Australian Bushrangers Essay

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Australian images are portrayed though two similar poems that depict the deaths of Australian bushrangers. Bushrangers in the history of Australia have a special place in the hearts and the imaginations of Australians. Banjo Patterson and Will. H. Ogilvie presents the two deaths of well known bushrangers, Ben Hall and John Gilbert in poems ‘How Gilbert died’ and ‘The Death of Ben Hall’. These composers portray iconic Australian images of Australian bushrangers, as well as the traitorous ‘mates’ that these bushrangers trusted, only to find out that they have been sold for the matter of greed.

The composers cleverly represent the Australian images through intensified imagery and techniques throughout the poems to enforce the idea of the Australian image. Outlaw are remembered with pride and admiration rather than the contempt and hate that they probably deserved, as many were violent and ruthless criminals who made their livings by murdering and stealing. Their bravado, self reliance, adventurous lifestyle has appealed to generations of Australians, ‘the smallest child on Watershed can tell you how Gilbert died’.

Both composers depict the struggle the police had on capturing the two outlaws that successfully left no trail behind them. Patterson describes how Gilbert was an impossible catch that the police had hired ‘a black who tracked like a human hound’, even with an Aborigine who knew everything about the land, found ‘no sign of a track could find’. Similarly Will. H. Ogilvie complements Ben Hall and the image of Australian bushrangers as outlaws that were elegant in what they did.

Ogilvie describes Ben Hall as an outlaw that ‘stole like a hunted fox’. ‘And peered like a hawk from his eyrie rocks.. on the troopers riding beneath’, the composer cleverly uses these two similes that gives Ben Hall the characteristics of two animals that are seen as stealthy creatures, enforcing the idea of the image of Australian bushrangers as outlaws that were intelligent and successful in getting away for the crimes that they had committed.

The Australian culture is built around the aspect of loyalty in which the society views friends as family. However, both poems depict the death of the two bushrangers as a tragic loss as both were betrayed by people that they had trusted. Both bushrangers had a thousands pounds on their heads as rewards, both being sold from people they called ‘mates’. In the poem ‘How Gilbert Died’, Gilbert takes refuge in his grandfather’s hut only to find out that he had been sold by his own family member.

Patterson uses irony to depict the death of Gilbert was not worth, and attempts to humiliate Gilbert’s grandfather, ‘and their grandsire gave them a greeting bold: “Come in and rest in peace no safer place does the country hold.. and hell with the black police”‘. This quote is full of irony as the phrase ‘rest in peace’ is a short epitaph expression wishing eternal rest and peace to someone who has died. ‘No safer place does the country hold’ is extremely ironic as it is the very place Gilbert will be shot dead.

He had sold them both to the black police for the sake of the big reward’, Patterson uses the heavy irony to imply that the human nature of greed overrules the aspect of ‘mateship’. Although within this poem, Patterson implies the true meaning of mateship as Gilbert and a friend called Dunn took refuge in Gilbert’s grandsire’s home. Finding out that they have been sold to the police, Gilbert willingly offers his life so that Dunn could escape the police ‘I’ll stop and I’ll fight with the pistol here, you take to your heels and run’.

Gilbert presents two contrasting perspectives of the Australian image of friendship. Similarly Ben Hall is betrayed by a friend in Ogilvie’s poem, ‘but his friend had read of the big reward, and his soul was stirred with greed’. Ogilvie implies the aspect of friends as family is not always the matter as seen in the poem. Ogilvie depicts his hate towards traitors as he continuously offends the traitor, ‘but the ride that is ta’en on a traitor’s quest is the bitterest ride of all’.

A bushranger spends his life riding, therefore must have undergone many crimes and murders during his time, however Ogilvie depicts that the ride of a traitor is much worse than anything else. He ends the poem with ‘I would rather sleep with the dead Ben Hall than go where that traitor went’, which further enforces his hate towards traitors. Both composers defy the stereotypical view of the iconic image of the Australian people as loyal and loving. They portray the Australian image of mateship, however in a different perspective, that not everyone can be trusted.

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