Social banditry: a fluid concept?

Bushrangers are romantically idealised in Australia.

Why the obsession (and I don’t just mean my current one, but Australia’s more general one)?

They are symbols of individuality, of resistance. Not of glorification of crime. Their tales are used for nationalistic and politically ends, depending on the teller of the tale.

Hobsbawm, via that reputable source, Wikipedia, says, “the point about social bandits is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported.”

Definitely holds true for Ned Kelly. But is that just manipulating Ned Kelly’s tale for political purposes?

Just as the Victorian cricket team calling themselves The Bushrangers is a use of the concept for nationalistic purposes?

How different are the bushrangers from white trash of today who exist on petty crime, and forgo the mundane of a regular job for the perceived excitement of the underworld? We hardly hold current criminals up as symbols of our identity!

Imagine the Victorian state team calling themselves the Morans or the Williams or even the Gangland Wars! Or NSW cricket team calling themselves The Rocks Push!

So why do we romanticise bushrangers? Is it the riding of horses? The living off the land? The challenge to the social structures? The beards? Which interestingly have become in again. The manliness?

Ned Kelly was a man of good manners. All the women who were part of the the towns that he held up, report he was charming.

He also was part of that traditional conflict – the Irish vs the English. He and his sympathisers  definitely faced discrimination, and faced injustice, not just from the general police, who after all were generally poor and also Irish, but from the landed, economic and political rulers. Ned Kelly made explicit that he was driven by the need to avenge the injustice perpetrated specifically against his mother and other poor farmers in general. He called his last stand a war.$T2eC16ZHJHEE9ny2sY(ZBRKCkQlDPQ~~60_57


3 thoughts on “Social banditry: a fluid concept?

  1. I’m not sure of the appeal except that maybe because it’s such a different lifestyle than the one many of us have?

    Beards are becoming hip around here too. Mr. G’s doesn’t grow very well (it’s patchy) and I’m secretly glad he can’t join the trend because I prefer kissing him without one!

  2. Unlike some of our modern-day crims, they had achievements that also earned respect. Ned lived off the land and outwitted law enforcement for a significant length of time. They weren’t just no-hopers. And there’s also that thread of injustice in the narrative. Not hard to relate to the underdog for anyone those transported across the seas and suffering themselves. I think I love the bushranger history though because it was full of amazing feats. Daring acts and creativity. Same reason I love the history of Eureka and symbolism of the Southern Cross.

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