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Larrikin is an Australian English term which, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, meant "a lout, a hoodlum"[1] or "a young urban rough, a hooligan",[2] meanings which were obsolescent[1] in the later 20th century, when connotations were mostly of "a mischievous young person, an uncultivated, rowdy but good hearted person", or "a person who acts with apparent disregard for social or political conventions".[2]


The term larrikin was reported in an English dialect dictionary in 1905, referring to "a mischievous or frolicsome youth". [3] The word lupikin, from Scottish Gaelic lubaiche, in the Cromarty Fisherfolk dialect, meaning scoundrel",[4] is unlikely to be cognate.

Evolution of larrikin culture[edit]

Commentators have noted the larrikin streak in Australian culture, and have theorised about its origins.[5] Some say that larrikinism arose as a reaction to corrupt, arbitrary authority during Australia's days as a penal colony, or as a reaction to norms of propriety imposed by officials from Britain on the young country. The term was used to describe members of the Rocks Push[6] – a criminal gang in The Rocks in Sydney during the late 19th and early 20th centuries - who were noted for their antisocial behaviour and gang-specific dress codes.[7][8] An October 1947 editorial in the Australian Women's Weekly equated larrikinism with vandalism including arson, "They are the people who leave their picnic fires smouldering, and start blazes that deal the final blow to green loveliness", and defacing monuments, "A similar larrikin streak sends louts into city parks to shy stones at monuments and chip noses off statuary".[9]

Affectionate colloquial usage[edit]

Australian vernacular speech commonly inverts a word-meaning ironically to a diametrical opposite, e.g, nicknaming a red-haired person as "Bluey".[10] In similar fashion highly derogatory terms such as "bastard" and "larrikin" are frequently deployed with affectionate, even respectful[citation needed] connotations.

In 1965 Australian swimmer, Dawn Fraser, was banned from competition by the Australian Swimming Union for various incidents at the previous year's Summer Olympics. Fraser was later described as having a "larrikin streak" as well as being an "iconic figure", and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1988.[11]

Melissa Bellanta describes the evolution of larrikinism in Australia in her book, Larrikins: A History:[12]

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 scallywag. 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.

—Melissa Bellanta, Larrikins: A History (2012)

This popular image of non-criminal larrikinism has become a recognisable element in Australian culture, influencing Australian contemporary art, youth culture and political debate.[13]

It can be argued that the larrikin tradition of disdain for authority, propriety and the often conservative norms of bourgeois Australia (as evident, for example, in the country's history of censorship and the nation's receptiveness to paternalistic leaders) are two sides of a self-reinforcing dynamic; the social conservatism of the mainstream fuels the undercurrent of larrikinism and rebellion, which, in turn, is seen as demonstrating that a firm hand is needed. This is sometimes referred to as the "larrikin-wowser nexus", "wowser" being an Australian colloquial term for a person of puritanical mores.[14]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Delbridge, Arthur (2009). Macquarie Dictionary (5th ed.). Sydney: Macquarie Library. p. 943. ISBN 9781876429669. 
  2. ^ a b Ludowyk, Frederick; Moore, Bruce (2000). Oxford Modern Australian Dictionary. 
  3. ^ Wright, J. Supplement, English Dialect Dictionary (1898–1905). Cited at p. 667 Volume VIII The Oxford English Dictionary. Clarendon Press, Oxford, England. 2000.
  4. ^ Cromarty Fisherfolk dialect (2 MB download)
  5. ^ Gorman, Clem (1990), The Larrikin streak : Australian writers look at the legend, South Melbourne, Vic: Sun Books, ISBN 978-0-7251-0628-7 
  6. ^ "The Labour Bureau.". Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 - 1904) (National Library of Australia). 27 February 1892. p. 3. Retrieved 28 February 2013. Work went on satisfactorily for a time, but in the afternoon a horde of larrikins, known as the 'Rocks push', annoyed and interrupted the men by calling them blacklegs. The larrikins did not stop at using abusive epithets, but even resorted to violence, with the result that one man was so severely injured that he had to be conveyed to the Sydney Hospital .
  7. ^ "Celebrating the original larrikin"
  8. ^ Larrikin Convicts
  9. ^ "Editorial.". The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982) (1933-1982: National Library of Australia). 18 October 1947. p. 18. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Lambert, J. (ed): Macquarie Book of Slang, Macquarie University, 1996
  11. ^ Heywood, Anne; Henningham, Nikki (5 September 2012). "Fraser, Dawn (1937 - )". The Australian Women's Register. The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW). University of Melbourne. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  12. ^ Bellanta, Melissa (2012), Larrikins: A History, St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, ISBN 978-0-7022-3912-0, 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 a scallywag. 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 sub-culture 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. .
  13. ^ Larrikin's Hop & blackface minstrelsy
  14. ^ Defined by Macquarie Book of Slang (Lambert, J. (ed) Macquarie University, 1996) p.266: n. 1. a killjoy or spoilsport. 2. a prude who constantly complains about the supposed deleterious effects of other people's behaviour on society. [? British dialect wow, to make a complaint; whine; popularly supposed to be an acronym of We Only Want Social Evils Remedied, a slogan invented by John Norton, Australian journalist and politician, 1862 (sic)-1916]

Further reading[edit]