Who were Australian bushrangers?
Answered by Dr Meg Foster
I've been asked this question a lot, especially in the UK. People seem to be a bit confused about whether Australian bushrangers were park rangers – they were not! Bushrangers were criminals.
The closest cultural touchpoint in the UK would be the British highwayman, while Americans might be more familiar with cowboys. Bushrangers were bandits who lived in the Australian bush through the proceeds of crime involving robbery with violence (or with at least the threat of violence).
These people aren't just criminals to Australians like me. We’re brought up to think of bushrangers as national heroes; they are a part of our national legend. We celebrate them for being underdogs and for fighting unjust authority, almost like Robin Hood. There’s even a chivalric element, harking back to that gallant knightly highway robber persona.
This is something that I think listeners to my recent HistoryExtra podcast episode – Australian bushrangers: folk heroes or common criminals? – should be aware of from the start. There are these historical criminals in Australia called bushrangers, but most Australians listening to the podcast would be aware of them as national legends.
Dr Meg Foster is a historian of banditry, settler colonial and public history at the University of Cambridge. Her book Boundary Crossers: the hidden history of Australia’s other bushrangers was released in 2022 with University of New South Wales Press.
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