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Larrikins: A History – Sydney launch on 26 April

22 Apr

Sorry about the extraordinarily long hiatus, everyone. Pleased to say, though, that one of the reasons for it is now out of the way. The book, Larrikins: A Historymy key labour for the past few years – has finally been published by the University of Queensland Press.

The launch is this Thursday evening, 6 for 6.30pm on 26 April, at Gleebooks (49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe) in Sydney. If you live in the area:  I would love it if you came along and said hello.

I asked Mark Dapin, the novelist and recently sacked columnist and writer for the Good Weekend to launch the book. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time – his maverick humour, always underpinned by a quiet eloquence and genuine smarts – and felt like a nervous schoolgirl emailing him about the launch. This is the man who once edited the bloke’s magazine Ralph and wrote the confronting crime novel King of the Road, and whose sundry articles on the strange quirks of contemporary Australian society and masculinity are always worth returning to.

Lucky for me he said yes.

photo of Mark Dapin

Mark Dapin

Dead crook and running the rabbit: the larrikin vernacular

21 Jun

Trawling through local Melbourne newspapers from the early 1900s these past few days, I’ve come across a few suggestibve examples of larrikin slang:

Two teenage girls, Ivy Maine and a friend, were arrested for being drunk with a couple of so-called ‘buck larrikins’ in Yarra Park. A constable approaches them and asks if they’ve been drinking. The girls admit to quaffing some shandygaff, and that the boys have been ‘running the rabbit’. What does that mean, the magistrate asks? It means the boys have been bringing the girls beer in a bottle, Your Worship.

A young man called James Newbold comes into the Railway Hotel in Swan Street, Richmond, with a male friend. They’re barred from ordering drinks because Newbold’s friend has previously caused a rumpus in that same pub. ‘What sort of dead crook hotel is this?’ Newbold asks. ‘Come outside in the yard for five minutes, and I will put you in your place’.

Henry Mosley, an illiterate 17 year-old youth, is seen skylarking with a crowd of others his age in Green Street, Richmond, one Sunday night in 1910. A policeman once more approaches. ‘Cold pig to you!’ Mosley calls to him insultingly.


Richmond Guardian (Melbourne), 1 June 1912, 1; 1 April 1910, 2; 16 July 1910, 2.

Captain of the Push, and other embroideries

23 Apr

In the mid-1900s, any number of romanticised accounts of old Sydney were written by novelists or journalists trading in nostalgia for late nineteeth-century life. Isadore Brodsky, Ruth Park and Frank Clune were among the most popular of these writers, while the Saturday supplements of the papers were rife with lesser offerings.

A standard trope in these nostalgic accounts was the remembrance of the larrikin push (Australian for ‘hooligan gang’) back in the ‘bad old days’. Brodsky’s Heart of the Rocks of Old Sydney, Ruth Park’s Sydney, Kenneth Roberts’ Captain of the Push and other works all tell us that the inner suburbs and city-fringe neighbourhoods of Sydney were made into the fiefdoms of ruffian pushes, many of them ruled by larrikin ‘kings’.

In his more recent history of Sydney, for example, Geoffrey Moorhouse draws on this oeuvre to tell us that ‘the so-called Forty Thieves had the suzerainty of the Rocks, the Iron House Mob ruled Woolloomooloo, while Bristley’s Mob ran the show between George Street and Darling Harbour’.

Now it is the case that there were larrikin pushes in late nineteenth-century Sydney who got involved in street fights and were prosecuted for numerous other crimes. But there is also a great deal of exaggeration and in some cases downright nonsense about them in these histories. 

The idea that larrikin pushes made whole suburbs into their ‘peculiar kingdoms’ (to quote Ruth Park’s Sydney) is an obvious example. Even if unruly groups of adolescents and older rowdies were a routine feature of life in a particular neighbourhood, the use of an overblown imperial language to describe them is absurd.

