Young, daring and often dangerous, the bushrangers ruled the roads around the goldfields areas.The bushrangers of the 'gold rush' era were active around the goldfields areas of the Great Dividing Range - between Stawell and Ballarat in the south, and to near Albury and Wangaratta in the north of the state. Some came to Victoria from Tasmania and were ex-convicts transported to Port Arthur, but many were just unfortunate victims of hard economic times who took to the roads as an easy way to exist.
Many were born in the bush and had an expert knowledge of horses and firearms, and the plains and mountain ranges they roamed in search of fortune and adventure. They had little regard for authority and no sympathy for weakness. The rush for gold following massive discoveries in Victoria in the 1850's presented ideal circumstances for them to exploit their skills and delinquency.
Law and order in the colonies had been hampered by the mass exodus of law enforcement officers from gaols and the police force to the goldfields. Thousands of head of livestock went unattended as shepherds and farm workers walked off the land to seek their fortunes, few succeeded. A bush-ranger found this easy pickings, supplying stolen horses, cattle and sheep to the earnest diggers, while the depleted law enforcement authorities had little chance and few resources to restrain them.
They next turned to the easier business of stealing gold as it was transported from the diggings to the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. It became dangerous to travel the roads around the diggings and even well-armed parties were under threat if it was know they were carrying bullion.
While few of the bushrangers ever achieved the riches to enable them to escape their circumstances, many gained notoriety, and some even achieved the status of folk heroes. Sections of the poorer classes in Australia identified with the bushrangers' contempt for authority, for their sympathies seemed to lie much with the landed gentry. Many of the bushrangers curried favour with these battlers to enhance their own perceived prestige and give credence to the lawlessness.
The names of Ben Hall, Ned Kelly, Frank Gardiner, 'Mad Dan' Morgan, Johnny Dunn, Johnny Vane, Martin Cash, and the Gilbert brothers are names indelibly linked with the rich, colourful and dangerous history of the gold rush.
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