Not Your Usual Bushrangers
Echo Publishing, 2015
272pp., pbk., RRP $A34.95
Australia’s very first bushrangers did not emerge as a result of the goldrush in the 1850s, as is commonly thought. In fact they have existed since the very earliest days of the colony when Sydney was very much an open gaol and convicts wandered through the bush – the earliest use of the term was when Lieutenants King and Dawes rowed a cutter from Port Jackson to Botany Bay to pay a friendly visit on the French who were moored there, only to find that they had been beaten by a group of convicts who had made their way overland and begged the French to give them succour.
Even though the term “bushranger” was used then in a different way it is today, this is indicative of the level of research that has gone in to the latest work from wordsmith/scientist/historian Peter Macinnis. In this very readable book, Macinnis takes us back to the very early days of European settlement and explores this unique breed of Australians who, by 1805, had acquired the description and perception that we attribute them now – that of a “thieving scoundrel roaming the bush’. Macinnis tells the story of lesser known bushrangers like Black Caesar, the first ‘official’ bushranger and Sarah Webb, the first female. Of course he has included the likes of Ben Hall and Ned Kelly, but it is his ability to dig deep beneath the layers and to keep digging that is the hallmark of anything by Macinnis that means as well as telling their stories, he also paints a vivid picture of life in the times demonstrating why it was almost inevitable that there would be those on the other side of the law as they fought for dignity and survival. Life was tough, harsh and brutal with little prospect of true freedom or later, living the life of the rich and famous. Macinnis has trolled newspapers of the time, court records and a host of other documents to provide the authority and evidence required to make this compelling, credible reading.
The Australian Curriculum for Year 5 focuses on this period of Australia’s history and, in my opinion, Not Your Usual Bushrangers should be mandatory reading for all those who teach history so they can bring life at the times to life for their students and provide new information, ideas and insights into a period that has shaped so much of who we are as a nation not just then but now.
As a disclaimer I have to say the author has been an online friend for the best part of 20 years but rather than that connection earning him a favourable review, it just gives me knowledge of the depth of his research, the stones he unturns and the cracks and crevices he delves into to make sure he can craft the best work possible.