Larry Foley

A case of outright misinformation also appears in Captain of the Push. Its author Kenneth Roberts claims that the bare-knuckle champion-turned-boxer Larry Foley was the leader of an all-Catholic larrikin push called Larry’s Mob in inner Sydney at the start of the 1870s. He says that Larry’s Mob did battle with the all-Protestant Rocks Push led by Sandy Ross at the time. On the basis of this, accounts in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and numerous other online sites erroneously claim that there were two larrikin gangs called the Green and the Orange which were once fought for supremacy of the Rocks.

No evidence I have seen supports these claims. For a start, the timing is wrong: there weren’t well-defined larrikin pushes in Sydney at the beginning of the 1870s. And the obituaries for Larry Foley that Roberts seems to have relied upon only suggest that there were loose Protestant and Catholic factions within Sydney’s bare-knuckle fighting fraternity, each of which urged Larry Foley and Sandy Ross to hold a prize fight in March 1871. The rest of Roberts’ story about the pair being the captains of rival street gangs seems to have been embroidered from poetry such as Henry Lawson’s ‘The Bastard From the Bush’ (in which the phrase ‘Captain of the Push’ appears) and other accounts of larrikin pushes from a period later than the 1870s.

The moral to this story is: beware accounts of a larrikin street gangs big on talk of kings and suzerainities and short of evidence to back up their claims. They tell us more about twentieth-century nostaligia for hard masculinity and the mean streets than they do about Sydney’s inner-suburban life in the late-Victorian years.


Isadore Brodsky, Sydney Looks Back (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1957).

Isadore Brodsky, Heart of the Rocks of Old Sydney (Sydney: Old Sydney Free Press, 1965).

W. M. Horton, ‘Foley, Laurence (Larry) (1849 – 1917)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, Melbourne University Press, 1972, p. 193.

Geoffrey Moorhouse, Sydney (St Leonards, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1999).

Ruth Park, Ruth Park’s Sydney, rev. ed. (Potts Point, Sydney: Duffy & Snellgrove, 1999, first published 1973).

Kenneth Roberts, Captain of the Push (Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1963).

Image of Larry Foley from

An 1880 art-and-obscenity trial: Ingres comes to Pitt St, Sydney

24 May

Hopefully, the Bill Henson imbroglio of 2008 is behind us in Australia now (for those who missed it: Australian police shut down the renowned artist’s shows at the rosylnoxley9 gallery last year, claiming that his photographs of teens sans clothes were child pornography).

I don’t have anything to say about that brouhaha that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. But I thought I would note an incident in Sydney in early November 1880, in which police once again stormed an establishment selling art, and in that case charged the dealer with obscenity.

The prosecution was for the exhibition of Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres’ La Source, a reproduction of which hung in the window of the dealer’s shop in Pitt Street, Sydney.

ingres_sourceThe Source (1856)

This painting had a ‘demoralising influence’, the prosecuting constable told the court, because ‘it represented the naked form of a woman’, and because it attracted large crowds of ‘the larrikin class’ – not only boys and young men, but ‘low, abandoned women and girls’ as well – who gathered to gaze at it on the Pitt Street footpath. This was, of course, the nub of the matter so far as he was concerned. The danger in 1880 lay with the inflammatory effects of female nudity on the lower orders, who would allow it to further demoralise themselves.

The charge in this case was roundly dismissed, you may be happy to know. Evidence in support of the dealer was given by a judge in the Art Section of the Sydney International Exhibition, who gave the usual testimony in such circumstances. He declared that ‘the indecency lay more in the mind of the critic’ than the painting itself, and that paintings of as much explicitness were available for view in the Art Gallery any day of the year. In spite of the contemporary panic about paedophilia and the very 1880s one about larrikinism, one is tempted to say, has really all that much changed?

