Bushrangers were outlaws in Australia who operated in the rural areas during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They were usually former convicts who had escaped into the bush, where they subsisted by hunting and stealing from settlers and travelers. The term “bushranger” comes from the Australian slang word “bush” meaning “wilderness” and “ranger” meaning “wanderer.”
Bushranging was a significant problem in early colonial Australia, as the young colony was not yet heavily populated and the sparse law enforcement often found difficulty in catching these outlaws. These outlaws, usually ex-convicts, took advantage of the vast, uncharted wilderness of the Australian bush to evade capture. They became folk heroes in the eyes of some, seen as Robin Hood-like figures who took from the rich and gave to the poor.
The most famous bushrangers include Ned Kelly and his gang, who were active in the 1870s and early 1880s in the colony of Victoria. Kelly and his gang were known for their brazen robberies and shootouts with police, and Kelly’s exploits were widely reported in the press. He was finally captured and hanged in 1880. Another famous bushranger is Ben Hall, his gang operated primarily in New South Wales in the mid-1860s, and was known for his daring holdups and evasion of authorities.
The bushrangers played a key role in shaping the Australian cultural identity, they have a place in the folklore, songs, and stories. They were also significant in shaping the colony’s young government and policing system, they forced the colonial government to create a more efficient law enforcement to catch the bushrangers. The popular image of bushrangers as Robin Hood-like figures, who take from the rich and give to the poor, has also helped shape the Australian national character which emphasizes the importance of social equality and a ‘fair go’.
Overall, bushranging was a significant problem for the colonies in the early days of Australian history and the bushrangers played a significant role in shaping Australian culture, identity and the evolution of government and policing system