This article has been peer reviewed

Australian cinema has travelled a varied trajectory since its initial development in the late 19th century. The cinema reflected the developing social and cultural tropes of its time, as the concept of a distinct Australian identity began to form. But it is clear that a colonial history of Australian film focuses very clearly and emphatically along lines of class and gender. Rose Lucas notes that there is a “cluster of dominant, recognisable images in our cinema” which consists of the bushman, the ocker, the ‘mate’, and the ‘battler’1, a series of male coded tropes which are stubbornly pervasive within this national cinema. These archetypes have trained a concentrated gaze upon masculinity in Australian cinema, but there has been little space in this cultural landscape for the development of archetypical women in Australia’s cultural history with very few valued traits that are specifically coded female. This resolutely masculine perspective seems to have shaped the nation and the national cinema, and Lucas’s observation highlights the key archetypes as embodied as masculine. But these archetypes, long the sole domain of masculine representation, also have historically encompassed female experiences. In this paper we identify the need to broaden such a framework, and by taking the most Australian and most masculine of forms – the larrikin – we argue that the larrikin girl has been hiding in plain sight across Australian film history.

The most common Australian archetypes are all in some ways underpinned by the concept of mateship, which although not a term of Australian origin “is a significant symbolic concept and social practice in the Australian experience.”2 It is of course true that other nations, other societies, possess some form of mateship culture, but within an Australian context the masculine focus on modes of friendship has shaped the nation’s cinema for over a century. Carlin, Jones and Laugeson argue its primacy in the Australian mythos stems from the necessity of “forging unity from division” 3. One distinctive manifestation of Australian mateship is a specific archetype within that broader masculine trope. The larrikin is both mate and outsider; he is a male whose behaviour and demeanour runs contrary to accepted codes of society, yet still retains the bonds within his homosocial group. Indeed, the first feature length film in Australia and arguably the world had these concerns of Australian mateship at the centre of its iconography. The Tait Brothers 1906 film The Story of the Kelly Gang explored one of the nation’s most enduring foundation myths, the life of Ned Kelly, although it is worth noting that at the time of production, the events it depicted occurred a mere 25 years earlier. The Tait Brothers film – or what remains of it since age and neglect has destroyed much of the footage – investigates the life of the fabled bushranger. It situates him as the man excluded from society, fighting against state oppression with his band of mates at his side before the pivotal shootout near the hotel in Glenrowan when he confronted police in his iconic homemade armour. Kelly as a symbol of Australian cultural history – and cinematic representation – is both that of an individual and a member of a community. He is key to the events, but his mythic last stand is framed within his mateship group comprised of Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. The enduring legacy of Kelly ties intimately to what WF Mandle described as ‘a strange blend of individualism and interdependence’ 4 the pervasive tension between the community and the individual. 

The story of Ned Kelly and his gang crystallises the qualities of the Australian archetype. Kelly is the bushman identified strongly with rural locales such as Glenrowan and Jerilderie and Euroa. Kenneth Dempsey indicates that “Many of the values and beliefs traditionally associated with the idea of mateship are held by the menfolk of country towns”5 and Kelly’s story is embedded within the framework of rural Australia. But it is his position as an Aussie larrikin that cements his place within the foundational mythology of the nation. The larrikin is a specific offshoot of the mate – a distinct Australian type that exhibits a broadly codified set of behaviours, which may be perceived approvingly, or as reckless, destructive, dangerous. Melissa Bellanta’s interrogation of larrikinism notes that it began very much perceived as a “synonym for ‘hoodlum’ or ‘young scoundrel’”6 and in the 1880s was closely connected to acts of violence and outrage, a gang or “push” of youthful troublemakers, resistant to authority and operating defiantly outside the expected values of a decent society. These groups of violent youth became known as larrikins, possibly derived from the use of the term ‘leary’ suggesting a level of streetwise nous, with a group of such disaffected youths becoming ‘leary kins’7. Attracted to petty crime on the streets or grift operations around palaces like dance halls, the larrikin in this early stages of its conception was in perpetual pursuit of activities that would “whet rough youths desire for leary competence”8. It is within this context of the 1870s and 1880s that we can situate the activities of Kelly and his band of leary mates. Kelly and his gang moved from town to town in rural Victoria engaging in acts of robbery and murder and his enduring appeal down the years suggests that the larrikin spirit – so clearly defined within the specific period of these events – lies at the centre of white colonial Australian mythology. As a foundational myth, Kelly epitomises so much that Australia has valued – the man defiant of authority, surrounded by close homosocial bonds with his gang, fighting against oppression, a rural outsider striving for an egalitarian society. The truth, which mixes closely with the myth that Kelly himself propagated, is that of the larrikin of the 1880s in his brutality, his violence and his rage. The story – the mythology – of Kelly is emphatically male, with the image of the larrikin framed firmly within a masculine framework.

