Keen on Australia’s bohemian scene

Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australias Bohemians Since 1860

Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australias Bohemians Since 1860

Well-known Australian identities such as Nick Cave, Germaine Greer and Marcus Clarke are featured in a new book on Australian bohemian culture by a Monash University academic.

Director of the National Centre for Australian Studies, Dr Tony Moore, has authored his third book, Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia's Bohemians Since 1860, a who’s who of painters, writers, larrikin journalists, actors, filmmakers, comedians and hackers who have become as famous for their controversial, eccentric lifestyles as for the subversive work they produced.

Dr Moore said that the word ‘bohemian’ came from nineteenth-century Europe where it was used to describe the primitive, exotic and mysterious power of gypsies and was soon adopted by renegade writers and artists.

“I’ve always been attracted to free spirits; subversives who buck against conformity and servility and especially champions of the carnivalesque in life, which in Australia is often characterised as larrikinism,” Dr Moore said.

“As an historian I also like to map cultural and political traditions, so we can make sense of what is going on in the present.”

The book gives a vivid account of the various bohemian circles, subcultures, and movements that have flourished across Australian creative arts and media from the nineteenth century right through to the present day. 

“Since the nineteenth century many of our maverick artists, such as Norman Lindsay, Kenneth Slessor and Barry Humphries, have happily danced from the avant-garde margins into the mainstream, from fringe to famous, smuggling subversive ideas and aesthetics into Australian popular culture,” Dr Moore said.

“The bohemian tradition has continued to thrive in Australia over the past three decades through a mix of Gen X and Gen Y inner city music scenes and youth subcultures such as ravers, goths, street artists and steam punks, and sexual and other identity movements.

“Bohemians have long formed around do-it-yourself media projects, from little magazines, public radio, indie bands, fanzines, short films and now blogs and social media.”

Dr Moore is currently developing two projects drawing on his research into bohemia, one with policy implications about the creative economy called ‘Fringe to Famous’, and another about the life and work of Marcus Clarke that includes a TV documentary. He is also a Creative Fellow at the State Library Victoria.

The new book was supported by research grants from Monash University’s School of Journalism, Australian and Indigenous Studies, and the Faculty of Arts.

Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia's Bohemians Since 1860 will be published on 1 July 2012 through Pier Nine / Murdoch Books, Sydney.

The book will also feature prominently at a launch, a series of discussions, and a schedule of walking tours at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in September.