These days, the figure of the 'larrikin' is celebrated in popular culture and embraced by politicians, sportsmen and entertainers as quintessentially Australian. However, he (and sometimes she) has a darker past in the form of disaffected youths who roamed inner city streets, disrupted entertainments, fought with one another and resisted police attempts at control. Moral panic does little to draw such young people back into the mainstream, a lesson policy makers responding to the recent demonstrations in Sydney and elsewhere could well note ...
As Melissa Bellanta’s new book Larrikins: A History shows, the term ‘larrikin’ had negative connotations when it entered the language during the late nineteenth century. The story of the shift in meaning makes absorbing reading, not just for linguists but for anyone interested in broader questions around the creation, modification and exploitation of images of the national Australian character.
Read more in the Australian Review of Public Affairs (328).