Bushranging Gazette #14

Friday, 1 April 2022

Moondyne Festival 2022

The annual Moondyne Festival in Toodyay, Western Australia, is all set to kick off on Sunday 1 May this year. The festival, named for local bushranger Joseph Bolitho “Moondyne Joe” Johns, features a range of activities and attractions, as well as reenactments of some of the infamous bushranger’s escapades.

Visitors are encouraged to dress in period costume when they attend, and scheduled attractions include music performances, a street parade, Morris dancing, a moustache competition, a photo room, sheep dog demonstrations, camel rides, and a “floozy” competition. The events and attractions will be spread around town, encouraging visitors to explore.

For more information about the festival, including a programme, you can visit the website: https://moondynefestival.com.au/

Douglas Stewart’s Ned Kelly

The Conversation has published an insightful article by Julian Meyrick about Douglas Stewart’s 1940s play Ned Kelly. The article gives a background to the play as well as Meyrick’s own observations regarding Australians’ attitude to their own history, and how the play embodies this through its use of language and theatrical techniques.

In 1997, I directed Ned Kelly in one of its few professional productions. Spruiking the show to audiences, I heard many times that people “already knew the story”. But when I asked what they knew, they were often at a loss to give even the basic facts. They felt they knew the Kelly story, but they did not. This combination of belief the past is known, and actual ignorance of it, fuels Australia’s “history wars”. Stewart’s play thus falls into a historical black hole as well as a theatrical one. A nation dismissive of its past dramatic forms is also dismissive of its past. Reclaiming Ned Kelly is therefore about more than its disinterment from the sarcophagus of neglected plays; it is an act of intellectual recovery whereby Australian history is made available as a dramatic resource, and drama is validated as a mode of historical inquiry.

Julian Meyrick

The article is an edited extract from the book Australia in 50 Plays, which was launched on 3 March.

You can read the full article here: https://theconversation.com/ambiguity-and-amorality-is-douglas-stewarts-ned-kelly-one-of-australias-great-forgotten-plays-179458

Mary Ann Bugg, the little known Australian bushranger

On ABC Radio program Night Life with Philip Clarke, the host interviewed historian Carol Baxter, author of Thunderbolt and his Lady, about Australia’s most famous female bushranger, Mary Ann Bugg.

Baxter’s work on the Thunderbolt story has been prominent over the years since her book was first released in 2011, in particular her championing of the story of Mary Ann Bugg. In the interview, Baxter discusses Bugg’s background and relationship with Frederick Ward and her work in researching the history.

You can listen to the podcast here: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/nightlife/bugg/13818160

A policeman’s lot is not a happy one

Spectator Australia have published an opinion article by Ross Eastgate about the difficulties of police life, specifically in reference to the dangers and difficulties that officers are put in as a matter of course, and the need for officers to be able to defend themselves – with lethal force if necessary. Specific mention is made of the shootings at Stringybark Creek, amongst more modern examples, particularly the current issue of Constable Zachary Rolfe in the Northern Territory. Being an opinion piece, the views stated therein will not appeal to all.

On October 25, 1878, the criminal Ned Kelly and his gang ambushed four armed Victorian police at Stringybark Creek. Three, of Irish descent like Kelly, were murdered, resulting in the Kelly gang being declared outlaws to be hunted until death or capture. After nearly 150 years the murders still arouse strong emotions around nearby Mansfield among the surviving families and in the Victorian Police.

Ross Eastgate

You can read the full article here: https://www.spectator.com.au/2022/03/a-policemans-lot-is-not-a-happy-one/

Bushrangers of the Sydney Region

On ABC Radio’s Self Improvement Wednesday with Richard Glover from 9 March, Grace Karskens, Emeritus Professor of History in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales, discusses some of the New South Wales bushrangers that operated around the Sydney region in the early years of the settlement.

Karskens gives a good introduction to the early history of bushranging in New South Wales, and discusses the relationships between some early bushrangers and indigenous peoples, and the convict era. Bushrangers discussed include William Geary, the McNamara Gang, John Armstrong, and Jack Donahoe (The Wild Colonial Boy).

You can listen to the podcast here: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/sydney/programs/self-improvement-wednesday/siw-sydneys-bushrangers/13789430

Grantlee Kieza on the Queensland Native Police

The Daily Mail in the UK have interviewed author Grantlee Kieza about his new book The Kelly Hunters, and focused on the Queensland Native Police that were employed to capture the Kelly Gang. The article gives a good overview of the story of the trackers, who are a prominent feature of Kieza’s new release, which is about the police who pursued Ned Kelly.

They could distinguish even between the sort of boot heels the gang were wearing, […] There’s talk of them having found a sweat smudge from someone who had put their hand on a branch hours before. Uncanny kind of tracking abilities. […] They had the best weapons and they knew how to use them as well, Certainly Ned Kelly feared what they could do. It’s significant that as soon as they arrived he never did another bank robbery. He didn’t really show himself publicly anywhere until the siege of Glenrowan.

Grantlee Kieza

You can read the full article here: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10634145/Ned-Kelly-feared-six-Aboriginal-trackers-massacred-people.html

New websites focus on Tasmanian bushranging legends

Two new websites have been launched by Aidan Phelan and Georgina Stones to focus on the history around Matthew Brady and Cash and Company. These sites will host archival material as well as original work that distills the research into easily digested articles on key events, people and places.

Martin Cash and Company, co-authored by Phelan and Stones, also has a Facebook page and Instagram account to act as companions to the core website. The material mainly concentrates on the three outlaws, Cash, Jones and Kavanagh, but will also provide insights into the pursuers, victims, friends and lovers of the trio.

