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    Adelaide - Larrikinism


    (Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience)

    The poorest State
    Can't educate
    This poor abortive human through his leal;
    So as it's vain
    To try his brain,
    They'll have to teach him through the back instead.

    It would appear the term 'larrikin' did not appear in our vocabulary until the early 1870s and its origin is said to rest with a policeman with a rich, thick Irish brogue who transformed the word 'larking' into 'laraking'.

    Prior to this time the imbecilic antics of our wayward youths were known as 'Tom and Jerryism':

    Larrikinism is a development of modern civilisation and a very objectionable one and Australian society appears to be a peculiarly congenial soil for the production of this type of life. There is nothing corresponding exactly to it in England; but the 'hoodlum' of America is a brother to the 'larrikin' of Australia.

    If Charles Darwin was challenged to explain the origin of the larrikin species, it may be supposed that he would refer to the superabundance of physical energy derived from the British stock; to the inordinate growth of the doctrine of liberty; to the comparatively large amount of leisure obtained in these days by all classes of society; to the ease with which money is obtained, leading to indulgence in a host of excesses that penurious times forbade; to the want of exercise of proper parental authority and to the early maturity of the physical constitution in these colonies, resulting, not infrequently, in the attainment of a man's stature before the mental powers are matured.

    The growth of larrikinism has been gradual, but steady, and flourishes most where population is dense. Its freaks vary according to circumstances and opportunity and range from such petty foolery as breaking gates off their hinges, removing sign boards and jostling foot passengers, to the barbarity of murdering Chinamen by torture, or assaulting and maiming the police.

    Nothing comes amiss to the larrikin, provided it is sufficiently foolish and mischievous. In his esteem there is naught that is sacred. The beauty of a flower, the grace of a tree, are nothing to him but objects for the gratification of his craze for destructiveness. The rights of property, the inviolability of the person, the tenderness claimed for the weak, the reverence due to the aged, all have no meaning to him - especially if the vigilance of the police can be eluded.

    The larrikin is a gregarious animal - I had almost written, beast. Combination is an essential condition of his operations, and he is an arrant coward. He plays his highest jinks at the expense of the defenceless, or when he believes himself supported by such a number of accomplices that he can depend on a practical immunity from chastisement. Nor must it be supposed that he belongs exclusively to what are commonly called the lower orders of society. He sometimes belongs to wealthy and would-be-respectable families - generally, in this case, to what have been happily but severely called 'the wealthy lower orders.'

    Whatever the accidents of birth the larrikin is an essentially ill-conditioned creature and, where means and opportunity have been such as rather to favour the development of decent habits and manliness of character, he is deserving of the greatest contempt. He is simply contemptible - a disgrace to himself and a nuisance to other people.

    In an 1872 report it was said that 'larrikinism has not yet taken hold upon the youth of the colony as it has upon the youth of some of our neighbours.' However, there was no doubt that, within Norwood and elsewhere, there was a class of boys and young men among us who, being ill-trained either intellectually or morally, were, in their public conduct, an insufferable nuisance. Any who doubted this needed only to walk down our main thoroughfares on a Saturday or Sunday evening to be convinced:

    Young people of both sexes paraded the footpaths and jostled against each other and the language used was of a most disgusting character. While fair-minded citizens had no desire to interfere with the liberty of these people having a right to public footpaths equally with others they did object, in the interests of public morality, to the occupation of our streets by those classes which drove respectable people away from them. Though many of them were of tender years they were adept at vice as their language and actions testified:

    Late in 1872 Mr James P. Boucaut introduced a Bill into the House of Assembly for the more effectual punishment of juvenile offenders which, when carried into law, was expected to be of great service to the community. It dealt with male offenders under the age of sixteen years and provided the 'wholesome and salutary punishment' of flogging for a number of offences which were specified as:

    1. Riotous or indecent conduct, or indecent or obscene language, or assaults on women, or disturbing the peace in any public place.
    2. Exposure in any public place.
    3. Singing obscene songs, or writing or drawing obscene words, figures, or representations in a public place.
    4. Throwing any deleterious drug, to the damage or danger of any person. 5. Being convicted as a rogue and vagabond.
    5. Throwing stones or other missiles to the danger of any person, after a previous conviction for a similar offence.
    6. Being guilty of simple larceny when the property stolen is of the value of £5 or less.
    For each or any of these offences the courts could sentence an offender to be once or twice whipped, either in substitution of, or in addition to, any sentence with which, by law, such offender could then be punished. In respect of whippings, the number of strokes were limited to twenty five.

    At the time, it was expected that this law would have:

    Over the next two decades the efficacy of the new laws, aimed at stamping out the menace, may be gauged from random newspaper reports:

    By the close of the nineteenth century the growth of 'gangs' or 'pushes', as they were more generally called, was apparent to any discerning citizen. They were to be found at our street corners annoying passers-by in the squares, along the river bank, in the parks and numerous other places and, in doing so, exerted a very bad influence on the rising generation.

