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Use of ANZAC in Australian Language

by Suleman

The Australian language has developed into the majority of the English-speaking world with some characteristics of its own in seclusion. Any of these vocabulary and phrases have now become an important part of both linguistics and Australian society. Any of these terms and phrases are often loosely linked in that they have analogous definitions or endorse the meanings of each other. The “ANZAC tradition”, “fair dinkum” and “mateship” are three such terms or phrases. Although these terms have distinct roots in culture, their current use is virtually equivalent and represents true emotions and comradeship.

In the First World War, as the mother country called for troops from its colonies to combat the war, the term “ANZAC traditions” has strong origins. Australia and New Zealand’s joint armies became better regarded as the ANZACs or as the Australian and New Zealand Corps. The soldiers of the ANZAC division displayed exceptional courage and dedication to fight the war in combat. The ANZAC custom came to denote the very qualities that characterised these soldiers over time within the war years, namely their bravery, good sense, mateship, stamina, imagination and larrikinism (Howe, 1995). This tradition implied that the ANZAC division’s soldiers were considered to be impervious to the disparities between class and culture present in British society. Not only can this term have importance in regards to the First World War alone, it can be used as a seminal point in Australian national culture. Australians historically considered themselves as motherland subjects, but after the social and cultural consolidation after the First World War, the Australians started to see themselves as an independent country. This term is also used today to denote the early years of Australian nationhood (Smith, 2006).

Use of ANZAC in Australian Language

The term mateship has come to symbolise, over time, Australian culture in a similar way. As seen in the preceding sentence, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Australian soldiers was mateship, the ANZAC custom (McDonald, 2009). Mateship corresponds to a picture of equality, fellowship and allegiance. The roots of mateship as a term of general usage have been rampantly discussed. The sources of mateship have been inaccurately attributed by some texts to the early convicts who lived in Australia when it was treated as a penal colony. Other study, moreover, has shown conclusively that the term mateship originated from the mainly Irish working class present in British culture. Nineteenth century Australia saw the economic subordination of the masses and this only helped to reinforce the concept of mateship to the working classes (Carroll, 1982). In modern usage, mateship is used to refer to qualities listed above found in a person in the Australian cultural context.

Another similar term is fair dinkum which has gained prominence in Australian culture in all strata of society. Fair dinkum is recorded to the earliest usage in the 1890’s. It is thought to have arisen in English from the extinct dialect of the East Midlands, where dinkum was used to indicate rough or equal work. In terms of Australian English, fair dinkum was originally also supposed to mean hard and fair work but over time its meaning has changed slightly in its usage. Currently the term fair dinkum is used to denote anything genuine or fair in regards to anything at all. The term has found wide currency in literary as well as political and social circles alike (Butler, 2003). More or less fair dinkum has become an identifier of Australian culture and society in circles outside Australia because of its common usage by all strata of Australian society.

The words and terms listed above are closely related in that they reflect genuine feelings as well as expressing a commitment to hard work and principles of fair play that have come to represent Australian culture and society. The term ANZAC tradition can be seen as reflecting on a state of personal braveness and egalitarianism that has become ingrained into Australian cultural values and norms. In comparison to other societies and cultures across the world, the Australian culture is significantly different in that the people are straight forward, honest and believe in fair play for themselves and other cultural groups. This is substantiated when racial violence based issues are considered in Australia in comparison to other advanced nations such as those in Europe or North America. The amount of racism in other advanced societies is much higher than that is Australia because Australians deal with other cultural groups more honestly and on a more egalitarian basis. This can also be seen in the term fair dinkum which refers to honesty and genuine feelings in regards to any issue at all. More or less Australians use the term fair dinkum in order to indicate something genuine whether it refers to society, religion, economics, history or anything else. It is fairly common in Australia to hear the term fair dinkum being used by top level politicians and the man in the streets alike. Being fair dinkum ensures that you can really respect mateship because mateship is in itself based on principles that encompass honesty and sincerity. Mateship refers to the relationship between the average persons in Australian society which denotes another important aspect of Australian culture that is based on sincerity even if you do not know someone very closely.

