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Larrikins: A History
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Larrikins: A History

Author: Melissa Bellanta

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From the true-blue Crocodile Hunter to the blue humour of Stiffy and Mo, from the Beaconsfield miners to The Sentimental Bloke, Australia has often been said to possess a ‘larrikin streak’.

Today, being a larrikin has positive connotations and we think of it as the key to unlocking the Australian identity: a bloke who refuses to stand on ceremony and is a bit of scally wag. When it first emerged around 1870, however, larrikin was a term of abuse, used to describe teenage, working-class hell-raisers who populated dance halls and cheap theatres. Crucially, the early larrikins were female as well as male.

Larrikins: A History takes a trip through the street-based youth subculture known as larrikinism between 1870 and 1920. Swerving through the streets of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, it offers a glimpse into the lives of Australia’s first larrikins, including bare knuckle-fighting, football-barracking, and knicker-flashing teenage girls. Along the way, it reveals much that is unexpected about the development of Australia’s larrikin streak to present fascinating historical perspectives on hot ‘youth issues’ today, including gang violence, racist riots, and raunch culture among adolescent girls.