The Australian is an interesting character, he is that native-to-the-soil European-descent man reared in a drafty and dry weatherboard home that lays arrest on the frosty-flat plains. For us it is worth asking; what drives this breed of Australian to establish lawless men and rebels to status of folk hero.
This analysis will draw heavily upon ‘the texts of old’ that is to say, Australian literary romance. Banjo Patterson writes in ‘The Old Australian Ways’
The narrow ways of English folk
Are not for such as we;
They bear the long-accustomed yoke
Of staid conservancy:
But all our roads are new and strange,
And through our blood there runs
The vagabonding love of change
That drove us westward of the range
And westward of the suns.
Australians are spiritually invested in ‘freedom on the bush-range’ we naturally disdain organised society, ‘the rat race’ urban existence as Henry Lawson writes ‘Beware of the town — there is poison for years’. We naturally have distaste for a bourgeois class system as Lawson further wrote ‘We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting’
The Australian distaste for urban existence is best personified in Lawson’s ‘On the Wallaby’ in which he tells the story of a swagman who lives in reasonable peace and comfort roaming the bush with little money. He finds comfort in his boiling billy, the yarn of a mate and the peaceful night aided by the warmth of a camp-fire. Lawson warns against seeking pleasure in the ‘Town’ for he writes ‘In the pleasure you find in the depths of long beers; For the bushman gets bushed in the streets of a town, Where he loses his friends when his cheque is knocked down; He is right till his pockets are empty’
Lawson with his contemporaries make a common argument warning against the draw of urban comfort. In his story ‘A voice from the city’ he recounts the story of a bushman who goes to live in the city and in doing so surrenders his strong coarse character and become a shell of a man. Lawson writes ‘I scarcely dare to think about The days when I could ride. I would not mount before his eyes, ‘Straight’ Bushman tall and tan — I mind the day when I stood up And fought him like a man.’ this sentiment against urbanity was a hot topic around Federation in which a candidate for Prime Minister George Reid said in 1903 ‘The truest wisdom in the world is to encourage men not to settle in the comfortable luxuriance in the cities of civilisation, but to go into the wilds, where your fathers went before you, and laid the foundation in hardship, suffering and toil of the prosperity you are enjoying today.’
Australian’s love those ‘free men’ who live outside of the confines of civilisation, the blokes ‘on the fringe’ – Australians love the ‘vagabond’, the travelling ‘swagman’ – the wise old travelling man. Many rebels raised in Australian folklore meet this character description, Ned Kelly being an example of the frontiersman son, raised in poverty on the frosty flats living by his own rules outside those of society.
Australians have a strong disdain for an aristocratic class system, its rooted in our culture to advance the cause of the average bloke; ‘the battler’. Lawson writes in ‘Freedom on the Wallaby’ “Our parents toil’d to make a home — Hard grubbin ’twas an’ clearin’ — They wasn’t crowded much with lords: When they was pioneering. But now that we have made the land A garden full of promise, Old Greed must crook ‘is dirty hand And come ter take it from us.”
Australian workers feel an ownership of the land and products of it; and have never built a romanticism for a ruling parasitical class; or as Lawson called them ‘loafers’. It’s this distaste for the ruling class which further builds the Australian favour for those rebels who stand firm to oppose the ruling class of their time.
Australians in summary have an un-ending hatred for the urbanite ruling class. The ‘loafers’ who live for money and ‘lordish’ social snobbery. Australians will always love that breed of man who puts these rulers to task – who stand up for the forgotten ‘free men on the bush’ this was seen in Australia’s response to the Eureka Rebellion, The Great Shearers Strike and The Ned Kelly Gang.
This article does not do justice to the entire depths of why Australians put outlaws amongst their folklore- it does however begin an analysis into the cultural roots of what can cause such a phenomena. Our general disdain for the ruling class drives a fancy for rebels.