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History

06 Feb 2019

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Gangs in Southbank

Recent “gang” activity in inner Melbourne has received lots of attention – but it is nothing new.

Southbank (when part of South Melbourne) had its share, which is not surprising given it was a relatively poor suburb.

South became notorious for its larrikin gangs (or pushes), particularly the “Flying Angels”, who terrorised the district around 1900. A few years later, they were joined by the “White Rose” push, and the “Montague” push.

The young men, who were unemployed or worked as unskilled labourers, gathered in streets such as Moray, indulging in petty thieving and being general nuisances, as well as abusing and assaulting residents, throwing rocks from building sites at houses and stealing from shops, hotels and businesses.

They displayed their contempt for authority by attacking local police, and any publican who ejected them for rowdy behaviour risked having his premises demolished and his stock stolen.

They often organised fights with gangs from other suburbs, such as Fitzroy, Carlton and Collingwood, sometimes fought out at football matches at the Lake Oval, home of South Melbourne club (which had the nickname of the ‘”blood-stained angels” for their white jumpers with red sash). Described by the local press as “hard-fisted, foul-mouthed, desperate scoundrels”, their activities meant that locals were fearful of venturing onto the streets after nightfall and led to the call for more police in South and for the courts and magistrates to be far more severe. Sound familiar?

There was a resurgence of gang activity in the 1920s but now many of them were armed, as many weapons were freely available after WWI. In those difficult economic times, the gangs were perhaps more involved in robberies from houses and businesses (Sturt St factories were favourite targets) than terrorising citizens. Gang activity continued into the 40s and 50s. Dockland suburbs were hotbeds of crime, with seamen from other countries being primary targets for robbery and assault by local gangs, often armed with razors.

A new breed of local gangs emerged in South in the 60s - sharpies. South had the Montague boys and South Melbourne boys. Nearby suburbs such as Middle Park and Port Melbourne also had their gangs, who all knew each other. Within a family some brothers were in different gangs and some members played football in teams with members from other gangs. Whilst all the local gangs got on pretty well with one another, outsiders from other areas in Melbourne were not welcome and the locals would join together in fights against them.

Residents of Southbank should be grateful that the old days of gang violence have disappeared from our streets.

Robin Grow

President - Australian Art Deco & Modernism Society

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