A rose by any other name; although the word bogan is uniquely Antipodean, the lifestyle it describes is a universal phenomenon. Formerly, and perhaps more affectionately, referred to as ‘salt of the earth’ or ‘the working classes’, every country has bogans, they just have different names for them. Terms of endearment, including ‘White Trash’, ‘Chavs’, ‘Rednecks’, ‘Pikeys’ and my personal favorite, ‘The Great Unwashed’.
In New Zealand, the word bogan is, like Russell Crowe, a regional peculiarity which, although of nonspecific trans-tasman origins, we are happy to let Australia claim the dubious honor of inventing. But that doesn’t make them any less of a Kiwi cultural icon.
Indeed, New Zealand bogans share much in common with their Australian brothers: permy mullets, Winfield cigarettes, a love of V8 engines that borders on erotic, and jumbo-sized chilli bins full of pub rock. And while appearances can be intimidating, the New Zealand bogan is generally a friendly & hard working member of society. If a little smelly. But definitely much less likely to stab you for an iPod, or ‘just being Abbo’.
A bogan’s sound moral compass is guided by their strong, if sprawling, matriarchal family structure, as can be witnessed on New Zealand’s longest running television documentary, Outrageous Fortune. They have a civic sense of duty and work ethic, underpinned, out of neccessity, by a high rate of breeding, and an aspiration to someday own a wire-fenced, quarter-acre bungalow in Henderson of their very own.
Bogans are good with their hands, and like to spend quality family time on said front lawn, dismantling automobiles, or building half of a boat. The young members of a bogan clan are thus raised with a keen mechanical ability, which makes them highly employable (when they leave school at 15) at panel workshops, petrol stations, or any franchise of the Mag & Turbo Warehouse.
But if bogans work hard, they like to play even harder. Well paid trade jobs, and low rent in the western suburbs, leaves bogans plenty of disposable income to fund loud, boozy weekends at Piha, nights at the Speedway, and a wardrobe of finest suede and leopard print.
Recent years have in fact seen a trend that can best be described as bogan pride. The lifestyle has been glorified, nostalgified even, and the word bogan reclaimed as a badge of honor – a way of deflating it’s originally intended power to insult. It is also a cynical way for ad-men to sell beer to rich university students with a fondness for ‘slumming it’.
But even middle aged corporate types are not immune to the appeal of going bogan. With the introduction of elasticated waistbands to Armani black skinny jeans, and the Karen Walker organic-cotton Jacques Daniéls collection; bankers, teachers, even politicians can make the 10 yearly pilgrimage to an AC/DC in concert, without sacrificing their commitment to sustainability, comfort, or style.
A point worth noting, because, as a political force, Bogans should not be underestimated. Some even suggest that the anointed bogan Queen, Paula Bennet - currently a high ranking Cabinet member – may one day go all the way to becoming New Zealand’s first bogan Prime Minister*.
Should that day come, resistance will be futile. Better to spit out that posh Riesling all over your copy of Mindfood, put on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and embrace your inner bogan.
His name is Shane. And he wants to party.
* – although John Key sounds bogan, often acts bogan, and may even have bogan blood, his $10 million mansion in Parnell disqualifies him from actually being bogan.