Last Updated: April 7, 2020

Understanding Australian Slang: How To Use “Mate” In Australia

As an Aussie who has been living overseas since 2001, I always love being reminded when I come home how different Australia really is.

The weather, the people, the food, the friendliness and the “mateship culture” that we are proud of and often forget we have. It stems from the years guys spent in the trenches during the World Wars, and today in Australia it is stronger than ever!

But more than the idea of mateship, is the actual use of the word “mate”.

It’s the one thing that I always start saying, usually within seconds of landing in Sydney. But someone, when I am back in Switzerland where I live, it never gets used. Unless I see a group of Aussie guys I know.

Mate – it’s such a versatile, yet often misunderstood part of Australian slang.

So, in this quick post, I thought I would clarify a the usage of the word “mate” and many of it’s fun and handy meanings.

Not only to help you, as a first-time visitor to Australia (or a newly landed immigrant) but also to remind me how to speak my own language – ‘Stralian!

When Not To Use “Mate”

The first thing you have to understand about “mate” is that it is used mostly by guys, to other guys.

Sure, there are exceptions, but it is a very male-oriented word.

Some women will say it. Many like to use it, but more often than not, you will hear “blokes” saying it to other blokes. Especially in the city.

If you want to get into the Australian way of life, try some other Aussie slang like:

  • G’day – Good day or in more modern language “hi”
  • No worries – No problem, or you’re welcome, depending on the context
  • She’ll be right – It’ll be ok
  • Arvo – Afternoon
  • Servo – Petrol station
  • Caf – Cafe
  • Tinnie – Can of beer
  • Beer o’clock – time for a beer

7 Ways People Use “Mate” In Australia

Instead of Friend

“He’s my best mate!”

Mate and friend are interchangeable in Australia. And we will often refer to our friends as “a mate of mine” or “our mates”.

Guys will have a boys night out with “their mates”. And I will often going and visit “a mate of mine”.

Thanking Someone

A slight variation of the friend scenario, is when you use “mate” because you don’t know someone or just to make it quick.

“Thanks mate!” or even a less emphasised “thanks, mate”.

You will hear this everywhere – at the shops, when someone opens the door for you, when someone at work helps you with something.

It’s just an extension of “thanks” but for Aussies!

As A Welcome (After A Long Time Apart)

When I see my friends after years overseas, I will often greet them with open arms and a loving “maaaaaaate”.

Such a versatile word, it is usually very friendly.

But, not always.

When You Are A Little Drunk

“I love you, mate!”

Guys tend to be a little less emotional than the ladies, but after a dozen “tinnies” some guys will come out and express their love for their friends. Often at 3am in the morning on the way home.

And, by using the word “mate” it still sounds a little masculine, so Aussies love using it.

When Someone Screws Up

“Mate! What are ya doin!!!!!”

When you are kinda angry at someone, but don’t want to start swearing at them (at least not yet).

Using mate in this way is a little more polite than just resorting to “WTF are you doing”.

Often used more amongst friends or colleagues, this stops things getting overheated.

To Avoid A Fight

“Watch it, mate”

When alcohol is involved, and let’s face it, in Australia that is most of the time, people can get a little hammered and do really stupid things.

That is when “mate” can really come in handy.

Someone staggers into you on the way to the toilet at a bar or festival.

You give them a bit of a “shot over the bow” without restoring to violence – “watch it, mate”.

Mate helps keep it friendy but let people know you are not happy with their weaving into you.

Just Because You Forgot Their Name

The last, but perhaps most useful one is when you just can’t remember someone’s name!

“Hey mate, how are ya!”

So, keep that one in the breach, just in case!

And A Bunch More

I can’t cover all the uses of the word “mate” in Australia, because quite frankly it is always changing (and I have not lived at home for over 15 years!). But I found this funny video showing how practical it can really be!

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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