Highway robbery is not a uniquely Australian phenomenon. There have been 'knights of the road' in England and bandits in America and elsewhere, but in nineteenth-century Australia bushranging was so widespread, and so strongly supported by public sympathy, that it amounted to a leading national institution. It is this fact which is singular and which demands some explanation. In England the fame of Robin Hood or Dick Turpin pales before that of Drake or Nelson and in America Sam Bass and Billy the Kid are almost entirely eclipsed by Washington and Lincoln. In Australia, however, while every child knows something of Ned Kelly, Macquarie, even to a great many adults, is just the name of a Sydney street favoured by medical specialists, and Deakin, if known at all, is the name of a transcontinental railway siding or Canberra suburb. In this respect popular taste has not changed much since the  1840's, when Mundy wrote:

Every country has its great man - here, poet or philosopher. Van Diemen's Land has, appropriately enough, its great bushranger and desperado to boast of. Micahel Howe, without dispute, and without disparagement to other public characters who, on more reputable grounds may deserve a memoir, is the historical great man of this island.

No doubt bushrangers came to occupy such a prominent place in Australian legend partly because, in the last century, Australia took part in no great wars, and thus there were no colourful military figures to serve, as they tend to do in other countries. as symbols of nationalist settlement. But the matter was not as simple as this. It is not difficult to understand the reasons for the great prestige of bushrangers in the convict period. The first settlers brought with them from Britain a traditional regard for highway robbery. The romantic aura, which surrounded it was never stronger than at the end of the eighteenth century when the crime itself was becoming a thing of the past, and men in all walks of life were not unaffected by the fashion. D'Arcy Wentworth, a connection of Earl Fitzwilliam, seems to have emigrated to New South Wales lest the law should view too seriously what he claimed to have been a youthful prank on the roads, and when the first highway robbery in Australia occurred, David Coffins, the Judge-Advocate, is said to have considered it 'one step towards refinement' and 'at least a manly method of taking property'.  

Much more important, however, than the gentry's views on these matters, were those of the lower orders. We have seen above, that the distinctively Australian ethos which developed before 1851, sprang primarily from convict, working-class, Irish and native-born sources, and that it was associated particularly with up-country life. In all these respects the first bushrangers were more 'Australian' than anybody else. Nearly all of them were convict 'bolters' of whom many were Irish, including Jack Donahoe, the most famous of them all in the early period. A few were native-born youths and the very existence of all depended upon their being more completely 'independent' of the authorities, more adaptable, resourceful, and loyal to each other, than even the most thoroughly acclimatized bush workman. Indeed, if bushmen were the 'true Australians', runaway convicts were the first of the genus. The very word 'bushranger' had become a part of the language of 1806. At first it referred to the 'bolters' capacity for living in the bush, as much as to their predatory habits, and so in the absence of any other word it was sometimes applied to the few law-abiding citizens who were also at home in the bush. As late as 1825 a newspaper referred to the English explorer, W. H. Hovell, as lacking 'all the qualities befitting a bushranger'. By the 1820's the phrase 'to take to the bush' had become a cliche, but the word 'bushman' did not become common until twenty years later. In this chapter we shall find much evidence that the 'old Australian' elements of the population, and in particular the pastoral proletariat of the interior, tended to look upon the bushrangers as heroic symbols of resistance to constituted authority, to look upon them, in short, as themselves writ large.  

The convict system manufactured bushrangers. In spite of all that has been said above about the ameliorating effect on the convicts of the Australian environment, it remains true that the system was a lottery in which many government men drew unlucky tickets. A good master like Patrick Leslie might inspire his men to follow him 'to hell' itself, but, if contemporary chroniclers are to be believed, such employers were rather exceptional. Harris estimated: 'two-thirds of the crimes of the lower classes of the colony are the fruits of seed sown by the masters' own hands,' and Sidney roundly declared: 'bushranging by prisoners, has in almost every instance been occasioned by cruel, unjust masters.' After his retirement Macquarie wrote to Bathurst on 10 October 1823:

I have no doubt that many convicts who might have been rendered useful and good men, had they been treated with humane and reasonable control, have sunk into despondency by the unfeeling treatment of such masters, and that many of those wretched men, driven to acts of violence by harsh usage, and who, by a contrary treatment, might have been informed, have taken themselves to the woods, where they can only subsist by plunder, and have terminated their lives at the galleries.

The more conscientiously and capably an assigned servant performed his work, the greater temptation he provided to an unscrupulous master to prolong his servitude. And this was particularly true of the 1540's when the demand for labour in the interior was keen and transportation to the mainland had ceased. J.C. Byrne wrote in 1848:

Masters particularly of late years have been unrelenting to their treatment of convicts; getting them punished for fancied offences, in order to prolong the term of their sentence, and proved them obtaining a ticket-of-leave ... When an assigned servant obtains a ticket-of-leave it is a dead loss to the master, to the amount that has to be paid a free man to replace him, no other convict being reassigned at present, in his stead.

Most contemporaries agreed that flogging was a particularly efficacious means of producing bushrangers. In November 1838, an officer who had been stationed at the Hyde ark Barracks, Sydney, for only about fifteen months, told the Quaker missionary, Backhouse:

... upwards of one thousand men had been flogged in the course of that period! He stated his opinion to be, that how much soever men may dread flagellation, when they have not been subjected to it, they are generally degraded in their own estimation, and become reckless, after its infliction. This, we have found to be a very prevailing opinion, in the Colony.

More impressive, perhaps, is the first-hand evidence of Judge Therry who wrote:

Bushrangers, it is known, have been the terror of New South Wales. Of some hundreds of them who passed through our criminal courts, I do not remember to have met with one who had not been over and over again flogged before he took to the bush ... the lash was used for the purpose of extorting a confession of guilt from vaguely suspected persons.

A few actual cases will show the mingling of complete despair and indomitable defiance, with which some convicts reacted to this treatment. In 1831 a bushranger named William Webber, who had outlived his chief, Jack Donahoe, was caught, tried and sentenced to death. The day before his execution he proved to Therry, that he and others had actually committed a crime for which two innocent men were suffering at Norfolk Island. Moved by this evidence of good feeling and by his youth - Webber was only twenty-five and 'in the full vigour of a robust manhood' - Therry offered to try to save him from the gallows if he would reveal particulars of other crimes. The bushranger's reply was: 'No, sir, I thank you; but I will disclose nothing. All I could gain by it would be to be sent to Norfolk Island, and I would rather be hanged than go there. Don't trouble yourself about me; leave me to my fate.' The italics are Therry's, and Webbers's. He was hanged at the appointed time next day.

Another only bushranger named Hall, when sentenced to death in Sydney on 15 May 1839, said from the dock: 'I've been all over the country in my time without taking the life of anyone. I've been baited like a bulldog and I'm only sorry now I didn't shoot every ---- tyrant in New South Wales. To the crowd outside the gaol he said: 'I've never had anything to say against the prisoners, but I've a grudge against every --- swell in the country. I'll go to the gallows and die as comfortable as a biddy, and be glad of the chance.'

