"I'll fight but not surrender": Australia's bushranger ballads
September 1, 2018 7:40 AM   Subscribe

"I'll fight but not surrender": Australia's bushranger ballads
Bushranger ballads are home-grown 19th century Australian songs about that continent’s most notorious highwaymen. Bold and cheerful thieves like Jack Donohoe, Ben Hall and Ned Kelly are hailed as heroic underdogs down under, and their ballads still play a role in protest music there today. This essay discusses the songs’ Irish roots, the transportee convicts who spread them round Australia and the young performers keeping them alive today. It's a PlanetSlade Murder Ballads production (previously).

Here’s a few extracts from the essay to give you its flavour:

“If Donohoe had been a sadist, a rapist or a baby-killer like Mark Jefferies in Van Diemen’s land, the outpouring of popular emotion that coalesced in the Donohoe ballads would not have occurred,” Hughes writes. “But Australians admired flashness; most of them disliked Governor Darling and took great glee in seeing his authority ridiculed by this elusive bushranger. They – or, at any rate, the emancipist and convict majority – felt that Donohoe posed no threat to them. He was a figure of fantasy: game as a spurred cock, a projection of that once-subjected, silent part of their own lives into vengeful freedom.”


For men in this second generation of bushrangers, the old ballads were a blueprint, pointing them towards the option of a criminal career they might otherwise never have considered. “In the same way the Irish rebel songs had informed the convicts, so it went on down to the Hall gang and through to the Kellys,” Roweth told me. “There’s a very clear line there. The ballads were their education, their sense of justice: of right and wrong. They grew up with those songs and stories of Jim Jones, of Bold Jack Donohoe, they sat around singing The Wild Colonial Boy and they just thought that was their inheritance – their birthright."


One of the things that’s kept these songs alive, [Roweth] believes, is that they’ve continued to give downtrodden people a voice in every era of Australia’s history. “In Western Queensland at the time of the 1891 shearer strike, there’s evidence of them sitting around singing The Wild Colonial Boy and The Streets of Forbes as they fought for working class rights,” he says. “ In the anti-conscription debates around the time of the First World War, they were singing the Kelly ballads while fighting against conscription. You see that right down to the labour movement of the 1970s, when they were writing new songs to those tunes, but also singing the old ones to put a bit of iron in the backbone. […] That’s how we see it now when we’re singing the bushranger songs.”
Role: Writer / Publisher.
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This project was posted to MetaFilter by filthy light thief on September 14, 2018: "I'll fight but not surrender": Australia's bushranger ballads

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