The Wild Colonial Boy

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"The Wild Colonial Boy" is a traditional anonymously penned Irish-Australian folk ballad which tells the story of a bushranger in early colonial Australia who dies during a gunfight with local police. Versions of the ballad give different names for the bushranger involved: some based on real individuals and some apparently fictional. A common theme is romanticisation of the bushranger's battle against colonial authority. The ballad's popularity over time has encouraged numerous re-recordings by twentieth century artists.

Identity of the bushranger[edit]

Versions of the ballad depict bushrangers with the first name of "Jack" and surnames such as "Dolan," "Doolan," "Duggan" and "Donahue." It is unclear if the ballad originally referred to an actual person.

One possible origin is Jack Donahue, an 1820s Irish convict who sent to Australia, became a bushranger and was killed by police.[1] Another possibility is that the song refers to an 1860s juvenile Australian convict named John Doolan, who was born in Castlemaine, Victoria, and also turned to bushranging.[2] However the real Doolan was not shot by police, instead being captured and sentenced to an additional convict term. It is also possible that the identities of the histories of Donohue and Doolan became blended over time to produce the modern ballad's lyrics.

Some Irish versions of the ballad also use the name "Jack Duggan," claiming that as a young emigrant he left the town of Castlemaine, County Kerry, Ireland, for Australia in the early 19th century. According to the song, he spent his time "robbing from the rich to feed the poor". However there is no evidence of a colonial bushranger of this name.

Irish lyrics[edit]

Australian lyrics[2][edit]

In popular culture[edit]

"The Wild Colonial Boy" has been recorded by Rolf Harris, Larry Kirwan, John Doyle, The Irish Rovers, The Brothers Four, Oliver Reed and The Clancy Brothers, among others, and was featured in the film The Quiet Man. The album Ireland in Song by Cathy Maguire also includes the Irish version of the song.

  • In the United States, a version of this song was popularized by folk singer Burl Ives.
  • Dr. Hook recorded a version of this song on American Bandstand (1981). It was mentioned by Dennis Locorriere that the royalties went to charity. The song peaked at number 4 on the Australian singles chart.
  • Billy Walker recorded the song as B-side to his hit, "Charlie's Shoes", in 1962. He included it in his album Greatest Hits.
  • The walking skeleton in Robert Frost's poem "The Witch of Coos" is said to have been searching for a way out of the house, because he wanted to sing his favorite song, "The Wild Colonial Boy", in the snow.
  • Mick Jagger sings this song in the 1970 movie Ned Kelly, which is about the real-life Australian outlaw of the same name. According to The Argus report in November 1880, Ann Jones had asked her son to sing the ballad when the Kelly gang were at her hotel in June that year.[3]
  • The Pogues and The Dubliners released "Jack's Heroes", a 1990 single celebrating the Republic of Ireland national football team, which uses the tune of "The Wild Colonial Boy".[4]
  • A waltz version of the tune features in the ball scene in Baz Luhrmann's film Australia (2008).
  • Damien Leith released a version on his 2015 album Songs From Ireland.
  • Sung by Paddy Carmody (Robert Mitchum), in the hotel scene of the 1960 movie The Sundowners.
  • A Czech translation of this song under the name Vostrej Australák (The Sharp Australian) was recorded by the Greenhorns (Zelenáči) band and published by Supraphon in 1982.[5]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-07-13. Retrieved 2009-02-23.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ a b Mawer, Granville Allen, "Doolan, John (1856–?)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 2022-04-24
  3. ^ "Charge of Harbouring the Kelly Gang". The Argus. Melbourne. 26 November 1880. p. 6. Retrieved 13 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ Moran, Fran (9 January 2002). "Singles, B Sides, Eclectica". The Parting Glass: An Annotated Pogues Lyrics Page. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  5. ^ See catalogue entry of this record at the National Library of the Czech Republic or its official recording on YouTube

External links[edit]