Grave of bushranger, Ben Hall

It is very interesting to find that this recalcitrant spirit seems to have been largely responsible for a reform of the kind which is customarily put down to the influence of humanitarian ideas. In November 1834 a celebrated bushranger named Jenkins was publicly hanged for the murder of Dr Wardell. According to the Sydney Herald of 13 November 1834, 'the neighbourhood of the gaol was crowded to a degree never before observed on any similar occasion', because Jenkins's truculent behaviour to court had aroused the expectation that he would make a particularly spirited exit from the world. His traditional speech from the drop began with the words:

Well, good bye my lads, I have not time to say much to you. I acknowledge I shot the Doctor, but it was not for gain, it was for the sake of my fellow prisoners because he was a tyrant and I have one thing to recommend you as a friend, if any of you take the bush, about every tyrant you come across, and there are several now in the yard who ought to be served so.

Apparently the incident was still being talked about ten years and more later when Marjoribanks recorded a summarized version of the speech, remarking that it had created such a 'wonderful impression' on the minds of the audience, that Governor Bourke had given orders that executions were to be carried out privately in future. The New South Wales government Gazette, for some years following Jenkin's execution, contains no record of any official directive concerning the practice to be followed at executions, but it seems likely that in fact some such unofficial instructions were given. For example, the collective hanging of the seven murderers of Aborigines in the notorious Myall Creek massacre, which took place four years later on 18 December 1838, created a tremendous stir in the colony. contemporary accounts imply that this ceremony was performed semi-privately. On the other hand, criminals in the Port Phillip District continued to be hanged publicly in the time-honoured fashion until 1847. In that year, partly owing to Captain Lonsdale's apprehensions of violence from the multitude, the scaffold was moved inside the gaol-yard so that all but the head and shoulders of the condemned man's body would be invisible from outside, once the trap had been sprung. At the next Melbourne hanging the whole body of the criminal, after the drop, was invisible from outside. This administrative practice was legalized by two acts 'to regulate the execution of criminals' which were passed by the New South Wales and Victorian Legislative Councils, and which received the Royal approval, respectively in 1854 and 1855. yet in England a similar statute to end public hangings was not passed until 1868, and until that year crowds flocked to the spectacles. At Courvoisier's execution in London in 1840, 'as much as 2 pounds was paid for a window', and one titled person hired for a day and a night, for himself and his friends, an hotel room with a good view of the drop. Much later 'the rich and the idle' were still paying high prices for places 'commanding a good view'.

Having regard to the intense bitterness of feeling which helped to produce this Australian legal reform, and to its causes, it is not surprising that bushranging should have been endemic in Australia, but rather that it should have been conducted with so little actual bloodshed. some brutal and cold-blooded crimes including rape and murder were committed, but generally speaking, bushrangers took pains to avoid 'unnecessary' violence. The picture given by Marjoribanks is a balanced one:

They cannot be called a bloodthirsty set of men, indeed, I should say, that, upon the whole, they were rather the reverse. They are, of course, for the most part, reckless and determined characters; but latterly, at all events, they have seldom been in the habit of committing murder or violence upon the person, unless when resisted, as they find this their best policy. ... I met with at least twenty individuals in that country who had been attacked by the bushrangers, and not one of them had been maltreated, as they had offered no resistance. Indeed, I was sometimes surprised how they were allowed to walk the course, even under circumstances where defence would almost, to a certainty, have been attended with success.

They cannot be called a bloodthirsty set of men; indeed, I should say, that, upon the whole, they were rather the reverse. They are, of course, for the most part, reckless and determined characters, but latterly, at all events, they have seldom been in the habit of committing murder or violence upon the person, unless when resisted, as they find this their best policy. ... I met with at least twenty individuals in that country who had been attacked by the bushrangers, and not one of them had been maltreated, as they had offered no resistance. Indeed, I was sometimes surprised how they were allowed to walk the course, even under circumstances where defence would almost, to a certainty, have been attended with success. 

It paid bushrangers to avoid bloodshed because such a policy greatly increased the esteem in which they were held by wide sections of the community. It is clear that, both before and after the Gold Rush decade, the desperadoes could not have existed for long if it had not been for the almost universal sympathy and support of the bush proletariat. governor Darling declared that the 'bushrangers' accomplices and receivers of their stolen goods formed a 'very numerous Class', which was the 'root and foundation' of the evil; but he does not seem to have realized that this 'class', at least if sympathizers be included in it, constituted a majority of the inhabitants of the colony. perhaps he did realize the true position, but thought it impolite to state it in official documents. James Macarthur, a native-born grandee, had no such illusions, or reservations. More than ten years after Darling's predecessor had determined on measures for 'eradicating' bushranging completely, Macarthur wrote: 'The sympathies of the numerical majority of the inhabitants are in favour of the criminals, whom they would rather screen from punishment, than deliver over the justice.'

Later still, in 1848, Haygarth wrote that the mounted police had the very greatest difficulty in:

gaining correct information of the bushrangers} movements. The shepherds stock-keepers, occupying the lonely out-stations, are the best authority upon these matters, if they choose to be so; but it unfortunately happens that many of these men, who have themselves been 'in trouble', have a secret leaning towards the runaways, or at least they remain neutral, and only see what they think proper, and this renders it very difficult for the police to whom out of them any information on which they can depend. The bushrangers, on the other hand, before they have been 'out' very long, are sure to have correct informants in many quarters ...

And later again, when after a quarter-century of responsible government Ned Kelly was hanged in November 1880, men could still talk seriously of a revolt of sympathizers. In drawing attention to the differences between the early bushrangers and those who took to the bush after the Gold Rush, some writers have minimized or overlooked entirely the more important similarities between the two generations. It is true that most of the former were ex-convicts, driven to bushranging by harsh taskmasters, and most of the latter native-born youths who chose to take to the roads partly out of a misguidedly romantic sense of adventure. It is true too that the earliest bushrangers, in both New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, moved about relatively limited areas of country on foot, but by the last pre-Gold Rush decade most of them were mounted, as were these of the post-Gold-Rush period.

The continuity of the tradition is exemplified in the life of John McGuire. According to his own account, McGuire was born in Kent Street, Sydney, on 28 April 1826. His mother was a Hawkesburyh native, daughter of John Masterton, convict, transported for 'making pikes' in the Irish rebellion of 1798. His father was 'a native of Dublin' who 'came out  to the colonies in 1818', whether as a convict or a free immigrant we are not told. At the age of nine years he ran away from home with another boy and made his way across the mountains, mainly, it seems, because of the romantic aura which the interior had even then. It was his delight to work for bullock-drivers 'to learn the ways of the bush and listen to their tales'. While still a lad he spent some years wandering with a tribe of Aborigines. At fifteen he had accumulated a herd of twenty 'weaners' as wages from friendly stockmen. He married a daughter of John Walsh, 'a Tipperary man', who owned Wheogo Station in the Weddin Mountains, and thus became a brother-in-law of Ben Hall, the celebrated bushranger. It is hard to believe that in the minds of such men there was any very significant distinction between the earlier and later outlaws.

