Rocks Push

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The Rocks Push was a notorious larrikin gang, which dominated the The Rocks area of Sydney from the 1870s to the end of the 1890s. In its day it was referred to as The Push, a title which has since come to be more widely used for cliques in general and the left-wing movement the Sydney Push.

The gang was engaged in running warfare with other larrikin gangs of the time such as the Miller's Point Push,[1] Straw Hat Push, the Glebe Push, the Argyle Cut Push, the Forty Thieves from Surry Hills and the Gibb Street Mob. They conducted such crimes as theft, assault and battery against police and pedestrians in the Rocks area. Female members of the Push would entice drunks and seamen into dark areas to be assaulted and robbed by the gang.

The leaders of the Rocks Push were crowned through victory in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Larry Foley, later to be regarded as the 'Father of Australian Boxing' was the leader of a Roman Catholic larrikin gang known as the Greens. On 18 March 1871, at the age of twenty-one, Foley fought Sandy Ross, leader of the 'Orange' or Protestant group. The fight lasted 71 rounds before police intervened.[2]

Australian authors of the time mentioned the Push in various of their works. A poem called The Bastard from the Bush, attributed to Henry Lawson, and a sanitised published version, The Captain of the Push,[3] describe in vivid and colourful language a meeting between a Push leader and a "stranger from the bush".

Would you dong a bloody copper if you caught the cunt alone,
Would you stoush a swell or Chinkee, split his garret with a stone?
Would you have a moll to keep you, would you swear off work for good?'
What? Live on prostitution? My colonial oath I would!'[4]

Another contemporary poet, Banjo Paterson, describes a group of tourists who go to visit the Rocks Push, and paints the following picture of the appearance of the gang members:

Wiry, hard-faced little fellows, for the most part, with scarcely a sizeable man amongst them. They were all clothed in “push” evening dress—black bell-bottomed pants, no waistcoat, very short black paget coat, white shirt with no collar, and a gaudy neckerchief round the bare throat. Their boots were marvels, very high in the heel and picked out with all sorts of colours down the sides.[5]

Paterson also said, addressing Lawson in In Defence of the Bush,

Did you hear no sweeter voices in the music of the bush
Than the roar of trams and 'buses, and the war-whoop of "the push"?
Did the magpies rouse your slumbers with their carol sweet and strange?
Did you hear the silver chiming of the bell-birds on the range?
But, perchance, the wild birds' music by your senses was despised,
For you say you'll stay in townships till the bush is civilised.
Would you make it a tea-garden and on Sundays have a band
Where the "blokes" might take their "donahs", with a "public" close at hand?
You had better stick to Sydney and make merry with the "push",
For the bush will never suit you, and you'll never suit the bush. [6]

One of the most famous haunts of the Rocks Push was Harrington Place, also known as the "Suez Canal" (supposedly a pun on "sewers"), one of the most unsavoury places in Sydney in its time.

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