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This article explores the relationship between minstrelsy and rough Anglo-Celtic youths, or larrikins, in late nineteenth-century Australia. It shows that in the 1880s, larrikins were drawn to blackface minstrel characters, especially dandy characters, who carried themselves with a deliberately burlesque panache. There were definite similarities here between Australian larrikins and the poor Irish-American workers discussed by historians of minstrelsy in 1830-40s New York. Like these American workers, larrikins used minstrelsy to identify with a symbolically black masculinity at the same time as they attempted to assert superiority over non-white peoples. Nonetheless, the racial and social conditions in late-colonial Australia were not the same as those in New York earlier in the century. Much of this article is thus an attempt to think through the particularities of larrikins' relationship to minstrelsy.
Above all, I suggest, the economic boom taking place in eastern Australia is necessary to explain the emergence of larrikinism in the 1870s and 1880s. It is also necessary to explain larrikins' attraction to minstrel dandies. Larrikins were involved in a combative relationship with boom culture, especially the ebullient working-class liberalism then flourishing in eastern Australia. Minstrel dandiers allowed larrikins to express something of this combative relationship, influencing their dress and behaviour. As symbols of a flamboyantly rough masculinity, they also represented a modern 'take' on bushranger and Newgate anti-heroes in Anglo-Australian popular culture.