Cold-blooded murders were committed by the Clarke brothers in 1866 and by the Kellys in 1878, as well as by Lynch in j18412, but usually, in both the earlier and later periods, bushrangers took care to give some verisimilitude to the Robin Hood role which their admirers thrust upon them. They boasted, with some truth, that they robbed only from the rich (who of course were most worth the trouble), and if they did not give much actual cash to the poor, other than their accomplices and 'bush telegraphs', they dispensed to them gratis, on every possible occasion, endless quantities of other people's rum. Thus Henry Power, mentor of the youthful Ned Kelly, defended himself in the Beechworth Police Court by maintaining that he always refrained from robbing poor men who 'worked hard for their money'; and witnesses who had been present at his 'hold-ups (including some of the victims) corroborated him. Bushrangers also singled out for special attention those squatters who had the reputation of being hard or unjust taskmasters. Indeed, it is misleading to speak of two 'waves' of bushranging, separated by the Gold rush decade. In fact many men found it easier to rob the diggers than to dig for themselves, even at the height of the Bush in the early 'fifties when gold was obtained most easily. And many at least of these Gold Rush bushrangers, like 'Melville', also conformed to the traditional pattern of 'chivalrous' behaviour established in convict days.

After the Gold rush the tone of bourgeois respectability, so much strengthened in colonial society by the rapid growth of the urban middle classes, seems to have ensured that nearly all newspapers and most writers felt constrained to deny to the outlaws possession of any 'Robin Hood' qualities. For example, even the radical, and relatively cant-free, Bulletin took a wholly proper attitude in 1880 to 'the annihilation of the Kellys', denying that they, or the spirit they symbolized, possessed any redeeming qualities whatever. A stanza from an unsigned Bulletin 'poem' on Ned Kelly's imminent apotheosis reflects faithfully the general tone of outraged propriety, protesting itself slightly too much:

Oh, out on such 'sympathy'! Can we discover
One reason this brigand's existence to save?
No, indeed! for, in sooth, we should rather mourn over
Each poor murdered man who lies stark in his grave!
As he's lived, let him die! a base wretch without feeling:
A bushel of quicklime is all that he's worth!
Let the grave of a felon his corpse be concealing --
And blot his name off from the face of the earth!

Similarly, though his own book provides it in abundance, Boxall wrote that he could 'find no evidence ... that the highwaymen robbed the rich to give to the poor; and he went on to bolster his claim by such extraordinary statements as that a wealthy class 'did not exist in convict times, and is only just beginning to appear now'. In fact the later bushrangers, like their predecessors, were on the whole surprisingly gentlemanly ruffians. Fifty years before Boxall wrote, Marjoribanks considered the 'peculiar' institution' of bushranging with a Radical Whiggish eye, comparatively unclouded by either romantic sentimentality or considerations of bourgeois propriety. His characterization was as true of the later bushrangers as it was of those he was describing:

... On the two occasions above alluded to, they returned to the different parties no less than 5 pounds 14s. for their expenses on the road; and did you ever bear of people who had been robbed in this country getting back anything at all? ... When they rob drays, they uniformly invite the drivers, who are, for the most part, convicts also, and have a fellow feeling towards them, to take a social glass with them, of the drink which they are almost sure to find; ... the prospect of which at once disarms all opposition; and when they rob dwelling houses, they generally behave in the same gentlemanly manner, provided no resistance be offered. ... They seldom attack the dwellings of the working classes, except when hard pushed, and then they are not very severe, as if they get their pipes lighted, and something to eat, they are generally satisfied, though they almost invariably seize fire-arms, when they come in their way. ... 

The more polite, and the more reasonable they are in their demands, the longer do they escape, as, when those attacked are well used, they will not put themselves to much trouble to get them apprehended. ... When violence is used they seldom escape long, as the whole country, as it were, rise up against them.

Even Morgan, notoriously the most murderous of all post-Gold-Rush banditti, whose mind was so disordered that he habitually robbed alone and had no mates, knew in his muddled way what tradition expected of a bushranger. When he visited Stitt Brothers' Wolla Wolla Station he --

... compelled the proprietor to being rum to the wool shed and treat all the shearers. He made particular enquiries as to the treatment the servants received, and instructed the servants to acquaint him if they were ill-used, as he was always to be found thereabouts.

In the eyes of the bush-workers, and of a great many other colonists, bushrangers derived added prestige merely from being, so to speak, the professional opponents of the police. It may be doubted whether the police force of any English-speaking country, except Ireland, has ever been more thoroughly unpopular than were those of most Australian colonies in the last century. Even special corps like the Queensland Native amounted Police, in sorry contrast with such bodies as the Royal Canadian Mounted, established a reputation for ferocity rather than gallantry. The popular attitude towards policemen in general was one of hatred and contempt, reflected accurately though perhaps not felicitously, in a ballad on the death of Ben Hall. The relevant verses read thus:

Come all Australia's sons to me -
A hero has been slain
And cowardly butchered in his sleep
Upon the Lachlan Plain.
He never robbed a needy man -
His records sure will show
How staunch and loyal to his mates,
How manly to the foe.
At last he left his trusty mates -
The cause I ne'er could hear -
The bloodhounds of the law were told,
And after him did steer.
They found his place of ambush then,
And cautiously they crept,
And savagely they murdered him
While still their victim slept.
Yes, savagely they murdered him,
Those coward Blue-coat imps
Who only found his hiding-place
From sneaking peelers' pimps.

When founded in August 1789, the New South Wales police force consisted entirely of convicts, for between them and the military who 'had their line of duty marked out for them ... there was no description of people from whom overseers or watchmen could be provided'. And until the gold rush and later, partly because Currency Lads were so 'utterly averse' to the idea of police service, convicts or ex-convicts made u a large, though steadily decreasing, part of the force. From the point of view of strongly influenced by their outlook, those who became policemen and overseers were not the best prisoners but the worst. By consenting to act as constables they broke, in the most flagrant possible way, the first principle of 'government men' and bush-workers; that of loyalty to one's mates. Whatever else might be added to them of spiritual grave or worldly perquisites, they forfeited utterly the respect of their fellows. Harris records very justly the loathing in which they were held, when he writes that they were men 'who have crept up from their own {the convicts'} ranks by conning and sycophancy, and because they would do any dirty work rather than submit to bodily toil'. And Collins says that from the very beginning their fellow prisoners regarded them with 'scorn ... fear and detestation'.