The Territories of Youth

17 May

I will be adding a fair few titles to my bibliography on larrikinism shortly. This is largely because I have been working my way through a fabulous PhD thesis by Simon Sleight from Monash University, called ‘The Territories of Youth: Young People and Public Space in Melbourne, 1870-1901’, a work oozing research leads and suggestions for secondary reading.

‘The Territories of Youth’ looks at the way young people used the outdoor spaces of Melbourne in the late nineteenth century. It has a chapter specifically on larrikins (soon to appear as an article in Australian Historical Studies) called ‘Interstitial acts: urban space and the larrikin repertoire’.

Sleight essentially shows that larrikin used vacant lots, marketplaces and street corners throughout inner Melbourne for the performance of rebellious youthfulness – something that obviously complements my own work on their interaction with theatrical and other performance genres, and the way this played out in turn-of-the-century streets. The article when it appears in Australian Historical Studies will be worth a read. The broader thesis also maps the trajectories of many working-class children through the streets of Melbourne, providing an intimate glimpse into their city at the time.

gangs of manchester

The reason I came across Simon’s thesis was that I fortuitously met him at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London recently. He is planning future research looking comparatively at Melbourne and Liverpool delinquency at the turn of the twentieth century. And he has also directed me to the fabulous work of Andrew Davies, author of The Gangs of Manchester (the cover image for which appears above) and a soon-to-be-perfomed play on the subject, Angels With Manky Faces. (I’ncidentally, I’d never known until hearing this that the word ‘manky’, which I grew up using to mean ‘wonky’ or ‘wrong’, was an insult to the good citizens of Manchester).

Larrikins and blackface minstrelsy#2

12 May

My article on larrikins and blackface minstrelsy has finally appeared in the Journal of Social History. One of my aims in writing it was to provide an Australian perspective on debates about the relationship of blackface minstrelsy to race and class, given that those perspectives are usuallyoffered by American historians. But I was also keen to give a glimpse into male larrikns’ theatrical persona and everyday activities: their interest in performance in the street as well as minstrel performances and Ned Kelly-style melodramas.

Unfortunately, the Journal of Social History’s copyright restrictions say I can’t put it up online for some time, But anyone interested in a copy should feel free to ask for a pdf by email.

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.

A Larrikin Bibliography

29 Jan

I’ve noticed that quite a lot of people have visited my earlier patchy posts on Australian larrikinism in the late 19thC, so there is obviously an interest in finding out more about the phenomenon. Here, then, is my working bibliography on Australian larrikinism, focusing on the period 1870 (the first year that ‘larrikin’ was used in the press) and the early 1900s.

The most useful accounts in my view are in bold. I am sure I will be adding to it from time to time, and would welcome any suggestions of other sources along the way, especially of relevant PhD theses… I will also include a bibliography of literary accounts of larrikinism in another post sometime soon.

Primary Sources

(This list only includes references to larrikins in published books. There are a huge number of references to larrikins in the daily or other regular newspapers from the period, which are far too plentiful to be listed here. Of these, the Bulletin‘s diatribe, entitled ‘The Larrikin Residuum’ is the one most often quoted in secondary works: Bulletin, 8 January 1881, 1. See also selected cartoons of larrikins from the Bulletin in Patricia Rolfe, The Journalistic Javelin: An Illustrated History of the Bulletin (Sydney 1979)).

Adams, Francis. The Australians: A Social Sketch (London: Fisher & Unwin, 1896).  

Ajax (pseud.), ‘Larrikinism’, Sydney Quarterly Magazine 1.2 (January 1884): 207-15.

Banks, Samuel Hawker, Vice and its Victims in Sydney. The Cause and its Cure (Sydney, 1873).

Clarke, Marcus. A Colonial City: High and Low Life. Selected Journalism of Marcus Clarke, ed. L. T. Hergenhan (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1972).  

Cornish, Henry. Under the Southern Cross (Madras: Higinbotham, 1880).

