1st Edition

A History of Crime in Australia Australian Underworlds

By Nancy Cushing Copyright 2023
    246 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    246 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book provides a lively and accessible account of Australia’s most prominent crimes and criminals of the nineteenth and twentieth century and offers an informative background for those seeking to understand crimes committed today.

    A History of Crime in Australia examines the imposition of English law on this ancient continent, and how its operation affected both transported offenders from Great Britain and Ireland, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whose own systems of Law were overlaid. Drawing upon cutting-edge research in the field, original work by the author, and essays from leading crime history researchers, it addresses the question of whether there was an Australian underworld. In doing so, it provides background for well known offenders including bushranger Ned Kelly and the razor gangs of the 1920s and for sensational crimes like the Mount Rennie Outrage, the Pyjama Girl Mystery and the Shark Arm Murder and the miscarriage of justice following the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain at Uluru in 1980. Through these case studies, the book draws out points of tension and cohesion within Australian society, exposing the enduring anxiety around those who were considered to be outsiders, and how the criminal justice system was used to manage these concerns. This book includes a guide to conducting research in the field of Australian crime history and sources for further study.

    Designed as an introductory text for students, this book will be of interest to those studying criminology and crime history, and anyone who would like to deepen their understanding of crime’s place in Australia’s social and cultural history.


    Essay: Crime History for Criminologists

    Victoria Nagy

    1. Law in Aboriginal Societies

    Essay: Indigenous Law and the Intrusion of the West

    Tyson Yunkaporta and Michael Bryden

    Primary Source: Wundanyuka kulu Jujuju

    Yanyuwa Families

    2. Australian Criminal Justice Systems

    Essay: From military tribunals to trial by jury

    Rachel Franks

    Primary Source: Prisoners for Trial, Adelaide, 1846

    3. The Criminal Class Theory and its Enemies

    Essay: British and Irish convicts and the idea of a criminal class

    Hamish Maxwell Stewart

    Primary Source: Indents of Female Convicts for the ship Lloyds,1845

    4. Aboriginal People and Settler Colonial Law

    Essay: Entangled in the colonial justice system

    Laurie Allen

    Primary Source: "Proclamation to the Aborigines", c. 1828-30

    5. The World of Ned Kelly

    Essay: The other bushrangers

    Meg Foster

    Primary Source: Jerilderie Letter, 1880, excerpt

    6. Identifying Underworlds

    Essay: Underworld figures? Describing vagrants

    Catharine Coleborne

    Primary Source: "From the Police Gazette", 1901

    7. Race, Class and Sexual Violence

    Essay: Sexual violence, racism, and the death penalty

    Andy Kaladelfos

    Primary Source: Opposing Capital Punishment, the Bulletin, 1889

    8. Husband Poisoners and Baby Killers: Women Criminals

    Essay: The ordinary crimes of female offenders

    Alana Piper

    Primary Source: "Victoria Gaol" by Janet Dibben, 1904

    9. Popular Crimes

    Essay: "Unnatural" and unpopular crimes

    Yorick Smaal

    Primary Source: The "Pyjama Girl Conundrum", 1944

    10. The Long History of Australian Gangs

    Essay: What ever happened to the larrikin pushes?

    Melissa Bellanta

    Primary Source: Kate Leigh Prison Record, 1915

    11. Innocent Criminals

    Essay: The Media vs Lindy Chamberlain

    Michelle Arrow

    Primary Source: Azaria Chamberlain’s Matinée Jacket, 1986

    12. Researching the History of Crime in Australia

    Essay: Using digital archives of crimes and criminals

    Michael Kilmister


    Nancy Cushing is Associate Professor of History at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She is an environmental historian interested in human-other animal relations, most recently co editing Animals Count (Routledge 2018) with Jodi Frawley. This book is based on her undergraduate course Australian Underworlds which she has taught as an on-campus and massive open online course to over a thousand students since 2017.