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A bushranger was a thief who lived in the Australian bush. Bushrangers often stole expensive things from banks or coaches. There were more than 2000 bushrangers during Australia's past. Most were simply criminals and thieves. A few bushrangers became famous and were seen as heroes. They are part of a long history that has men such as Robin Hood and Dick Turpin in England, or Jesse James and Billy the Kid in the US.
The word "bushranger" was first used in Australia in 1805. It described three men who had stopped a cart near Sydney. Then, the word was used for criminals who attacked people on the roads or in the bush (the Australian countryside away from towns).
1788 to 1840s: Criminals who escaped
Bold Jack Donahue appeared in newspapers around 1827 for bushranging on the road between Sydney and Windsor. In the 1830s he was seen as the worst bushranger in the colony. Leading a gang of escaped criminals, Donahue became an important person in Australian folklore as the Wild Colonial Boy.
Bushranging happened all over Australia, but Van Diemen's Land (later known as Tasmania) produced the most violent and serious bushrangers. Hundreds of criminals were at large in the bush, farms were given up, and the army was brought in to try and capture the bushrangers. Indigenous Australian bushranger Musquito led attacks on settlers.
1850s: gold rush era
The bushrangers were busiest during the Gold Rush years of the 1850s and 1860s. Gold can be easily carried and also it can easily be turned into cash. The goldfields were in remote places and there were not very many police to guard the gold.
1860s to 1870s
Frank Gardiner, John Gilbert and Ben Hall led the most notorious gangs of the period. Other active bushrangers included Dan Morgan, based around the Murray River, and Captain Thunderbolt, killed outside Uralla, New South Wales.
1880s to 1900s
In Australia, bushrangers often attract public sympathy.
In the same way that outlaws feature in many movies of the American western genre, bushrangers regularly feature in Australian literature, movie, music and television. These include:
- Jack Donahue was the first bushranger to have inspired bush ballads.
- Robbery Under Arms, a novel by Thomas Alexander Browne (writing as Rolf Boldrewood) was published in serial form in the Sydney Mail from 1882 to 1883. It is an early description of the life and acts of fictional bushrangers. It has been the basis of several movies and a television series.
- Ned Kelly was the subject of the world's first feature-length movie, The Story of the Kelly Gang, released in 1906. In the 1970 release Ned Kelly, Kelly was played by Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. Kelly has been the subject of many more movies, television series, written fiction and music.
- Dan "Mad Dog" Morgan was the subject of a feature movie, Mad Dog Morgan (1976), starring Dennis Hopper.
- Ben Hall and his gang were the subject of several Australian folk songs, including "Streets of Forbes".
Some bushrangers became famous as a result of their activities. They include:
- Joe Byrne
- Martin Cash
- John Dunn
- Ben Hall
- Frank Gardiner
- John Gilbert
- Steve Hart
- Dan Kelly
- Ned Kelly
- Moondyne Joe whose real name was Joseph Bolitho Johns
- John O'Meally
- Harry Power
- Captain Moonlight whose real name was Andrew George Scott
- Captain Thunderbolt whose real name was Frederick Ward
- Michael Howe
- Charles Russell known as the "Black Douglas."
- Davey, Gwenda; Graham Seal (1993). The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp. 58–59. .
- "Bushrangers of Australia" (pdf). National Museum of Australia. http://nma.gov.au/shared/libraries/attachments/media/media_kits/outlawed_bushrangers_of_australia/files/684/nma_outlawed_bushrangers.pdf. Retrieved 2007-04-16.
- "Old Windsor Road and Windsor Road Heritage Precincts". Heritage and conservation register. New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority. http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/index.cgi?action=heritage.show&id=4301011. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
- "Robbery Under Arms". Australian Scholarly Editions Centre. http://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/ASEC/RUA_Blurb.html. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- "Rolf Boldrewood". Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0092809/.
- Hogan, David. "World's first 'feature' movie to be digitally restored by National Film and Sound Archive". http://www.nfsa.afc.gov.au/media_releases.nsf/97eb3728765ec840ca25710e0002049a/bd13bfff3a2923cdca257123000294da?OpenDocument. Retrieved 2006-10-24.
- "Mad Dog Morgan (1976)". Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074836/. Retrieved 2007-04-17.