Denton, Sherman F. Incidents of a Collector’s Rambles in Australia, NZ, and New Guinea (Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1889) (An American traveller describing an altercation with larrikins at Clunes on the Victorian goldfields).

Freeman, John [pseud.]. Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life (London: Sampson Low, Martston, Searle, & Rivington, 1888).

Furniss, Harry. Australian Sketches Made on Tour (London: Ward, Lock & Co., n.d.) (includes some sketches of larrikinesses and a brief derogatory discussion of them; ditto of larrikins at Paddy’s Market).

Gould, Nat. Town and Bush: Stray Notes. (London: Routledge, 1896; reprinted in 1974 by Penguin).

Grey, Harry (‘The Moocher’). Scenes in Sydney by Day and Night: A Series of Social Sketches (Parramatta: His Crown Printing Works, n.d.)

James, John Stanley. The Vagabond Papers (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1969). (A reprint of a late 19thC compilation of James’ columns for the Argus, containing commentary on low-life Melbourne).

Inglish, James (‘Maori’). Our Australian Cousins (London: Macmillan, 1880).

McTavish, Sandy. Our Noble Selves: A Study in General Invective (Melbourne, n.d.) (I’ve included this book, written in the 1930s, in the primary sources because McTavish appears to be writing from personal recollection of late-nineteenth century larrikinism. As the title suggests, however, this is essentially a piece of humorous invective rather than a reliable account. McTavish’s chapter, ‘The Politics of the Push’, is basically a comic rant likening the larrikins of the late 19thc to the Australian Labor Party of the early 20thC).

Pratt, Ambrose. ‘”Push” Larrikinism in Australia’, Blackwood’s Magazine CLXX (1901): 27-40 (This is one of the most oft-quoted primary sources on larrikinism, but is by no means the most valuable – it concerns larrikinism after the turn of the 20thC in The Rocks, and is almost entirely bunkum so far as I am concerned. Pratt was a popular novelist: he also wrote a novel called King of the Rocks (1900), featuring a similarly apochryphal larrikin hero).

Twain, Mark. Mark Twain in Australia and NZ, ed. Michael Cannon, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973 [first pub. 1897]

Twopeny, R. M.  Town Life in Australia (London: Stock, 1883).

‘X.O.’. ‘Australian Pushes’. Unpublished letter to the editor of the Bulletin (September 1901). Held in Hayes Collection, Fryer Library, University of Queensland. (Extracts from this letter appear in Connell and Irving’s Class Structure in Australian History, cited in full below).

See also assorted primary sources cited in Morris, below.

Published Secondary Sources

Allen, Judith. Sex and Secrets: Crimes Involving Australian Women Since 1880 (Melbourne: Oxford UP, 1990), chapter II (frighteningly vivid account of the Mt Rennie gang rape and other sex-crimes involving larrikin defendants in 1880s Sydney).

Anderson, Hugh. Larrikin Crook: The Rise and Fall of Squizzy Taylor (Milton: Jacaranda, 1971). (Evocative account of a particular larrikin crim and his milieu in early twentieth century Richmond, Melbourne. Good as a companion piece to McCalman, below).

Baker, Sidney J. ‘Larrikins’ and ‘The Larrikin’s Girl’, in his The Australian Language (Currawong Publishing: Sydney, 1965), pp. 119-25, 128-30.

Bellanta, Melissa. ‘The larrikins’ hop: larrikinism in late-colonial theatre’, Australasian Drama Studies, 52 (April 2008). Download this article from this page if you wish.

Clark, Manning. ‘Larrikins: the context’, in Clem Gordon, ed. The Larrikin Streak: Australian Writers Look at the Legend (Sydney: 1990).

Connell, R.W. and T.H. Irving, Class Structure in Australian History: Poverty and Progress, 2nd ed. (Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1992).

Crotty, Martin. Making the Australian Male: Middle-Class Masculinity 1870-1920 (Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2000). (Like White’s article below, Crotty briefly discusses middle-class accounts of larrikinism as the antithesis of upstanding Australian manliness around the turn of the century).

