The Great Australian Bastard

You are in cattle country, eat beef you bastards!

Pro-beef car sticker

[Australian traits] include a ragged-trowser informality, a laconically expressed desire for independence, an irremovable parochialism, a prolific power to create both euphemisms and also expressions that go beyond normal profanity, and a deeply embedded suspicion of Poms (more recently always called 'Whingeing Poms')

Dr Robert Burchfield, Kiwi

I don't want to keep the bastards honest, I want to get rid of the bastards

Political Party 'One National' Leader, Pauline Hanson, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 February 2001

Soon thereafter, and without any warning, the appellant produced a knife and stabbed the complainant in the stomach. He also slashed the complainant's arm. The attack was very sudden, such that none of the complainant's companions saw it take place. The complainant did not see it coming. He said he initially felt no pain but only realized he had been stabbed when he saw he was bleeding. He ran from the hotel and the appellant followed him, shouting for him to come back and calling him a, "Gutless bastard" or, "Bloody bastard." The appellant then returned inside and recovered his knife but was ejected by security staff. He was apprehended by police at 4.30am next morning when he returned to the hotel to buy beer. 

R v Wilson [1997] QCA August 1997

"Gallipoli was a bastard of a place," he said. "I never understood what we were fighting for. All I could think of was that I never wanted to go back to the bloody place."

Albert White, aged 100, Brisbane, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 2002

Like mate, the term bastard itself is not distinctly Australian.   What is, though, is our tendency to use it with considerably frequency, and to mean different things by it depending on the context. A characteristic distinctive of Australian English is the way we use words and phrases that could possibly be considered to be offensive in an inoffensive or even affectionate way. 

Eastern Goldfields Order of Old Bastards (Inc) - Outback Western Australia 

For example, after a hard day's yakka in Toronto putting up tents in 1998, one of the authors waltzed over to a group of hard nosed working class Canadians who were enjoying a few beers of their own.  He then asked matter of factly whether or not he could "buy a beer off you bastards". One Canadian in particular responded with a glare that would have caused Ned Kelly to think twice and said very slowly in a thick Newfoundland accent, "Them there are fighting words here in Canada".  Luckily the situation was diffused, money changed hands, and beer was consumed. Needless to say,  the author was glad to be back in Australia, where, within months of arrival, he was pleased to hear one middle aged bloke spot his mate on the street of a small town, break into a warm grin offer his hand and say loudly, "You've had a hair cut y'old bastard!". Great to be home!

Two elements of Cockney English which were exported directly to Australia were swearing and greetings.

The Story of English, Robert McCrum, 1992

After decades of telling everyone they [ie the Democrats] were there "to keep the bastards honest", they have shown themselves to be as big a bunch of bastards as the major political parties.

Bunch of Bastards, Courier Mail, 24 August 2002

In Australian Paradox, Jeanne MacKenzie relates the story of an American guest at a rural Queensland hotel in the 1950s who was presented at dinner with a plate of cold meat and potatoes. He stared with private disappointment at the offering for a moment, then diffidently enquired whether he might have a little salad with it. 'The waitress', Ms MacKenzie reports, 'looked at him with astonishment and distain and, turning to the other guests, remarked: "The bastard thinks it's Christmas"'. 

Bill Bryson, Down Under, 2000

Of course, such conflicts and potential conflicts between Australians and foreigners are not new.  As observed by Sidney Baker in 1945 (The Australian Language):

The repetitive nature of Australian vulgarism has had the important effect of robbing many objectionable words - especially the Bs - of their taint of indecency.  Offensive they may be, but a good deal depends on the tone of voice in which they are spoken. Bastard and bugger are frequently used as terms of genial or even affectionate address between men.  The fact that Australian women also use the four Bs widely is additional evidence that they are becoming innocuous.

