'If my lips teach the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught that they may exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill-treat, my life will not be entirely thrown away.'
Ned Kelly, Australian Bushranger, Her Majesty's Gaol, Melbourne 1880
The history of Australian bushrangers is a fascinating one, but it appears that our wonderful and exciting stories of rebellion have been buried. There were around 6,000 bushrangers in Australia between settlement and 1880. During this period there were more bushrangers per head of population than there were outlaws in America. More people also carried guns per head of population in Australia during this period than were carried in America in the period of the Wild West.
The history of Australian rebels and bushrangers is equally as fascinating as stories of outlaws and highwaymen. But Australians seem to know more about the Boston Tea Party than they do about Australian rebellions like seizure of the Cypress and the Croppies' uprising. We know plenty about Jessie James, Frank James, Billy the Kid, John Wesley Harding, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Butch Cassidy, Calamity Jane, Belle Star and the OK Corral, but not much about our Australian own rebels and bushrangers such as Captain Thunderbolt, Matt Brady, Bold Jack Donahue and Ben Hall. We may all know something about the Eureka uprising, Peter Lalor and Ned Kelly, but where are all the stories of all of the other rebels and bushrangers?
Despite the fact there were a documented 6,000 bushrangers there appears to be no records of women bushrangers. Thunderbolt's Mary-Anne, Michael Howe's Black Mary and Margaret Kelly are the most famous of the women who were associated with bushrangers, but they have never been considered bushrangers in their own right. It's about time they were recognised for what they were. These women were bushrangers in the true sense of the word. They carried firearms, planned raids, found hiding places, carried information, hoodwinked the troopers and were true partners in rebellion and crime. Since the history books have ignored women bushrangers, I decided to create one myself, and she is the Rebel Girl.
Australians have forgotten that many of the convicts who were sent to our shores were not criminals, but rebels. Rebels transported to Australia include nearly five hundred men who took part in the 'Swing Riots' to protest about the industrial revolution and its impact on workers and the the six Tolpuddle martyrs who had protested about dreadful working conditions. Over 50,000 Irish political prisoners who had committed crimes of rebellion against British rule were transported to Australia as were Scottish political martyrs and Scottish crofters who were being evicted from the traditional lands they had lived and worked for centuries. The 50,000 Irish rebels were soon joined by an equal number of their compatriots who came voluntarily to Australia. In the nineteenth century the Irish made up one third of the population of Australia.
The Australian colonies were alive with people who believed rebellion was a legitimate response to oppression, but Australians have allowed history to bury them. One of the last remnants of that wonderful heritage of rebellion left is the song The Wild Colonial Boy.
It was written about Bold Jack Donahue (The Wild Colonial Boy) who was one of the first of the 'second wave' bushrangers or 'wild colonial boys', Donohoe was the first to pass into folk lore. According to myth he was a handsome, chivalrous Robin Hood, a hero to the oppressed convicts.
Donohoe was born in Ireland in 1804 and was transported for life in late 1824 for 'Intent to Commit a Felony.' He soon absconded and took to bushranging. For four years his gang operated from the outskirts of Sydney. A reward of 100 pounds was offered for Donohoe's capture and on 1 September 1830 a party of soldiers, mounted police and armed civilian volunteers under the command of Sergeant Hodson caught up with the gang at Bringelly, near Campbelltown. A pitched battle followed in which Donohoe was shot through the head by a soldier named Muggleston.
With his death Donohoe passed into legend. A song about him was sung in the taverns around the Colony and became so popular that the authorities banned it as seditious. Today it is known as the classic Australian song of rebellion, The Wild Colonial Boy.
Back to Rebel GirlDiscover the historical background to The Wild Colonial Girl