origin of the phrase ‘been there, done that (and got the T-shirt)’

Of Australian origin, the colloquial phrase been there, done that means fully experienced in, or familiar with, something, especially to the point of boredom or complacency; as an interjection, it flippantly expresses boredom, impatience or total lack of interest.

This phrase seems to have originated in a line of a 1979 tribute song to the Australian cricketer and cricket commentator Alan McGilvray (1909-96).

The earliest mention of that line that I have found is from Ian Warden’s radio column, titled that day Wielding willow with a Bombay curry poultice, published in The Canberra Times (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory) of Thursday 13th December 1979:

One had hoped that the ABC’s tasteless promotional ditty “The gam’s [sic] not the same without McGilvray” would, with the effluxion of time, prove to be less distressing.
Alas, the very opposite is proving to be the case and since one is likely to hear it several billion times this summer there seems to be every chance that the trite and embarrassing lyrics and the gauche melody will be indelibly embossed on our brains by the time our cricketing visitors return to their respective homelands in February.
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*”.

* Karol Józef Wojtyła (1920-2005), pope as John Paul II (1978-2005)

The lyrics of that song appeared a few days later, on Sunday 16th December 1979, in A man for all matches, an interview of Alan McGilvray published in the same newspaper, The Canberra Times:

Of the promotion song about him he said, “I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s me. I am not the type of man that likes any commercial rating”.
The words of the song are:
When the game has just begun,
And they’re looking for a run,
There’s just one voice for the cricket, so they say;
He is everything to cricket,
Cricket’s everything to him, you know.
The game is not the same without McGilvray.
From a lusty cover drive,
The one that brings the crowd alive,
To a gentle push behind square leg,
A ball that takes the middle peg —
He’s been there, he’s done that;
He is there from go to woe, you know.
The game is not the same, it’s not the same,
The game is not the same without McGilvray.

The earliest instance that I have found of been there, done that is accompanied by the definition of the phrase and is also from The Canberra Times; on Sunday 3rd February 1980, in his column Sporting Print, titled that day An earthy, sensitive sports writer, Bill Mandle wrote the following:

A cant and to my mind dreadful phrase of the moment is ‘Been there, done that’ — an indication of experience.

The phrase was curiously applied to a whole village in the conclusion of Around your way visits Roundwood, an article singing the praises of Roundwood, a village in County Wicklow, published in the Wicklow People (Wicklow, County Wicklow, Ireland) of Friday 17th May 1991:

Roundwood is really one of those areas which has been there, done it all and is ensuring that activity will not wane in the future.

The phrase has been extended to been there, done that (and) got the T-shirt, with reference to the T-shirts sold at touristic destinations.

The earliest instance of the extended form that I have found is from A sickly-sweet confection, by Phil Penfold, published in the Evening Chronicle (Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland) of Tuesday 20th November 1990; in this scathing review of The Nutcracker, performed by the English National Ballet at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, the fact that Phil Penfold played on the extended form of the phrase indicates that it was already well established:

[The orchestra] plodded its weary way through the score with some glaring off-key interpolations.
Here was a band who had been there, done it all before, got the T-shirt and stuffed it up the French Horn. They just couldn’t have cared a fig about the dots in front of them, and it showed.

The earliest instance of the extended form that the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition, 1989) has recorded is from Ski Survey (published by the Ski Club of Great Britain) of February 1991:

Knee Injuries. Rosemary Burns has been there, done that and got the T-shirt. She gives fellow sufferers her sympathy and sound advice.

A variant of the extended form appeared in the following advertisement, published in the Evening Chronicle (Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland) of Thursday 20th June 1991:

For the serious who seek large incomes, join our dynamic Plc devised for your wealth creation. Massive market potential, 10 level payout. Low monthly qualification. Office launch June 1st. Telephone now if you wish to be first in.
091 4775599 or 071 3548022 or 071 7049920

(All calls treated in strictest confidence)

David Lacey used a different variant in Hughes the man to turn quality into victory, about the FA Cup, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester) of Saturday 17th May 1997:

If one player can be relied upon to win the Cup for Chelsea it is not so much Zola or any of the overseas players but a 33-year-old Welshman who has been there, done it all and got a drawerful of T-shirts. Mark Hughes gained one of his three winners’ medals by helping Manchester United beat Chelsea 4-0 in 1994. It will be surprising if today does not bring him a fourth.

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