Davison, Graeme. ‘The city-bred child and urban reform in Melbourne, 1900-1940′, in Peter Williams (ed.), Social Process and the City (Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1983), 143-74.

               , The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne 2nd ed. (Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2004), 70-4.

Evans, Raymond. ‘Night of broken glass: the anatomy of an anti-Chinese riot’, in his Fighting Words: Writing About Race (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1999), 79-94 (an earlier version of this article also appears in the Brisbane History Group’s Brisbane in 1888 and is summarised in Radical Brisbane).

Finch, Lynette. ‘On the streets: working-class youth culture in 19th-century Sydney’, in Rob White. ed. Australian Youth Subcultures: On the Margins and in the Mainstream (Hobart: Australian ACYS Publishing, 1999) 75-9. (Some of the primary research in this article is drawn from Finch’s longer work, The Classing Gaze).

Finnane, Mark. ‘Larrikins, delinquents and cops: Police and young people in Australian history’, in Rob White and Christine Alder, eds, Police and Young People in Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 7-26.

Fisher, Rod. ‘Old Frogs Hollow: den of iniquity, or devoid of interest?’, in Brisbane History Group, Brisbane in 1888 (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 1989): 17-46. (Immaculately researched account of larrikinism, prostitution and street crime in inner-urban Brisbane. Read as a companion piece to Raymond Evans’ account of the 1888 anti-Chinese Brisbane riot, in which larrikins were prominently involved).

Garton, Stephen. ‘Pursuing incorrigible rogues: patterns of policing in NSW 1870-1930’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society. 77.3 (1991): 16-29.

Gleeson, Kate. ‘White natives and gang rape at the time of centenary’ in Scott Poynting and George Morgan, eds. Outrageous! Moral Panics in Australia (Hobart: ACYS Publishing, 2007), 171-80.

Grabowsky, P. Sydney in Ferment: Crime, Dissent and Official Reaction, 1788-1973 (Canberra: ANU Press, 1977), 84-103.

Jaggs, Donella. Neglected and Criminal: Foundations of Child Welfare Legislation in Victoria (Melbourne 1986).

Jamison, Bryan. ‘Larrikin “Push”, 1902’, in Raymond Evans and Carole Ferrier, eds, Radical Brisbane (Melbourne: Vulgar Press, 2004), 123-32.

Johnston, W. Ross, The Long Blue Line: A History of the Queensland Police (Brisbane: Boolarong Publications, 1992).

Kociumbas, Jan. Australian Childhood: A History (Sydney, 1997) 128-9, 142-3.

Lack, John. A History of Footscray (Melbourne: 1991). (On larrikinism in Footscray, Melbourne, during the 1920s).

                      . ‘Working class leisure’. Victorian Historical Journal 49.191 (Feb 1978): 49-65 (another discussion focused on Footscray, with brief references to larrikins).

Larson, Ann. Growing Up in Melbourne: Family Life in the Late 19thC (Canberra 1994) (brilliant work of historical demography, dealing with work, home and school life for Melbourne youth, including a discussion of larrikinism).

McCalman, Janet. Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond, 1900-1965 (Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 1998). (Includes stray references to larrikins in the working-class suburb of Richmond, Melbourne).

McConville, Chris, ‘From criminal class to underworld’, in Graeme Davison, David Dunstan and Chris McConville, eds, The Outcasts of Melbourne: Essays in Social History (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1985), 69-90.

Maynard, Margaret. Fashioned From Penury: Dress as Cultural Practice in Colonial Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994) (Includes a brief discussion of larrikin dress).

Moore, Bruce. Speaking Our Language: The Story of Australian English (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008). On the etymology of the word larrikin).

Morgan, George. ‘The Bulletin and the larrikin: moral panic in late 19th-century Sydney’, Media International Australia 85 (November 1997): 17-23. (Standard cultural studies piece on larrikinism and moral panic: see Kate Gleeson’s more recent chapter for another example).

