for Christmas below.

Oxford Companion to Wine9780198705383 Wine
Hardback | RRP $81.95
Illustrated with maps of every important wine region in the world, and featuring charts, diagrams and stunning colour photographs, this Companion will give provide wine lovers with everything they needs to show off a little while enjoying a glass of wine.


Oxford Companion to Beer Oxford Companion, Beer, father's day, gift for dad
Hardback | RRP $78.95
Know someone who loves beer? If the answer is yes, then we recommend the most comprehensive reference book ever published on the most popular drink in the world (after water and tea). From the brewing process to beer history, from beer styles, food paring, this book will satisfy beer fans whether they are a brewer, food and beverage professional, or just an enthusiast.

H9780195596267ow Brands Grow: Part 2
Hardback | RRP $39.95
For the business professional, How Brands Grow: Part 2 will change the way they think about marketing forever. Following the success of international bestseller, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know, comes a new book that takes readers further on a journey to smarter, evidence-based marketing.


The War at Home: Volume IV9780195576788
Hardback | RRP $59.95
The latest volume in The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War series will help history buffs understand the experience of the Australian people during the Great War in Australia itself, in the politics of war, its economic and social effects, and in the experience of war.



Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations
Paperback | RRP $22.95
We all know someone who loves being the centre of attention, dominating Christmas dinner with terrible jokes. The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations will lend some sparkle to their speeches and hopefully provide them with some new material for the next family gathering.


Special offer for Christmas
20% off and free delivery*
Discount code: xmas15
To take advantage of this special offer, visit the Oxford University Press website and enter the discount code xmas15 at the checkout.

*Online offer only available to Australian customers. New Zealand customers free call 0800 442 502 or email cs.au@oup.com to receive the same discount on the NZ price. Offer only on selected titles above. The discount cannot be combined with any other offers. Offer expires 31st December 2015.

World War One: links to explore

As Anzac Day approaches, we have collected some of our favourite pieces about the Great War from the Oxford Australia blog and around the Press online. You can read about the history of the iconic Anzac biscuit, rediscover soldier slang from First World War or listen to the remarkable story of John Simpson and his donkey.

Remembering Australia in the First World War

Stories from the Great War

Words and language

Sights and sounds

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcasts:

Lists and infographics

World War One: a snapshot in quotes

Assassination has never changed the history of the world.

    – Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield, speech, House of Commons, 1 May 1865

On June 28th 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, while visiting Sarajevo. This one event, this assassination, was the catalyst for four years of war. The First World War, or the Great War, was a dark time in our history and it still manages to produce some of the most profound prose and poetry in history.

Today we have compiled a snapshot of the First World War through significant quotes:

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand –June 1914
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far.
Don John of Austria is going to the war.

– G. K Chesteron, ‘Lepanto’ 1915

The United States will not join the war – August 1914
No nation is fit to sit in judgement upon any other nation.

– Woodrow Wilson, speech in New York, 20 April 1915; in Select Addresses (1918)

Five Battles of Flanders were fought between 1914 and 1918
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scare heard amid the guns below.

– John McCrae, ‘In Flanders Fields’ (1915)

The Bolsheviks overthrow the Russian Government – November 1917
Yesterday there was a tart and there were slaves; today there is no tsar, but the slaves remain; tomorrow there will be only tsars…We have lived through the epoch of suppression of the masses we are living in an epoch of suppression of the individual in the name of the masses tomorrow will bring the liberation of the individual – in the name of man.

– Yevgeny Zamyatin, ‘Tomorrow’ (1919) in A Soviet Heretic (1970)

The armistice is signed and the fighting stops at the 11th hour, 11 November 1918
At eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruelest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars.

– David Lloyd George, speech in the House of Commons, 11 November 1918

9780199668700Quotations sourced from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations 

The story behind the cover: Furphies and Whizz-bangs

One hundred years on, the slang of soldiers of the First World War continues to fascinate. In Furphies and Whizz-bangs: Anzac Slang from the Great War Dr Amanda Laugesen draws on primary source material taken from soldiers’ letters, diaries and trench publications, along with contemporary newspapers and books, to bring the language of the Australian soldier to life.

As the Anzac Day centenary approaches, we thought we’d share the story behind the photograph and letters of Furphies and Whizz-bangs. We spoke to designer Kim Ferguson about her experience creating the book’s cover:

  1. What was the brief you were given?
    The brief was for the cover to standout amongst all the other books being published for the centenary of World War One and have a trade feel. It needed to appeal not just people to interested in war, but also the general public, so an appealing, attractive design was needed.
  1. How did you come up with the concept for this cover?
    Usually during the briefing, an idea for a cover direction usually starts to form and after doing lots of research (on war, trade and just general book design) I put together three mood boards (see my mood board presentation below) that showed what I had in mind. Basically three different design themes; Historic writing and storytelling; hand drawn notes done in the field and bold graphic images combined with modern type;

ANZAC mood board 1

ANZAC mood board 2

ANZAC mood board 3

Source: Mood boards from Kim Ferguson Design

  1. What made you choose the photograph on the cover?
    I found the cover image on the Australian War Memorial website after spending hours getting lost in the many amazing historical photos. The cover image stood out as it seemed to give the right feelings about the laconic digger, the sense of mateship and the right war atmosphere that reflected the books contents.
  1. What is your favourite thing about the cover?
    I think my favourite aspect of the cover is the way the soft blue background contrasts so beautifully with the old, faded letters and the lovely textural handwriting.
  1. What did you enjoy most about working on this cover?
    I loved delving into the language the diggers used and reading some of the amazing letters they wrote back to their friends and family at home.
  1. What was the most challenging aspect?
    The most challenging aspect was to design the cover so it had a historical feel but also looked contemporary!
  1. What is something about this cover we might not know?
    That the handwritten letters underneath the photos are actual letters written by diggers from the front lines. And that on the reverse of the actual hard-copy of the photo there is a lovely handwritten letter by Pte Oliver Arnold Harris (the brother of the man on the left of the photo).

You can view the photo used on the cover of Furphies and Whizz-bangs (and read the message written on the back) in the Australian War Memorial collection. The portrait depicts Private Edgar Henry Harris of the 33rd Battalion and two unnamed men of the 33rd and 36th Battalions.

The letters featured on the cover were written by Sergeant Wilbert Berg of the 18th Infantry Battalion and can also be read on the Australian War Memorial website. Spanning 1915-18, this correspondence tells of Berg’s departure on the HMAT Ceramic, training in Egypt and experience landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli.

9780195597356Furphies and Whizz-bangs: Anzac Slang from the Great War