Congratulations to Melissa Bellanta, whose book Larrikins:A History ( you can see my review of the book here) won the Ernest Scott Prize, announced at the Wollongong Conference last week. The prize is awarded to the book judged to be the most distinguished contribution to the History of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonization published in the previous year. The shortlist for this year’s prize was:
- Webs of Empire: Locating New Zealand’s Colonial Past (Tony Ballantyne, Bridget Williams Books)
- Larrikins: A History (Melissa Bellanta, UQP)
- University Unlimited: The Monash Story (Graeme Davison & Kate Murphy, A&U)
- The Lone Protestor: A M Fernando in Australia and Europe (Fiona Paisley, Aboriginal Studies Press)
- Tasmanian Aborigines: A History Since 1803 (Lyndall Ryan, A&U).
The citation for Larrikins from the judges for the prize, Professor Mark Finnane (Griffith University) and Professor Philippa Mein-Smith (University of Canterbury) reads:
A landmark first book by a young scholar, Larrikins stands out for its liveliness, centrality to issues in Australian culture and politics, and breadth of approach, including attention to patterns of speech and youth behaviour, style and dress. Melissa Bellanta unpacks the origins of Aussie larrikinism as a cultural phenomenon (and performance) that originated on city streets. Noting that Ned Kelly perceived the larrikin as a city version of himself in 1879, she asks why the larrikin became such a mythic type in Australian identity formation. Contextualised by a social history that locates the shaping of a colonial urban youth culture in the wake of the gold rushes, Larrikins teases out how Australians turned a term of abuse imported as dialect from the United Kingdom into a national mythology once merged with the image of the digger during the First World War. This youth culture – attracted by the pull of the ‘push’ rather than the bush – was ‘flash’, exhibitionist and violent. Part of the book’s appeal is the way in which Bellanta engages with the language and conduct of her youthful larrikin subjects, young ‘brazen’ women as well as men. The quality of research, engagement with the spoken word, connections with the theatre and visual culture place this engaging work in a singular category. Its inter-disciplinary achievement is considerable, respecting the best scholarly conventions of archival history while deploying analytic and interpretative tools from literary and cultural studies that illuminate this phenomenon of Australian history. Based on rigorous primary research, this work addresses a core aspect of Australianness and Australian sensibility in a refreshing, thoroughly readable but equally scholarly way.