When J K Rowling wrote the Harry Potter novels, she may or may not have been aware of the meaning of the word “bludger” in Australia and New Zealand.
In the J K Rowling novels, a bludger is one of the types of balls used in the game of Quidditch. There are two of them in the game. Beaters use bats to protect their team members and to direct the bludgers at the opposing team. Bludgers are magically designed to try and knock the players off of their brooms.
Perhaps the bludger in Harry Potter takes its name from being bludgeoned away by the beaters, or that it seeks to dismount the riders from their broomsticks by bludgeoning them.
In Australia the meaning of bludger is quite different. According to one website it means a person who lives off the efforts of others; a person who does not pay his fair share or who does not make a fair contribution to a cost, enterprise, etc., a cadger; an idler, one who makes little effort.
The word derives from bludgeon, a short club, that word having been first recorded in print in 1730. A bludgeon was usually thicker and heavier at one end. From there, word gave rise to bludgeoner, one who violently used a bludgeon ie beat people with a stick. By the mid 1850’s its slang usage was recorded as meaning a low thief, as well as a prostitute’s pimp, probably from bludgeoning troublesome clients. It may be that the thief meaning was associated, from having bludgeoned and robbed the clients of the pimp’s prostitute.
The term bludgeoner fell into disuse in England but remained alive in Australia, although shortened to bludger, as meaning a thug who lived off the earnings of a prostitute. Eventually the association of the word bludger with violence fell into disuse, the word remaining in use for someone who lived off the efforts of a prostitute.
The Australian written references bear this out:
- In 1882 the Sydney Slang Dictionary defined the term as ‘Bludgers, or Stick Slingers, plunderers in company with prostitutes’.
- C. Crowe, in his Australian Slang Dictionary (1895), defined a bludger as ‘a thief who will use his bludgeon and lives on the gains of immoral women’.
- In 1900 Truth (Sydney) wrote that: "This 'shop' is not occupied by girls, but by 'bludgers', —the men who own the girls and live on their prostitution".
- Truth again in 1901: "Girls of no more than 13 years of age smoked their cigarettes and mopped up booze as freely as their bludgers.”
- Again in 1905: "In Australia ... bludger means what in London and other large English cities is known as a ‘ponce’. ... In other words, it seems that the Australian bludger lives on the earnings of a prostitute."
- Truth in 1915: "To enter Australian politics, to abide there, and to succeed therein, a man must have the instincts of a loafer, the aptitudes of a pickpocket, the conscience of a whore, and the honour of a bludger."
The next shift in meaning was the expansion of the word to anyone living off someone else’s earnings or efforts, no longer an association only with prostitutes, as illustrated by the following:
- Truth 1906: "Dancing, according to a Salvarmy bludger in Melbourne, is sinful and wicked. It is no sin for sour Salvarmy sallies to .. hug the officers, though".
- John O’Grady, Aussie Etikett (1971): "When it comes to your turn, return the 'shout'. Otherwise the word will spread that you are a 'bludger', and there is no worse thing to be".
This broadened to a sense of not contributing a fair share, especially in contrasting the labour of blue collar workers, those carrying out the manual labour, with the white collar workers, those working at desks and in offices. The distinction implicit in the use of the term in that context was that the blue collar workers carried out the manual work, the honest work, the hard yakka, whereas the white collar workers were “shiny bums” who sat on their backsides all day doing “bugger all”:
- Truth in 1910: "Blackguard band of blatant, bumptious bummers and bludgers, who bum and bludge on Labor".
- D. Whitington’s Treasure Upon the Earth (1957): ‘“Bludgers” he dubbed them early, because in his language anyone who did not work with his hands at a laboring job was a bludger’.
- Dorothy Hewett, play This Old Man (1967): “The working class can kiss me arse I’ve found a bludger’s job at last.”
- Alex Buzo, Front Room Boys (1970): “I don’t like those la-di-da hoity-toity upper-crust bludgers with their fancy accents.”
There remained one further shift or expansion of meaning to be made.
We have already seen the historical development of the term:
→ prostitute’s pimp and thug
→ someone living off the earnings off a prostitute
→ someone living off someone else’s earnings or efforts
→ someone not contributing a fair share
→ people in upper positions doing minimal work and deriving benefits from the effiorts and labour of honest, hardworking battlers.
The term dole bludger means one who exploits the system of unemployment benefits by avoiding gainful employment and making do on the dole.
Refer the following:
- The term made its first appearance in the Bulletin in 1976: "A genuine dole bludger, a particularly literate young man .. explained that he wasn’t bothering to look for work anymore because he was sick and tired of being treated like a chattel".
- 1977, Cattleman (Rockhampton): "Young people are being forced from their country homes because of a lack of work opportunities and the only response from these so-called political protectors is to label them as 'dole bludgers' ".
Today in 2011, the words of John O’Grady, writing as Nino Culotta in They’re a Weird Mob in 1957 are still appropriate:
But if you are ever told you are a bludger, go home. A bludger is the worst thing you can be in Australia. It means that you are criminally lazy, that you 'pole on you mates’', that you are a ‘piker’' - a mean, contemptible, miserable individual who is not fit to associate with human beings. No one will talk to you, or buy you a drink, and you've had it. You will be called a bastard because you are a good bloke, but if you are called a bludger you probably are one. You might be called a 'bludgin' bastard' in a rueful sort of way which is half admiring but the word bludger by itself is final condemnation.