The Boys: Part 2

The story so far:

As part of a seminar I’m examining my prejudices and preconceptions about men in my culture. I’ve started thinking about a certain male archetype in Australian culture who I’m calling “The Boys”.

The Boys exists as an archetype, not as a real person whom I know or have ever met, and haunts both women and men in Australia.

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In Australia, men and women are known as “boys” and “girls” from childhood to old age.

For example, it would be common for a group of 60-year-old men out golfing together to refer to themselves as “the boys”, and for their wives or partners to ask before the day,

When are you going out with the boys?

Same for women. A husband might ask his 70-year-old wife, “When are you seeing the girls again?”, or remark to one of his friends, “We’ll ask the girls too.”

There is a slight difference between the sexes in usage. The term, “boys”, is always and only plural. For example, one would never refer to a man over the age of, say, 19 or 20 as a “boy.” He would be either a “man” or a “young man”. Unless he was in a group, and then he’d be “one of the boys.” For women, it’s a bit different. A woman is usually both a “girl” and “one of the girls”, even when she’s well past middle age.

In one light, the usage can sound affectionate. To my ear, however, it’s always sounded sinister. Especially when it comes to “boys”. Because it’s only ever plural, only ever about “group”.

And “group” is terrifying.

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I know I’m not the only one to hear the threat in the term. There is, for example, a 1998 Australian film called The Boys, directed by Rowan Woods and starring David Wenham, which is so terrifying in reputation I have never been able to see it. And just this year, the writer/actor/comedian, Chris Lilley, called his latest mockumentary TV series which screened in Australia, the UK and the US, Angry Boys.

Even when the term is not explicitly used, The Boys is still everywhere in Australian art and culture. He’s in our social history and folklore (convicts, bushrangers), in our paintings (Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker), and in our literature, for example, in the grand-daddy of them all, Kenneth Cook’s nightmare vision, Wake In Fright, and the film based on it. As reviewer Paul Byrnes said on the film’s re-release a few years go:

Rediscovering Wake In Fright is less like running into an old friend than someone you feared as a child. There has never been a more savage and scabrous film about Australia. Unfortunately, it was also uncomfortably true, which was one reason Australians didn’t go to see it in large numbers when it came out in late 1971. It was just too confronting. Its power has hardly diminished in the years since …

The “bogan” that I laugh about, uneasily, in the brilliant blog and book, Things Bogans Like, is a current incarnation of The Boys, an incarnation made temporarily quiescient with plasma TVs, McMansions and mega-salaries earned from trades like plumbing and welding. Don Watson (a writer, journalist and former speechwriter to a previous Australian Prime Minister) is only half-joking in his piece in the current edition of The Monthly when he talks about the same figure, the “tradie”, and their vehicles of choice: the Toyota HiLux or Nissan Navara, vehicles with a “commanding presence” and “extra grunt”:

… when I see their bullbars or their cat-like headlamps on my arse I confess to feeling a kind of existential threat. Not the kind I get from the kid in the old Commodore with his cap on back-to-front – he threatens nothing worse than death. But the tradie brings intimations of pointlessness …

If you’re an Australian reader, you’ll understand who I mean by The Boys. If you’re from elsewhere, you may not. For your sake, and for the sake of my own personal exorcism, I’m going to have a stab at describing him directly. And I hope it’s a real good stab.

Bring me my garlic.

To be continued …

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12 thoughts on “The Boys: Part 2

  1. Is this going to be a tale out of the wild west? I have this feeling I am entering a bar in Tombstone, Arizona, circa 1875. Some “boys” are sucking shots at the bar, a floozy sits by an old piano singing rotgut in a fancy purple dress, and more “boys” play cards and smoke at table nearby.

    Keep writing. This stuff is good.

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  2. I see where this is going!

    I’m not sure this is just an Australian phenomenon, certainly it is true here. And here it’s exacerbated by Brit bogans (as defined) coming down here with big money thanks to the exchange rate and buying real mansions. Talk about extended family (and automobiles). Sort of like Beverly Hillbillies without the humour.

    Also, lots of boys are in town now for Rugby World Cup. Time to head to the farm.

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  3. I realised when I went to live in USA for a year 1983 it was possible to be equal, to be non sexist, to go out with friends, to be valued as a woman person. It is as though in Australia we are rebelling against the jailer the cruel boss, fighting growing up and standing equally as friends.A left over from the colonial days. I understand ‘hopelessness’ but ways thought it was me, I am just a wrong fit in this culture . On Sunday I decided I would return to USA for a visit next May,as the group I was involved with is having a 40 th anniversary. It might be very different since then and 9/11 sure is an interesting topic.

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  4. You boys and girls behave yourselves down there. I personally don’t get it. Maybe cause I’m just a crude American who thinks of boys and ‘the girls” as anatomical features :)

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