The Larrikiness, Punch, 1897

The development of the Australian nation after Federation, however, brought a new perspective to the larrikin as foundational myths shaped an emerging national identity. What in the late 19th century had been a term characterised by violence and terror developed a cheekier, more impish hue in the early 20th century, framed frequently within another major foundational cultural touchstone, the ANZAC and the archetype of the Aussie digger. This, of course, was another stage in the development of the larrikin myths which excluded female representation. The image of the violent larrikin moved towards a more idealised vision of Australian masculinity as stories of wartime unruliness overseas informed a broader vision of Australian identity. Bellanta has characterised this shift in the concept of the larrikin as “engaging in a performance of egalitarian Australianness via the exhibition of ocker vernacular and…roguish informality”9 while Lech Blaine identifies that “(d)espite the presence of Aboriginals, women and migrants at the sites of democratic struggle, larrikinism became seen almost exclusively as the domain of a straight, white, working-class bloke.”10. It is this perspective on this Aussie archetype that has informed much of Australia’s cultural product, from CJ Dennis’s The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915), to Ray Lawler’s cane cutters in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1955). This move from the violent, abusive larrkins of the 1880s to the egalitarian, reckless charmer has become a far more appealing perception of Australian identity – a man disrespectful of authority and codes of polite society, a lovable rogue rather than a dangerous hoodlum. Australia’s cinema developed alongside this shift in perception and similarly shaped itself around this new iteration of the larrikin. From Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell’s adaptation of Dennis’s poem The Sentimental Bloke (1918) through to Tim Burstall’s Last of the Knucklemen (1979) and Peter Weir’s larrikin ANZAC drama Gallipoli (1981), this distinct image of male homosocial bonds and reckless defiance of convention has shaped the national cinema of Australia and has endured into the 21st century. Even actors’ broad screen personas have been associated with the larrikin ideal. One of Australia’s most iconic screen stars working in domestic and global production, Ben Mendelsohn has been described as the epitome of the “Australian working-class larrikin character” that is particularly aligned with manhood and the masculine.11. And yet, from Longford to Meldelsohn this larrikin spirit remained purely within a masculine framework, with the continued exclusion of their female counterparts.

Beyond cinema and within the broader structures of Australian society there is an impression of ownership or control over these tropes in terms of cultural identity. A number of recent examples in journalism and criticism reflect this desire to reinforce and control the image of Australianness. The winter issue of Meanjin in 2021 published an essay by Anna Spargo-Ryan titled “Blokes Will Be Blokes,” a riff on the dated idiom “boys will be boys” that is often used to excuse dangerous behaviour, in which the author assesses the contemporaneous political environment of the nation as relying on “thumbs-up blokey rhetoric”12 suggesting the image of the masculine larrikin continues to shape the public discourse. The Quarterly Essay published “Top Blokes: The Larrikin Myth, Class, and Power” in September 2021, in which Lech Blaine describes “Australia’s self-image as a nation of laid-back larrikins”13. He suggests that Australia was so dedicated to its own mythical image that, after a long line of Prime Ministers who presented personas that drew on Australia’s working-class myths, in 2019 “Morrison won an unwinnable election by pretending to be a Howard Battler.”14 But reflecting on the trajectory of the mate and the larrikin, women in public life have been isolated from this larrikin ideal. Julia Gillard, who served as Australia’s first (and only) Australian Prime Minister from 2010 to 2013, is considered “a textbook larrikin: the humble roots, the trade union links, the atheism, the childlessness.”15 But Gillard was the subject of an extreme character assassination, including sexist and misogynistic attacks that suggested, amongst other things, that she wasn’t welcome in an Australian boy’s club, with her gender excluding her from the mythic, masculine ideal assumed by others before her. On January 25, 2022, the Guardian’s political editor Katharine Murphy published a rebuke of attitudes towards the outgoing Australian of the Year Grace Tame, in response to a range of articles that policed her behaviour.16 John Rickard suggests that although some women could share in behaviour traits and be dubbed larrikins, “the phenomenon is bound up with understandings of masculinity.”17 In the shaping of the larrikin as central to the Australian national identity, the woman has been excluded from view, even when she has clearly been present.

