Federal Politics


Who are you calling uncouth?

We all know that there are rich and middle-class bogans, so a bogan can't truly be defined as someone ''of low social status''.

WE AUSTRALIANS know all about British caution.

You know: the fondness for queues, saying ''Good Day'' when you really mean ''go away'' and even regarding sturdy battlefield command - except, perhaps, in relation to troops from the antipodes at Gallipoli or Fromelles.

And now we find that the Oxford English Dictionary (what!) has had a go a defining a ''bogan'' for us down here in the dominions of Australia and New Zealand.

Bogan, according to your OED, is a ''depreciative term for an unfashionable, uncouth, or unsophisticated person, especially regarded as being of low social status''.

The Kiwis can speak for themselves - which they do, albeit in a curious kind of way. But it seems like the Oxford has had a bit of a stab in the dark here - based on, I dunno, a conversation with a few chaps down at the Melbourne Club - that is more reflective of an old-fashioned view of us colonials from the drawing rooms of Chelsea circa 1900, than the prosaic reality that is Australia's vast middle class.

In fairness, they've done their research, tracing the genealogy of the word way back.


But is your bogan really of low social status? Is he/she really unfashionable? Uncouth? Or unsophisticated?

For those who are wondering, here's the politics bit of the column.

You'll recall that one of the first things that Kevin Rudd did after Julia Gillard rolled him as prime minister two years ago, was buy his own big spread within handy mortar range of The Lodge.

His mates (both) reckoned it was kind of a ''Lodge in exile''.

And by the way - did the press gallery know that Kevin had come up with his own hilarious term for The Lodge?

He called it ''Bogan-ville''. No, no - not the troubled island in Papua New Guinea, but the island of gauche down in Deakin, ACT. Get it?

Well, what better way for a faux Bevan from Brissie to regain the attention of electorally-potent middle Australia than to diss, by implication, the PM and her partner as bogans.

Are Julia and Tim bogans? Someone please ask her soon. I'm betting that the Member for Lalor wouldn't run away from being labelled such - although perhaps not as defined by the OED.

We do know that our PM is a girl of conventional tastes. That is something she's never made pretensions about. It's said that she and Tim like a Thai takeaway, a glass or two of Sauv Blanc, and a bit of Knit One Purl One on the couch in front of Silent Witness. Which sounds a whole lot, with the very notable exception of the knitting, like my Friday evenings too.

Which makes me wonder whether Kevin spends his evenings air-conducting Mahler and reading Mandarin translations of Dostoyevsky between re-works of his old speeches to the Fabian Society. Who knows? The man's always been a bit of a mystery.

But back to Gillard and her bloke. They like their footy and genuinely love their teams - the Bulldogs and Richmond, respectively. They're not even Magpies supporters. (Let's get this out of the way, because I am. I was pondering the collective noun for ''bogan'' with a mate recently and he said ''Collingwood Cheer Squad''.) Neither seems to have a penchant for muscle cars (come on down Alexander Downer), matching his n' hers knits, Pacific cruises, shock jocks (Number 231 on thingsboganslike.com) or mullets (though Tim is pretty handy with the snippers).

On the mullet … who remembers the skinheads of the 1970s? Clearly the mullet is derivative, with its bouffant and gentle dangly bits, of the angry skins' cut with its buzz-shaven north side and vicious, dyed rats' tails. The skins, of course, were all about menace - an angry counter-culture that was underscored as much by vague notions of suburban revolution as the anthems of Lobby Loyde, Skyhooks and Chain. Then they grew up (or went to prison), lasered their tatts off and had kids, many of whom are now bogans. The skins were class conscious and fuelled by envy, where your bogan is not necessarily.

We have argued in my house about whether being bogan is boganism or bogantry. Spell check hates both. But I'll go for bogantry.

Bogantry is aspirational and is driven partly by a desire to be comfortable consumers, as articulated so succinctly by Kath and Kim. That said, it is no longer a pejorative defined by socio-economics, as the OED would have it. There are rich bogans (hey, Doc Edelsten and Brynne) and middle-class bogans, just as there are degrees of bogantry that cover the spectrum from utter tastelessness and Philistinism to those of orthodox, unpretentious suburban tastes and values - and high education. The latter pretty much describes Gillard - and much of the vast soft welfare-addicted Australian middle class that makes and breaks governments.

In short - Bogans 'R' Us. (Hey - I could be a prime ministerial speechwriter by the time the next ALP National Conference comes around.)

Which brings us full circle to Julia and the anti-boganista, Kevin.

There's new headlines that reckon the Gillard forces are getting pretty twitchy about the possibility of a spring leadership ''offensive''. That's all predicated on a premise that she's on borrowed time unless she gets get a poll bounce in the month or two after the carbon tax is introduced on July 1 and all of the compensation is handed out.

Rudd, depending on who you read or listen to, is sitting tight, keeping very quiet and keeping everyone guessing with the mixed messages that he: a) is not interested; b) is interested, but only if Gillard steps aside and caucus asks him very nicely; c) won't take the gig unless it happens soon enough so that he has sufficient time to win an election; and d) won't consider it unless Malcolm Turnbull denounces any future ambition and leaves politics to farm alpacas outside Yass.

Which all leaves Tony Abbott sitting pretty, really. People say Abbott is a complicated guy. Maybe. But he's also a bloke of pretty regular tastes, if not ambitions. Gillard miscalculated badly recently when she suggested Sydney's north shore, where Abbott lives, was not quite the real world.

Your bogan is nothing if not aspirational. Just as he will determine if the carbon tax kills the government.