Bushranging Gazette #8

Friday, 1 October 2021

Our African Roots

This month SBS will be broadcasting a documentary about notable African connections in Australian history. Researched and written by Santilla Chingaipe, the production aims to bring people’s attention to the fact that people of African descent have an important part in Australia’s history.

Included among the figures featured in the documentary is John Caesar (more commonly known by the provocative label, “black” Caesar). Caesar will be a figure familiar to most bushranger enthusiasts as he is universally credited as being the first bushranger. Brought out on the first fleet, the large, muscular former-slave found his paltry rations were inadequate to fuel him in his labours, so took to taking what he needed without permission from the commissary. In his outlaw career he was feared by the white colonists, and briefly formed a gang. He was also known to have fought one-on-one with legendary Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy during the frontier war that erupted soon after the founding of New South Wales.

Actor Mohamed Osman playing black African bushranger John Caesar in the documentary.

Chingaipe hopes the documentary provides an avenue for wider acceptance of African heritage in Australia, and opens a discussion about why people in Australia don’t know about this aspect of the nation’s history.

Our African Roots screens on SBS on October 17 at 8.30pm.

Santilla Chingaipe will also be interviewed about the documentary on the Convict Australia Podcast on 4 October.

Read more about this documentary here.

Ned Kelly Remastered

Newly available on Blu-ray from Imprint Films is the new high resolution upgrade of the 1970 film Ned Kelly, starring Mick Jagger. This is the first time the film has been restored and it also comes with a number of new, unique special features, including a documentary on the making of the film.

Limited to 2000 copies, this is an opportunity for the collectors to get their hands on a special Ned Kelly item, but also ensures the film will be preserved in the best possible quality going forward.


Professor Janet McCalman has just released a new book about Tasmanian convicts who settled in Victoria. The book, entitled Van-Diemonians, explores these fascinating stories, ranging from the bolters and bushrangers to those who became successful colonists.

It was meant to be ‘Victoria the Free’, uncontaminated by the Convict Stain. Yet they came in their tens of thousands as soon as they were cut free or able to bolt. More than half of all those transported to Van Diemen’s Land as convicts would one day settle or spend time in Victoria. There they were demonised as Vandemonians. Some could never go straight; a few were the luckiest of gold diggers; a handful founded families with distinguished descendants. Most slipped into obscurity. Burdened by their pasts and their shame, their lives as free men and women, even within their own families, were forever shrouded in secrets and lies.


Van-Diemonians is currently available through the Melbourne University Publishing website.

New Titles Available in the Australian Bushranging Store

Five new titles have been added to the Australian Bushranging online store. A series of archival texts from ETT Publications about Ned Kelly, as well as the second edition of Judy Lawson’s book on the Clarke bushrangers, are available for purchase alongside Australian Bushranging merchandise.

Books about Ned Kelly and his gang go back to when the outlaws were still at large. Australian readers were spellbound by the tales of these brazen outlaws as the events unfolded, and prominent chroniclers of the day did not squander the opportunity to capture the zeitgeist. Now, you can add these classic books to your collection and they’re available from the Australian Bushranging online store:

  • The True Story of the Kelly Gang of Bushrangers by C. H. Chomley: Published in 1900, this is a highly researched biography of the notorious 19th-century Victorian family of bushrangers. C. H. Chomley wrote the biography using court documents, police records and court evidence. It is recognised as being one of the most accurate depictions of the story of Ned Kelly, particularly regarding the police involvement.
  • The Origin, Career and Destruction of the Kelly Gang by F. Hunter: Originally published in 1894 and one of the rarest of all Kellyana, this has been out of print in any form for over 100 years. Fully illustrated with contemporary engravings and photographs, for the 140th anniversary of the events at Stringybark Creek.
  • The Kelly Gang or The Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges by G. W. Hall: Produced by George Wilson Hall, the owner of the Mansfield Guardian in 1879. It is the first and rarest book on Ned Kelly, there being only four copies known to exist, with none in private hands. Hall was close to several informants and appears to have exceptional first-hand accounts of Stringybark Creek and other Kelly encounters. This new edition includes rare photographs of the participants from the period.
  • The Girl Who Helped Ned Kelly by C. E. Taylor: Originally serialised in 1929, and out of print for 90 years, the book was written within the life spans of people who knew the Kellys – Taylor even interviewed Ned’s brother Jim prior to writing the book, while Ellen Kelly had died only a few years before it was published. With that in mind, The Girl Who Helped Ned Kelly represents one of, if not the earliest romanticised fiction of Ned Kelly. With original illustrations, introduced by Gabriel Bergmoser.

Judy Lawson’s book, The Clarke Bushrangers: A Clash of Cultures, challenges the accepted narratives around the Clarke story.

The Clarke bushrangers were accused of multiple murders and over 80 robberies in the short time they roamed the Braidwood district. The first edition of this book was concerned with legal records solely relating to the murders, this edition includes extra information on the murders and also an analysis of the robberies from a legal perspective. The established truth behind these bushranging episodes that, until now has been based on very inaccurate historical reporting, is uncovered. This edition also includes information on the trial of Tommy and Johnny Clarke. For several reasons the trial should have been condemned as a mistrial and the appeal upheld. The problem encountered in Braidwood and district at the time were fuelled by conflicting issues of race, culture and religion, it was exacerbated by the righteous attitudes of British rule and the large number of convicts and their descendants. Laws were made to benefit the gentry.

In addition to these fascinating tomes, you can purchase Glenrowan by A Guide to Australian Bushranging’s own Aidan Phelan, as well as merchandise for An Outlaw’s Journal. All prices include domestic Australian postage costs. Book bundles will also be on offer later this month.

ETT have also acquired historical texts about Michael Howe and William Westwood, and will also be releasing a new edition of J. J. Kenneally’s book The Inner History of the Kelly Gang, though release dates are to be confirmed.

In Other News

Stockland housing development to begin construction in Ned Kelly’s old hometown, Beveridge [Source]

– New booking website, Historic Stays, allows tourists to book accommodation in historical properties around Australia, such as Marlo Cottage in Beechworth, The Butcher’s House in Bothwell, and Simpson Cottage in Bundeena. [Source]

– Tarago’s Loaded Dog Hotel, linked by folklore to bushrangers Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall and the Clarke brothers, is on the market. [Source]

– Conservation works at Port Arthur now include the construction of walking paths on the Isle of the Dead in order to combat erosion caused by visitors. [Source]

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