Review of Larrikins: A History, by Melissa Bellanta


In a recent weekend paper there was a review of yet another biography labelling its subject a larrikin. This time it was Shirl: The Lift of a Legendary Larrikin. No doubt Jeff Apter depicts Shirley Strachan as a bloke prepared to break a few rules, someone with an egalitarian streak, a likeable figure. Instead of examining legendary larrikins, Melissa Bellanta's Larrikins: A History looks at what she calls the 'original larrikins' who flourished between the late 1860s and the late 1920s, and, not surprisingly, she finds them rather unlikable. As well as accounts of their fighting police, battling each other, and upsetting respectable citizens, the book details larrikin involvement in numerous rapes—carried out both by individuals and by gangs—and in anti-Chinese violence. Bellanta quotes John Woods who, having been dragged off the 12-year old girl he was raping behind a Salvation Army barracks, told a police officer: 'I am sorry I went for the girl. I thought it was her sister Annie. I did not get half an inch into her. The others in the push put me on to her and I went for her the same as anyone would do' (68). The original larrikins are revealed as 'a youth subculture characterised by an ethic of revenge, violence towards women and non-white Australians' (99).

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Published 1 November 2012 in Volume 27 No. 3-4. Subjects: Larrikins.

Cite as: Butterss, Philip. ‘Review of Larrikins: A History, by Melissa Bellanta.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 27, no. 3/4, 2012, doi: 10.20314/als.a698a052b5.