Mateship book feature (Courier-Mail)

A feature on my mateship book appeared in the Courier-Mail:

MATES RATE IN THE RICH FABRIC OF OUR CULTURE

Courier Mail, The (Brisbane, Australia) – Saturday, January 10, 2015
Author: Phil Brown

A new book explores our national secular religion, where mates come first, writes Phil Brown

If Australia has a national creed it is most probably mateship according to author Nick Dyrenfurth .

This Melbourne academic explores the history and influence of our “secular religion” in his book Mateship.

The book has a telling subtitle – A Very Australian History – and Dyrenfurth says that what he has written could only really be written here.

“But the strange thing is that nobody had actually written a book about the subject,” Dyrenfurth says.

“The subject has been covered to a certain degree in other books, including by Russell Ward in his 1958 book The Australian Legend, which is a classic, but no-one has focused just on mateship.” There is certainly a book in it though as Dyrenfurth , an adjunct research fellow in the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University, found out.

He is the author of a number of books on Australian politics and history including A Little History of the Australian Labor Party (co-written with Frank Bongiorno) and Heroes and Villains: the rise and fall of the early Australian Labor Party.

If you sense a leaning to the left here Dyrenfurth is happy to concede that he has been “a Labor mate”.

“I have worked for the Labor Party and was a speech writer and adviser to Bill Shorten in 2013 and Bill will officially launch the book later this month,” Dyrenfurth admits.

That established it must be said that rather laudably his history and study of mateship is not partisan. His view is balanced and he acknow-ledges that neither side of politics has exclusive rights to mateship despite shearers, gold miners and unionists claiming the creed as their own as our nation formed.

Nope, mateship belongs as equally to the right as to the left and for everyone in between according to the author.

Dyrenfurth explores this dichotomy by offering us case studies of two influential prime ministers – one Labor, One Liberal – both of whom valued and emphasised mateship.

“My earliest political memories are of Bob Hawke, the Labor mate who landed in the Lodge,” Dyrenfurth says. “I was fascinated by his blend of intellectualism and larrikinism.

“Then as a young man coming to some semblance of political maturity in the mid to late 1990s I was fascinated by John Howard.

“These politicians were ideologically opposed in many ways but each was drawn to this idea of mateship as a secular creed.” Howard intrigued Dyrenfurth . On the one hand he was seeking to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia, an organisation of mates, while on the other hand he was proposing that mateship be enshrined in the constitutional preamble. That never happened but the fact that a Prime Minister wanted it to says a lot about mateship, “the eight letter word that so dominates our history”.

Dyrenfurth points out that there are plenty of books devoted to Australia’s national identity but that no-one has honed in on something that is so essential.

As he points out in his introduction, mateship is part of our creation story. Mateship, that legendary bond between Australian men, became something of a rival genesis story. Dyrenfurth goes on to write that … For better or worse, mateship is part of our cultural DNA. In a nation supposedly hostile towards spiritual or ideological dogma, mateship has acted the part of a de facto religion. Symbolically speaking, mateship is said to embody our secular egalitarian predilections.

In The Australian Legend, Russel Ward argued that the origins of Australia’s national identity were to be found in the anti-authoritarian and egalitarian values of convict society.

These traits were also exhibited by the labouring men who roamed Australia’s outback during the mid-19th Century.

Later writers such as Henry Lawson and others enshrined values of mateship in literature and Dyrenfurth explores the wider cultural context of mateship as well as the history.

The term mateship is coloured by feminist responses and Dyrenfurth points out that while both sides of politics agree about the value of mateship, there is plenty of argument about that.

“Through exploring the idea of mateship what I am really trying to do is tell a story that is uniquely Australian,” Dyrenfurth says. He is not without a sense of humour either and cites “that fabulous, funny song about mateship from Keating! The Musical” as something worth reflecting.

Meanwhile he points out that the word mate comes in handy at times. “It’s a very useful word when you are at a party and you have forgotten someone’s name.”

MATESHIP Scribe$29.99