Simon Sleight on Young People and the Shaping of Public Space in Melbourne, 1870–1914

Simon Sleight has spoken on ABC’s By Design Radio programme about how young people and a dynamic youth culture shaped the early development of Melbourne.

You can download the programme from the By Design web pages

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.

Young People Public Space MelbourneSimon Sleight’s book Young People and the Shaping of Public Space in Melbourne, 1870–1914 looks beyond those institutional sites so often assessed by historians of childhood, and 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, and 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 in Melbourne 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.

About the Author: Simon Sleight is Lecturer in Australian History at King’s College London. He is also Adjunct Research Associate with the School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies at Monash University in Melbourne.

Review: “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

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