High Country’s Bushranger Legends

High Countrys Bushranger Legends Outlaw Tales

Recent years, Old Geelong Gaol has hosted presentations about Victorian bushrangers. These have included screenings from films that have since been lost (both versions of The Story of the Kelly Gang from 1906 and 1910, and part of Thunderbolt from 1910).

Graham Seal has noted that these films depict outlaws through various displays – landscapes, history, communities and traditions all help shape his identity as presented through these narratives.

The Squatter’s Daughter

Like its American counterpart, Australia had its fair share of notorious outlaws like Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy in its Wild West, although their operations were less prolific and had less territory coverage. These bushrangers typically operated as free setters who ran foul of the law before terrorising Australian settlers and miners until 1880 when they disappeared altogether – their names including Ned Kelly, Captain Starlight, Thunderbolt became part of folk law across Australia.

The Squatter’s Daughter, directed by Bert Bailey and based on an Edmund Duggan and Bert Bailey-written 1907 stage melodrama written for stage, is an early Australian cinematic classic. Set during 1860s Australia and focused around two sheep stations named Enderby and Waratah; Joan Enderby owned by Jocelyn Howarth runs it along with Jimmie (Jocelyn Howarth) while its overseer Fletcher plots against them both; but Joan turns to an unexpected aid that helped save her station from both Fletcher and captured overseer Fletcher from waratah: shearer Wayne Ridgeway (Grant Lyndsay who was Dick Fair in On Our Selection) came forward to aid Joan as her station from being consumed by raging bushfire while helping Joan protect her station from its other neighbor Waratah from being destroyed and help capture Fletcher scheming in On Our Selection), assisting Joan against Fletcher and help her fight off Fletcher against an unexpected assistance provided by shearer Wayne Ridgeway (Grant Lyndsay; Grant Lyndsay who played Dick Fair in On Our Selection), mysterious stranger shearer Wayne Ridgeway) who helps save Joan save it against fire while captureing him!

Although The Squatter’s Daughter takes some time to get started, it eventually provides a rich portrait of Australian prewar squattocracy and an entertaining climax. Unfortunately, however, this film is not without flaws; its initial slow pace and primitive technical quality can make viewing it challenging at times; therefore it should best be treated as a snapshot of Australian rural society at that time.

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As this film shows, by the 1920s Australian landowners no longer needed to manage their properties themselves and could hire labourers instead. This new relationship with land reflected changing attitudes among Australians towards rural life; one of the earliest movies depicting this reality was The Squatter’s Daughter with its opening scene depicting a girl carrying a basket across an unlit landscape towards an unknown threat – another symbolism from Australian society at large at that time.

The Girl Who Joined the Bushrangers

An energetic girl from the country joined Ned Kelly’s Kelly Gang during an era of gold discoveries and renewed lawbreaking. Maggie Kelly brought daring horsewomanship skills that helped distract police or lead them down wrong tracks while also providing invaluable information. Maggie became one of his key pillars during his outlaw days.

Lewin Fitzhamon directed and released this movie in 1909. It is one of only a few known movies depicting women joining bushrangers to escape an abusive spouse.

Though most men who participated in robbing or shooting incidents were widely known, many women involved have since been forgotten, obscured, or misrepresented over time. Historian Meg Foster has unearthed several examples in her book Boundary Crossers that don’t fit traditional bushranger stereotypes, such as African American man Black Douglas who terrorised Victorian goldfields; Sam Poo who became Australia’s only Chinese bushranger; Captain Thunderbolt’s partner Mary Ann Bugg were all among them.

Foster writes in her article that Kitty Brown was one of three Walsh sisters, all known for marrying young and living a rather dissolute lifestyle. Kitty married Edmund Baker while working on Kelly Farm and had two children by him before marrying Fred Ward – more commonly known as Captain Thunderbolt!

By the 1860s, Australia had experienced both wealth and a new assertion of law and order due to the gold rush. A number of notorious robber gang leaders such as “Mad Dog” Dan Morgan, Frank Lowry, and Ben Hall emerged. To counter their growing influence within society, Crown responded with the establishment of Mounted Police forces from military personnel.

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As a result, robbing and raiding became common throughout Victoria and Queensland, leading to the creation of the police force and an intensified hunt for bushrangers – although despite these efforts by law enforcement agents the Kelly Gang managed to avoid capture until their final shoot-out at Glenrowan in 1880.


Australian bushrangers from the late 18th and early 19th centuries who raided stagecoaches, banks, and small settlements are legendary figures; names like Ned Kelly, Fred Ward, and Captain Thunderbolt remain part of our collective memory of these individuals.

High Country’s Bushranger Legends offers a view of bushranging that is both mythic and historical, structured like strings of beads with episodes whose relationships to one another take precedence over their chronologie. This episodic structure may reflect both ballad tradition and Hobsbawm’s view that official history presents two-sidedly regarding bushranging.

Film episodes depict the activities of Fred Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt. Over his long career, Ward became embroiled in several heated disputes with authorities; first when arrested for duffering but violently resisting arrest; later when trying to retrieve cattle stolen by lawmen who shot at Ward and shot his leg as they shot back; all these incidents cemented Ward as an iconic outlaw, both hero and criminal at once.

According to the films, Ward was an experienced horseman who used his fast mounts for lightning-fast raids across New England from Singleton and Uralla onwards. While ruthless when necessary, he never killed anyone or severely wounded his would-be captors; rather he preferred wounding them instead. Ward was particularly active between Queensland’s border region and Singleton/Uralla.

In both TSOTKG and Thunderbolt, Ward was often accompanied by women acting as companions or wives who also served as experienced riders who volunteered their services and often donned clothing similar to his own. These girls served as an information network; warning the bushrangers when police approached or providing weapons (Thunderbolt).

Bierens asserts that indigenous Australians represented in several films were powerful symbols of resistance against white colonial systems of oppression and injustice, particularly whites colonizers’ system of racism and inequality. Bierens notes how convicts, landless poor whites, descendants of Asian immigrants as well as Asian migrants themselves all identified strongly with this symbol of defiance – visitors today can enjoy Thunderbolt Country by sampling Thunderbolt pie or sipping Thunderbolt Shiraz while taking pictures at Thunderbolt Rock!

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The Life and Adventures of John Vane

Australian bushrangers have an extended filmography. First appearing on screen during the early 1900s, films about these rogues became audience favorites but authorities became concerned that these movies glorified criminal activity and encouraged young people to join outlaw groups; as a result a ban was placed in 1911 and would remain until after World War II had come and gone.

But while these films may have had an adverse impact on Australia’s moral fabric, they did succeed in popularising the story of these bandits and the wilderness they inhabited. Bushrangers weren’t just outlaws – many saw them as heroes who battled unfair living conditions or poor treatment by authorities – something the Australian people could relate to and so made legends out of them.

Hills are no ordinary hills: they play an essential part in bushranger mythology, providing hiding spaces, camouflage and, most importantly, escape routes for bushrangers who would emerge at any moment from hiding places only to reappear at just the right moment to deliver a favor, exact revenge or simply avoid capture.

Bushrangers developed strong relationships with both Aboriginal and Chinese communities in their area in order to evade capture and secure weapons or horses if police approached (TSOTKG); provide weapons or horses when needed and possibly food (Squatter’s Daughter). Furthermore, bushrangers understood themselves as part of nature and became intimate with its ecosystem – not simply as mere surroundings but an expression thereof.

So while outback bushrangers had their share of dark deeds, they still found comfort in being part of the land they called their own and felt an immense sense of belonging there – something which has given them special status in national memory and why hills often feature prominently in films featuring bushrangers.