Bushranging Gazette #19

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Victorian Bushrangers at Geelong Gaol

On 7 August, A Guide to Australian Bushranging‘s Aidan Phelan gave a presentation at the Old Geelong Gaol about Victorian bushrangers. The talk ranged from an introduction to bushrangers to the lives and careers of several notable Victorian outlaws.

Among the stories told during the presentation were those of Bradley and O’Connor, Captain Melville, Harry Power and Thomas Menard. Menard has a special connection to the gaol as he was hanged there for murder and was buried in the grounds.

The event was well received and the venue proved to be suitably atmospheric, with replicas of the death masks of Thomas Menard, Ned Kelly and Captain Moonlite adding to the effect.

There is a strong probability that there will be more such presentations in the gaol, as there are plenty more stories to explore.

Aidan Phelan with replicas of the death masks of Thomas Menard, Ned Kelly and Captain Moonlite.

The Crisis of Captain Moonlite

On 23 August Dr. Matthew Grubits presented an online seminar conducted via Zoom for Melbourne Irish Studies Seminars on Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite. The focus of the talk was predominantly on Scott’s religiosity and faith, and how this influenced his behaviour throughout his life.

Grubits drew particular attention to Scott’s most highly valued traits, those being truthfulness, honour and manliness and how the philosophy of “Muscular Christianity” influenced his beliefs. This also came into play when discussing Scott’s most intimate relationship, being the one between himself and James Nesbitt. Grubits pointed to Scott’s unwavering Christianity and his profound grief as key factors in why Scott wrote about Nesbitt posthumously with such passion, imbuing him with the very traits he himself valued above all others. It was suggested that this may potentially be a more accurate way to contextualise their relationship and the way Scott expressed his feelings about it than a perspective that indicates it being sexual in nature, when looked at in the broader context of Scott’s life.

While the 1869 Egerton bank robbery and Scott’s subsequent running afoul of the law were covered, much of this was only touched upon due to time constraints. The emphasis was decidedly on Scott’s personality and beliefs, and less on his bushranging, which is an approach rarely taken when discussing the infamous former lay reader.

The seminar proved to be an enlightening and engaging exploration of Scott’s life and psyche that raised many questions that will hopefully be answered when Grubits manages to secure a publisher for his doctoral thesis. It is an indicator of very exciting things to come. Watch this space.

New Jessie Hickman book brings the Lady Bushranger to a new audience

With so much emphasis in recent years having been put on highlighting the stories of female bushrangers, and especially educating children about notable women in history, it seems odd that it has taken so long for the “Lady Bushranger” to get her own children’s book.

Wild Bush Days is a new children’s book from MidnightSun Publishing, written by Penny Harrison and illustrated by Virginia Gray that introduces you for readers to the bold Jessie Hickman through the eyes of two young adventurers. The book is aimed at three to six year-olds and features many charming, full colour illustrations.

Jessie Hickman was Australia’s bold, but little-known, Lady Bushranger. Raised in the circus during the early 1900s, she later turned to a life of crime and cattle hustling. She used her skills as a rough-rider and tightrope walker to elude police, often hiding in a cave, deep in the mountains.

Told through the eyes of two young, modern-day explorers who go looking for the bushranger’s cave, Wild Bush Days conjures the spirit of adventure, from a time when girls weren’t expected to be daring.

(Official blurb)

Wild Bush Days is now available from most book retailers.

The Legend of Ben Hall on Amazon Prime

Fans of Matthew Holmes’ 2017 bushranger epic, The Legend of Ben Hall, can now rent or buy the film to stream on Amazon Prime.

The film’s shift to streaming makes it accessible to an even larger audience, with DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the film having been out of print for several years.

While the film was shown on Australian free-to-air television on Channel Nine in 2019, the commercial broadcaster has not aired it since. The Legend of Ben Hall has also been available on other services, such as YouTube and HBO Europe, with every distribution to a new platform boosting exposure for the epic indie film.

