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Boy Rescue Societies

Boy rescue societies emerged in the 1880s as part of a broader middle-class concern to control working-class morality. The three most prominent, the Try Society, South Yarra, the City Newsboys' Society and the Gordon Institute were all founded by Toorak merchant William Forster. The Try Society began in 1884 when Forster invited some street boys to his home, telling them that to get ahead in life, all they had to do was 'try'. The Herald Try Boys' Excelsior Class (later renamed the City Newsboys' Society) was established in Collins Street in 1886 and the Gordon Institute in 1888.

Before World War I the societies prospered, attracting both members and widespread public support. Many purchased their own halls, providing recreational and educational facilities. All were based on an evangelical philanthropic impulse to rescue boys from the allegedly immoral and vice-ridden lives of the street and the defective working-class home by arranging employment in rural areas and offering a range of classes designed to prepare boys for more skilled occupations.

Declining evangelical moral authority, growing scepticism about individual morality as a cause of poverty, increasingly rugged codes of manliness, the boy scouts, and compulsory military training decreased the attraction of such rescue societies as the 20th century progressed. None survive in their original form, though they have variously reinvented themselves as youth clubs, children's homes or philanthropic foundations.

Martin Crotty

Landells, Wallace, Try: Pioneer of youth welfare in Australia, 1883-1983, Try Youth and Community Services, Melbourne, 1984. Details