Here, of course, front denotes self-assurance, but the word(s) that follow(s) than is/are generally chosen to pun on front in the sense of:
– the façade of a building,
– the part of a garment covering a person’s front.
These are the earliest Australian-English uses of the phrase more front than, denoting impudence, effrontery, that I have found—in chronological order:
1-: From the Coolgardie Mining Review (Coolgardie, Western Australia) of Saturday 8th February 1896:
We admire these men; we reverence their colossal cheek and far-reaching grabbing talents. They have more front than the pyramids and more impudence than a lady’s Maltese pug pet, and we are inclined to say with the psalmist, “Blessed is he who hath a gaping mouth, for verily he shall find fools to fill it.”
2-: From The Leederville Municipality. Address by Candidates, published in The West Australian (Perth, Western Australia) of Saturday 14th November 1896:
A meeting of ratepayers was held in the Presbyterian Hall, to hear the views of Mr. James Stewart Bennet, chairman of the municipality, who is seeking re-election […].
Mr. Hutchinson: If elected will Mr. Bennet carry out his pledges as he has hitherto done?
Mr. Bennet replied “Yes, and better, too, if I get time,” a sentiment that was greeted with a chorus of “yahs” and cries of “good old Bennet.”
A Voice: “He’s got more front than a white shirt.” (Laughter).
3-: From Chronic Ills. Bank Clerks?, published in the Sunday Chronicle (Perth, Western Australia) of Sunday 14th August 1898:
Some people are born great and others have greatness thrust upon them. Most of the latter are bank clerks, and they do the “thrusting” themselves. […] It would be difficult to find anything more despicable than a bank clerk of the common, or garden, type. He has less sense and ability than a flea, and more front than a whole box of shirts.
4-: From An Open Letter to the Committee of the Australian Jockey Club, by John Norton, published in Truth (Sydney, New South Wales) of Sunday 27th August 1899:
Although you may have more front than your grandstand and enough brass in it to start a brass foundry, you’ll want it all, I assure you, to help you brazen through the charges or which I’ll convict you.
5-: The following description is from River News, published in the Windsor and Richmond Gazette (Windsor, New South Wales) of Saturday 31st March 1900:
A strange and uncouth individual, with more “front” than a terrace of houses, and a general all-round ignorance and stupidity that would charm the most donkeyfied ass.
6-: From the First Part of Love & Jealousy. A Sad Ending. In Four Parts, an unsigned novel published in The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal (Braidwood, New South Wales) of Saturday 8th December 1900:
‘The beggar’s head-over-heels in love with her,’ mutters young Wilkinson. ‘Confound his cheek! He’s got more front than a white shirt!’
7-: From Local and General Mems, published in the Ulladulla and Milton Times (Milton, New South Wales) of Saturday 2nd March 1901:
Three local pedestrians—Messrs. Price, Hunt, and J. Hannan—journeyed to Nowra last Saturday to take part in a Sheffield handicap there. They evidently have more front than foot, as they were run out first heat in each instance.
8-: from Punch (Melbourne, Victoria) of Thursday 29th October 1903:
Senator Higgs turned up at a meeting of Labour candidates the other night in evening dress, with a bouquet and white gloves. No objection was offered. Labour has high notions of late, and, instead of despising the uniform of society, adopts it, and goes one better. A Labour man in an evening suit usually shows more front than a K.C.M.G. 1
1 K.C.M.G.: Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George—cf. the first known use of the exclamation O.M.G. in a letter that the British admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher wrote on Sunday 9th September 1917 to the British statesman Winston Churchill.
9-: From Truth (Brisbane, Queensland) of Sunday 24th July 1910:
Land and stock agents are clamoring for legislative protection against what they derisively term “footpath agents.” Some of these Queen-street sharks have more front than a police court lawyer. They require curbing in quite a number of directions.
10-: From Truth (Sydney, New South Wales) of Sunday 23rd July 1911:
Miller, of Bathurst, thought the proposal was as cool as a blast from the South Pole, and the councils had more front than Sydney Harbor to expect Parliament to consent.
