What's in a Name?

Kath Heiman — 18 March 2019
What qualifies someone as a ‘good bloke’? Can a woman be a 'good bloke'?

When you spend time on the road with your family, a lot of people come into your life. In some cases, these people make just a fleeting appearance – for example, the trusty mechanic who saves your bacon when your vehicle’s electrics become ‘temperamental’ midway through a 6,000km road-trip. Or maybe it’s the station manager who strikes up conversation in a small country pub before unexpectedly offering to host you and your camper at the family’s remote property for a few nights: “It’s pretty close by – turn left at the end of town. It’s 100km due west. You can’t miss it”.  

While these interactions may be one-off, others endure. Like the periodic catch-ups with interstate friends that your partner has known since childhood. In time, these people become part of the fabric of your own life, particularly as their families grow and their kids become ‘cousins’ to your own children.  

Whoever these individuals are – and however long we deal with them – interactions with them inevitably fuel conversations in the rig once we hit the road again.  

So it was recently, during a 2,500km road-trip. After a great night of fellowship, I remarked to my husband Scott that his mate Russ “is a really good bloke”. Our eight year old daughter, having heard us variously describe people as ‘friends’, ‘mates’, and ‘good blokes’ over the preceding days, thought it was time to get clarity about what these different words actually mean. 

“Dad,” she asked, “what’s a ‘good bloke’ – and can girls be good blokes too?”

Now, I have to say that the first part of her question wasn’t too hard to answer. Indeed she had a fair crack at answering the question without our help. Naming for her a bunch of our mutual friends who we reckon are ‘good blokes’, she quickly established a list of ten characteristics that she thought these people shared. They were:

  1. Can navigate without a GPS
  2. Can lift heavy stuff
  3. Can fix stuff
  4. Can drive a 4x4
  5. Can make an RV go backwards
  6. Can hunt and fish
  7. Can organise and plan forward
  8. Can tell ‘dad jokes’
  9. Can have tickle fights
  10. Tells the truth

But the people we were describing were all men. What about the girls? Is being a ‘good bloke’ the sole domain of the male gender? 

It seems that the term ‘bloke’ entered the English vocabulary in the nineteenth century with origins in Wales, Ireland or India. No one seems too sure. It’s an informal word that’s characteristically used to describe men. In this country, the archetypal ‘Aussie bloke’ is a national icon. And he’s almost always a manly-man with sufficient physical strength to bench press a 40 litre Engel while maintaining a conversation.

But is it physical strength that stands the ‘good bloke’ aside from his peers? I reckon not. It’s character that really counts. It’s honesty, loyalty, compassion, a non-judgemental attitude and a willingness to give things a go. These are the characteristics of the people who stand out when you travel the highways and byways. And these traits aren’t gender specific.   

It’s just a pity that there seems to be no appropriate term available to describe women who fit the bill. ‘Sheila’ isn’t it. ‘Blokette’ sounds lame. And a whole range of other terms like ‘good lass’, ‘good gal’, or ‘good sort’ don’t quite hit the mark. Indeed, many of these expressions can be regarded as derogatory depending on the situation.  

So what’s the term that I need to be using to describe Janet, the co-owner of a local 4x4 accessory retailer who treats us like family anytime we meet on the road – and who’ll whip up a feed or a spare bed with a moment’s notice? Or Alice, who we met travelling Australia with her family in a Kimberley camper – forming the glue that kept the whole team working like a well-oiled machine? And then there’s Trish, the planner, organiser and logistician who routinely hosts over 100 weekend visitors at our favourite Traditional Archery Club in the Hunter Valley.  

Women like these are ‘good blokes’. No two ways about it. And if my husband and I set a good example for my daughter, providing her with sufficient exposure to people like these – men and women alike – hopefully she’ll grow up to be a good bloke too. 

So how about next time you’re asked to describe a woman with a character as solid as a rock, simply say: “She’s a good bloke.”