And when the Yanks arrived during World War II, a local newspaper warned Australians on their use of indecent language in front of the troops. An American resident was quoted as saying (in terms eerily familiar to the words spoken to the Author some fifty years later):

They're fighting words over our side of the world.  It took months before I finished shaping up when some Australian, with all the friendliness in the world, called me a pleasant old so-and-so or a -- old --.

Baker concludes by saying:

This lack of insult in Australian profanity is a point that should be noted, not as an excuse for the continued use of objectionable words, but as evidence that even in his employment of vulgar terms that originated in the Old World the Australian has managed to express something of his own personality.

Bloody oath he has. What ways then may bastard be used now in the Australian Language? The first, poignant example of how the term can be used affectionately can be found from the mouth of the brother of a bloke tragically killed in a game of footy:

"Come on big fella, don't leave me. Don't you bloody leave me, you bastard."

Footy Family's Pain, 3 May 99, Herald Sun

The following are other examples of typical non-aggressive uses:

"I've had a bastard of a day"

"Poor bastard"

"Stupid bastard"

"Unlucky bastard"

"How are ya, you old bastard?"

"Wadda you bastards up to?"

"You reckon we'd be learning Indonesian. After all, there are 200 million of the bastards up there".

And of course the classic, "Ya pommy bastard!". Don't get us wrong, though, the aggressive uses are still alive and well:

"He's a bloody bastard, mate. Fair dinkum".

"He's a miserable bastard, that's for sure".

"That bludging bastard wouldn't know how much a carton costs"

"They're a mob a bastards, bloody oath they are. Real mongrels".

Sam Weller, in his 1976 book Bastards I have Met, points out that "through common usage the word 'bastard' has practically become a verbal nonentity because it mostly relies on the associated adjective to give it meaning".   He gives numerous examples of its use, including 'WHINGING Bastard: When he was born, the doctor slapped his arse to make him cry and he hasn't shut up ever since", and "UNLUCKY Bastard: He's got the "Midas Touch" in reverse. Everything he touches turns to shit".  The book is all about Bastards he has met throughout his life. And there were a few.

John O'Grady gives this advice to students of strine (Aussie English, 1965):

Until - and if ever - you become familiar with all the shades of meaning given to the word 'bastard', it will be better for you to leave it out of your conversation. Otherwise you will may acquire a reputation as a 'know all bastard', which will mean that you know nothing at all

As stated elsewhere, the beauty of the Australian language and culture is that it is, to a fairly high degree, shared by all members of our society.   For example, ex-prime Minister Bob Hawke casually mentions how "some bastard" had stolen his gown in his written memoirs. And as we explained in our page devoted to ex-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam,

Of course, not only was Gough an avid admirer of the amber fluid, the old bastard also spoke Australian fluently despite the fact he occupied the most powerful position in the land (well, second to the Governor General, as it turned out). And no, he wouldn't take offense at me calling him a bastard (well at least that's what he told the ACT Branch of the ALP in 1974):

I don't mind the Liberals, and still less do I mind the Country Party calling me a bastard. In some circumstances, I'm only doing my job if they do. But I hope you won't publicly call me a bastard as some bastards in the Caucus have.

And for the American observers out there, you might already be wondering how a PM could speak like that and still be accepted by the public.  Well, try to imagine for a moment what would happen if one of your presidents had pulled out this beauty (1974):

The man is a paranoiac, he's a fanatic, and he's a bigot.   What makes it all the more nauseating is, of course, that Bjelke-Peterson is such a Bible-bashing bastard.