11-: From Truth (Perth, Western Australia) of Saturday 9th December 1911:
Looks as if the Australian Wireless Co.’s contract with the Commonwealth will have to be cancelled, for the Marconi Co. has notified that it regards the Telefunken system as a breach of its patent rights. And as the Marconi Co. has won all its actions so far, the “Bulletin” crowd, which practically comprises the A.W. Co., may get a bad bump. The contract was secured in the first place through sheer audacity. Fordyce Wheeler, the “Bully’s” chief canvasser, and a gentleman with more front than a terrace of houses, put the “comether” on the then P.M.G. completely, and the preliminaries were arranged actually before the A.W. Co. was registered, or had finally secured the rights to any system.
12-: From Truth (Sydney, New South Wales) of Sunday 17th March 1912:
If Parliament dipped its hands into the Treasury chest of the public at the invite of its present custodians, it would have more front than the Post Office building. The proposal was neither more nor less than an invite to participate in a raid on the taxpayers’ funds.
13-: From the account of the speech that Mr. D. C. Dowling, the selected Labour candidate for the electorate of Toombul, delivered at Toombul, in Queensland, on Tuesday 2nd April 1912—account published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Queensland) of Wednesday 3rd April 1912:
Mr. Dowling […] said […] the Government had the brazen-faced effrontery to appear before the workers, and ask them to record their votes in their favour on election day. (An interjector: They have more front than a white shirt. Laughter.)
14-: From Prigs and People. Pen Pricks and Prods, by ‘Fandango’, published in the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 21st August 1912:
A chap from Tibbooburra came to town for a holiday, and put up at Wally Weeks’ pubbery. He happened to run short of cash, as most blokes from the bush do, after they have struck the temptations of this city of wine, women, and song, so decided to send word to his wife to send him along another wad. The difficulty was that he couldn’t write, and he evidently didn’t want anyone in the pubbery to be aware of his shortcoming, for he approached a straw-hatted stranger who was gracefully holding up one of the pub posts with his shoulder, and sucking at a cigarette. Tibbooburra Bill accosted him: “Say, matey,” he confessed, “I can’t write, but if you will write a letter to my missus, I will give you a couple of bob.” The cigarette cynic sprang to attention quick as a shot: “Right Oh, matey,” he chirruped, “where can we write it?” Bill shouted a beer first, then obtained pen and ink, and made for his room. Half an hour afterwards, with the letter stamped and sealed, they returned to the glad counter, and Bill called for another round of the amber. Wally Weeks happened to be going out at the time. “Hi, Wal,” shouted Tibbooburra. Bill, “post this letter for me.” He made in the direction of the boss of the beer garden. Simultaneously the cigarette sucker disappeared like a flash out of the door. Wally Weeks glanced at the address in amazement. “What the blazes is this?” he queried. “Oh,” quoth the Waybacker, “a letter to my missus in Tibbooburra.” Writer has since seen the letter and the envelope. It is simply a collection of crows’ feet, spider-webs, noughts and crosses, and strokes run on in lines. The man that Bill had happened to pick on couldn’t write himself! We have attempted to reproduce the wonderful work of art in “Sportsman,” ‘but without success. But should this par [= paragraph] happen to meet that cigarette-sucking speller’s eye, he might accept “Sportsman’s” congratulations for being gamer, and even having more frozen front than the man, who, some years ago, sold the Sun Dial in the Botanical Gardens to a bloke who came from Bourke.
15-: From one of the unconnected paragraphs making up The Critic, published in Truth (Perth, Western Australia) of Saturday 30th November 1912:
Some people have more front than a white shirt.
16-: From one of the unconnected paragraphs making up Turfy Tabloids 2, published in the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 5th May 1915:
The Master Farriers’ Association has more front than the P.O. 2
2 Here, tabloid denotes a concentrated news item—cf. How ‘tabloid’ became a journalistic word.
3 P.O.: Post Office.
17-: From the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 1st December 1915:
The trainer-owner who sends a horse to the post fit to win, and then expects a jockey to stop it winning, has more front than a highwayman.
