Been There, Done That.

Dave Wilton at Wordorigins has a Big List post about the phrase been there, done that, which has a surprisingly specific origin, Australia at the end of the ’70s. He first goes over the shorter “(I’ve) been there” (meaning ‘I’ve had experience’), then continues:

But the addition of done that is distinctly Australian in origin. Pascal Tréguer has found an Australian citation from a 13 December 1979 column by Ian Warden in the Canberra Times that refers to a song about Alan McGilvray, the Australian cricketer and cricket commentator on the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC):

[…] The venerable, admirable and conservative McGilvray (“He’s been there! He’s done that!”) has become so indispensable to the proper, sober, traditional wireless broadcasting of cricket in this country that to exploit him in this way is a lot like producing a jingle which asserts “The Church is not the same without Wojtyla.”


The earliest use in print of the common wording of the catchphrase that I have found is in Tharunka, the student newspaper of the University of New South Wales, on 31 August 1981 in an interview with Michael Atkinson, a member of the folk music group Redgum:

Our only form of statement is what we sing. I’ve tried everything else—I’ve handed out leaflets at factory gates—been there done that—the music is all that I can do and it’s all that I can do well.

The following year, an Associated Press article about Lauren Tewes, one of the stars of the American television series The Love Boat, was published on 21 February 1982. Tewes is an American:

Tewes, who has just divorced, says she doesn’t plan to get married at this time. Using an Australian expression, she says, “Been there, done that.”

See the link for more history and citations; this is the kind of detailed investigation I love. (For what it’s worth, I would have guessed with reasonable accuracy that the phrase dated from the ’80s.)


  1. I am curious about the intended implications of, “The Church is not the same without Wojtyla,” especially in just the second year of John Paul II’s papacy.

  2. Now how about the extension “been there, done that, got the T-shirt”?

  3. Jen in Edinburgh says

    There’s more about both the song and t-shirts at

    But I think the point is just that it’s as undignified to reduce McGilvray’s knowledge, experience, etc to a silly jingle as it would be to advertise the Catholic church with a silly jingle about the pope.

  4. I remember it as a Pepsi campaign in the early ’90s, so my temporal guess would have been similar.

  5. I just remembered that one of my brothers was fond of something he heard as a parody of Baby Boomers (e.g. our parents): “Been there, done that, grounded my kids for trying it.”

  6. Bathrobe says

    For me it certainly sounds older than the 90s, when I wasn’t even in Australia. I would never have guessed it was as recent as the 70s. It sounds like an expression that’s been around forever.

  7. ktschwarz says

    “Been there”, without further extensions, *has* been around forever, i.e. since the late 19th century in American English. It could easily be almost that old in Australia; it was probably already long-familiar when “done that” was added on.

Speak Your Mind