It is not surprising that policemen should have been hated or despised by criminals, old hands and their friends, but this attitude was by no means confined to the less wealthy classes. Of course there were many honourable exd3eptions and the quality of police personnel did improve as the years passed, but throughout the nineteenth century there are constant complaints that most Australian policemen were corrupt, besotted, cowardly, brutal and inefficient. Of the early days in Tasmania one observer wrote:

There was a force called the Field Police, who were volunteer convicts that had served a certain time, and by additional service got a ticket-of-leave or emancipation. They were hated by all classes, for they had power without principle. 'Very few of them, I believe, but would have sworn a man's life away for a crown. ...

In Macquarie's day Wentworth thought the Sydney police badly organized and too few in number, while to those in the country districts he considered 'it would be a farce to apply the name of police at all'. In 1826 Atkinson, formerly principal clerk in the colonial Secretary's office, thought 'the police of the colony - still very defective' though it had recently 'received improvements'.

Four years later the police 'received further improvement' in the shape of increased powers conferred upon them by 'An Act to suppress Robbery and Housebreaking and the harbouring of Robbers and Housebreakers' (21 April 1830). This law, which came to be known as the Bushranging Act, was passed for a period of only two years, because it was felt to be a temporary measure made necessary by the alarming activities of the bushrangers. It conferred upon 'any person whatsoever' the right to arrest, without a warrant, and hale before the nearest J.P., anyone suspected of being 'a transported felon unlawfully at large'. As a rule the only persons to exercise this right were police constables, and their feckless and arbitrary use of it caused untold annoyance to all colonists, except those who were themselves J.P.'s or people almost equally with known and presumably respectable. J.G. Byrne, for instance, was arrested at the Ovens River in the Port Phillip district, to be taken back to Sydney for identification, for no better reason than that a venal mounted police corporal wanted an excuse for visiting the publican's daughter at Yass on the way back to the capital. Harris records half a dozen or more similar cases which he observed personally, being 'very careful on so serious a point to state only what {he was} positive of. One man who came free to the colony told Harris that he was 'generally arrested twice every year, under the Bushranging Act', and a native-born lad claimed to have 'passed seven weeks out of three months marching in handcuffs' by the side of constables who had formed completely groundless suspicions. The Currency people tended to suffer most because 'having been born in the colony {they} had no protective document whatever'. Yet the Act was renewed, with slight modifications but with none of principle, every two years until the gold discoveries. Mr Justice Burton thought it repugnant to the laws of England, and Bourke was troubled with similar qualms, but the 'opinion of the best informed colonists', of the magistrates, and of the Legislative Council was decisive. 

Ned Kelly at his trial

In the late 1830's, after some years of the Act's operation, a China Seas skipper - not, one would imagine, an unduly squeamish witness - was 'frequently disgusted' by the brutal and barbarous manner in which the Sydney constabulary carried out their duties. In March and April of 1844 the Sydney Morning Herald published a series of leading articles on the inefficiency of the force, and at about the same time Mrs Charles Meredith, a gently-nurtured English visitor, wrote bitterly in her book of the notorious corruption of the constables. A little later, according to Gerstaecker, drunken and brutal constables were stock characters on the Sydney stage, ensuring the success of any play. Perhaps the most significant commentary of all is that provided by the official New South Wales Government Gazette. Throughout the 1830's it published regularly each week laconic lists of constables who had resigned or been dismissed.

The character of the Victorian police during the Gold bush decade has already been sketched. In New South Wales at that period complaints continued as before. In a trenchant sub-leader on 'Police Abuses' the editor of the Empire wrote on 29 June 1853:

The sovereign majesty of the Sydney Police, owing to the former penal character of the colony, is under no constitutional restrictions ... They have a roving commission to go into the highways and byways to suspend the liberty of the subject in the exercise of their discriminating infallible 'suspicion' ...

From the 1560's onwards there seems to have been a steady, if slight, improvement in police personnel, but by that time the tradition had been firmly established, the dogs had been given many opprobrious names, and they continued sometimes to merit them. During the 1860's Victorians tended to pride themselves on their comparative freedom from bushranging, and to attribute it to their relative lack of convict ancestry and to their innate virtue. But even in Victoria the anti-authoritarian attitude was always ready to emerge whenever a bushranger embarrassed the forces of law and order. A long series of leading articles in the Ovens and Murray River Advertiser (Beechworth), published during 1869 and 1870, gives an indication of public feeling. On 2 January 1869, the editor wrote complacently of the Ovens district:

On the borders of that vast nest of highwaymen, New South Wales, ... perhaps there is no district in the colony where the law has made itself so respected. Few crimes of very great magnitude have been committed, chiefly, we may be sure, owing to the known activity, zeal, and intelligence of the constabulary stationed here ...

On 27 February the leader evinced some doubts about the police and called for 'more frequent periodical visits from an inspector'; but on 8 May when Henry Power's depredations in the district were creating excitement, the paper expressed complete confidence that no bushranger could for long breathe the righteous air of Victoria. Power would soon be brought to book by a host of willing informers, or shot down by an enraged populace, as Morgan had been when he crossed the border. On 5 June the editor was moved to chide readers for their luke-warmness in assisting to capture Power, but he still felt that the police 'knew their business'. On 19 June and 31 August the leaders became increasingly critical of the police, and the later article drew attention, by contrast, to Power's bushmanship. Finally on 2 September the editor came to the end of his patience and heaped abuse and ridicule on the luckless constables.

By 7 December his confidence in the law-abiding principles of his fellow citizens had also been shaken:

From the criminal members of the population, Power had doubtless received aid and assistance in return for the fruits of his crimes. but nothing could be further from the truth than ... that the residents of the Ovens are, as a class, aiders and abettors of criminals. That Power had not been hunted down by the populace, is simply attributable to the fact that as yet he has refrained from the shedding of blood ...

At last on 24 May 1870, a fortnight before Power's capture, the jaded editor came near to admitting the truth: that a majority of the population sympathized, more or less, with the bushranger: 'From a certain portion of the population he - or whoever else has been masquerading in his name - has received succour and information, while the police have been misled and deceived.' Radical or nationalist journals often made constable-baiting a major theme, quite apart from bushranging and indeed long after the institution had practically expired with Ned Kelly. In 1875 the Stockwhip earnestly castigated the force for its corruption, nepotism, and so on. In the following decade and for long afterwards the Bulletin employed a lighter but more stinging approach. Its method was to assume that policemen were, as a body, irredeemably venal, craven, lazy, incompetent and pettily tyrannical, to all Australians, and that it was absurd to agitate for, or to expect, any improvement. Practically every week the paper loosed a shower of barbed darts - short paragraphs, sarcastic verses and cartoons - pungently illustrating this theme. One example, more reasonable in tone than most, will give the essential flavour:

At the present moment there are 600 young Victorians applying for a possible 100 billets in the police force of the colony. Noble six hundred! Just bursting into vigorous manhood, they have no higher ambition than to loaf around in uniform and order little boys to move on out of that. Policemen are necessary evils in a civilised community, but it makes us shudder to think about the 500 unsuccessful candidates who have started life with a determination not to do any work. We suppose they will ultimately be arrested by the 100 lucky enough to get sworn in.