Morris, E. Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases and Usages (London: Macmillan, 1898), 259-63 (Traces the emergence of the word ‘larrikin’, with suggestive quotes from primary sources).

Murray, James. Larrikins: 19th Century Outrage (Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1973) (This popular history of larrikinism is obviously based on great research, but is annoyingly free of footnotes for those wanting to follow it up with their own).

Pawsey, Margaret. ‘Annie Wilkins: Life on the margins in 19thC Collingwood’. Victorian Historical Journal 66.1 (June 1995): 1-19 (close study of Collingwood sisters who were involved in the larrikin milieu).

Pearson, Geoffrey. Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears (London: Macmillan, 1983) (On English hooligans, but includes references to the fact that they were sometimes called larrikins in the late 1890s).

Petrow, Stefan. ‘Arabs, boys and larrikins: juvenile delinquents and their treatment in Hobart, 1860-1896’. Australian Journal of Legal History 2 (1996): 37-59.

Phillips, David. ‘Anatomy of a rape case 1888: sex, race, violence and criminal law in Victoria’, in David Phillips and Susan Davies, eds, A Nation of Rogues? Crime, Law and Punishment in Colonial Australia (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press 1994). (This chapter only touches on larrikinism: it mentions the notorious gang rape of a 16 year old girl at Mt Rennie, near Woolloomooloo in Sydney, in 1886 – 4 of the reputed 20-plus larrikins involved were executed in January 1887).

Priestley, Susan. ‘Larrikins and the law, 1849-1874′, Victorian Historical Journal 74. 2 (2003).

Ramsland, John. Children of the Back Lanes: Destitute and Neglected Children in Colonial NSW (Sydney: UNSW Press, 1986).

                               . With Just But Relentless Discipline: A Social History of the Corrective Services in NSW (Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press, 1996), 53-67.

Rickard, John, ‘Lovable larrikins and awful ockers’, Journal of Australian Studies 56 (1998): 78-85. (A discussion of literary accounts of larrikinism, and how they have changed over time).

Schoff, Paul. ‘The hunting of the larrikin: law, larrikinism, and the flight of respectability in nineteenth-century South Australia’. Australian Journal of Legal History 1 (1995): 93-107.

Smith, Kylie. ‘Larrikins, labour and the law in Sydney from 1870-1900’, in Greg Patmore et al, eds, The Past is Before Us: Proceedings of the 9th National Labour History Conference (Sydney: Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 2005), 451058 (NB this is an unrefereed paper).

Stratton, Jon. The Young Ones: Working-Class Culture, Consumption and the Category of Youth (Perth: Black Swan Press, 1992). (This doesn’t introduce any new evidence of larrikinism – it relies entirely on John Murray’s Larrikinism, and is chiefly concerned with the bodgies and widgies of the mid-20thC as a latter-day version of larrikinism. However, it provides a good discussion of sociological/cultural studies perspectives on the topic).

Van Krieken, Robert. Children and the State: Social Control and the Formation of Australian Child Welfare (Nth Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1992).

Walker, David, ‘Youth on trial: the Mt Rennie case’, Labour History 50 (May 1986): 28-41.

White, Cameron, ‘Promenading and picknicking: the performance of middle-class masculinity in 19th-century Sydney’, Journal of Australian Studies 89 (2006): 27-40. (This article is chiefly concerned with middle-class men on Sydney’s foreshores, but White also talks about larrikins as the antithesis of upstanding manliness and includes excellent references to their rowdy harbourside antics).

Williamson, Noelene. ‘”Hymns, songs and blackguard verses’: life in the Industrial and Reformatory School for Girls in NSW, Part 1, 1867 to 1887′. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 67.4 (1982): 375-87.

