This article explores the extent and significance of child and youth work in late 19th century Australia. It demonstrates that, while demographic changes meant that almost half the population was aged 19 years or less, this age cohort never comprised more than 18 per cent of the recorded workforce. It is argued that this under-representation reflects the fact that children and youths were ill-suited to the work demands of most colonial occupations. They did not threaten the position of adult males in the key areas of the economy such as construction, heavy engineering, pastoral work, mining and transport. Copyright 2006 The Authors; Journal compilation Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd and the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand 2006.