Dislike and distrust of policemen, at least partly merited, has sunk deeply into the national consciousness: how deeply is indicated by a series of leading articles, reports and correspondence on the subject published recently in the Sydney Morning Herald, the oldest surviving newspaper in Australia, and certainly one of the most responsible. One man's letter, published on 5 September 1953, read in part:

I hate Sydney's policemen because they so clearly indicate by offensive language, aggressive manner, and threatening expression, their belief that they are not Public servants but masters of the Public. ... I hate them because their apparent carelessness allows so many arrested persons to receive injuries falling down while in custody. ... I've laughed as I've watched children outwit previously alerted policemen and thoughtlessly light a bonfire in the street - but I've ceased to laugh when the heels of issue boots were ground into my toes in an effort to extract my voluntary statement that I'd played a part in the fire-lighting. ... The only thing I like about Sydney's policemen is their ability to live and raise a family on 50/- per week.

The last sentence in this letter was an ironic reference to a claim, made by a desperately embarrassed constable, in his evidence before a Royal Commission into the Liquor Trade. The outback institution of stock-stealing also helps to explain why bushrangers were the culture-heroes of the folk. Writing of the 1820's and 1830's, Harris explained how the practice arose:

At by far the greater proportion of sheep stations in the colony the practice of feloniously killing the owner's sheep goes on to a greater or less extent: and plenty of owners know it and wink at it; others do not, but would prosecute and transport the man if they could adduce proof of it. Those who connive at it reason thus: 'Well, the men must be fed and so must the dogs, or the work cannot be done; and it is a bad precedent to give them as much meat as they require, because that will lead to a universal and irresistible custom. I had better let them take it, and seem not to know anything about it.

Ned Kelly in captivity

'Waltzing Matilda' commemorates the fact that the practice of sheep-stealing did grow into a 'universal and irresistible' outback custom. It also preserves a folk-memory of hatred for those squatters who had men re-transported for stealing food in a land of abundance, where this crime at least should have been unnecessary. It is highly improbable that a swagman arrested for sheep-stealing, at any time in the last hundred years, should have been moved to commit suicide, but here was a time when it could have happened. In 1838 an up-country settler wrote: 'I have heard a man in court, when sentenced for life to Norfolk Island, beg to be hanged rather. He was a shepherd who had killed and eaten some of his master's sheep.

When Trollope visited his son, in squatter in western new South Wales, in the 1870's, stock-stealing was still an accepted custom. The novelist compare it with - 

smuggling, or illicit distillation, or sedition, or the seduction of women. There is little or no shame attached to it among those with whom the cattle-stealers live. ... A man may be a cattle-stealer, and yet in his way a decent fellow.

The fact is that every honest bushman, more or less, was a thief upon occasion, at least from the point of view of the law. According to his own code, however, the theft of certain kinds of property, especially livestock or food, from government, squatters, or 'swells', was at worst a trilling peccadillo and at best a moral and praiseworthy act. As the narrator says in 'Boldrewood's Robbery Under Arms:

Most of the Nomah people looked upon fellows stealing cattle or horses, in small lots or big, just like most people look at boys stealing fruit out of an orchard, or as they used to talk of smugglers on the English coast, as I've heard father tell of. Any man might take a turn of that sort of thing, now and then, and not be such a bad chap after all. It was the duty of the police to catch him. If they caught him, well and good, it was so much the worse for him; if they didn't, that was their look-out. It wasn't anybody else's business anyhow. And a man that wasn't caught, or that got turned up at his trial, was about as good as the general run of people, and there was no reason for anyone to look shy at him.

It is not suggested that a few bush-workers turned bushranger, and that many glorified them, because they thought much or consciously about these things. Most up-country workers were interested consciously in politics only to the extent of wanting 'a place of {their} own by some clear waterside'. Thus, the passage of John Robertson's first New South Wales Free Selection Act in 1861 was celebrated in the following ballad:

Come all you Cornstalks the victory's won,
John Robertson's triumphed, the lean days are gone,
No more through the bush we'll go humping the drum,
For the Land Bill has passed and the good times have come.


Then give me a hut in my own native land,
Or a tent in the bush, near the mountains so grand.
For the scenes of my childhood a joy are to me,
And the dear native girl who will share it with me.
No more through the bush with our swags need we roam,
For to ask of the squatters to give us a home,
Now the land is unfettered and we may reside,
In a place of our own by the clear waterside.
We will sow our own garden and till our own field,
And eat of the fruits that our labour doth yield,
And be independent, a right long denied,
By those who have ruled us and robbed us beside.

This song certainly shows how deep was the longing for land, but one notices that it was a song of Innocence and not of Experience. The vision splendid of 'a place of our own by some clear waterside' rapidly faded in the harsh sunlight of the western plains beyond the Great Divide, Selection Act after Selection Act was rendered in the main nugatory by the manoeuvres, usually within the letter but not the spirit of the law, of the squatters. 'And it came to pass,' as Professor Shann wrote, 'that demagogues dispersed the public estate and pastoralists gathered up the freehold thereof.' Even if there had been no squatters to contend with, it is doubtful whether most free selectors could have succeeded. Lack of capital, primitive agricultural techniques, high transport costs and distance from markets combined with geographic factors to frustrate and impoverish the petty agriculturalist. It was not, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, until the late 1880's and 1890's that his occupation became a reasonably stable and prosperous one.

Ned Kelly, 1874

Those selectors who, in the teeth of thoughts, fires, floods, pests and creditors, succeeded in sticking to their patches of land, seem to celebrate their feat. This ballad not only illustrates what has been said above, but shows how strong were the traditional habits of the bushmen. It also exhibits that peculiar shade of sardonic humour which some have considered typically Australian. No doubt the Eumerella free-selector set out with golden hopes of becoming a prosperous farmer, but though his dreams were blighted, he managed to live happily enough by falling back on one of his old trades. Having free-selected his piece of the squatter's land, he proceeded to live on it by free-selecting some of his cattle. The song tells a story typical of a great many selectors:

There's a happy little valley on the Eumerella shore,
Where I've lingered many happy hours away,
On my little free selection I have acres by the score,
Where I unyoke the bullocks from the dray.


To my bullocks then I say
No matter where you stray,
You will never be impounded any more;
For you're running, running, running, on the duffer's piece of land,
Free selected on the Eumerella shore.
When the moon has climbed the mountains and the stars are shining bright,
Then we saddle up our horses and away,
And we yard the squatter's cattle in the darkness of the night,
And we have the calves all branded by the day.


Oh, my pretty little calf,
At the squatter you may laugh,
For he'll never be your owner any more,
For you're running, running, running on the duffer's piece of land,
Free selected on the Eumerella shore.
If we had a mob of horses when the paddock rails are down,
Although before they're never known to stray,
Oh. quickly will we drive them to some distant inland town,
And sell them into slav'ry far away.