With the bushman, the ocker, the mate, the battler, and the larrikin all typically aligned with the masculine, women have been overlooked in conceptualising these key Australian archetypes that built the nation’s identity. The placement of women within this homosocial structure and their connection to the male codified larrikin culture has appeared to exclude them from these concepts of mateship, of defiance and resistance to convention and authority. Rebellion, it appears, was the domain of the Australian male. Yet this is not completely accurate. Bellanta’s research identifies that in the early emergence of the larrikin in the late 19th century, a subset of women were indeed identified as ‘larrikinesses’, with their “mix of sexuality, toughness and sass…powerfully motivated by the friendships it allowed them to form with like-minded girls”18. While sometimes represented as submissive sexual partners to their more assertive male counterparts, in truth they were frequently known for their fighting prowess and their defiance of conventional dress. Qualities they shared with the masculine archetype during this period of the late 19th century were a notable contributor to the larrikin culture of that time. Yet as the ANZAC inspired rebranding of the larrikin as cheekily reckless or broadly but amusingly defiant of social convention, the masculinisation of the term became the preferred frame of reference and the female larrikin, or ‘larrikiness’ was erased from use.

With concepts of mateship and the frequent celebration of the male version central to Australian cultural product, the larrikin girl disappeared and in cinema the masculine larrikin became a staple of national storytelling without his female counterpart. But we argue in this paper that the larrikiness in fact did survive the gender erasure that began early in the 20th century. The female homosocial and the presence of the girl gang do still exist in representation when we disrupt the traditional customised framework for the Australian larrikin. Challenging this archetype is Jillaroo School, a shortlived documentary series that follows a group of women defying conventions of their gender on a farm training ground to redefine a space that is known for the archetype of the male bushman.19 The biopic Dawn! (Ken Hannam, 1979) has been recognised as presenting the Australian swimmer and Olympic medallist Dawn Fraser as a anti-authoritarian larrikin.20 This paper will consider Shame (Steve Jodrell, 1988) and Muriel’s Wedding (P. J. Hogan, 1994) as giving breadth to the narrow gendering of the larrikin archetype. From this, we do not claim to garner a complete picture of women or female archetypes in Australia. Rather, our assessment enables an interrogation of images of women in Australian cinema and a broadening of the conception of national archetypes. As Lucas notes, “The identification of images of masculinity within Australian cinema from the last twenty-five years can clearly not provide us with an unequivocal, linear narrative.”21 So too this study identifies the complexities of such images and invites further broadening of frameworks when it comes to Australia’s cinema history.

Shame engages with and expands on the typical categorisation of the mate and the larrikin, contrasting representation of the dark, violent effects of a stereotypical Australian form with a supportive, open-minded homosocial network that opposes its other masculine construct. It is a film that incorporates a reframing of mateship as something supportive, understanding, and distinctly female. Shame also provokes an interrogation and reframing of the traditional discourse that aligns the Australian identity with masculine violence and the myth of the blokey larrikin. In its opening sequence that introduces some of the Australian landscape, Asta (Deborra-Lee Furness) rides into the fictional country town of Ginborak, where she gets held up and has to spend a few days waiting for her motorbike to be fixed by the local mechanic. As Asta discovers, the town is oppressed by a base of violent, aggressive larrikins who abuse and rape anyone outside their group. And although that base is misogynistic and aggressive, they are insulated from the effects of the law by a local police station that largely ignores their behaviours. Asta then, while not at first glance a typical archetype, is certainly a larrikin in her clothing, her behaviour towards authority, the outspokenness of her opposition, and also her sense of humour. 

