Why do we love bushrangers so much? Are we all just bushrangers too busy with our day jobs?
November 11th was Remembrance Day, but I also noticed it’s the 138th anniversary of Ned Kelly’s death. They hanged our most famous bushranger on November 11, 1880.
I feel like we must be due for another round of bushranger romanticism. Seems to come around every 30 years or so. I mean, it’s been 15 years since the last Ned Kelly movie.
(Update: they’re in the process of making one right now. There you go.)
But why do we love bushrangers so much?
Kelly has more brand recognition than any Australian has ever had, including Don Bradman, well over a century after his death.
And Kelly’s life was hard. He was born into a poor family, took a lot of knocks along the way, before finally going to the gallows at the tender age of 25. Not a lot to envy there.
But we collectively get starry-eyed, and imagine ourselves in an iron suit, both guns blazing.
(Or is that just me?)
Bushrangers were a product of that time, and our romanticism has as much to do with that period in Australian history as it does with them.
I mean, if Ned Kelly were alive today, he’d probably end up on Today Tonight, with a camera man chasing him through the streets of Melbourne. Clank, clank, clank. “Mr Kelly. We just want to ask you a few questions.”
No one is getting misty eyed about car thieves in tracky-daks and sneakers these days.
But still there is something in the archetype of the bushranger that calls to our spirit.
To me, I think the key selling point of brand bush-ranger is ‘rebelliousness’. That’s what elevates them from the muck of humanity’s dregs, into the rarefied air of cultural hero.
But what does that say about us?
Why do we love and celebrate the rebellious? The rule breakers? The trouble makers?
Do we secretly long to cast ourselves in that light – break the rules, trash the law, kick down the doors and leave our name in bullets in the wall?
Are we all just bushrangers, too busy with our day jobs to cause anybody any trouble?
Yes. Yes we are.
The world is repressive. It crushes our freedom, our unique spirits, our playful, child-like natures. It’s just how it is. As we get older, we find the adult world with all its rules and regulations has us all bound up in a straight-jacket.
The question becomes how do we respond?
Do we suffer in silence, taking a photo-copy of our bottoms when the boss isn’t looking in an impotent act of defiance?
(Brian, I know it’s you. Just stop it, ok. It’s unhygienic.)
Or do we go totally off the hook, become a renegade, dying in a rain of bullets and glory?
That’s sexier, but still pretty sad in the end.
Or do we find another way? A third way? Do we find a way to push back the prison walls of the world, and find a way to live on our own terms, with our own money, with our own drive and our own autonomy?
Do we find a way to keep expanding the sphere of our own freedom?
This has been one of the central missions in my life in recent years. Finding that freedom.
Sure, that’s partly about money. Money can buy you many freedoms in life – the freedom to travel, the freedom to follow your own interest, freedom from the stresses of a hand-to-mouth existence.
But it’s also about making it part of my life goals – finding a career that let’s me set my own hours and schedule. Living somewhere that gives me easy access to the things I love doing. Putting energy into my relationships so they are supporting me, rather than holding me back.
But ultimately, it starts with recognising that we are all living in Ned Kelly realities – realities where the system is not set up to maximise our freedom and fulfilment.
This is the first step.
The fight then and must come second.
Such is life.