The meaning of the word Digger
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australian infantryman's combat badge
Digging for the meaning

© Trevor 'Taffy'Cheeseman
Both Tours

The 'Digger' is a key piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle that makes up the Australian. However, defining the Digger is like defining 'Class'; it's hard to describe but you know it when you see it.

The Digger is an Australian everyman, and Australians have the essence of the Digger within them. The spirit emerges when the individual calls on it in times of need.

The image of the Digger is derived from an intricate amalgam of qualities; each has been proven in the heat of battle and has been displayed at various times by remarkable members of the tribe. Chief among these qualities are mateship, courage, compassion, endurance, selflessness, loyalty, resourcefulness, resilience, self-reliance, devotion, independence, ingenuity, audacity, coolness, larrikinism and humour.

The Digger comes in all shape and sizes and from all walks of life. He, (and now she), has something of the Australian ethos of the volunteer, for historically most Diggers have not been regular army soldiers but volunteers for a specific cause, and they have returned with regret to their former civilian lives after their conflicts ended.

Originally, many Diggers' came off the land; practical, self-reliant men, accustomed to hardship: skilled horsemen, good shots, men good with their hands. But when, in later years, the vast majority of the Diggers' came from the cities, there seemed to be little lost in the effectiveness as a force. Some will argue that the Digger is largely a myth, that as a fledgling nation we needed heroes, we created them at Anzac and we've built on those myths ever since. And it is true that mankind has always had its myths. But myths are, to some degree, based on fact. Any examination of the essence of the Digger stands up to detailed scrutiny.

If anything, many of the remarkable feats claimed of the Digger are underplayed. Countless heroic acts have gone unnoticed and unrewarded in all wars in which they have participated. The system of decorations and awards for bravery adopted by the Australian Army has always militated against the fair recognition of the valour of the men involved.

The nature of the Digger has also meant he has been reticent to talk about his combat experiences, yet every Digger with combat experience can give scores of examples of heroic acts that he witnessed but which have gone without recognition. There is humility and self-effacement that seems to be part of the Diggers' make-up.

Diggers' are respected everywhere they turn up.....Timor, Iraq, but we don't always give credit to our own people. We often forget them. He is one of the best warriors, a compassionate man. Others may have some of his qualities, but there is something about the Australian soldier under pressure that draws on things we have inherited from the land and settlement and the way we have come to terms with it. They are not all heroes but they are remarkable.

When we speak of Diggers' It means the whole defence force.....airmen, sailors and woman. Yes, women have the same qualities and they have integrated so well into the defence forces.

Indeed, I believe you don't have to wear a uniform to be a Digger. We are all Diggers' in spirit. You see it all in stressful situations and disasters.....Bali to bushfires; and above all our compassion is one of the qualities that set us apart from others.

But I promise you, if again, we are up against and face extreme adversities like Gallipoli, which gave birth to our nation; and the Kokoda Campaign where we grew up, we will uphold those same qualities, and we have done so since with those battles that have followed.