As Asta rides her motorbike down the main street of Ginborak dressed in an outfit of black leather, the first images of the town are of men, either solo or grouped together. Their looming positions in the frame emphasise their aggression towards both outsiders and women; they represent the historically violent larrikin in “occup(ying) the footpaths, jostling and heckling respectable passers-by”.22 This framing, particularly of the man we will come to know as Danny (David Franklin) flanked by four of his friends, clearly communicates the dark side of mateship within the small town or community environment. Asta enters the local pub and it is again filled with male patrons. Asta politely orders a large squash, putting her at odds with everyone else drinking tall glasses of beer. The young mechanic at the local repair shop smirks at her and doubts that she knows anything about motorbikes; his attitude towards gender is clearly binary and old-fashioned and he later joins up with the men from in town. Rather than being welcomed, Asta is immediately confronted with displays of masculine bravado that attempt to erase her humanity and individuality. In fact, when Asta recognises that she is constantly looking over her shoulder, preparing for a gendered attack, this makes clear that the film is not critiquing a specifically rural problem but a country-wide one. Shame suggests that this form of Australian “mateship” – both narrow and harmful – is a manifestation of the violence of the late-19th century larrikin behaviour.


Asta is an outsider, happening upon a small rural town from the big city of Perth, and her outsider status can be read both as an attempt to fit and revise Western genre traditions with “a conscious gender reversal of the male stranger who arrives in a town to restore order,” and also a location-specific commentary on the perceived tensions between urban and rural Australia. Asta uses her outsider status to create an establishment of female mateship amongst the supportive women of the town who have been oppressed and isolated by the masculine mateship underpinning the town. She also embraces and demonstrates the benefits of certain larrikin behaviour. Part of this is thanks to Deborra-Lee Furness, whose broad accent and dominant stance gives her a controlled casualness and brings a clear sense of Australianness which is also evident in other roles. For instance, Furness was cast in the small role of school teacher Miss Greenway in Celia (Ann Turner, 1989) the following year and is clearly identified as an understanding adult sympathetic to Celia’s (Rebecca Smart) childhood mindset, as opposed to the strict stuffiness of the English-accented Mrs. Casey (Irene Inescort). Her laid back, sympathetic demeanour encourages children to feel comfortable. In Shame, Furness draws on this manner as Asta clearly brings something out in the women of Ginborak that they weren’t able to express between themselves. Opposing various levels of authority and the exclusionary behaviour that dominates Ginborak, Asta embraces her larrikinism and befriends some of the quieter townspeople. She punches the boss’s son Andrew (Douglas Walker) inside the meatworks, and female workers around respond with glee. She is not threatened by the performative behaviour that oppresses many others in the town. Asta recognises that the law enforcement system will not protect her or others from what is considered to be “true” and acceptable Australian behaviour, when she says that she “couldn’t be bothered” laying charges against predatory teenage boys. While she’s clearly willing to fight for her beliefs, Asta also embodies the larrikin’s distrust of Ginborak’s masculine hierarchy.

These actions inspire resistance amongst women who realise that it is possible to push back against the perceived natural order of abuse and oppression. While it does not ultimately achieve the desired result, Asta’s embodiment of certain larrikin attributes demonstrates that mateship is a quality of Australian culture that can be entirely separate to the historical strains of gendered violence. In the local grocery store, Asta is greeted kindly by women thanking her for her intervention in the town’s structure in a clear demonstration of homosociality. But it is here, in a space conventionally occupied by women performing domestic tasks, that the situation escalates as Lizzie (Simone Buchanan) is further targeted in name-calling by the mothers of boys who raped her. Yet the framing of Lizzie, Asta, and other women, juxtaposed against only two opposing mothers, emphasises a shift in the dynamics compared to the film’s opening scenes. This is quickly contrasted with another shot of a street teeming with the town’s young men, some shirtless and displaying masculine bravura, which ultimately emphasises that there will be no simple overriding of ingrained Australian archetypal behaviour. The men continue to dominate, and in the end Lizzie is killed as a result of their unrelenting behaviour, but Asta’s presence in Ginborak has done much more than mobilise “a spirit of protest.”23 She has generated a homosocial union backed by something other than male violence and aggressive behaviours, and illustrates the destruction of one mode of larrikin behaviour by its more benevolent and more inclusive replacement.


