Pre-publication review of Mateship: A Very Australian History

Courtesy of Books+Publishing here is a very pleasing pre-publication review of my new book Mateship: A Very Australian History (out in January):

Mateship: A Very Australian History (Nick Dyrenfurth, Scribe)
Review by Chris Saliba

Surveys of Australians continue to show that ‘mateship’ is one of our country’s defining qualities. But what does it actually mean? In this provocative history, academic Nick Dyrenfurth traces Australian mateship in all its permutations. Unsurprisingly, the honour-among-thieves mateship of the convicts proves starkly different to the mateship branded by former Prime Minister John Howard, who harnessed it politically. The early definition of mateship was as a temporary economic partnership, where tramping workers pooled their resources. Writers and poets, notably Henry Lawson, developed a romantic notion of mateship during the 19th century. Both sides of politics, labor and conservative, further adopted mateship as a propaganda tool with socialism claiming mateship as central to its ethos before conservatives took it back during World War I. By the 1950s and 60s, writers such as Donald Horne and Manning Clark were casting a more critical eye over mateship, seeing it as sentimental, racist and sexist. Nick Dyrenfurth finds Australian mateship to be a compelling national narrative, created by fiction writers and politicians, rather than a lived reality. He provides a thoughtful cultural reading of the literature and history surrounding mateship, much of which will surely be contested. This is essential reading for anyone interested in one of Australia’s key national myths.

Chris Saliba is co-owner of North Melbourne Books and a freelance reviewer.