18-: From Siftings of Sport, published in the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Wednesday 28th June 1916:
This joker had a bet with some bold, bad bookie. He said he had backed the winner, while Ikeymo said he had backed a loser. As Ikey held the brass, and the joker had no proof of what he said, we tried to waft him over the horizon in quick order. […] This made him word-mad enough to try and pull the horns off a goat. Giving us a look as cold as the nose of a healthy dog, he wanted to know if we stood in with Ikemo. Further, he declared, with much fury, that old Justice was buried ten fathoms deep in this Sinful City. He had more front than even a brewer’s traveller.
19-: From the Weekly Judge (Perth, Western Australia) of Friday 12th November 1920—among “the tools of trade required by a bookmaker”, are:
a voice like a fog horn, more front than a white shirt.
20-: From The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser (Coraki, New South Wales) of Friday 17th December 1920—a list of wiseacres includes:
the young chap who sports a fine horse, a fine suit, or more front than a terrace of houses.
21-: From Two Up & Three Down, a short story by Jim Donald, published in Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 14th April 1923:
“Leery” Larritty had more “front” than the Somme battlefield, and fewer scruples than a hash-house “duff” 4 has plums.
4 The noun hash house denotes a cheap restaurant (or, formerly, boarding house) associated with the serving of hash (i.e., food regarded as basic or unsophisticated); the noun duff denotes a flour pudding boiled or steamed in a cloth bag.
22-: From The Jottings of a Lady About Town, published in Truth (Brisbane, Queensland) of Sunday 1st May 1927:
What shall we call it, arrogance, vanity, or plain presumption? In the language of the “Digger” (from which most of our classic Australian has been culled), perhaps wo should call it merely a piece of darned cheek by an impudent egotist who has more front than a terrace of shops.
23-: From Truth (Brisbane, Queensland) of Sunday 20th November 1927:
George Hudson, convicted criminal, and declared an habitual criminal in New South Wales, has an amazing cheek and more brass front than a door knocker.
24-: From “a list of horses which should be “near the money” when produced in the very near future”, published in the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 6th October 1934:
Calverhero: Showed more front than a fat man in the Centen. Park Handicap at Randwick 5. Provincial or suburban sprint will be dead easy for him.
5 The Royal Randwick Racecourse is located opposite Centennial Park, in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales.
25-: From the Sydney Sportsman (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 19th September 1936:
Duke Caledon has never reached the dizzy heights promised in his earlier days, but the leggy chestnut proved at Rosebery on Wednesday that his winning days are not yet over. Showed more front than a super con. man to lead to the last half furlong.
26-: From Pot Pourri of Racing, published in Truth (Brisbane, Queensland) of Sunday 21st July 1940—in a story telling how several betters tricked a bookmaker into paying out “about £300 on a horse that did not run a place”, the better who initiated the scheme is described as:
one shrewdie with more front than Goering’s dress shirt. 6
6 Hermann Goering (1893-1946) was a German Nazi leader and politician.
27-: From The “Ring-In”, a short story about a group of Australian soldiers going to watch boxing matches, by Sergeant Dan Robinson of the A.I.F., published in The Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Victoria) of Saturday 15th September 1945:
Andy Watson, the Dude to his tentmates, Nugget, Porkie and Chiller, led the way down the narrow dirt track, barely discernible even in the rays of his torch.
“Hell—there’s a mob here,” Nugget breathed […].
“We have as much chance of copping a seat here as a tanker has of giving birth to a Matilda tank,” Chiller said disgustedly. […]
The Dude’s eyes narrowed shrewdly. “I’ll get a seat,” he said decidedly, “see you up at the truck when the fights are over.”
The two watched as he calmly stepped over a wire rope enclosing a small square set five yards away from the ring. A sign warned all and sundry that this enviable position was reserved for “Boxers.”
“He has more front than his old man’s emporium,” Nugget said and not without foundation.
The Dude’s father, J. R. Watson, owned one of the largest retail houses in the Southern Hemisphere.
28-: From a portrait of Billy Heaton, an Australian dancer who claimed to have introduced the Charleston to Australia—portrait published in the Daily Telegraph and Daily News (Sydney, New South Wales) of Sunday 21st May 1950:
Heaton went to a dancing teacher and, after two week’s tuition, opened up in opposition to him.
“I had more front than the G.P.O. 7, but it didn’t do me much good—I went broke after a few weeks,” he says.
7 G.P.O.: General Post Office.