Indeed, the climax of Shame does not leave us with any easy answers, and as dramatically devastating as it is, the emphasis is not on the event but on the lasting impact of unity. It is a film that demonstrates that seeing the larrikin as exclusively male overlooks the clear presence of the larrikiness. In this case, it is through Asta’s resistance to gendered expectations and her formation of an alliance based on feminine understanding that challenges the Australian status quo. In pushing back against a violent configuration of mateship that isn’t used to resistance, Asta reveals the benefits of being a larrikin and a ‘mate’ as a woman. Her encouragement also comes across as crystallised in the final moments, when Norma Curtis (Margaret Ford), devastated by Lizzie’s death and the masculine behaviour that led to it, stands up to the local sergeant’s hostility, saying “we’re not bloody satisfied, not by a long way”. Finishing her comment with the sarcastic familiar descriptor “mate”, Norma directly criticises and blames the figure of the ‘mate’ identified by Lucas as a key image in Australian cinema and the Australian landscape. While Catherine Simpson frames Shame as participating in the “discourse of country-town sphere being inimical to women,”24 this conclusion suggests that a rural society of such a nature can be reformed by female resistance.

Shame then uses the dramatic – and melodramatic – form to shape a community ruled by the traditional ugly larrikin, a push framed by violence, intimidation and rape, with Asta, Norma and the women of Ginborak forming an alternate gang to reshape the values of the town. This is a perspective very much bound in the late 19th century concept of the larrikin where “bands of reprobates…were leagued together in secret communities called ‘pushes’ for the purposes of warring…against the reputable classes of society”25. Shame represents the female larrikin as a solution to male larrikinism, a battle fought with violence and ending in tragedy. But if we turn to a more comedic approach to the female larrikin, the later revisionism of the archetype is readily apparent through a film such as PJ Hogan’s Muriel’s Wedding, where like Shame we have two perspectives on larrikin behaviour. Both films are framed by homosocial bonds and mateship and a wilful rejection of acceptable codes of conduct along with self-interested hedonism. In Hogan’s film there are two central female-centric mateship groups; one the trio of women who torment Muriel (Toni Collette) – and each other – as comedically shrill bullies. The other bond which is equally outrageous, but far closer to the affable larrikin charm of someone like Paul Hogan is the relationship between Muriel and her best friend Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths). Both groups are a clear feminine take on what we traditionally think of as the masculine larrikin, with the emphasis on the post-WW1 concept of the reckless, knockabout, defiant of convention and authority, but bound by homosocial bonds above all else.

Muriel’s Wedding

The group led by Sophie Lee’s Tania form the girl gang that creates the critical opposing force shaped by Muriel and Rhonda. Filtered through the lens of the Australian quirky comedy, the larrikin girl becomes a distorted infusion of qualities we associate with her masculine counterpart. It’s worth recognising the compatibility between the quirky comedy and the larrikiness. The concept of ‘quirk’ as Garry Gillard identifies, is that of a feature that proves “unexpected, uncharacteristic”26 (italics in original) and that the oddness of the outsider within these comedies can be typified by both their style and their unexpected response to the world around them – their inability to operate within the expected codes of society. Interesting then, the concept of the quirky corresponds so closely to the concept of the larrikin who is identified with a specific mode of behaviour and dress. If Shame sees the larrikin within a hard, cold framework across both genders, then Muriel’s Wedding takes those same traits and pushes them further for comedic effect. Thinking of the historical trajectory of the larrikin, we can suggest that Tania, Nicole, Janine and Cheryl form a comedic unified ‘push’ as a group of women with a sharp dress code and little consideration for appropriate modes of conduct. The bouffant hair and oversized jewellery identify these women by their style: their excess conforms to the demand of the genre which is most focused on pushing the grotesque extremity of their appearance and behaviour. They are an interesting take on the larrikin however, in that they don’t seem to be fully aware of their own status. As Nicole brutally advises Muriel “People think we’re mad, but that’s just us, we’re ragers” it’s apparent that they frame themselves as unconventional, inspiring shock in the community around them. They have an image of themselves that speaks to post-WWI larrikinism in its outrageous and reckless approach to life, a deep Australianness that defies social norms in pursuit of amusement, a good time. Yet what becomes increasingly apparent as the film progresses is that they truly possess qualities we may associate with the traditional hard larrikin of the 1880s. Nicole defies both propriety and basic mateship codes and sleeps with Tania’s husband Chook on their wedding day, to which Tania responds by engaging Nicole in a public brawl. Surrounded by the welcoming artificial tropical fun of the Hibiscus Island tourists, this display of larrikin aggression forms a stark contrast to the bland behaviour of the rest of the guests.

