In search of the larrikin girl

12 May

Well, I’ve been very slow indeed since I got back from the whistle-stop conference visit to the UK. Am giving two papers over the next couple of days, though – here’s the latest for the University of Queensland’s history seminar later this week:

In Search of the Larrikin Girl: Rough Femininity and Street Subculture in Australia, 1870-1915.


The culture of young street toughs or ‘larrikins’ in turn-of-the-century Australia was unabashedly masculine in character. It revolved around the performance of a flamboyant machismo; around fighting, taunting authority-figures, and bragging about one’s sexual prowess. As with rough youth subcultures elsewhere, this has meant that the girls and young women who participated in the larrikin milieu have either been rendered invisible or else presented as the sexual dupes of men.

In this paper I discuss my search for the larrikin girl in the historical sources, along with my attempt to come to terms with her relevance to scholarship from cultural studies and sociology on girls and street subcultures. I argue particularly for a focus on the theatricality of the larrikin-girl persona, and consider the ways in which this allows us to understand these rough girls and young women as something more than the auxiliaries of larrikin boys.

5 Responses to “In search of the larrikin girl”

  1. Grace 20 April 2010 at 10:31 pm #

    Do you have a public copy of this paper? The Donah’s is something I have become increasingly intrigued in but have found limited information on. I would love to find out more!
    Thanks Grace

    • Melissa Bellanta 21 April 2010 at 5:02 am #

      Dear Grace

      I’ll send you my just-approved article, ‘The Larrikin Girl’, which will appear in the Journal of Australian Studies later this year. It is also a shortened version of a chapter for my book-in-progress, Brazen Kate and High-Heeled Ned: A Larrikin History.

      Thanks, M

      • LCA 11 November 2011 at 5:32 am #

        I’d love to read it as well if possible!

      • Adjunct Professor John Whiteoak (Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music. Monash Uni) 18 October 2018 at 9:49 am #

        Dear Melissa You may be aware of my work in early Australian popular music and dance culture and I am preparing a paper for the 2019 international IASPM conference in Canberra about the music and dance of youth culture in Australia just before WW1 and the influence of the revolutionary new Irving-Berlin style ragtime song and dance music, the tango craze and ‘public dancing’ as counterculture forces. I have some publications as pdfs that may be of direct interest, such as Demons of Discord or a Good Black Music Story that I could send (see “Pubications”) (but I would love to see your articles on minstrels and larrikinism (which I touch on Demons of Discord) and women and Larrikinism, which I will fully acknowledge in any work. My interest in 1910s Oz youth culture and music and social dance came first from my friendship with the long deceased left-wing historian, Les Barnes, who had vivid recollections of the era in Melbourne. I am about to order your book. Good Wishes John

      • Melissa Bellanta 29 October 2018 at 9:22 am #

        Dear John

        I certainly am aware of your work! Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you (I got very caught up on Friday after finding out that Simon Birmingham secretly cancelled an ARC grant I won last year, proposing to use men’s dress as a way to do social history). I was actually so chuffed to see that you had emailed me, because I have loved your work on early hillbilly music and what jazz actually meant in Australia (all that crashing percussion!).

        I think the best material I had about larrikins and dancing (and unfortunately, there isn’t a lot) will be in the book. I will send you the article on larrikins and blackface minstrelsy for the Journal of Social History here too – but I suspect in both cases, it will be rather threadbare for a music historian. Just glance over it for what it is worth…

        This paper you are working on sounds exciting – I would love to read it when it’s done.

        At some point in future, I want to write an article about men’s dress in the 1930s. I will use the Australian Music Maker and Dance Band news, among other sources, because the idea will be to showcase what the decade meant for the fashions of the ‘modern man’. When I start to think about it early next year, it would be so great to have a conversation with you about Jim Davidson and other big-bandsmen: the suits, the hair and the style! I will also be in touch then to follow up some of those amazing papers listed on your website.

        Very warm regards – and thanks so much for getting in touch

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