1st Edition

Young People and the Shaping of Public Space in Melbourne, 1870-1914

By Simon Sleight Copyright 2013
    294 Pages
    by Routledge

    294 Pages
    by Routledge

    Baby booms have a long history. In 1870, colonial Melbourne was ’perspiring juvenile humanity’ with an astonishing 42 per cent of the city’s inhabitants aged 14 and under - a demographic anomaly resulting from the gold rushes of the 1850s. Within this context, Simon Sleight enters the heated debate concerning the future prospects of ’Young Australia’ and the place of the colonial child within the incipient Australian nation. Looking beyond those institutional sites so often assessed by historians of childhood, he ranges across the outdoor city to chart the relationship between a discourse about youth, youthful experience and the shaping of new urban spaces. Play, street work, consumerism, courtship, gang-related activities and public parades are examined using a plethora of historical sources to reveal a hitherto hidden layer of city life. Capturing the voices of young people as well as those of their parents, Sleight alerts us to the ways in which young people shaped the emergent metropolis by appropriating space and attempting to impress upon the city their own desires. Here a dynamic youth culture flourished well before the discovery of the ’teenager’ in the mid-twentieth century; here young people and the city grew up together. 

    Contents: Foreword; Introduction; Growing up with the city; The metropolitan youthscape: making space and seeking autonomy; Getting and spending: the world of outdoor work and the beginnings of the youth market; Interstitial acts: urban space and the larrikin repertoire; ’For the sake of effect’: youth on display and the politics of performance; Conclusion; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.


    Simon Sleight is Senior Lecturer in Australian History at King's College London and Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University in Melbourne. He is also Co-founding Director of the Children's History Society in the UK.

    '"Marvellous Melbourne", a precocious new world city of the late nineteenth century, is the site for this rich and acute study of how young people carved out their own spaces in the urban outdoors. Simon Sleight draws on a remarkable range of sources to illuminate the subversive perspectives of Melbourne's youth. The book contributes to the burgeoning international scholarship on young people's historical experiences, and is recommended reading for historians, geographers and sociologists alike.'

    Stuart Macintyre, University of Melbourne, Australia

    ‘[A] remarkable book ... Any architect, any student, or any historian who is eager to ask what a city is, who wants to understand the lived experience of urban children, or who wants to make cities more welcoming places for them should read Young People and the Shaping of Public Space in Melbourne.’

    Marta Gutman, Journal of Architectural Education 

    ‘Sleight is acutely attuned to the rhythms of the city, its sounds and senses ... This has taken enormous time, skill, attention to detail, and a critical eye. Like slow food, this is slow history – educative, ethical, tasty, artisanal – you can feel it doing you good ... There is no doubt at all in my mind that this book will become a classic in the genre.’

    Andrew May, Reviews in History

    ‘Sleight is a skilful detective, mining municipal records, diaries, photographs and more to bring his subjects to life. He demonstrates a painstaking capacity to sift through voluminous archives and texts, extract meaningful fragments and weave them into an evocative picture. In doing so, Sleight accords the young Melburnians at the heart of his research agency, humanity and vitality.’

    Carla Pascoe, Journal of Australian Studies

    '[A] superlative study, based on an impressively wide range of research, all fully documented for those who wish to investigate further. It is detailed yet concise, informed yet not obscured by theory, and warmed by empathy with youngsters’ desires for freedom and adventure.'

    Robert Darby, Labour History

    'Sleight is adroit in positioning his study within the current sociological and geographical literature on young people and the city, but brings to this a focus on the past ... [This book] offers a fresh and timely perspective on the historical dimensions of urban spaces … Sleight’s ability to delve into the historical experiences of young people has led to a vividly written, well-illustrated and instructive book about childhood in late colonial Melbourne.'

    Kate Darian-Smith, Journal of Historical Geography

    'What Sleight’s study refreshingly presents before the reader is a history of childhood which concentrates on children’s experiences rather than adults’ view of children.'

    Ian Grosvenor, Australian Historical Studies