Even though the harshness of the behaviour is blunted by the comedic perspective of the film, it is very clear that these women are callous, unfeeling, violent bullies who inflict untold damage to those around them. This is behaviour that parallels that of the larrikin girl of the 19th century. They torment Muriel relentlessly, crush Rhonda’s spirit, betray friendships, cheat on husbands and spread misery to those around them. Their behaviour renders them true outsiders, despite some superficial attempts to appear within the accepted framework of social acceptance. Cheryl’s admonishment over Muriel’s reaction to her ostracism “You’ve got no dignity Muriel” offers an ironic spin on the behaviour of the women themselves: Nicole having sex with Chook in the laundry on his wedding day; Tania screaming in extreme close-up “I’m married! I’m beautiful” when Rhonda leaves them for Muriel and the public brawl on Hibiscus Island all point to the inability of this larrikin girl push to sustain appropriate modes of behaviour without emotional or physical abuse. This set of character traits neatly reflects those of the larrikin across Australia’s history, yet we would argue because that archetype has been so consistently coded as male, we fail to see the feminine iteration of this classic Australian character. There is a process of reclassification that is fundamentally necessary with these characters: any number of descriptors would move the categorisation of their behaviour towards something gendered female, such as catty, bitchy girls or something equally infantilising. What we are seeing here are true larrikins framed through comedy, but we only recognise them as such if we adopt the viewing protocols that break apart the concept that the larrikin is the sole domain of the male homosocial and masculine larrikinism.

Taking the re-viewing of Australian masculine archetypes through a feminine lens also prompts a reinterpretation of Muriel and Rhonda, who sit far closer to the post WWI concept of the larrikin. They are softer, kinder, more appealing in their outsider status, more likely to engage in unexpected behaviour out of a sense of fun or play, rather than domination or a desire for violence. Muriel’s attempts to obscure her social position inventing ‘Tim Sims’ as a fiancé, her theft of the dress for Tania’s wedding, her hoodwinking of her mother Betty to write her a blank cheque all speak to the recklessness and relatively harmless play traditionally assigned to the 20th century larrikin. We can even consider the conclusion of the film itself as a testament to the larrikin male, where Muriel ultimately casts off her lies, and embraces the intimacy of her homosocial bond with Rhonda over her desire for marriage. Like Asta’s warmth towards community, Muriel’s choice speaks to the affable, but unconventional nature of these two outsiders. The film is representative of the strength of female friendship and the power of homosocial bonds: both Rhonda and Muriel and the women of Ginborak represent mateship as a valuable female archetype of Australian cinema. 

If we consider the conclusions of these films, one joyously optimistic, one devastated but resolute, they are images of female bonds we would naturally associate with Australia’s icons of masculine cinema. In Shame, Asta stands distraught after the death of Lizzie, but the culprits apprehended at the hands of the women of Ginborak. The freeze frame holds Asta’s distressed expression as she is framed by the largely female members of the community, the new female ‘push’ that will rule the behaviour of the town. In Muriel’s Wedding, Muriel’s return to Porpoise Spit culminates in her rescue of Rhonda from Tania’s gang in act that underscores Muriel’s rejection of her desire for conventional integration into society through marriage. Their celebratory leaving of Porpoise Spit unites the two women in a strong homosocial bond, the sort of romantic comedy resolution we might traditionally expect from a heterosexual couple. Contrast the final images of the female mate and the larrikin girl with the images of Mel Gibson’s desperate attempt to save his mate from the horrors of trench warfare and its use of freeze frame in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981), a film that absolutely mythologises Australian larrikin behaviour and the bonds of masculine mateship. Or similarly, compare them with the final scene of Bruce Beresford’s Breaker Morant (1980) as Morant and Handcock hold hands walking to their execution as a symbol of homosocial intimacy – another film notable for the larrikin perspective on the Australian soldier. These films, and these scenes have solidified an Australian national narrative of outsider men, behaving outrageously and sometimes criminally, but whose behaviour is sanctioned and indeed endorsed as a crystallised image of the Australian mate and larrikin. Placed next to the conclusions of Muriel’s Wedding and Shame, the qualities are patently similar, the resolutions virtually identical, the characters – despite the influence of genre – fall neatly into familiar patterns and representations. The difference, however, is the gender of the protagonists, and perhaps, the conditioning of the spectator to view these archetypes. The mateship, and the larrikin behaviour has clearly been present in this national cinema regardless of gender, but it may be an appropriate time to rethink our frame of reference for understanding how the spectator may read these tropes. The female mate, in the form of both the violent and the affable larrikin, have been there in Australia’s film history all along. Discarding the masculine framework of the past forces us to recognise that women in the Australian cinema have been embodying these archetypes of Australian national identity all along.


