Monday, August 28, 2023


From a past Bytes:

Mateship has always been a strong element of the Australian psyche, culture and ethos, although its existence is disputed by some. It has been explained as having evolved from the convict days when men stuck together against authority, developed on the goldfields and forged further at Gallipoli and other battlefields. It has been described as being more than just friendship, that it includes bonds of loyalty, equality, solidarity and fraternity.

Ned Kelly, escaping from the siege at Glenrowan to warn off supporters, then returned to the standoff of the three members of his gang and the police. Those three died, Kelly was badly wounded and arrested. Asked why he had returned when he had gotten away, he responded “A man would have to be a dingo to run out on his mates.”


The below poem, simply called Mates’ Poem, was written by Duncan Butler of the 2/12th Field Ambulance and is an example of a category of poetry known as Soldiers’ Poetry.


Some background:
  • Duncan Butler had enlisted in the Army during WWII, An ex-parson, he was captured and spent three-and-a-half years as a Prisoner of War working on the treacherous Burma Railway.
  • He was repatriated and returned to Australia in October 1945.
  • Duncan Butler’s poem is about his mates on the Railway and. highlights the significance of mateship amongst prisoners-of-war.

Mates' Poem

    - Duncan Butler

I’ve traveled down some dusty roads
Both crooked tracks and straight
And I have learnt life’s noblest creed
Summed up in one word, “Mate”.

I’m thinkin’ back across the years
A thing I do of late
And these words stick between me ears
“You gotta have a mate.”

Someone who’ll take you as you are
Regardless of your state
And stand as firm as Ayers Rock
Because he is your mate.

Me mind goes back to ’43
To slavery and hate
When man’s one chance to stay alive
Depended on his mate.

With bamboo for a billy-can
And bamboo for a plate
A bamboo paradise for bugs
Was bed for me and mate.

You’d slip and slither through the mud
And curse your rotten fate
But then you’d hear a quiet word
“Don’t drop your bundle, mate.”

And though it’s all so long ago
This truth I have to state
A man don’t know what lonely means
’til he has lost his mate.

If there’s a life that follers this
If there’s a Golden Gate
The welcome that I wanna hear
Is just “Goodonya mate”.

And so to all who ask us why
We keep these special dates
Like ANZAC Day, I tell ’em “Why?!
We’re thinkin’ of our mates.”

And when I’ve left the driver’s seat
And ‘anded in me plates
I’ll tell Ol’ Peter at the door
“I’ve come to join me mates.”

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