In Queensland Parliment the Honourable T. J. Burns, Deputy Premier Minister for Housing and Local Government made good use of the word following the death of a pollie famous for, inter alia, his beer gut (16 July 1991):

I join with the Premier in offering my condolences to the family of Russ Hinze and to give old Russ a send-off. In many ways, he was one of the great characters of this place. Russ and I had many fights, some of them bitter. But I liked the old bastard. I cannot say it any other way. I am sure that he would appreciate my saying it that way

One only has to sit around parliment for a few days to hear strine in action:

a previous case involved a trainer who punched a race official after being called "a silly old bastard"

Hon  Mr GRICE MP Broadwater Legislative Assembly 3481 14 July 1993

A farmer, having come into some serious conflict with the local stock inspector drew a  pig on his permit and wrote on the bottom, "The stock inspector is a pig."  Another of my farmer constituents. wrote on the document, "The stock is inspector is a bastard." Let me say that the farmers to whom I have referred were correct on both counts

Hon. Mr Gilmore MP - Legislative Assembly 7 October 1993

But of course, don't think for a second that just because he got away with it, others can:

Mr LITTLEPROUD: According to officer Foster, that person told him "I had another meeting with Wayne Goss about that bogus fax. He's now using the story that he knows nothing about the bogus fax and he says he shredded it without reading it." There is some sort of similarity there! The statement continued "I was absolutely furious because the lying little bastard knows I told him all about it and handed him a copy" 


Mr LITTLEPROUD: I am sorry; I am quoting.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member will resume his seat. That term is unparliamentary. Even though the term came from the mouth of somebody else, under the provisions of the Standing Orders it should be withdrawn. I ask the honourable member to withdraw it.  

Mr LITTLEPROUD: I withdraw that comment. It is contained in the documentation that I tabled, so honourable members can read it. I withdraw and apologise for that comment.

Legislative Assembly 363 17 October 1995

Or perhaps more humorously:

MR OSBORNE (6.54): Mr Speaker, it saddens me that I have to rise today as a member of the crossbenches to speak - - -

Mrs Carnell: You bastard!

MR SPEAKER: Order! I am not sure the Chair heard what I thought it heard.

Mrs Carnell: I withdraw.

Mr Whitecross: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I thought a member referred to another member as a bastard, and I thought that should be withdrawn.

MR SPEAKER: If they did, I would ask that it be withdrawn immediately.

Mrs Carnell: Absolutely withdrawn.

ACT Week 2 Hansard (27 February, 1997) Page 625

I wish you all the luck in the portfolio, it's a bastard of a job, if that's not unparliamentary

My Toyne referring to the new Minister for Education, NT Eighth Assembly First Session 22/02/2000 Parliamentary Record No:21

But perhaps the best use of the word bastard by a politician in power was by the Premier of New South Wales in 1966 (Robin Askin).  Robin was giving President Lyndon Johnston a guided tour of the streets of Sydney when a mob of anti-Vietnam protestors spilled out into the street in from of their car. Without blinking an eyelid, Robin leaned over to police escort and growled, "Run the bastards over".

Even the famous Breaker Morant, who was, in great Australian tradition, screwed over by the Poms and sentenced to death, chose these as his last words when facing the British firing squad in 1902:

Shoot straight you bastards. Don't make a mess of it.

And they didn't.

Mr Piagno said he was not overly concerned by the loss of the finger, and didn't need counselling to get over the attack.He is due to fly to England in three days and wants to impress the Poms with his "Mick Dundee" adventures. "You imagine, you're sitting in a pub and some bastard comes in and says what happened to your finger," he said. "And you can say quite seriously, 'Mate, a croc took it.' "

Croc gets a taste for finger food, Courier Mail, 7 October 2004

During the controversial Bodyline series of 1932-33, the English captain Douglas Jardine was said to have visited the Australian dressing room to complain bitterly to his counterpart Bill Woodfull that an Australian player had called him a bastard. Woodfull turned to his team and said: "Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?"

Bastard of an insult hit for six, Marcy 23 2006

For those preoccupied with this world, he wrote his own epitaph, the obvious one: "Here lies Don Chipp. He tried to keep the bastards honest, old bugger. That'll do".

Goodbye, Mr Chipp, political maverick, The Age, August 30, 2006

Take a break from drinking like the author of this article did - Read why and how in his book Between Drinks: Escape the Routine, Take Control and Join the Clear Thinkers