The Australian Bushrangers

Who, What, When, Where Why?

The term “Bushranger” has definitely changed over the years. In the very early years, it simply referred to good bush men who possessed the horsemanship, hunting, and survival skills needed for living in the Australian bush, or wild, after they fled Australia’s prison colonies. Now, the term is used to refer to criminals who attacked travelers on the road in the bush.

It’s impossible to say just how many bushrangers walked Australia’s bush, although there had to be hundreds. This was partly because many of them received very little attention from the outside world at all. As long as they left people alone, nobody really cared about what they did. Prison records show that these men were arrested for crimes like 'robbery under arms' or 'highway robbery'.

Australia was originally colonized largely by English criminals. These criminals were sentenced to seven years of hard labor in Australia to help build the new colony there. They were sent partly because it was cheaper than buying slaves to do the work and because England’s prisons were overcrowded. These criminals would often then escape and go back to steal from the freemen.

Gold Rush

The second major contributing factor to bushranging was the Victorian Gold rush that occurred in the 1850s and 1860s. There was a massive exodus from the inhabited coastal regions as people moved into the ranges to search for gold. This meant that traffic on the early roads like Orange and Turon in New South Wales and Ballarat in Victoria increased a lot. Since there were no banks on the goldfield, every man carried his gold on his body. The more successful a man was, the bigger a target he became. Many miners were robbed or killed. Bushrangers would rob people on the roads near the gold fields or raid the properties of wealthy squatters. The police had a hard time keeping up with them so the people had no faith in them. Some would even resign to go after the gold, leaving new recruits to figure out what to do. It was so bad that newspapers at the time ran cartoons portraying police as bumbling idiots.

Dress

Bushrangers typically dressed in very cheap, rough clothes. They were usually very plain because even if a bushranger did rob someone rich, the money tended not to last long. They would often carry handguns. It wasn’t uncommon for them to steal their weapons from those they robbed, either. Bushrangers were very similar to cowboys in their attitude in that they acted like the law could not touch them and that they owned their own territory. They were often violent and short-tempered. While some bushrangers did not kill without reason, there were others who killed without hesitation.

Famous Bushrangers


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