The terms ANZAC tradition, fair dinkum and mateship all share similar grounds in more than one respect. For one thing all these terms indicate sincere and genuine desires and feelings that people in society have for each other. The ANZAC tradition proved to the world at large that the Australian people and culture were composed of sincerity and openness towards all. The average Australian soldier from the farmlands of Australia had little stake in the First World War which was purely a European affair. Moreover the Australians were a back yard for the British Empire which used Australia initially for dumping its worst. Even then when called to duty the Australians outperformed other racial and ethnic groups especially in the Gallipoli campaign where they were slaughtered in the thousands on the beaches of Gallipoli due to British planning failures. Even with these considerations in view the ANZACs kept their pressure on the enemy and proved their sincerity and honesty towards the mother country. The ANZAC tradition helped in defining the Australian culture and identity as a distinct phenomenon that was pure from the racial and cultural prejudices found in contemporary British society. Not only this, the ANZAC tradition housed another major issue that is also part of the fair dinkum and mateship agendas – egalitarianism. Being fair as in fair dinkum means that the element of equality has to be brought into focus because there can be no fairness unless everything and everyone is treated on the same scale. While on the one hand the ANZACs were treating other racial groups and themselves with equality and fairness, the Australian society was forging an identity where the average person was to be treated equally and with the same dignity and respect. The terms fair dinkum and mateship reveal that in their usage the exponent of equality must always be present. The elements that make up mateship require loyalty, equality and fairness towards the other person and as such it can be stated that mateship applies to nearly all relationships in society. The Australian society is composed of relationships that are based on mateship and are hence the indicators to a society and culture whose core fabric is composed of mateship. When the terms fair dinkum is put in respect to mateship, it is obvious that mateship requires that a person be fair dinkum in respect of his behaviour and attitudes towards other people. These three terms have crept into Australian society, culture and psyche alike. The ANZAC tradition defines Australian society through the essential traits of being fair dinkum and being respectful of mateship all the time. These terms also indicate that the average Australian person is respectful of other people and is ready to provide them with a level of respect that he demands from society himself. The honesty and sincerity along with the egalitarian focus of the Australian society make it far more approachable than other contemporary societies possessing similar levels of development.

The term ANZAC tradition carries nearly the same meaning as it did decades ago during the First World War and is called upon continuously by political leaders to indicate the core principles that forged the Australian nation. In 2006 Michael Jeffery, the then Governor General of Australia referred to the ANZACs and their legacy during an address indicating that the ANZACs had aided in creating a lasting legacy for Australians (Seal, 2009):

“We are summoned to recall the battle sacrifices of Australian farmers and tally clerks, teachers and labourers and to commemorate outstanding courage and strength of character in the face of sustained adversity… [The campaign] won for us an enduring sense of national identity based on those iconic traits of mateship, courage, compassion and nous.”

It is a strongly held belief that the legacy of ANZAC outlined the different features and qualities that presented a glaring precedent to be pursued by subsequent generations of Australians. This, in a way, lay the framework for Australian ideals. This point of view was expressed by the Australian Defense Minister, Brendan Nelson, saying that the ANZAC soldiers (Sydney Morning Herald, 2007):

“…forged values that are ours and make us who we are, reminding us that there are some truths by which we live.”

The ANZAC spirit and tradition is also constantly called upon during times of civilian crises and this has been iterated by the Returned and Services League of Australia in a declaration that states that:

“The Spirit of the ANZAC continues today in times of hardship such as cyclones, floods and bush fires. At those times Australians come together to rescue one another, to ease suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone.”

In a similar manner the term fair dinkum has been used in recent years as before constantly to display Australian attributes of being fair, impartial and honest. The term fair dinkum has reverberated in Australian linguistics from the most intricate debates in parliament to the language being used by the common man on the street. For example, during a debate in parliament Kevin Rudd attacked the Prime Minister John Howard by stating that:

“The Australian people look people in the eye and they know when they are being fair dinkum. You [John Howard] have spent 11 years not being fair dinkum.”

Similarly it is common to read comments in publications such as books, journals and newspapers that use the term fair dinkum to indicate fairness, for example this statement was found in a typical Australian newspaper:

“The beer consuming public that loves cricket knows who is fair dinkum.”

Likewise, in order to convey Australian virtue, the term mateship has been used time and again. The Australian Army Recruit Training Center, for instance, expresses the military skills it wants as follows:

“A will to win, dedication to duty, honour, compassion and honesty, mateship and teamwork, loyalty, and physical and moral courage.”

The word mateship has also been included in the preamble of the Australian constitution as drafted by poet Les Murray and approved by Prime Minister John Howard. The preamble clearly states that:

“Australians are free to be proud of their country and heritage, free to realise themselves as individuals, and free to pursue their hopes and ideals. We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.”

The arguments presented above clearly indicate that the terms ANZAC tradition, fair dinkum and mateship represent integral parts of Australian culture that have evolved over the years and remain in popular usage just the same.

  • Butler, S., 2003. The Australian Word Map. Australian Style, 11(2).
  • Carroll, J., 1982. Intruders In The Bush: The Australian Quest For Identity. 2nd ed. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Howe, A., 1995. Anzac mythology and the feminist challenge. In J. Damousi & M. Lake, eds. Gender and War: Australians at War in the twentieth Century. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. pp.302-10.
  • McDonald, M., 2009. ‘Lest We Forget’: Invoking the Anzac myth and the memory of sacrifice in Australian military intervention. In International Studies Association’s 50th Annual Convention “Exploring the Past, Anticipating the Future. New York, 2009. Marriot Marquis.
  • Seal, G., 2009. Inventing Anzac: The Digger and National Mythology. St. Lucia: API Network.
  • Smith, T., 2006. Conscripting the Anzac myth to silence dissent. Austrlian Review of Public Affairs, 11.
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2007. Thousands mark Anzac Day at Gallipoli. [Online] Available at:   HYPERLINK “http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/thousands-mark-anzac-day-at-gallipoli/2007/04/25/1177459765055.html”   http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/thousands-mark-anzac-day-at-gallipoli/2007/04/25/1177459765055.html  [Accessed 6 November 2011].

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