You know Aussie men. They're often in a huddle in the barbie corner of the backyard, stubbies in hand, having a laugh, analysing the footy, tending slabs of meat or snags. They'll be a bit loud, brash, strident even; they'll be calling a spade a spade, exhibiting their 'mateship' and drawling 'nyee-air' (yer) a lot in agreement with each other. Their womenfolk will be elsewhere.
Go to the beach and you'll see a fine Aussie male stereotype: the surf lifesaver. He'll be tall, tanned and probably blond; and even though he's got to wear a funny little red-and-yellow cap, most women will swoon as they swim, and even harbour a vague fantasy that a rip might necessitate rescue.
If you head out the back o' Bourke, you may come across a bushman. He'll be wearing a Driza-Bone (riding coat) and Akubra (hat) and be accompanied by his trusty blue-heeler (Australian Cattle Dog). He'll be a man of few words but he'll know his red-bellied black from his copperhead and how to get down and dirty in the merciless outback.
On ANZAC Day, you'll appreciate the extent to which soldiers are revered here. Since thousands lost their lives on foreign battlefields during the First World War, the heroic Aussie 'Digger' has come to epitomise this nation's identity and character more than any other icon. Recently an American entertainment company, Warner Music, tried to trademark the word 'Diggers', which caused an outcry here. (Which reminds me, an Aussie sporting hero, Lleyton Hewitt, is trying to trademark 'C'mon' as his unique slogan. This seems equally unacceptable to me, since millions of sports fans the world over urge their sporting superstars on with that cry. There was little admonishment of Lleyton, however; 'Come on, Aussie, come on' being, from what I can gather, one of very few original Australian sports chants.)
Last, but not least, in the parade of Australian male icons is the Aussie Rules footy player: a beefcake with tattooed biceps and impossibly tight kit. He'll play for a team with a name such as Essendon (aka Bombers) or Richmond (Tigers) or the Western Bulldogs (Bulldogs, naturally). If you're like me you won't have a clue where these teams are from until I tell you that Melbourne is where Aussie Rules was invented in 1859 and where the game is followed even more fanatically than elsewhere and where more than half the teams on the AFL Premiership 'ladder' are based.
If I had to sum up Aussie blokes generally, in one word, it would be cocky. Overconfident. About most things, even those well beyond their ken. You can't tell them anything, especially if you're a woman, and especially if you weren't born here.
Many of them drive large vehicles pulling trailers carrying fishing gear, camping stuff, watersports paraphernalia, boats, kayaks, jet-skis, ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and all manner of things outdoorsy. The vehicles are often utes – some of them very smart utes, in lovely colours...
– or huge 4x4s, many of which are embellished with an assortment of extra bits. These might be roo bars, bull bars, nudge bars, smart bars, sports bars, rear bars, side steps, side skirts, side rails, rock sliders, weathershields, roof racks, access ladders or tow bars. 'Some spurious, savage token of manhood' is how American author Jonathan Franzen (in Corrections) describes the disconnection of silencers on motorbikes and other vehicles, which is very common here.
In Australia you seem to be able to put whatever you like on a number plate, or rego plate as it's known. So you see all manner of personalized plates. You do have to wonder, however, what kind of impression some drivers are trying to give to their fellow road-users.
Aussie men own lots of gadgets, for all sorts of purposes: most of them are motorised and therefore noisy. They love using them, from dawn until dusk if necessary. I get the distinct impression that the more gadgets you have, the more manly you are. A guy recently moved in close by. Almost the first thing he did was power-hose his front steps and mow and strim the nature strip, even though the grass wasn't very long. It was as if he was spraying his new territory, although technically the land belongs to Brisbane City Council, who expect residents to care for it – which, of course, they do, without question.
Everyone knows Australian men are passionate about sport. Not content with two types of rugby – union and league – they have invented their own version, which curiously they call Australian Rules Football, or footy. I defy anybody to watch Aussie Rules and find any similarity with football. The pitch is circular; a rugby ball is used; there are 36 players on the pitch; they score points by kicking the ball between tall posts; they handle the ball a lot (although they can't throw it, only fist or tap it with an open hand); they run with the ball; they are permitted to tackle people to the ground; the scoreline usually resembles that of basketball; and even if a team tops the Premiership, they then have to compete in a 'finals series' (of semifinals, preliminary finals and grand finals) before they actually win it. Players are required to be tall and strong with great stamina – this is a game of four quarters – which makes their tiny 'jerseys' and short shorts even more disquieting.
We have tried to get to grips with Aussies Rules, but, as with other rugby, an appreciation of the nuances of the game comes with a lot of watching. A couple of weeks ago we dipped into a game that came up while my friend was channel-hopping, as boys do. He turned to me after a few minutes and said: 'This game is a mess': we moved on.
Proper football here is called soccer, which is very American and rather irritating (for an English football fan).
Of course, Aussies blokes love many other sports, and they take winning very seriously, never more so than at international level. But they are not very sporting. They are, frankly, bad losers. After England won the Ashes in Australia last summer, I sent my friend an innocuous piece of fun to send round at work.
What do you call an Australian with a champagne bottle in his hand?
This was met, at best, with stony silence and, at worst, with a 'jokey' threat to do him some damage. If Australians lose on a significant sporting stage such as a world cup or a grand slam, it is reported very late in a news bulletin; if a traditional foe loses, it's fairly high on the agenda; and if the Wallabies or the Socceroos win, it's the lead. Basically, Aussies blokes don't do losing.
Politically, Australian men appear to be a rather conservative lot. It appears to me that many of them are more likely than not to vote Liberal rather than Labor; and therefore be more likely to defend the seemingly unboundable rights of mining companies to excavate Australia's vast mineral deposits; and more inclined to forgive irrigators for draining river systems of their water; and, rather like Americans, believe they have an inalienable right to drive off road, and fish, and hike, and climb, and build marinas and harbour developments, and generally gobble up their natural resources wherever and whenever it takes their fancy. I believe they are more likely to doubt climate scientists, trivialise the Greens, be unconcerned about damaged coral, and be disinclined to reduce their carbon footprint if, in so doing, they think it might jeopardise jobs or lead to increased costs of living for 'Australian working families', whom they are likely to describe as 'battlers'. And many of them were, I suspect, rather less than excited about the election of Australia's first female prime minister last year.
There are some Australian men who are nothing like this, of course. They are more measured, unassuming; less brazen, know-it-all. While you're sitting in the sun down by the riverside, contemplating the good life, you won't be disturbed by one of this latter breed on his mobile phone loudly as he randomly casts a fishing line of an afternoon, barely a couple of metres from where you're sitting; he won't have a crow-harsh voice* that cuts through your tranquillity like a knife.
Instead of depleting fish stocks without a second thought, he might have taken on board the words of a few of Australia's many highly acclaimed scientists and other academics who are well-respected the world over but, alas, rather less so in their homeland. And he might therefore be considering his country's responsibility in today's climatically challenged world; setting an example rather than waiting for others to take the initiative.
He'll be friendly, helpful and fairly laid-back, like the vast majority of Aussies. But a gentler, softer, altogether more attractive version.
* so described by Thomas Keneally in Australians: Origins to Eureka Volume 1