                                  . ‘Laundry maids or ladies? Life in the Industrial and Reformatory School for Girls in NSW, Part II, 1887 to 1910’. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 68.4  (1983): 312-24 (both these articles give glimpses into the lives of girls sent to reformatories, some for hanging out with male larrikins).

Unpublished Secondary Sources

Jamison, Bryan. ‘A Great Social Force Making For Order and Morality”: An Analysis of Institutions for Rational Recreation in Late Victorian and Edwardian Brisbane’, PhD Thesis, University of Queensland, 2002. (This thesis looks at moralistic attempts to reform larrikins and other working-class Brisbaneites. Jamison drew on his research for this thesis to write the chapter on Brisbane larrikins in Radical Brisbane, above).

Johnson, Murray. ‘Leaning Against the Lamp-Post: A History of Larrikinism in Queensland’, BA Hons Thesis, History Department, University of Queensland, 1998.

McConville, Chris. ‘Outcast Melbourne: Social Deviance in the City, 1880-1914′. MA Thesis, University of Melbourne, 1974.

McLachlan, N. D. ‘Larrikinism: An Interpretation’. MA Thesis, University of Melbourne, 1950.

Smith, Kylie. ‘The Larrikin Subject: Hegemony and Subjectivity in Late Nineteenth-Century Sydney’, PhD Thesis, University of Wollongong, 2008.

Sleight, Simon. ‘The Territories of Youth: Young People and Public Space in Melbourne, c. 1870-1901′. PhD Thesis, Monash University, 2008.

Waters, Edgar. ‘Some Aspects of the Popular Arts in Australia, 1880-1915′ (PhD Thesis, Australian National University, Canberra, 1962) 189-237. (This thesis includes a chapter on larrikins in literature and popular theatre around the turn of the century).

Richmond larrikins, early 20thC

25 Jun

After far too long, I have returned to Janet McCalman’s Struggletown (1984), a really wonderful history of Richmond, Melbourne, based on oral testimony from residents during the first half of the twentieth century.

Perhaps the turn to Struggletown was inspired in part by my upcoming departure for  Melbourne. During the Australian Historical Association conference I will be staying with family in Richmond, in a yuppified converted silo (a long distance socio-economically from the period I’ve just been reading about). But I was also looking for evidence of larrikin life early in the century in MacCalman’s book, and I found it.

In 1910, MacCalman tells us, Richmond’s Rowena Parade Rats sported slouch hats and loud neckerchiefs, wearing much the same costume their flash forebears had worn in the 1880s. ‘They broke dances and in 1920 police had to be engaged to protect the respectable patrons at vaudeville concerts in the [Richmond] Town Hall. They vandalised the parks the Council tried to “make nice” for the nice people at Richmond; they jeered at churchgoers and leered at unobtainable girls; they harassed and threw stones at boating parties on the river; they commandeered the best swimming sports; they outraged the Wowsers by playing cards in public and two-up on Sundays.

“They were also capable of viciousness. In 1924 larrikins attached children in a new Council playground in North Richmond, leaving one girl with a broken leg and other children with head lacerations”. And in 1926, “two members of the Hill Mob knocked a youth unconscious in Swan Street when he refused to give them a tomato from a bag he was carrying home”.

What strikes me here is the homogeneity and longevity of larrikin culture across Australia. A lot of historical commentary on larrikinism talks about the fact that the larrikin figure became an object of sentimentality and nostalgia during the first two decades of the twentieth century. In the work of C J Dennis or Louis Stone, we hear, larrikins were portrayed as good ‘uns underneath, rough blokes who would morph into loving family men if given half a chance. Regardless of this shift to the romantic in literary portrayals of larrikins, however, the intractable lairishness and violence of larrikin culture continued at the street level well into the 1920s, and arguably intensified during the Depression that followed.


Janet McCalman, Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965, South Melbourne: Hyland House, 1998 (first published 1984), p 132

cf  Hugh Anderson, Larrikin Crook: The Rise and Fall of Squizzy Taylor (Jacaranda Press, 1971).

