Women 

There was this mob a sheilas... Bunch a screamers...

An American psychologist, Mrs Graham Bell, said she wondered how Australian men and women ever got together enough to get married. But it is not true that Ordinary Australians fail to recognise the value of women. Any man will tell you they are indispensable for packing picnic-baskets, and for keeping other women company while you are drinking with their husbands

Cyril Pearl, So, you want to be an Australian (1959)

Who's that dog of a woman? She must be someone's girlfriend to be in that job.

Head of the ABC, Jonathan Shier, commenting on an ABC presenter, Sydney Morning Herald, October 20 2001

At the weekend I was watching ladies' beach volleyball with my old mate Gazza.... Pointing at the television with his beer, Gazza remarked: "Mate, this is one game that should be played in the nude". Who was I to disagree?

Go Anna [Kournikova], Aussies are behind you to a man, Courier Mail, 16 Jan 2003

Australian women, women in the land of mateship, the 'Ocker', keg-culture, come pretty close to top rating as the 'Doormats of the Western World'

Miriam Dixson, Historian, University of New England, 1976

War historian Gavin Long wrote: "Australians have always treated their women a little worse than dogs" - but the Americans also bought flowers for mothers, cigars for fathers, candybars for childen. Such "poofter" tenderness was utterly unacceptable to the diggers and relations in Townsville, Brisbane and Melbourne were marred by fights, stabbings and sometimes death.

Review of The Battle of Brisbane: Australians and the Yanks at War, Sydney Morning Herald, January 20, 2001

Youngsters on an excursion to study democracy heard Lord Mayor Jim Soorley call an opposition councillor a "wanker" and a "boofhead" and tell a female councillor to "shut up, you stupid woman"  One student said the Lord Mayor needed "his mouth washed out with soap"

Clean up Your Act, Brisbane Sunday Mail, September 7, 2002

In mid 1999 a European marketing campaign for an international company focused around a picture of a woman wearing cleaning garb with a cigarette in one had and a mop in the other.  The page was clearly marked "Australian Domestic Appliance".

 
Enjoying a beer on Rotto, Western Australia 

Naturally, Australian women kicked up a stink back in the land of oz.  But as some journalists stated, where there is smoke, there is often fire. 

Flirt, fribble, and shrew as she was, Julia Vickers had displayed, in times of emergency, that glowing courage which women of her nature at times posess. Although she would yawn over any book over the level of a genteel love story; attempt to fascinate, with ludicrous assumption of girlishness, boys young enough to be her sons; shudder at a frog, and scream at a spider, she could sit throughout a quarter of an hour of such suspense as she had just undergone with as much courage as if she had been the strongest woman that ever denied her sex. 

For the Term of His Natural Life, 1867

Young women today forget that their sex has only been liberated in the last generation or two. As late as the early seventies, a woman had to resign from the Queensland education department upon getting married. And when applying for a home loan, only the man's income was taken into account when processing the application. A woman's place was in the home.

Despite the relaxed social mores the pub is no place for a woman... Concessions may exist in the statute book but women are not wanted in Australians public bars. My wife was forcibly removed from a pub in the main street of Beechworth in 1975.

Jonathan King, Waltzing Materalism, 1976

[Politician] Norton had a great affection for his dog, except when was drunk, when he treated it as badly as he treated his wife.

Cyril Pearl, Wild Men of Sydney, 1958

A Department of Trade minute from March 13, 1963, begins: "It is difficult to find reasons to support the appointment of women Trade Commissioners" and goes on to list reasons against it. "A spinster at work, can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows," wrote A.R. Taysom to K.L. Le Rossignol, director of Trade Commissioner Services. He did concede that in some cases: "A relatively young attractive woman could operate with some effectiveness, in a subordinate capacity." But "such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever and later on could well become a problem".

All mouth but no way with words, Sydney Morning Herald, March 17 2005

A woman had five choices:

        She could become a hairdresser;

        She could become a teacher (until she married, after which she had to resign);

        She could work in retail; 

        She could become a nurse; or

        She could be a housewife.

And that was pretty well it. On top of this, of course, was the enduring notion of mateship, which tended to exclude women, merely as the culture had developed without them (this is discussed further here).   The scene painted by Cyril Perl in the quote above was certainly true of the 60s, and, to a lesser extent, has a ring of truth about it in the 90s.

