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Vagrancy refers to a transient lifestyle that, whether adopted through necessity or choice, has long been subject to legal regulation. The New South Wales vagrancy law took effect in Port Phillip when the district was settled and allowed individuals found guilty of being 'idle and disorderly persons', 'rogues and vagabonds' or 'incorrigible rogues' to be gaoled. The first Victorian vagrancy law, introduced in 1852, proscribed over 100 different offences, including having no visible lawful means of support, begging, consorting, and occupying public places at night without lawful excuse. In 1876, John Stanley James described the men and women who lived on the banks of the Yarra River as 'vagrants, pure and simple'. This designation, however, obscured the fact that in 19th-century Melbourne it was the aged, ill, poor and unemployed, together with juveniles and prostitutes, who were most likely to be arrested for vagrancy. During the 20th century, a welfare approach to vagrancy gradually came to the fore with charitable institutions providing increased accommodation and support services to individuals and families. In 1977, the vagrancy law's most infamous provision, which outlawed having insufficient or no visible means of support, was repealed, and by the 1990s, vagrancy had largely been replaced in the language of the city by the concept of homelessness.

Susanne Davies

Davies, S., '"Ragged, dirty ... infamous and obscene": The "vagrant" in late nineteenth century Melbourne', in D. Philips and S. Davies (eds), A nation of rogues? Crime, law and punishment in colonial Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994. Details