Demise of the lovable larrikin

Peter Leith is 90 and has seen a lot of the world and a myriad changes – many good, some bad. Here, he reflects on the demise of the lovable larrikin.


Many years ago, very soon after arriving in Australia, I discovered how important a part the ‘lovable larrikin’ played in the Australian mythos. Ginger Meggs, Stiffy and Mo, Dad and Dave, the Sentimental Bloke and all the characters in Jolliffe’s cartoons seemed to enshrine the great Australian archetype.

They were all earthy, irreverent, impatient of pomposity and self-important authority and had a great capacity to laugh at themselves as well as the system. They were also kind, well-meaning and without malice or viciousness in their dealings with others.

Now they seem to have disappeared.

Worse than that, they seem to have been replaced as Australian archetypes by the vulgar, self-obsessed, self-satisfied, greedy lout.

Ginger Meggs has been replaced by highly paid, high-profile businessmen, politicians and sportsmen (and women) who choose to play the man rather than the ball. Who believe that sledging, personal vilification and character assassination of their opponents is justified in the name of ‘winning’. Who seem to believe that their fame justifies any excesses they commit.

Dad and Dave and Saltbush Bill have been replaced by politicians and public office-holders more interested in feathering their own nests and climbing over other people than in helping them up.

The Sentimental Bloke, with his loving respect for Doreen, has been replaced by a type of man who regards women as much less than equals. Where have the lovable larrikin archetypes gone and why? What has replaced them? Economic growth? The bottom-line? Privatisation?

Perhaps the lovable larrikins decided they did not want to live on in a society that admires, applauds and pursues the macho, the material and the self-seeking goals.

Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to [email protected] and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line.

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Written by Peter Leith


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