The nationalism of the 1890's was focussed on the notion of mateship, and excluded women, confining their role to a lesser one of domestic drudgery.  While nationalism popularly propounded mateship, Lawson [Henry Lawson's mother] advocated a counter-force -- the sisterhood.

Margaret Cunningham, That Nonsensical Idea: Louisa Lawson's Literary Experiment for Australian Society, 1996. 

"For women, wine is not an intellectual pursuit," Foster Wine Estate's marketing director, Trevor Croker announced in the press release [after developing a new wine for women]... "Apparently, we need our very own wine because we are all a little simple and don't need too much mental stimulation thinking about wine," came the riposte from one of Mr Croker's fellow wine marketers, Annie Rankin, at Chalice Bridge in the Margaret River region.

Vintage sexism sours a new wine, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 2005

However, as with attitudes towards homosexuality and race, attitudes towards women have changed enormously in the last generation or two.  Most young women today have little or no appreciation of the fact that only 50 years ago, they would have had little choice but to spend their lives in a domestic role.  So what role, then, does an Australian woman play today?

A pretty English girl I knew was bluntly told by her Australian boy-friend that he could not take her out on Friday as that was the night he always got drunk with the boys

John Pringle, Australian Accent (1958)

Other dilemmas that come to mind include.. how to deliver the great Australian line in sexual foreplay, "You awake?", so that the required results are guaranteed.

No manners at all, Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2002 

It appears that just as Australian women are slowly moving out of their homes and into the workplace, so too they are moving into the social mainstream.  They are performing less and less domestically, and expect to be included in traditionally male activities, such as a night out on the piss. In fact it is true to say that a lot of women are adapting traditionally male Australian characteristics. For example, foreigners often comment about how much Australian women drink and swear.  Male Europeans have been known to get embarrassingly drunk on a small amount of alcohol, leaving their calm experienced Australian female companion to look after them despite having consumed much more alcohol themselves. 

She is drunk, no, plastered - a truer description for that state of inebriation so profound that even a slight shift of a hip does strange things to the centre of gravity....  They play raucous drinking games. They skol with panache. They perform origami and lame magic tricks with beer coasters, fall off bar stools, spill beer, flash their breasts out of car windows, start fights, wolf whistle, heckle attractive men.... Women in Australia, she says, drink more, and they drink beer - not a beverage of choice among American women....  The older ones.. drink more than the men - far more - and they get really rowdy." So what's the average alcohol consumption for the typical young woman on a Friday night? "Well, in a four-hour stint, most of them will drink six schooners." She pauses, laughs, then mimes lifting a huge glass. "I mean, a schooner - that's a lot of beer."

Sydney Woman on the Prowl, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Jan 2003

Mr Crosbie says there are two troubling trends: people are starting to binge drink younger; and women, in particular, are stepping up their drinking.

Binge drinking a consuming passion for young, The Age, November 27 2004

DRUNKEN teenage girls have been blamed for setting the standard in bad behaviour at Schoolies. The warning comes after The Sunday Mail last month revealed young women were binge drinking more than men, with 12.3 per cent of girls aged 14-19 drinking at levels likely to cause chronic damage, compared with 7.7 per cent of males.... "I would say girls are definitely the barometer that sets the standards for the event," an experienced Schoolies volunteer said. "Some of them are walking around with these tiny tops on . . . they're drunk.

Binge girls lead Schoolie strife, The Sunday Mail, 13 November 2005

We live in an age when women feel confident drinking to excess and demanding sex

Of men and mortgages, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan 14 2006

The rise of the ladette is evident at any race meeting, party, club or pub. They dress to display their female assets but by the end of the occasion, they are spewing and cursing like the blokiest blokes. Young women today speak openly about holding their friends' hair back when they vomit from too much booze.

Girl fights show today's teens are not so sugar and spice, The Courier Mail, Jan 14 2010

Aussie enjoying her beer in the RE, Brisbane

How then are men coping with this social invasion? This cultural clash? As stated elsewhere on this site, it is very difficult to overcome strongly held cultural beliefs. Rightly or wrongly, blokes still enjoy having a quiet beer with their mates.  And they love it.

