Thursday, July 2, 2009

Talking Australia: Bodgies, Bludgers and Bogans

In the early fifties juveniles delinquency became a major concern in Australia so much so the youths were given the name bodgies (for the boys); and widgies (pronounced weegies) for the girls. Not since the Larrikins and larrikinesses of the previous century had Australian seen such public display of loutish behaviour. Adolescent unrest post Second World War was of course universal amongst the baby boomers and coincidentally arose with the introduction of rock’n roll in the mid fifties. Similar malcontents in other countries went by different names such as the teddy boys and teddy girls in the UK.

The term bodgie first appeared in 1945 and was used by the forces when describing unreliable maintenance men or sly guys. Bodgie came from the noun, bodger, meaning ‘something or someone false or unreliable, dodgy; something badly made or shoddy’. In Europe bodgers had been itinerant laborers who rough cut wood in the preparation of clogs. The shoes would eventually be crafted by clog makers by which time, the bodgers had move on. The rough blocks of wood were the result semi-skilled workmen and the term ‘to bodge’ became associated with shoddy work.

After the War, the Black Market thrived around city ports and wide boys (known as spivs) tried to pass off inferior cloth as quality American-made whenever they could. In Sydney this inferior fabric was called bodgie and when the wide boys started to speak with faux American accents they became known as bodgers or bodgies. By 1950, bodgie was used in Australian English to describe something that was unreliable, false or counterfeit. When working class kids were seen in Kings Cross Milk Bar or gathered on street corners and getting up to youthful pranks there was moral outrage.

The Woolloomooloo Yanks were the first street gang to be called Bodgies and wore zoot suits and suede loafer shoes (Yes the same blue suede shoes that Elvis sang about). By the mid fifties bodgies’ dress became more rock’a’billy with bright satin shirts tight trousers and either leather flying jerkins or belted velvet cord jackets. The bodgie outfit was complete with a long, shaggy, Cornel Wilde haircut.

The influence of America was unmistakable and coincided with a heavy American military presence in Australia.

The word Widgies was an abbreviation of wigeon meaning a girl or female teenager. Apparently the term is used to describe ducks and likely means ‘wiggle.’ Widgies wore short hair, tight sweaters and jeans.

The violent aspect of the bodgies could easily be described as the action of ‘bludgeoners.’ This was English slang originally used to describe `a low thief, who would not hesitate to use violence'. The 19th century bludgeoner carried a bludgeon `a short stout stick or club'.

By the end of the nineteenth century Australians had shortened the noun to bludger (1882) and the term was generally used to describe a violent person who lived off immoral earnings. They were also called Stick Lingers and believe it or not there were also bludgeresses but neither term survived beyond the first decade of the twentieth century. From this time bludger referred to anyone who appeared to live off the efforts of others and that included white-collar workers (1910). Cadger and bludger became emotive terms among the Australian workforce and by 1976 the term dole bludger was used to describe anyone who exploited the system of unemployment benefits by avoiding gainful employment.

The derogatory term ‘Bogan’ is more often used today to describe an unsophisticated, sultry type likely to be a dole bludger. Always wrong to make generalisations, of course, and the Australian term ‘bogan’ was known in the 19th century long before there was social security. Banjo Patterson wrote of bogans in his poem, “The City of Dreadful Thirst.

The term Bogan then and now means a young person who is considered to be ‘an outsider.’ The typical characteristics of the modern bogan (also known as petrol heads) is anglo-celtic males who drive large Australian built cars, drink Australian beer, listen to Australian Rock music, smoke and feverishly follow Australian sport. Other traits include wearing black jumpers or Ts with black jeans and baseball boots. The ubiquitous checked jacket and mullet hair style is of course a must.

Mullet was a 19th century derogatory term meaning a stupid person and was transferred to the "business in the front, party in the back" hairstyle in the 60s when it started to become popular. By the 70s nearly everyone from Paul McCartney to David Bowie had a form of mullet. Now whether it was Billy Ray Syrus or the Beastie Boys that heralded the end of the mullet as fashionable is unclear.

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