  1. Lucas, Rose (1998), “Dragging it out: Tales of masculinity in Australian cinema, from Crocodile Dundee to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, Journal of Australian Studies, 22:56, 138.
  2. Geoff Mayer (1999), The Oxford Companion to Australian Film, ed. Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer, Ina Bertrand, Oxford University Press, p. 290.
  3. Na’ama Carlin, Benjamin T. Jones & Amanda Laugesen (2022) “Friendship, but Bloke-ier”: Can Mateship Be Reimagined as an Inclusive Civic Ideal in Australia?, Journal of Australian Studies, 46:2, 196-210
  4. Mandle, WF, (qtd in) Turner, Graeme (1991) National Fictions Second Edition Routledge: 2020 p.91
  5. Dempsey, Kenneth (1992), “Mateship in Country Towns”, Intruders in the Bush: The Australian Quest for Identity, Second edition, ed. John Carroll, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, p. 131.
  6. Bellanta, Melissa (2012). Larrikins Brisbane: University of Queensland Press. p.xiv
  7. Bellanta, p.3.
  8. Bellanta, 23.
  9. Bellanta, p.182.
  10. Blaine, p. 14.
  11. Gottschall, Kristina (2014), “Always the larrikin: Ben Mendelsohn and young Aussie manhood in Australian cinema”, Continuum, 28.6, p. 863.
  12. Anna Spargo-Ryan (2021), “Blokes Will Be Blokes”, Meanjin, 80:2 p. 4.
  13. Blaine, Lech (2021), “Top Blokes: The Larrikin Myth, Class and Power”, The Quarterly Essay, 83, September, p. 4.
  14. Blaine, p. 10.
  15. Blaine, p. 64.
  16. Katharine Murphy (2022), “Young women like Grace Tame weren’t socialised to shut up when authority figures speak – and it feels like progress”, The Guardian, January 25: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/jan/25/young-women-like-grace-tame-werent-socialised-to-shut-up-when-authority-figures-speak-and-it-feels-like-progress
  17. John Rickard (1998), “Loveable larrikins and awful ockers”, Journal of Australian Studies, 22.56, p 82.
  18. Bellanta p.33
  19. Jillaroo School, ABC iView, https://iview.abc.net.au/show/jillaroo-school
  20. Murray G. Phillips and Gary Osmond, “Filmic Sports History: Dawn Fraser, Swimming and the Australian National Identity”, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 26.14, p. 2146-2142.
  21. Lucas, 139.
  22. Rickard, p. 79
  23. McFarlane, Brian (1999). The Oxford Companion to Australian Film, ed. Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer, Ina Bertrand, Oxford University Press, p. 444.
  24. Simpson, Catherine (2008) Reconfiguring rusticity: feminizing Australian cinema’s country towns, Studies in Australasian Cinema, 2:1, p. 51.
  25. Pratt, Ambrose (1901) “Push Larrikinism in Australia” Blackwood Edinburgh Magazine. Edinburgh. Vol 170 Issue 1029. p.27.
  26. Gillard, Garry “Quirkiness in Australian Cinema.” Australian Screen Education. Issue 29: June 2002 p.30.

About The Author

Mark Freeman is an academic in the Department of Film and Animation at Swinburne University. His most recent publication was in Digital Horror: Haunted Technologies, Network Panic and the Found Footage Phenomenon edited by Linnie Baker and Xavier Aldana Reyes. He is also an editor at Senses of Cinema and has interests in national cinemas, horror and reality television. Eloise Ross is a co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque. She has a PhD in cinema studies from La Trobe University specialising in Hollywood sound studies, and writes and teaches about film.

Related Posts