To Jack Robertson we'll say,
You've been leading us astray,
And we'll never go a-farming any more
For it's easier duffing cattle on the little piece of land,
Free selected on the Eumerella shore.

Bushrangers, after all, were only men who did openly professionally, and on a grand scale, what every bushman did furtively and sporadically, or only dreamed of doing.

Fundamentally, they became folk-heroes because they were symbols of the emergent Australian national feeling. Neither they nor their admirers cherished any very conscious nationalist 'philosophy', but the very conditions of bushranging life ensured that its protagonists should be the first and most thoroughly 'colonized' of all white dwellers in Australia. Distinctive national traits were, as we have seen, bred of adaptation to the new environment. Adaptation, of necessity, proceeded faster on the frontiers of settlement than in the relatively civilized coastal areas near Sydney. Bushrangers necessarily exemplified, in its most extreme form, the nomad tribe's manner of life. In their case even the tenuous link with traditional mores provided by the head station was absent. They were not semi-migratory but entirely so. They were more isolated from good women, clergymen and other mollifying influences. Their adaptation to the new environment, in its rawest and most difficult form, was as nearly as it could be complete. Their lives depended on its being so. Only the Aborigines were more at home in the bush and these, when they took service with the police as black-trackers, the bushrangers feared and hated accordingly. Thus to the pastoral workers, to the free-selectors, to lower-class people in general, and usually to themselves, they appeared as 'wild colonial boys', Australians par excellence.

We have already seen the strength of the early working-class feeling that Australia was morally 'the prisoners' country', and the resentment of the native-born that so much of it should be given by government to rich newcomers with little knowledge of, or love for, the land. Of the post-Gold-Rush period Hancock writes: 'Australian nationalism took definite form in the class struggle between the landless majority and the land-monopolizing squatters. In both periods bushrangers expressed these deep seated feelings not so much in words as by the more potent symbolism of their colourful deeds, and there is some evidence to suggest that they were often partly conscious of the role they were playing.

In the 1820's most people believed that men became bushrangers out of sheer inborn depravity, or because they were driven to desperation by the inhuman brutality o9f some masters and overseers. Cunningham, the most acute observe of the early period, and the most sensitive to the emerging Currency ethos, had a different explanation. He wrote:

The vanity of being talked of, I verify believe, leads many foolish fellows to join in this kind of life - songs being often made about their exploits by their sympathizing brethren; ... It is the boast of many of them, that their names will live in the remembrance of the colony long after their exit from among us to some penal settlement, either in this world or the next; Riley, the captain of the Hunter's River banditti, vaunting that he should be long spoken of (whatever his fate might be), in fear by his enemies, and in admiration by his friends!

The fame they coveted and achieved sprang not merely from their profession, but from their use of typically 'Australian' and up-country qualities in the pursuit of it. Michael Howe, at any rate, must have been quite conscious of his symbolic role when he addressed an insolent public letter from 'the Governor of the Ranges to the Governor of the Town'. In it he offered to surrender in return for a free pardon, and demanded that a responsible official should be sent to meet him so that they might parley 'as gentleman to gentleman'. The fact that his offer was accepted shows, among other things, how popular was his playing to the gallery.

Unhappily, none of the bushranging ballads to which Cunningham refers in the above passage has survived. it was not until 1830 that the death of a bushranger gave rise to a ballad which has come down to us. born and convicted in Dublin, Donahoe, at the age of nineteen, arrived in "Sydney by the transport Ann and Amelia. Two years later he took to the bush and, with a companion, robbed two cars on the Windsor road. At the ensuing trial Mr Justice Stephen, with perhaps superabundant justice, sentenced each man to death twice, one for each cart they had robbed. Donahoe, however, escaped from custody and became the acknowledged captain of a gang of bushrangers which, for over two years, terrorized the country districts between Sydney and the Blue Mountains. On 1 September 1830 the gang was cornered in the Bringelley Scrub not far from Campbelltown and in the ensuing engagement Donahoe was shot dead by one Trooper Mucklestone. The ballad composed soon afterwards tells the story with reasonable fidelity to the facts. It is quoted here in full because it was certainly the most popular of all convict-bushranger ballads, and because of the light it throws on the archetypal 'nationalism' we are discussing:

Bold Jack Donahoe

In Dublin town I was brought up, in that city of great fame -
My decent friends and parents, they will tell to you the same,
It was for the sake of five hundred pounds I was sent across the main,
For seven long years in New South Wales to wear a convict's chain.
Then come, my hearties, we'll roam the mountains high!
Together we will plunder, together we will die!
We'll wander over mountains and we'll gallop over plains -
For we scorn to live in slavery, bound down in iron chains.
I'd scarce been there twelve months or more upon the Australian shore,
When I took to the highway, as I'd oft-times done before.
There was me and Jacky Underwood, and Webber and Webber, too.
These were the true associates of Bold Jack Donahoo.
Now Donahoo was taken, all for a notorious crime,
And sentenced to be hanged upon the gallows-tree so high.
But when they came to Sydney gaol he left them in a stew,
And when they came to call the roll they missed bold Donahoo.
As Donahoo made his escape, to the bush he went straightway.
The people they were all afraid to travel night or day -
For every week in the newspapers there was published something new
Concerning this dauntless hero, the bold jack Donahoo!
As Donahoo was cruising, one summer's afternoon,
Little was his notion his death was near so soon,
When a sergeant of the horse police discharged his car-a-bine,
And called aloud on Donahoo to fight or to resign.
'Resign to you - you cowardly dogs! a thing I ne'er will do,
For I'll fight this night with all my might,' cried bold Jack Donahoo.
I'd rather roam these hills and dales, like wolf or kangaroos,
Than work one hour for Government!' cried bold Jack Donahoo.
He fought six rounds with the horse police until the fatal ball,
Which pierced his heart and made him start, caused Donahoo to fall.
And as he closed his mournful eyes, he bade this world Adieu,
Saying, 'Convicts all, both large and small, say prayers for Donahoo!'

First of all no man, except a Currency Lad, could be more truly Australian, in the sense established so far in this book, than a working-class Irish convict. Moreover in the list of Donahoo's 'true associates', the native-born bushranger is doubly distinguished by being placed first and called by his christian name. As befits a hero, Donahoe, in the ballad, is no 'tinpot man' or 'cokatoo', no petty thief, but a daring highwayman transported for the sake of a mere five hundred pounds. such lines as, 'For every week in the newspapers there was published something new, than a hint of the spirit which came to be known among the native-born as 'flashness', and which was such an important motive for police as, the ballad-singers felt, true Australians should, and he expresses the unconquerable aversion to working for Government, which was the origin of Currency reluctance to enlist in the army or the police force. Most significant of all is the assumption that the bush is the true Australian's natural habitat. 'As Donahoo made his escape, to the bush he went straightway', for only there could he find freedom to 'wander over mountains and gallop over plains', together with the mates, in the manner beloved of the nomad tribe of pastoral workers.