    They played pitch and toss or lounged on the grass and played cards, 'two-up', 'knifey' and other games. From these gatherings emerged filthy language used in ordinary conversation. Until about 1897 the pushes were known by such names as the 'North Adelaide Push', the 'West Adelaide Push', or they took the names of their ringleader but, today, the 'pushes' are everywhere.

    They are so numerous, and the public so familiar with them, that their evil is scarcely noticed. Years ago a 'push' was regarded as a lawless set of larrikins, whom the police were asked to keep an eye on. They went about openly insulting people. The modern 'push' does not do this, they are often not noisy, but cluster together in circles and do their mischief in a cold-blooded manner.

    Children are attracted to the groups and hear and see all that takes place and their presence does not, in the slightest, make any difference. Thus, little children of tender years are often heard in the streets imitating those who are older and who ought to have set a good example. Boys and young men are not contented now with one or two companions, but want to join a 'push' and these are still growing.

    Undoubtedly gambling, the desire to gain other people's money, is at the root of it all. The Sunday scandals on the Park Lands, the pitch and toss 'pushes', which should have been suppressed in the first place, had been allowed to go all but unmolested. They had gained in daring, and hundreds of hitherto quiet, respectable boys, who would have blushed to have been seen in company with those who are now their associates, have become hardened.

    The Christian Endeavourers, all honour to them, should never have been allowed to interfere. The police ought to have swept them away with no uncertain hand. Now something is being done and the 'pushes' are being driven into the paddocks of our back streets and, until vigorous measures are taken, our children are in danger.

    The solution is imprisonment without the option of a fine. A few private clothes men could do wonders and, providing the government gave them and the Police Magistrate plenty of rope, respectable people could, again, move about and breathe in a pure atmosphere.

    So the debate continues as to the most effective method of eradicating the larrikin from our streets. Perhaps I can conclude by repeating part of a sermon (Deut. xxi, 20) given recently in the Wesley Church, Norwood:

    General Notes

    Information on the origin of the word "larrikin" appears in the Register,
    19 May 1886, page 7h -
    A policeman with a rich, thick Irish brogue transformed the word "larking" into "laraking"; also see
    4 June 1886, page 5b,
    22 October 1903, page 6g.

    "Tom and Jerryism" in Adelaide is discussed in the Register, 12 April 1854:

    The Register of 10 July 1861, page 3c says:

    The behaviour of "Our City Youths" is taken to task in the Register,
    15 August 1871, page 6a:

    Another irate citizen expressed concern at juvenile behaviour:

    "Tricks of Larrikins" is in the Chronicle,
    21 September 1872, page 11g,
    "Larrikinism" in the Express,
    9 November 1872, page 2b,
    7 and 11 August 1874, pages 3f and 2c.

    By late 1874 the problem in the city had reached endemic proportions and on 22 October at page 4e the Editor of the Register penned a censorious editorial - "The Future of Larrinkinism":

    Further comment followed on
    24 October 1874, page 5b,
    13 and 24 November 1874, pages 6b and 4e:

    "Larrikinism Rampant" is in The Irish Harp,
    27 November 1874, page 4d; also see
    24 and 30 November 1874, pages 2b and 2g.

    An editorial headed "More Larrikinism" is in the Advertiser,
    25 November 1874, page 2d; also see
    26 November 1874, page 3b,
    1 December 1874, page 2e (supp.),
    19 August 1875, page 3d; also see
    The Lantern,
    28 November 1874, page 5b,
    19 December 1874, page 5a,
    15 May 1875, page 12 (cartoon).

    "The Larrikin's Lament" is in the Register,
    27 July 1875, page 5g,
    31 July 1875, page 14b,
    12 February 1876, page 14b,
    14 April 1877, page 14a.

    An editorial on larrikinism is in the Advertiser,
    1 March 1876, page 4c:

    "The Larrikin" is in the SA Figaro,
    7 March 1877, page 2c.

    By 1877 the mischief had not been contained and on 7 April at page 4e the Editor of the Register delivered another censorious blast:

    On 8 May 1877, page 4f the Editor concluded:

    "Rowdyism in the Streets" is in the Register,
    8 May 1877, page 4f.

    A perceptive citizen reached the following conclusion in a letter published in the Register on 11 May 1877 at page 7b:

    Compulsory education and larrikinism are discussed in the Register,
    22 April 1878, page 4e.

    A poem is in the Register,
    18 February 1879, page 5f,
    22 February 1879, page 21g; one stanza reads:

    "Larrikinism and Open Air Preaching" is in the Express,
    17 April 1879, page 3g.

    On 13 December 1880 the Editor of the Register at page 4g says:

    "Larrikinism at Public Entertainment" is the cause for complaint in the Advertiser,
    29 January 1881, page 1d (supp.).

