war whoop

Rocks Push

The Rocks Push was a notorious gang, which dominated the The Rocks area of Sydney, Australia from 1870s to the end of the 1890s. In its day it was referred to as The Push, a title which has since come to be more widely used for the 1940s left-wing movement the Sydney Push.

The gang was engaged in running warfare with other Sydney gangs of the time such as the Straw Hat Push, the Glebe Push, the Argyle Cut Push, the Forty Thieves from Surry Hills and the Gibb Street Mob. They conducted such crimes as theft, assault and battery against police and pedestrians in the Rocks area. Female members of the Push would entice drunks and seamen into dark areas to be assaulted and robbed by the gang.

The leaders of the Rocks Push were crowned through victory in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Larry Foley, regarded as the 'Father of Australian Boxing' challenged and defeated the Captain of the Push, Sandy Ross in 1871, in a fight lasting 71 rounds before police intervened and Foley gained a moral victory.

Australian authors of the time mentioned the Push in various of their works. A poem called The Bastard from the Bush, often attributed to Henry Lawson, describes in vivid and colourful language a meeting between a "Captain" of the Push and the "Bastard from the Bush". Banjo Paterson, describes a group of tourists who go to visit the Rocks Push, and paints the following picture of the appearance of the gang members:

Wiry, hard-faced little fellows, for the most part, with scarcely a sizeable man amongst them. They were all clothed in “push” evening dress—black bell-bottomed pants, no waistcoat, very short black paget coat, white shirt with no collar, and a gaudy neckerchief round the bare throat. Their boots were marvels, very high in the heel and picked out with all sorts of colours down the sides.

Paterson also said, addressing Lawson in In Defence of the Bush,

Did you hear no sweeter voices in the music of the bush
Than the roar of trams and 'buses, and the war-whoop of "the push"?
Did the magpies rouse your slumbers with their carol sweet and strange?
Did you hear the silver chiming of the bell-birds on the range?
But, perchance, the wild birds' music by your senses was despised,
For you say you'll stay in townships till the bush is civilised.
Would you make it a tea-garden and on Sundays have a band
Where the "blokes" might take their "donahs", with a "public" close at hand?
''You had better stick to Sydney and make merry with the "push",
For the bush will never suit you, and you'll never suit the bush.

One of the most famous haunts of the Rocks Push was Harrington Place, also known as the "Suez Canal" (supposedly a pun on "sewers"), one of the most unsavoury places in Sydney in its time.

During the period when the Rocks Push was active, such gang members were also known as "larrikins", but their behaviour bore little in common with larrikinism as it is commonly understood today.


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