In the fullness of time the convict bolter, Jack Donahoe, became the anonymous Wild colonial Boy, a native-born Australian son who takes to the bush as naturally and easily as a Viking to the sea, or a politician to the Treasury Benches. Between the oldest Wild Colonial Boy there is a gradation of texts showing how the changes may have come about. In all cases virtually the same chorus is used, and under all his various aliases the Wild colonial Boy, preserves Donahoe's initials, J. D. As one old folk-singer replied when I asked him who the Wild Colonial boy was: 'Well, some calls him Jack Duggan, and some Jim Doolan, and some Jack Dublin, and some Jim Dowling ... It doesn't matter. He just was the Wild Colonial boy!' The hero's very anonymity is symptomatic of the collectivist ethos of the nomad tribe, whose members were ordinarily known by queer nicknames or ... by no names at all'.

The 'patriotism' figured forth in this ballad had little to do with that self-conscious and often highly respectable sentiment characterized by Dr Johnson as 'the last refuge of a scoundrel'. The people who sang the song did so because it symbolized the spirit of their country and their way of life. And they felt all the more deeply about these things because their love for them was entirely unofficial, and largely unformulated and unselfconscious. The chorus of the ballad is really irrelevant to the specific deeds of Donahoe and his associates. Nor does it state, in the manner of national anthems, that Australia is a grand country. It merely assumes, implicitly, that true Australians are those who ride 'together' in spirit with bushrangers. And, in the final analysis, these men are symbols of Australianism because of their intimate knowledge of, and love for, the endless plains and mountains of the interior, no less than because of their collective defiance of soldiers, policemen and other agents of 'government. Few pastoral workers defined the law openly and habitually, but all shared the rough and errant liberty conferred on them by their mutual loyalty and their familiarity with the bush.

The exact flavour of this embryonic national feeling is given by Gerstaecker in a passage describing Riverina bushmen in 1850:

Frequently the traveller finds in these huts, old bushman who have lived a lifetime in the wild scrub of the country; have hunted and fought with the blacks; have been robbed by, and have sometimes robbed with, the bushranger; have fought the police then taken to the bush and led a life that Europeans read of with incredulity. If you get them to talk - which requires a longer time than a few hours' acquaintance - you learn more in one hour of the wild life of the bush than by a year's residence with the swells.

In the two or three decades following the Gold rush this national, u-country ethos, typified by the bushrangers or at any rate by the songs about them, was less strongly and much less directly reflected in the Colonial parliaments. In the last chapter it was suggested that the influence of the Gold rush immigrants was felt mainly in middle-class circles and in the cities. It is generally agreed that many, if not most, of the newcomers were imbued with Chartist or other radical ideas, but up to and beyond the middle of the nineteenth century British Radicalism at the legislative level, as exemplified in its attitude to the Corn Laws, was fundamentally laissez faire and individualist rather than collectivist in outlook. Leading Chartists were often strongly influenced by individualist ideas deriving mainly from Bentham, but the rank and file of the movement was much more often collectivist, being driven by hunger to fight for improved conditions through trade union activity. Men of this kind reinforced the strongly collectivist sentiment which had long been developing in Australia, so that 'state interference' and collectivist legislation became pronounced here earlier than in Britain. Nevertheless, the strong middle-class radical element among the gold-seekers probably helped to make Australian parliamentary life more individualistic, in at least one respect, than that of Great Britain at the same period. since the rise of the Labour Party in the 1890's, many observers have remarked on the extent to which Australian parliamentarians have become mere delegates, disciplined to vote with their party right or wrong, and pledged to support policies approved by the party machines. Before that time there was a virtual absence of parties in politics, although the beginnings of fairly fixed party groupings can be discerned in the late 1880's in New South Wales and somewhat earlier in Victoria. With bewildering rapidity members transferred their allegiance from one leader or faction to another, whenever moved to do so by conscience or private interest. Humffray, the Welsh Chartist secretary of the Ballarat Reform League, was later elected as representative of Ballarat East by the diggers. When taken to task by his constituents in 1862, for having voted in favour of a ten years' extension of squatters' leases, he replied that he claimed - the most unfettered freedom in the exercise of my judgement while recording my votes; as I would not, for one hour, occupy the humiliating position of a mere delegate, and vote according to order'. The attitude was typical, but very far removed from the indigenous, strongly collectivist spirit of the bushmen.

One contemporary at least understood something of this disjunction between the emerging national ethos and the expression of it in politics. The first 'principal' of the Sydney University warned in 1861 that a great deal more than self-government would be required to make a handful of infant colonists into a nation. After painting a rather idealized picture of the cultural and national homogeneity of ancient Greece, he asked:

Can we hope that Australia in a hundred years will present a counterpart to this picture? Five years ago (i.e., immediately after the granting of responsible government) we should have answered with an indignant and enthusiastic affirmative. But experience has taught us humility; we have learned that no accidental impulse can precipitate an infant community into a nation. ... A corporate like a national body grows only from within.

We can now see that a distinctively Australian national ethos had been growing from within, almost from the moment of the first unpromising landing in Sydney cove; but that, as the professor implied, its growth was complicated, and in some ways checked, at least to outward appearance, by the immediate results of the gold discoveries. Yet even in the 1860's the gulf between the outlook of the nomad tribe and that of the more individualistic townsmen was by no means unbridgeable. Bushrangers brought to Sydney for trial were usually given heroes' welcomes by large crowds of working people, whose votes were among those to be wooed by politicians. In 1874 a New South Wales parliamentary crisis over bushranging showed that the ideology of staid middle-class people, including many who had landed in the previous decade, had already been strongly coloured by up-country, Australian values.

The two most famous, or infamous, bushrangers in new South Wales during the 1860's were Francis Christie (alias Frank Gardiner or 'The Darkie') and Ben Hall. Like Ned Kelly and most other bushrangers of the post-Gold-Rush period, both were native-born and bush-bred boys with some convict blood. After a long series of daring and successful robberies, Gardiner organized and led, in June 1862, the attack on the mail-coach at Eugowra, which remains the most celebrated of all bushranging exploits except those of the Kelly Gang. After this he retired unobtrusively to Queensland with his paramount end at Apis Creek, seventy miles north-west of Rockhampton, set up as a respectable bush publican. In 1864 he was arrested and, at the second trial, found guilty of two charges of robbery under arms and of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Chief Justice Stephen sentenced him to t total of thirty-two years' imprisonment. After one vain attempt to escape he became a model prisoner, and his sisters and friends circulated a petition for his release on the grounds of his good behaviour both at Apis Creek and in gaol, of his health being undermined by prison conditions, and so on. The petition was endorsed by two leading politicians, William Forster and William Bede Dalley, both of whom during their careers held the premiership. Dalley was the attorney who had conducted Christie's defence at both his trials. He was also the native-born of an emancipist.

