Demise of the lovable larrikin

Our larrikins were once earthy, irreverent types, devoid of malice and viciousness. But they seem to have disappeared.

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Ginger Meggs has been replaced by highly paid, high-profile businessmen, politicians and sportsmen (and women) who choose to play the man rather than the ball.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Dad and Dave and Saltbush Bill have been replaced by politicians and public office-holders more interested in feathering their own nests and climbing over other people than in helping them up.

The Sentimental Bloke, with his loving respect for Doreen, has been replaced by a type of man who regards women as much less than equals.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 sunday@yourlifechoices.com.au and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line.

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    COMMENTS

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    wicked
    26th Apr 2020
    11:24am
    Sad indictment on our society.
    john
    26th Apr 2020
    12:40pm
    You forgot Bluey and Curly, but all these old characters could come back today some of the younger generation might learn something about the real character of Australia and when people are confused as to what we are, show them these famous newspaper characters and soe Austrliana, I'll tell you what , I know what an Australian is, I'm not some even want to, they better start doing it all again or we'll breed more scum like the fellow photographing dying policemen, Can you imagine what the Potts would think of that, and Bluey and Curly wouldn't be able to understandjust wouldn't understand it?.
    JohnAGough
    26th Apr 2020
    2:21pm
    I am delighted to see that C.J. Dennis's "Sentimental Bloke" is included in this nostalgic recollection of lovable larrikins.
    In fact, Dennis's "Bill" was one of the first to appear, excepting some of the larrikins in Henry Lawson's short stories, and the larrikin lifestyle of Joseph Furphy's "Such is Life".
    But C.J. Dennis's other main larrikin should also be remembered, especially around ANZAC Day.
    "Ginger Mick", a wild street tough who hawked wild rabbits around the inner Melbourne streets, and was the Sentimental Bloke's best friend and Best Man is a major character in his own right.
    Ginger Mick enlisted in 1914, trained in Egypt, and landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, along with his other larrikin mates, such as "Little Digger Smith of Collingwood", himself a major character in another of Dennis's verse-novels about the Bloke, and his mates.
    Ginger Mick was promoted to Lance-Corporal, but died in battle.
    Unfortunately, C.J. Dennis's marvelous verse-novels about the Sentimental Bloke (there are four book-length verse-novels) are little read, nowadays.
    Why?
    Because C.J. Dennis wrote them as though they were written by Bill, the Sentimental Bloke,himself.
    Full of broad Australian accent, phonetically spelled, and full of the rich Australian slng that was used at the time, especially among under-educated working-class people.
    Moreover, the verse-novels refer to events and places that were familiar to readers in the first half of the Twentieth century.
    But now, more than 100 years later, the slang is obsolete and almost completely forgotten.
    The events and places that had been familiar are now ancient history.
    It is hard to read these verse-novels (harder than reading Shakespeare!), UNLESS someone can explain what the slang words mean, and explain the places and events that feature in the stories.
    I have published Annotated Editions of C.J. Dennis's first three verse-novels at Amazon, as eBooks.
    "The Annotated Songs of a Sentimental Bloke",
    "The Annotated Moods of Ginger Mick", and
    "The Annotated Digger Smith".
    I am currently finalising "The Annotated Rose of Spadgers", the story of how the Bloke rescued Rose from bad things in Melbourne.
    Rose was Ginger Mick's de facto wife, and not officially recognised as a war widow, because Rose and Mick never married.
    I recommend my annotated editions as the best way to re-discover C.J. Dennis's GENIUS!
    aussiehero
    26th Apr 2020
    5:27pm
    Well done, JohnAGough, I dips me lid!
    FrankC
    26th Apr 2020
    9:51pm
    You have hit the nail on the head , Peter.You are oh
    so right, especially the observation of those in the
    cricket fraternity. I used to enjoy the cricket back in
    the 70s, but not any more , for the reasons you
    have so correctly stated. The looks of hate from
    some of the bnowlers put on the batsman is
    disgusting.. The only games worth watching
    are the KFC Big Bash 20/20 games. Find me an
    international game, where at the end of the game
    a player puts his arm around the shoulder of a
    player from the opposing team chattingas they walk off
    off the ground, or a small group of both team
    players standing chatting and sharing a laugh