Companionship with women is not rated so highly; indeed, the man who spends too much time with a woman is likely to be regarded with some suspicion as not much of a man at all, a mere sissy or skirt-chaser

Craig McGergor, Profile of Australia, London, 1966

Do not our men habitually desert their women at social gatherings and crowd around the beer keg, swapping yarns, laughing raucously, literally wallowing in the rituals of mateship?

Ronald Conway, The Great Australian Stupor, 1976. 

But - and there is no sense denying it - Australian mateship is mainly for men. It was - and is - difficult to be mates with a woman.... At parties and dances, the men stood at one end of the room and drank beers out of a barrel.. and talked about sport. The women stood or sat at the other end of the room, and talked about babies and spoke only to men to tell them it was time to go home. A woman who joined the men's group was considered to have loose morals. A man who joined the woman's group was considered to be effeminate, probably a homosexual, or a 'poofter', whatever that was.

Phillip Knightley, Australia: A Biography of a Nation, 2000

Of course, the women don't always love it, and it is often a constant battle for honest aussie blokes to find a quiet few hours away every now and again.

A Cricket Australia sub-committee has heard claims that Australia's Ashes squad never bonded as it should have as players repeatedly went in different directions due to the presence of wives and children throughout the tour. "There's 14 other players here and I can't find anyone to have a beer with," said one player in the closing weeks of the tour.

Ashes Loss blamed on wives, News.com.au, November 13 2005

 
'Shelia's Dunny' on the left in a Perth Pub

Finally, shelia is an old Australian word for woman.  A quick word of advice: unless you are an Australian male aged 70 or above, it would be very difficult to use this word in a shelia's presence without causing offence.  While it was just a word a generation or so ago, it is generally considered sexist. Alas.

There is something delightful about the Australian vernacular. `He's flat out like a lizard drinking' and `He's a few bricks short of a load' are distinctly Australian. Sadly, phrases such as those and words such as`bonzer' and `cobber' and, dare one say it, `sheila' have all but disappeared from everyday speech. One of the joys of a visit to outback Australia is to hear some of those all too readily forgotten Australianisms. Why have those words and phrases gone? Is it because they are unfashionable? Is it that, as a nation, we have become more sophisticated? Or is it because of our growing reliance on America for food, films, fashion, culture and sports? 

Hon. LH Davis, South Australian Legislative Council, 19 July 1995

 
'Sheila' being used in a WA outback Pub

Red Slaven can now be found working in a hardware store in Main Street, Lithgow. He loves Roy Slaven. "I'd chat up the sheilas, say I was Roy's brother."

Sydney Morning Herald,   October 7, 2000

Sheila is an Australian colloquialism that's been around . . . I'm one of those Australians who are sick and tired of all these Yankees who get on our television and our radio . . . let's have a bit of Australianism . Let's get a little bit less American crap on our TV.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, Spitting chips (not french fries), Courier Mail, 9 March 2003

I am a Sheila

Member for Clayfield Liddy Clark, Spitting chips (not french fries), Courier Mail, 9 March 2003

The world knows us for g'day mate, Anzacs, wallabies and kangaroo... we've got top sheilas and good blokes, utes and we have a coldie around the barbie.  We don't need diapers, candy, ketchup, trash cans and fries we've got nappies, lollies, tomato sauce, rubbish tins and chips. 

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, Spitting chips (not french fries), Courier Mail, 9 March 2003

When farmers in the hamlet of Harrow talk about the drought, they're not talking about the weather. They're talking about the shortage of sheilas.

These blokes want sheilas, 2003

It was just bizarre, it was like a game of tennis. One of the boys after the game said if it was a sheila you wouldn't ask her out, that game. It was terrible.

Dragons assistant coach Kurt Wrigley, after his side beat Cronulla. Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 2004

If this seemed slightly below the bum-crack, Labor MP Steve Gibbons was happy to destroy any semblance of decorum. As Kelly walked across the chamber to answer a question on dodgy regional grants, Gibbons's thunderous interjection echoed through the house "I suppose a rort's out of the question," he roared. Remarkably, Kelly did not hear the gibe, but her colleagues did. Tony Abbott was soon up on his feet: "It was a crude and demeaning interjection, most inappropriate on International Women's Day."

The Sketch: A hormonal day in the house, The Australian, March 9 2005

Convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby would probably refuse to be transferred from Bali to an Australian women's prison because of "big butch sheilas", her mother says.

'Big butch sheila' fear for Corby, SMH.com.au, 24 Jan 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