Mateship is an Australian cultural idiom that embodies equality, loyalty and friendship. There are two types of mateship, the inclusive and the exclusive; the inclusive is in relation to a shared situation (e.g., employment, sports, or hardship), whereas the exclusive type is toward a third party (e.g., a person that you have just met). Russel Ward, in The Australian Legend (1958), saw the concept as a central one to the Australian people. Mateship derives from mate, meaning friend, commonly used in Australia as an amicable form of address.
Mateship can also have negative qualities, such as loyalties over the law, and a byword for corruption in the police and judiciary. It has also drawn criticism as a term as it is synonymous with friendship, which is not an exclusively Australian concept.
The widespread use of the term came to the forefront during the First World War. During this time the word 'mate' became synonymous with the word 'digger', which had its origins in the gold digging fields of the 1850s. During the Gallipoli campaign the term 'digger' was re-introduced as a formal greeting towards a fellow soldier. The Anzac troops spent so much time digging trenches, the idiom 'digger' was re-invoked.
The word "mate" is used frequently as a form of address by Australians, predominantly to males. A female is unlikely to be addressed as mate, but could well call a male mate. It is not per se a class-based greeting, though it is less used by the middle classes. It is rarely used in a hostile way.
Mateship is regarded as an Australian military virtue. For instance, the Australian Army Recruit Training Centre lists the "soldierly qualities" it seeks to instill as including "a will to win, dedication to duty, honour, compassion and honesty, mateship and teamwork, loyalty, and physical and morale courage". Mateship is often invoked as an important element in both Australian military prowess and the willingness of Australians to go to war if necessary.
During the 1999 Australian constitutional referendum there was some consideration regarding the inclusion of the term "mateship" in the preamble of the Australian constitution. This proposed change was drafted by the Australian poet Les Murray, in consultation with the Prime Minister of the time, John Howard:
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.
Murray was not supportive of the inclusion of "mateship" in the preamble, stating that it was "blokeish" and "not a real word", however the Prime Minister insisted it be included as the term, he said, had "a hallowed place in the Australian lexicon". Howard reluctantly dropped the term from the preamble, after the Australian Democrats refused to allow it to be passed by the Senate where they held the balance of power.
Since the referendum the Australian government has introduced the concept of mateship as a possible part of an Australian citizenship test, although it was unclear how endorsement of the values of mateship would be tested.