Westie, or Westy, is a colloquial term used in Australian and New Zealand English to stereotypically describe residents of the Greater Western Sydney, the western suburbs of Melbourne or the West Auckland city of Waitakere (New Zealand). It may also refer as a derogatory term to people who might not live in the west of a city. An alternative term bogan is often used instead as bogan has a similar definition but does not refer to a geographical area.
Origin and definition of the term
According to the Macquarie Dictionary, the term in Australian English now refers to people from outer suburbs and a lower socio-economic background, or to the stereotypes associated with such people. It also states that the term has spread throughout Australia and may be used to refer to people who may not live in the western part of their city. With reference to its use in Sydney, the Macquarie Book of Slang says the term is applied negatively to anyone that may live west of one's own suburb.
The Westie persona
The term "westie" is often used to associate someone or something with a stereotype. This stereotype depicts people from the outer suburbs as unintelligent, undereducated, unmotivated, unrefined, lacking in fashion sense, working-class or unemployed. Clothing such as flannelette shirts, Ugg boots, leopard-print fabric, Adidas outfits with clear stripes, white singlets are associated with the stereotype, as are the "uniform" of black t-shirt and ripped jeans.
Auckland, New Zealand
In Auckland, westies are almost entirely residents of Waitakere City, in particular the Auckland city-side suburbs of Massey, Te Atatu, Henderson, Sunnyvale, Glen Eden, Titirangi, Ranui, and New Lynn. Some people from Avondale are called by others and themselves westies although Avondale is actually within the territory of Auckland City.
To be called a Westie in Auckland is sometimes ambiguous as it can be both a pejorative or good natured, depending on intent. Many people from Waitakere City will call themselves Westies with pride, yet not meet the stereotypical criteria.[dead link] Westies are stereotypically seen as being more brash and of-the-soil than other districts of Auckland. The stereotype also incorporates black jerseys and old V8 cars, most westies are featured on the New Zealand TV show Police Ten 7 which broadcasts live police workers on duty.
The shift from a pejorative to a societal identifier has been abrupt and in no small part due to the 1993 single Westy Gals by Auckland singer Jan Hellriegel, and local comedian Ewen Gilmour's stand-up comedy act as Ewen "Westie" Gilmour between 1995 and 2000 in the premier television programme Pulp Comedy. Both of these instances gave the term national prominence. Gilmour was "unofficially appointed cultural ambassador" for Waitakere City. He was elected as councillor for the Waitakere City Council in 2004 and joins former mayor Tim Shadbolt as stereotypical westies who have entered local body politics.
The successful television series Outrageous Fortune is set in West Auckland with the main characters being the West family, a play on the word 'Westie'. Its loyal fans mostly live in the Waitakere Henderson area.
The persona of the standard Auckland "Westie" continues to evolve. In November 2008 Paula Bennett defeated Lynne Pillay, the long-standing Labour Member of Parliament for Waitakere under the banner "Proud to be a Westy". Bennett is a solo mother and a former social service beneficiary who is now the Minister for Social Development and Employment and Minister of Youth Affairs in the National-led Government.
It should be noted that as of the 2010 amalgamation of Auckland's council boundaries into one regional greater council, Waitakere City no longer exists as a distinct entity. Yet, those living within the former bundaries remain claiming themselves as Westies' essentially within the former boundaries.
In Sydney, westies have taken their name from Sydney's western suburbs, a region of suburbs in which the cost of living is less than Sydney's affluent easterly, north shore and inner-city suburbs. The west also has lower levels of professional employment, and has Sydney's highest crime rates. As a result, the term "Westie" was used in a derogatory sense to suggest that someone was uncouth or unsophisticated. The Macquarie Book of Slang reports that the area which Westies inhabit does not have clear boundaries even though Western Sydney is generally regarded as being the metropolitan area west of Strathfield. While some in the eastern suburbs might consider residents of Epping as Westies, others may restrict the term to areas such as Blacktown, Granville and Berala. Westies were also a common sight in the 1980s in the south-western suburbs such as Minto and Campbelltown.
In Sydney it is claimed that the term originated within the surfing community in the early 1970s. Board riders or surfers who lived in the eastern suburbs, closer to the beach and waves, would often refer to what they saw as "part time" weekend surfers, who travelled to the beach from the western suburbs as "Westies". In this regard they were seen as "blow ins" who crowded the beach and waves each weekend.
However, it is argued that the term "Westie" was a creation of the 1960s and 1970s as young, working families were encouraged westward into the newly built, rather austere public and private housing subdivisions on Sydney's urban fringe. It was a term of division and derision, and became shorthand for a population considered lowbrow, coarse and lacking education and cultural refinement. Immortalised in the 1977 social realist film, The FJ Holden, by Michael Thornhill, the classic Westie was a male of Anglo-Celtic origin who lived in the vast, homogenous flatlands west of the Sydney CBD. The checked flannelette shirt symbolised his attire and vandalism, cheap drink and hotted-up cars his behaviour. Westie became a rhetorical device to designate the other Sydney: spatially, culturally and economically different from the more prosperous and privileged Sydneysiders of the north and east.
The term may also be used to describe someone who acts or uses the same mannerisms as a person from the western suburbs but lives somewhere else.
It could be noted in this context that in Sydney, the western suburbs often have no (or less prominent) coastal access. This is often reflected in house prices and suburb 'status'. The typical commute of a resident living in the western suburbs of these cities also involves driving towards the sun each way, possibly explaining the cultural similarities across multiple cities. The commuters are commonly known as squinters due to the fact that they must squint while driving because of the rising and setting sun.
- Powell, Diane (1993). Out west: perceptions of Sydney's western suburbs. St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86373-503-8.
- Collins, Jock; Poynting, Scott, eds. (2000). The other Sydney: communities, identities and inequalities in Western Sydney. Altona, Vic.: Common Ground Publishing. ISBN 1-86335-017-9.
- Harvey, Bob (2004). Westies up front out there. Auckland: Exisle. ISBN 978-0-908988-38-9.
- "Westie", Macquarie Dictionary Online Edition 2005.
- "Westie", Macquarie Book of Slang, Macquarie Library, 2000.
- Collins; Poynting (eds.). The Other Sydney: Communities, Identities and Inequalities in Western Sydney. p. 20.
- "Review of Mayor Bob Harvey's book" (PDF). Auckland Council.[dead link]
- "Biography". Ewen Gilmour. 2013.
- Morgan, Jared (8 June 2010). "Mayor Tim joins Westie walk of fame". The Southland Times (Fairfax NZ News). Retrieved 17 May 2013.
- "Three great westies join Waitakere Walkway of Fame" (Press release). Waitakere City. 10 June 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
- Gwyther, Gabrielle (2008). "Once were Westies". Griffith REVIEW (20: Cities on the Edge ed.) (Griffith University).