    "Juvenile Offenders" is in the Register on 5 December 1881, page 4f:

    Two months later on 6 February 1882 at page 4d the Editor says:

    A few weeks later he again airs his displeasure:

    An editorial on larrikinism is in the Advertiser,
    6 February 1882, page 4e:

    Larrikinism at the Botanic Gardens is discussed in Frearson's Weekly,
    4 March 1882, page 57,
    "Larrikinism and Gymnastics" is in the Observer,
    13 May 1882, page 32b.

    "Street Roughs" is in the Register,
    17 and 20 May 1882, pages 4g and 4e.

    A lecture on "Larrikinism" is reported in the Register,
    25 September 1882, page 6d; also see
    28 September 1882, page 6f,
    5 May 1883, page 25e.

    On 5 October 1882 at page 7a in the Register a correspondent exonerated the "English-born" from being associated with the larrikin "push":

    The Register of 2 March 1883 at page 5b records the sentencing of four larrikins found guilty of assaulting an inoffensive Chinese hawker. They were sentenced to, respectively, 5 years hard labour and 15 lashes, 3 years and 12 strokes, 3 years and 15 strokes and 10 years and 2 whippings of 20 strokes each.

    An editorial in the Advertiser on 14 January 1884, page 4e says:

    A cartoon "The Cure for Larrikinism" is in The Lantern,
    12 January 1884, page 7.

    "Disgraceful Disturbance" is in the Register,
    1 December 1884, page 5a.
    A special report in the Register on
    6 December 1884 at page 6d says, inter alia:

    A lay sermon on "Larrikinism" is in the Chronicle,
    26 January 1884, page 5g.

    "Larrikins in Adelaide" is in the Register,
    23 September 1886, page 3d.

    A correspondent to the Register on 8 July 1887 at page 3h suggests that "the larrikin element is greatly on the increase in the neighbourhood of the Central Market..."

    To stamp out the evil a correspondent to the Register on 15 March 1888 at page 7b recommended:

    On a happier note a correspondent to the Register on 16 October 1891 at page 6b reports that:

    "Larrikinism and the Law" is in the Register,
    12 August 1893, page 4f,
    "Larrikins and Larrikinism" on
    29 June 1895, page 6b,
    "A Growing Evil" on
    1 July 1895, page 5a,
    "Larrikins and the Police" on
    12 February 1896, page 4g:

    "Larrikins at Play" is in the Express,
    6 October 1896, page 2g.

    "Larrikins and Idle Boys" is in the Register,
    7 July 1897, page 4e,
    10 July 1897, pages 13a-28e:

    Also see Register, 8 July 1897, page 6d where a correspondent says:

    "Larrikins and Idle Boys" is in the Register,
    7 July 1897, page 4e,
    "Juvenile Depravity" is in the Register,
    3, 6, 8, 12, 14 and 26 July 1897, pages 9b, 6d, 6d, 6b-e, 6g and 7d.

    "Larrikins, Scuttlers and Hoodlums" is in the Register,
    21 May 1898, page 4e.

    Interesting articles headed "Our City Pushes" are in the Observer,
    14, 21 and 28 January 1899, pages 29d, 41d and 25d:

    This erudition resulted in a spate of comment for and against the proposition - see Register,
    9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 19, 20 and 25 January 1899, pages 6h-7h, 7d, 7f, 6e-f, 6f-7a, 3g, 6g, 6f and 7c:

    "Larrikins and Hooligans" is in the Register,
    22 December 1900, page 4e,
    "Larrikinism and Education" on
    31 August 1901, page 6c,
    6 September 1901, page 6g,
    "Long Sentences or the ""Cat"" on
    9 June 1903, page 4c:

    "The Larrikin as a Type" is in the Advertiser, 17 August 1901, page 6d:

    "Larrikinism in Adelaide", a report from the Park Lands Ranger, is in the Advertiser,
    26 November 1901, page 7b.

    A cartoon titled "A Push Battle" is in The Critic,
    14 December 1901, page 10.

    "Vandalism in the City" is in the Advertiser,
    11 November 1903, page 9b and
    a report on an Adelaide "push" on
    8 November 1904, page 4f.

    "Assaults by Larrikins" is in the Express,
    12 April 1904, page 4e.

    "Larrikins, Ancient and Modern" is in the Register,
    31 May 1904, page 7g.

    "Larrikins and Footballers" is in the Register,
    16 May 1905, page 4f.

    "Torrens Lake and Larrikinism" is in the Register,
    20 January 1906, page 4g.

    "Larrikinism at the Rotunda" is in the Express,
    30 January 1906, page 3f.

    "Vandalism and Larrikinism" is in the Register,
    18 July 1907, page 6d:

    "Larrikins and Pushes" is in the Express,
    26 April 1912, page 1i,
    "Larrikins in Khaki" is in the Register,
    4 January 1916, page 4d.

    "The Larrikin and His Ways" is in The News,
    27 May 1930, page 6c.

    "How To Deal With the City's Bad Boys" is in The News,
    14 July 1932, page 8e.

    "When Larrikin Gangs Roamed Adelaide's Streets" is in the Chronicle,
    4 February 1937, page 2d.