    standing chatting and sharing a laugh
    Mel
    29th Apr 2020
    11:10am
    You're comparing apples and oranges - fictional characters should be compared to fictional characters. For a long time now the heroes of subsequent generations have been predominantly American: from blockbuster and cult movies, comics and computer games.
    grandpa Dave
    14th Jun 2020
    6:38pm
    Loved to read Ginger Meggs, Radish and Dick Tracy as a kid in the Brisbane Sunday Mail. Also we listened to Dad and Dave, Mo MacCackie, Hop Harrigan and Biggles on the wireless (before TV). We loved the silly songs on radio such as Chewing gum lose its flavour, My old mans a dustman and Running Bear. Kids today don't seem to have the same exposure to catchy, silly ditties.
    grandpa Dave
    14th Jun 2020
    6:42pm
    "A Sentimental Bloke" is a gem, however it is quite difficult to read and I would love to have a dollar for every apostrophe used.
    JohnAGough
    14th Jun 2020
    9:38pm
    I agree, Dave, and others, that C.J. Dennis's "Bill", the Sentimental Bloke, is a gem.
    Dennis's FOUR verse-novels form a unique and outstanding collection of yarns. Starting with the Bloke, meeting his wife-to-be, Doreen, sorting himself out and marrying (helped by his best mate Ginger Mick as Best Man, and an eccentric snowy-haired parson), we move to the start of World War I, and Ginger Mick decides to enlist and he goes to Gallipoli, … The third verse-novel continues the focus on war, but especially on the returning soldiers, and one crippled veteran, Digger Smith, a former larrikin friend of Bill and Ginger Mick. Can Little Smith of Collin'wood (there's an apostrophe, Dave!) settle down, and maybe find true love? The conclusion, "Rose of Spadgers" (Spadgers Lane in inner Melbourne, a dangerous slum haunted by criminals as vicious as the real-life Melbourne gangster "Squizzy" Taylor) picks up on Ginger Mick's last words, "Look after Rose!" He and Rose never married, so she does not qualify for any government support and she proudly and stubbornly refuses to accept charity. Can Bill save Rose from the wiles of Spike Wegg? Helped by his old friend the snowy-headed parson, after a few hilarious stumbles, there are happy endings all around -- except for Ginger Mick who rose above his lowly larrikin life and became an ANZAC hero.
    Yes, these have been hard to read -- as hard, for example, as Dickens (who wrote in an era that needs extra help to understand the mid-Nineteenth century context, and who used a lot of Cockney and English slang -- because that was REAL for Dickens), or Shakespeare (who used many words and idioms and ways of speaking that are unfamiliar to modern ears) -- because Dennis deliberately used working-class and bush slang, in Bill's voice, to tell the stories. This early Twentieth century slang has largely disappeared in modern Australian. Happily, by annotated editions (available as eBooks at Amazon, with introductory articles with annotated chapter-samples at Academia.edu -- free downloads) provide clear detailed explanations of the slanguage and life and times. A time, for example, in "Rose of Spadgers", when it is dangerous for Bill to raise a contentious topic with Doreen, ON A MONDAY, when she is just about to start WASHING DAY, by hand, with a boiler, and no washing machine, no wringer, and no drier -- and she will have to cook the family's meals and snacks. A time that can be remembered, but is utterly foreign to young modern readers. (Bill realises his mistake, and beats a hasty retreat, leaving the argument for another, not so fraught day in Doreen's working week.)
    I strongly recommend anyone to check my annotated sample-chapters, and eBooks. You will laugh, and gasp, and be deeply touched from first verse-novel to the last.
    C.J. Dennis is as great an Australian writer as, for example, his still-loved contemporaries, Henry Lawson and "Banjo" Paterson, or Norman Lindsay, or … name your favourite Australian author, …
    Don't let the slang, or the apostrophes get in your way. I've done the hard work so that you can enjoy Dennis afresh! John Gough (Melbourne)
    JohnAGough
    14th Jun 2020
    9:38pm
    I agree, Dave, and others, that C.J. Dennis's "Bill", the Sentimental Bloke, is a gem.
    Dennis's FOUR verse-novels form a unique and outstanding collection of yarns. Starting with the Bloke, meeting his wife-to-be, Doreen, sorting himself out and marrying (helped by his best mate Ginger Mick as Best Man, and an eccentric snowy-haired parson), we move to the start of World War I, and Ginger Mick decides to enlist and he goes to Gallipoli, … The third verse-novel continues the focus on war, but especially on the returning soldiers, and one crippled veteran, Digger Smith, a former larrikin friend of Bill and Ginger Mick. Can Little Smith of Collin'wood (there's an apostrophe, Dave!) settle down, and maybe find true love? The conclusion, "Rose of Spadgers" (Spadgers Lane in inner Melbourne, a dangerous slum haunted by criminals as vicious as the real-life Melbourne gangster "Squizzy" Taylor) picks up on Ginger Mick's last words, "Look after Rose!" He and Rose never married, so she does not qualify for any government support and she proudly and stubbornly refuses to accept charity. Can Bill save Rose from the wiles of Spike Wegg? Helped by his old friend the snowy-headed parson, after a few hilarious stumbles, there are happy endings all around -- except for Ginger Mick who rose above his lowly larrikin life and became an ANZAC hero.
    Yes, these have been hard to read -- as hard, for example, as Dickens (who wrote in an era that needs extra help to understand the mid-Nineteenth century context, and who used a lot of Cockney and English slang -- because that was REAL for Dickens), or Shakespeare (who used many words and idioms and ways of speaking that are unfamiliar to modern ears) -- because Dennis deliberately used working-class and bush slang, in Bill's voice, to tell the stories. This early Twentieth century slang has largely disappeared in modern Australian. Happily, by annotated editions (available as eBooks at Amazon, with introductory articles with annotated chapter-samples at Academia.edu -- free downloads) provide clear detailed explanations of the slanguage and life and times. A time, for example, in "Rose of Spadgers", when it is dangerous for Bill to raise a contentious topic with Doreen, ON A MONDAY, when she is just about to start WASHING DAY, by hand, with a boiler, and no washing machine, no wringer, and no drier -- and she will have to cook the family's meals and snacks. A time that can be remembered, but is utterly foreign to young modern readers. (Bill realises his mistake, and beats a hasty retreat, leaving the argument for another, not so fraught day in Doreen's working week.)
    I strongly recommend anyone to check my annotated sample-chapters, and eBooks. You will laugh, and gasp, and be deeply touched from first verse-novel to the last.
    C.J. Dennis is as great an Australian writer as, for example, his still-loved contemporaries, Henry Lawson and "Banjo" Paterson, or Norman Lindsay, or … name your favourite Australian author, …
    Don't let the slang, or the apostrophes get in your way. I've done the hard work so that you can enjoy Dennis afresh! John Gough (Melbourne)
    ashydasher
    21st Jul 2020
    11:51am
    Perhaps a little research is needed for articles such as this - Ginger Meggs is alive and well. He not only appears daily in several Australian newspapers but in 100+ throughout the world. He is 100 years old next year with a book being prepared to celebrate the occasion.


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