McCulloch’s larrikin scare

Melissa Bellanta

The threat that posed the greatest danger to the progress of the colony of Victoria was its rising generation. The signs were everywhere all too clear. “The parental tie is almost nominal over the precocious youth in the humbler grades of life. He is able almost from the time he has passed his fifth year to find for himself abundant food, money easily earned, and a genial climate enables him to dispense with the care, comfort and accommodation of home. It is almost an impossibility that a man so reared should be other than a hardened criminal, accustomed from his earliest youth to a life of idleness and to prison associations.”
The MAG could concur with McCulloch about this threat. Hadn’t he said something similar in his epic address to the electors of Mornington? Clearly this part of McCulloch’s address had struck a chord. There was no denying it. Victoria had a serious social and cultural problem.
But what to do? Combatting Larrikinism by eroding the rights of free born Englishmen, to transform them into Prussians, no matter the gravity of Victoria’s danger, was not right.
British principles of action insisted upon a superior policy response to larrikinism. And here the MAG did not shrink from the task of describing the social cancer growing in the heart of Victoria.
The MAG identified a two distinct categories of troublesome or troubled youth — those who escaped parental control, and those so deeply in thrall of their parents they were sent out to work at a very young age. Clearly, these children required different policy responses. 
“In the interests of society it is necessary that provision should be made to house and bring under control this class. Will a general law compelling all children to be educated meet such a difficulty as this ? Who is to send those who have left parental control — if ever they were conscious of such a thing existing — to school, and maintain them? The proposed bill will not. If the bill is not practicable in towns and cities, let us. see what will be the effect of it in country districts ? As population spreads, and the work of colonisation goes on, we shall always have a large population scattered, and far away from centres of civilisation. In the remote gullies, where perhaps the nearest hut may be a mile away, and the nearest school fifteen or twenty miles away, how can any law force a man to send his children to school ? Stern necessity knows no law, and the poverty and isolation of such persons will compel them to disregard the law which requires them to send their children to school. The evil which this bill attempts to grapple with is patent and admitted, but no declaratory law, to be enforced by. penal ties on persons who cannot be reached, will meet it. It is, however, a difficulty which can be met by a series of provisions ; but, unfortunately, the bill proposed by the Government does not contain them. To put down what may be termed city Arabs and larrikins an extension of the vagrant law is required.”

All children found at large sleeping out at nights, and infesting, as they do now,the public thoroughfares at nightfall, should he liable to, be arrested and taken before a magistrate, where their antecedents could be enquired into, and unless it was proved that they had parents or guardians who would take charge of them and be responsible for their conduct and education, they should be sent to an industrial school to learn some trade or calling. To meet the next class of children, whose parents prefer to employ or to send them out to earn money instead of giving them an education, a law prohibiting the employment of any child under a certain age, and not even then, if he has not the education fixed by the State, will be found most effectual.

A similar bill to protect young children being employed in factories has had almost wonderful effect in the manufacturing towns in England. To the last class — those living in the outlying districts — the State should provide itinerating teachers, who should visit each locality once a week and give the required instruction to educate them up to the standard fixed by the State. With these provisions the clause proposed in the Government bill would be unnecessary, and what it would fail to effect could be accomplished.


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