Brisbane larrikins

23 May

According to the travel-writer Gilbert Parker in the early 1880s, Brisbane had no larrikins. There were abundant low characters in the streets, certainly. Brisbane’s rough boys didn’t wear a slouch hat set at a rakish angle, however: they didn’t have quite the right features and style that Parker had identified as ‘larrikin’ in Australian cities further south. A particular sartorial style was indeed highly signficant to larrikins: they formed a subculture with its own dress codes and distinctive pursuits as well as an example of violent dissidence in turn-of-the-century urban Australia.

Parker can’t have been looking all that hard for larrikins in Brisbane’s streets. Either that, or he visited the city just before the full development of  its larrikin culture. Certainly, by the late 1880s and early 1890s, there were plenty of reports in the Brisbane press of the ‘full-blown’ larrikin boy and girl.

‘The larrikin loves Saturday night’, wrote a journalist for the Brisbane Courier in December 1888, ‘and in all the glory of high heels – of the French pattern – bell-bottomed pants, and bobtailed coats, decked with many buttons, he propels himself against hotel walls … and bespatters the fooway with his copious expectoration’. The same paper wrote of pushes of larrikin girls in Woolloongabba after dark in the 1890s, wearing short skirts and behaving ‘suspiciously’. Some larrikin girls in central Brisbane were prostitutes (or assumed to be such), and were imprisoned in ‘Lock Hospitals’ under contagious diseases laws in the early 1890s. ‘Latterly it has become a custom for them to break out at night as soon as they get an opportunity’, wrote a police sergeant in 1891, to sneak off to ‘meet some of their larrikin acquaintances, get drunk and return before the matron is up in the morning’.

Other accounts of Brisbane larrikins document the same kind of anti-Chinese violence in which Melbourne larrikins were engaged in the 1880s. The Brisbane riot in Albert Street on an election-day in 1888 was spearheaded by a group of larrikins throwing stones and beating Chinese men, egged on by a drunken crowd spilling out from nearby polling booths. At least two women were among the larrikins smashing Chinese shopfronts – and two Anglo women were also beaten as they came out of a shop near Queen Street because they who presumed to be concubines of Chinese men.

Intriguingly, and horribly, too, larrikins at Goodna fell upon a troupe of Mexican fortune-tellers making their peripatetic way about the Queensland interior in April 1902, a long way from where they were born.


Raymond Evans, ‘Night of Broken Glass: The Anatomy of an Anti-Chinese Riot’, in in Brisbane History Group, Brisbane in 1888: The Historical Perspective (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 1989) pp. 47-60.

Rod Fisher, ‘Old Frogs Hollow: Devoid of Interest, or a Den of Iniquity?’, in Brisbane History Group, Brisbane in 1888: The Historical Perspective (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 1989) pp. 17-46.

Mark Finnane, ‘Larrikins, Delinquents and Cops: Police and Young People in Australian History’, in Rob White and Christine Alder, eds, Police and Young People in Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) pp. 7-26.

Bryan Jamison, ‘A Great Social Forece Making For Order and Morality: An Analysis of Institutions for Rational Recreation in Late Victorian and Edwardian Brisbane’, PhD Thesis, University of Queensland, 2002.

                     , ‘Kangaroo Point, 1902’, in Raymond Evans and Carole Ferrier, eds, Radical Brisbane (Melbourne: Vulgar Press, 2004), pp. 123-32.

Murray Johnson, ‘Leaning Against the Lamp-Post: A Study of Larrikinism in South Queensland 1880-1920’, B.A. Hons Thesis, Department of History, University of Queensland, 1998.

W Ross Johnston, The Long Blue LIne: A History of the Queensland Police (Bowen Hills, Qld: Boolaroo Publications, 1992) pp. 169-70.

Gilbert Parker, in Edward Morris, Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases and Usages (London: Macmillan, 1898) pp. 259-63.