This word is a form of bludgeoner. A bludgeoner (not surprisingly) was a person who carried a bludgeon `a short stout stick or club'. It appears in a mid-nineteenth century English slang dictionary as a term for `a low thief, who does not hesitate to use violence'. By the end of the nineteenth century it is in use in Australia, its meaning somewhat more specific. Crowe, in his Australian Slang Dictionary (1882), defines a bludger as `a thief who will use his bludgeon and lives on the gains of immoral women'. Crowe gives: `Bludgers, or Stick Lingers, plunderers in company with prostitutes'. Thus bludger came to mean `one who lives on the earnings of a prostitute'. It retained this meaning until the 1950s. Thus Dorothy Hewett in her play Bobbin Up (1959) writes: `But what about libel?' `There's a name for a man who lives off women!' `Can't you get pinched for calling a man a bludger?' But this meaning is now obsolete. From the early twentieth century it moved out to be a more general term of abuse, especially as applied to a person who appears to live off the efforts of others (as a pimp lives on the earnings of a prostitute). It was then used to refer to a person engaged in non-manual labour - a white-collar worker. This sense appears as early as 1910, but its typical use is represented by this passage from D. Whitington's Treasure Upon 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'. And so it came to mean `an idler, one who makes little effort'. In the war newspaper Ack Ack News in 1942 we find: `Who said our sappers are bludgers?' By 1950, it could be used of animals which didn't perform up to standard. J. Cleary in Just let me be writes: `Everything I backed ran like a no-hoper. Four certs I had, and the bludgers were so far back the ambulance nearly had to bring `em home'. And thence to `a person who does not make a fair contribution to a cost, enterprise etc.; a cadger'. D. Niland writes in The Shiralee (1955): `Put the nips into me for tea and sugar and tobacco in his usual style. The biggest bludger in the country'. In 1971 J. O'Grady writes: `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'. The term dole bludger (i.e. `one who exploits the system of unemployment benefits by avoiding gainful employment') made its first appearance in 1976, in the Bulletin: `A genuine dole bludger, a particularly literate young man... explained that he wasn't bothering to look for work any more because he was sick and tired of being treated like a chattel'. From the following year we have a citation indicating a reaction to the use of the term: 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'. Throughout the history of the word, most bludgers appear to have been male. The term bludgeress made a brief appearance in the first decade of this century - `Latterly, bludgers, so the police say, are marrying bludgeresses' - but it was shortlived. For more information on the word bludger consult The Australian National Dictionary.

Australian idioms. 2014.

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