Director Matthew Holmes is about to embark on a new project, Fear Below, a Jazz Era crime flick featuring a fearsome bullshark. It is his second feature since The Legend of Ben Hall, with upcoming thriller The Cost due to premiere in early December of this year. In the intervening years he has launched several unsuccessful efforts to gain funding for films about Ned Kelly and the Glenrowan siege, Frank Gardiner, John Vane, and a streaming series about bushranging in Victoria and New South Wales during the 1860s through to 1880.

Aussie Icons by Ian Coate

The keen-eyed may have seen garden sculptures popping up in Woolworths and Bunnings stores recently including a platypus wearing a very familiar suit of armour. Bushranger Platypus is part of a series of garden statues called Dinkum Aussie Icons designed by Australian artist Ian Coate.

Other characters include Convict Crocodile, Swaggie Koala, Nurse Possum and Digger Wombat. Each is a cartoony Australian animal dressed like a figure from Australian culture or history. They are designed to educate and amuse, encouraging children to take an interest in Australian culture and nature.

I am delighted to announce the ‘DINKUM AUSSIE’ icons I designed have finally hit the shelves at Bunnings and Woolworths. We have just launched a website and Facebook page dedicated to these little Aussie characters and I would love for you to be the first to follow our Dinkum Aussie Page and join us for some ridgy-didge fun.

Ian Coate (via Facebook)

You can read more at Ian’s website: https://iancoate.com/aussieicons.html

Ned Kelly on Super History

While there is certainly no shortage of videos about Ned Kelly on YouTube, precious few could be said to be both informative and hilarious. Brian Pilchard recently released a short documentary from his ongoing Super History series on his YouTube channel, OK Champ, where he covers the Kelly story with an imaginative mash-up of dodgy costumes, excessive amounts of cardboard, green screen, pop culture references and hilariously bizarre re-enactments.

The Kellys in action

You can watch the video below:

A Fateful September Day by Julia Dąbrowska

The following is a piece penned by long-time follower of A Guide to Australian Bushranging (and contributor) from Poland Julia Dąbrowska in commemoration of the death of Jack Donahoe who was shot in a stand off this day in 1830. — AP

The setting sun shines through the branches of gum trees covered with thick leaves. The fallen twigs crackle under the boot heels of the bushrangers and the hooves of a packhorse. Jack Donahue walks at the head of the gang. He gazes at his mates, William Webber and John Walmsley, and at a horse carrying several sacks. Suddenly, John Walmsley stops, pointing at something.

“It’s a campfire,” he said. They have seen campfires in the bush many times before, so they didn’t pay any special attention to it.

Little do they know that the campfire is in the police camp. Jack’s anxiety is increasing. He realises that the policemen are following him and his gang.

He stands, waving his hat, shouting, “Come on, you bloody bastards! We are ready to fight you all!”

The bushrangers decide to abandon the packhorse and seek some hideout. The police party and the bushrangers were less than hundred yards apart from each other. A sound of shooting breaks the silence of the bush. The first shot finds its mark in the tree Webber hides behind. Jack continues to tease the policemen, encouraging his gang members to fight and not surrender. It’s getting increasingly darker. John Muckleston, the best marksman in the police party, notices the head of Jack Donahue, protruding from behind a tree. Not wanting to wait anymore, the trooper squeezes the trigger. One ball hits Jack Donahue in the back of the neck, another one in his left temple. Jack falls, shaking, dropping his weapon upon the ground. Blood stains his flaxen hair and white shirt. William Webber and John Walmsley decide to run away.

It’s completely dark now. Jack Donahue lay on the ground, shivering, barely breathing, with  his hair sticky with drying blood. Yes, he chose death in a battle over surrendering to the authorities. This is the death that any true Irishman would like to receive.

Illustration by Julia Dąbrowska

Mini-Spotlight

Conservators at Work

A photograph shared recently by the State Library Victoria shows a team of conservators working on the specialised display case for Ned Kelly’s armour.

Times have certainly changed since the days when the armour was displayed in the open on an old cockatoo perch in the old Melbourne Aquarium, and when it was worn as a costume during Australia Day parades.

The new case also contains Ned’s boot and a rifle attributed to him, and is climate controlled to protect the items from moisture and a risk of oxidisation. The armour is also occasionally removed for cleaning by the conservation team to remove any rust or decay.

Image via State Library Victoria

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