When the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Hercules Robinson, decided to pardon Christie, after he had served ten years, by exercising the Royal Prerogative, a storm broke in the Legislative Assembly. Mr Combes, member for Bathurst, in the vicinity of which many of 'Gardiner's' robberies had been committed asked questions about the proposed pardon and was supported by Mr Buchanan, member for the associated Western Goldfields constituency. Scenting the possibility of defeating the Parkes Government, the Opposition moved to the attack. The Parkes Ministry defended itself by tabling a long list of other criminals who had been released with remissions of sentence during the previous five-year period ending 31 December 1873, by pointing out that twenty-three other bushrangers were to be released with 'Gardiner' and by claiming that in any case remission of criminals' sentences was not and should not be in any sense a political matter, but on for the guberatorial discretion. Public meetings for and against the bushrangers' release were held in Sydney and in the country, to the Assembly the argument culminated in a marathon debate extending from 3 to 11 June 1874.  

Although Opposition members thundered that the Government were little better than aiders and abettors of bushranging, Parkes was fairly successful in confining the debate to the constitutional issue of whether or not it was proper for a government to advise the Governor on the matter of granting remission of criminal sentences. Few Government speakers were drawn into defending the bushrangers except in a partial and back-handed fashion, though the feeling that the 'wild colonial boys' symbolized the national spirit did gain expression. Mr Burns, for instance, a native-born Opposition speaker, complained truthfully:

[there is] a disposition, on the part of one or two hon. members, to endeavour to excite the sympathy of Australians with regard to the criminals who were spoken of as young Australians inveigled into crime by older and more designing men; and upon different occasions one or two hon. members had made special reference to Australians, as if they were a class on whose behalf some special consideration should be shown.

In one sense the ostensible subject of the debate was unimportant. Both sides were vastly more interested in the occupancy of the Treasury Benches than in the fate of the prisoners. but while both sides ostentatiously disclaimed any sympathy for the bushrangers, the truth seems to be that many members of both Government and Opposition benches felt it. Forster, Buchanan, and John (later Sir John) Robertson all took a leading part in the attack, but, as Parkes was not slow to point out, Forster while serving earlier as colonial Secretary had endorsed the petition for Gardiner's release, and Buchanan had nine years previously moved for the release of Fordyce and Bow, two of the twenty-four men whose emancipation he was now opposing with such a display of outraged propriety. And Robertson had previously referred publicly to Ben Hall as 'the king of the bushrangers'. On the last night of the debate the facade of correct feeling which had been maintained by most members were very thin. Mr Cooper, the last speaker, began by appealing to Magna Carta and the principles of the British constitution in support of the well-worn Government argument that the Governor - not the Government - had acted rightly, but in his peroration he threw restraint to the winds:

What was the mover of the resolution seeking to do? He was striving to consign Gardiner to a living tomb, or to inflict on him a lingering life-to-death, to crush hope out of his soul, and people his dungeon with the phantoms of despair. Should we join in this deed? ... There were in this House, he hoped - there were in the country, he believed - few men so infamously bold!

The House divided and the voting was twenty-six for and twenty-six against the motion. The Speaker gave his casting vote for his Chair and 'Gardiner' a freedom, after which, according to the Sydney Morning Herald's report:

disorder continued for five minutes, during which time the Speaker was standing in his place, but his voice was drowned in the uproar, and his presence did not appear to be perceived by a majority of the members, so gr4eat was the clamour of many, and the excitement of all.

'Gardiner', who was exiled as a condition of his pardon, took ship from Newcastle, and lived until his death in about 1895 as proprietor of the 'Twilight' Saloon, corner of Kearney and Broadway Streets, San Francisco. According to legend he:

felt very strongly his enforced banishment from his native land, and it was his wont to go down to the wharf at the departure of each mail-boat bound for Australia, and he was often seen mournfully weeping as the vessel put off, probably bewailing the fate which had parted him from home and country and the well-known of his dramatic career. And, no doubt, with all his lapses, Gardiner had all the Australian bushman's love of his country ...

The picture of the saturnine bushranger-publican swelling the volume of the Pacific with an exile's tears is ludicrous, but that the story could be repeated seriously by his countrymen indicates how deep-seated was the folk feeling that bushrangers symbolized the national spirit. There is some evidence that they were not unaware of this aspect of their role, and not above playing up to it. 'Gardiner', whether with his tongue in his cheek or not, spoke to Australian visitors to California of his longing to return home. One of his gang, Jack Piesley, in a letter dated 'Fish River, 4 September 1861', to the Bathurst Free press and mining Journal, wrote quite irrelevantly: 'I love my native hills, I love freedom and detest cruelty to man or beast.' Bushrangers often made a display of partiality for native-born Australians, as on the occasion when Gilbert, O'Meally, 'and a young man wearing a mask' robbed the Bathurst-Carcoar Mail:

One of those stuck up was riding a racehorse back to its owner at the Lachlan, they took the horse, and returned the saddle and bridle, observing that as the man in charge was a native, they would not suffer him to go afoot; and they presented him therefore with one of their own horses in exchange.

And in November 1864 after searching the letters and papers abstracted from the Binalong Mail, Ben Hall's gang burnt them, declaring that they did so in order to 'put a stop to the --- English correspondence'. but whether the outlaws took much or little trouble to make nationalist gestures, folk tradition clothed their crimes in a nationalist garb. At this period the colonial parliaments were dominated by those whom Higinbotham characterized as 'the wealthy lower orders' - 'lawyers, journalists, officials, publicans and traders of the metropolis', most of whom were not native-born Australians. Farmers and working men were very thinly represented in the legislatures. Squatters, however, were very strongly represented, constituting, at least in New South Wales from 1870 to 1890, the strongest single parliamentary pressure group. Basically because of the land grievance, the pastoral proletariat felt especially exploited, as its progenitors had felt, however inarticulately. And yet, though they rarely owned a foot of it, the bush-workers felt too that they loved and understood the land in a way, and with an intimacy, that the men of power and place in the cities did not. A stanza from one of the many Ben Hall ballads contains more than a memory of the days when men used to say, 'He's one of the free objects ... What business have they here in the prisoners' country, and of the time when Michael Howe addressed his open letter from 'the Governor of the Ranges to the Governor of the Town'.

'We've just stock up the escort, and we've seen the troopers fall. And we've got the gold and money,' says Dunn, Gilbert and Ben Hall;
'And next we'll go to Bathurst, and clean the banks out there,
So if you see the "peelers" just tell them to take care,
And next to Sydney city we mean to make a call,
For we're going to take the country,' says Dunn, Gilbert and Ben Hall.

Stanzas like this also pointed to the future, when it came to pass that the outback ethos symbolized by 'Dunne, Gilbert and Ben Hall', did capture the imagination of the whole country, to the point where the sheep stealing swagman who 'sprang into the billabong' became the culture-hero of Australian nationalism, acknowledged alike by bushman and city-dweller, radical and conservative, and recognized even by foreigners.

to be continued ...


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