This article originally appeared in Mulga Wire, the newsletter of the Bush Music Club, back around July 2007
I attended the 1st of June Beer & Cheese night for first time. It was challenging to figure out just where on the property Hut 44 was - there does not seem to be a central map that I could tell. Regardless, it was interesting to see Hut 44 for the first time, and wonder why it was named "Tritton Hall". The posters on the walls were intriguing - some date back many years, but there's no dates on them !
The topic was "Bushrangers"; it was great hearing tunes and poems on bushrangers, amongst them "Poor Ned" by Redgum, which I remember from long ago.
It gave me pause to reflect : Why did bushrangers make such a mark on Australian History, something we look back to, with so many songs around them ?
Bushrangers were first the convict "bolters" and later bushrangers by choice. The "bolters" stole goods from remote settlements, and were free of the convict life. "Bushrangers of choice" took advantage of gold mining, preying upon the stagecoaches transporting the wealth.
There was a distance between the goldfields and where the generated wealth was used (the cites) - necessitating transport, and its value was high enough that robbing stagecoaches was practical. But it seems not all bushrangers were "pulled" by that wealth - some were pushed, their lives made intolerable by an unjust and arbitary system.
Why the public interest ? You're going to take an interest in criminal activity, in something novel, adventurous or risky. But, the interest seemed to go further - it went to sympathy. If the world around seems unjust and arbitrary, any sort of challenge will be a strike for justice - even though it is somewhat ambigious whether the bushrangers were striking against oppression, or merely robbing others like themselves who were also victims of the system.
Why songs and poems ? It was the record of the times. An interesting contrast is what recent events are worthy of the record of songwriters and poets. Pat Drummond and others sing about many things, and poets still draw inspiration from what is around us. But there have been no grand events - including the Vietnam War, the Dismissal, the Franklin Dam, the French Nuclear Tests, the Americas Cup or the fall of Alan Bond - which have made a mark which still echoes strongly today. There were probably some poems and songs, of course - but none which have reached across time with the strength of the bushranger heritage.
We can take a guess at the possible reasons. A first is that back then there wasn't much happening - but now, for all the impact of some events, there's a more lot going on. Back then the main recording media was songs and poems - but these days we have written and visual history. And last, bushrangers have associations with the past, rebelliousness and adventure. For all the interest of recent events, they are _too_ recent to be truly historical.
But our interest in the past - including Bushrangers - is something that will continue for some time to come.