Matthew Brady: The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land is singly authored by Phelan and takes much the same approach to the material. While in its infancy still, it is hoped to be a one-stop shop for people who wish to learn more about Brady’s story, with plans for a book based on the research to come soon.

If you would like to check out these websites, you can follow the links below.

Martin Cash and Company —
Website: https://martincashandcompany.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/martincashandco/
Instagram: @martincash_and_company

Matthew Brady: The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land —
Website: https://matthewbradybushranger.wordpress.com/


The Deaf Bushranger

Bushrangers with disabilities were not very common, apart from missing fingers, crippled hands or habitual limping caused by poorly healed broken legs. Yet, it was not unheard of for more significant disabilities to be present, such as in the case of William Brown, one of Matthew Brady’s gang, who was deaf.

Details of his deafness are almost non-existent; it seems likely that it could have been acquired through some form of trauma prior to becoming a convict, but is just as likely to have been congenital. This significant setback doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted on his ability to perform crimes with the rest of the gang, yet it must have required a considerable level of adjustment for the others to be able to include him in their operations given how important active communication and detection of approaching threats were to their survival. It was certainly significant enough to warrant mention in several contemporary reports about the gang’s activities.

He was described in the runaways list as follows:Brown, William, 5 feet 6¼ inches, light brown hair, blue eyes, 25 years of age, deaf, a labourer, tried at Middlesex April 1819, sentence life, arrived by the Dromedary 1820, native place London, Britannia, Adam and Eve, sun and moon, right arm, sun and moon, and two hearts, on left, from Public Works at the Coal River October 31, 1825—£20 Reward.

229. Brown, William, 5 feet 6¼ inches, light brown hair, blue eyes, 25 years of age, deaf, a labourer, tried at Middlesex April 1819, sentence life, arrived by the Dromedary 1820, native place London, Britannia, Adam and Eve, sun and moon, right arm, sun and moon, and two hearts, on left, from Public Works at the Coal River October 31, 1825—£20 Reward.

Source: “RUNAWAY NOTICE.” The Hobart Town Gazette (Tas. : 1825 – 1833) 26 November 1825: 1
‘William Brown’, by Thomas Bock [Courtesy: State Library of New South Wales, FL1077005 – DL PX 5; IE1076928]

Superintendent Hare and the Kelly pursuit


Having successfully liberated the bank in Euroa of its wealth, the Kelly Gang went into hiding. The pursuit for the bushrangers was intensified and soon Superintendent Nicolson (who had been in charge of the hunt since the tragedy at Stringybark Creek) was replaced by Captain Standish. Standish felt that the perfect replacement for the cranky Scotchman was the man who helped Nicolson nab Harry Power in 1870, Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare. Hare was a towering, 6’3″ South African with extremely limited experience of bush work, almost no knowledge of the country the gang were hiding in and an ego big enough to convince him that these factors were irrelevant. Hare hand picked his troopers and held them in high regard for their temerity and their restraint in the face of grueling and unrelenting weather and terrain. Hare was also devout in his belief in the superior tracking abilities of the Aboriginals and had a Victorian tracker attached to his party named Moses who Hare adored then later another named Spider. Believing that he had the best task force the police could offer, Hare headed into the wild. The team would soon encounter significant obstacles in their pursuit. Hare went into detail in his memoirs about how difficult it was to find the gang:

There were peculiar difficulties connected with this undertaking… Firstly these men were natives of the district… They knew every inch of the ground, bushes and mountains; they had hiding places and retreats known to few, if any, but themselves, and they were acquainted with every track and bypath. Secondly, the sparseness of population. These men might disappear into the bush, and with their knowledge of the locality, ride hundreds of miles without coming near a dwelling-house, or meeting a human being…

Certainly this was a considerable setback for investigation. Kelly Country is an incredible patchwork of geography made up of softly undulating hills punctuated with heavily forested mountains in the Strathbogie and Warby Ranges in particular where the police knew the gang were reputed to be hiding. Ned Kelly would later brag about his ability to track the police without being noticed, even getting close enough to read and memorise the brands on their horses. When recounting details such as how many troops tended the horses or brewed the tea it was noted to be eerily accurate according to Hare. Ned of course used this to emphasise that he was no cold blooded cop killer because he could have picked off the police without setting a hair out of place if he had desired to. Yet, it was not only the geography that the troopers were struggling against.

Ten Men with Rifles.jpg

Superintendent Hare towers over his party. Among the men in the image are Conststables Thomas Lawless, Alfred Falkiner, Joe Mayes, John Milne, Tom Kirkham, William Canny and Daniel Barry. Moses the tracker is crouched at Hare’s feet. [Source]

Perhaps the most significant obstacles came from the people. Many reports that were made to the police about gang sightings were either misinformed or stale by the time police could reach the area.

And lastly – what aided them more than anything else – they commanded an enormous amount of sympathy among the lower orders. It was a well-known fact that they had friends and adherents either open or semi-veiled, all over the colony. The families of the Kellys, Harts and Byrnes were large ones… The Kelly family are the most prolific I have ever met in my life. There was no part of the colony from which we did not receive reports of them; in every part the Kellys had a cousin, an aunt, or something… And outside their family the sympathy they obtained was almost as great, though it was more of a meretricious order… If they had not a relation they had a sympathiser who was always talking in their favour and picking up the news… The gang was lavish with its money. They subsidised largely, instituted a body of spies known as ‘Bush telegraphs’ who kept them fully informed and aided them on every possible occasion to avoid capture. Apart from the money consideration the gang never behaved badly to a woman, but always treated them with consideration and respect. In like manner they seldom, if ever, made a victim of a poor man. And thus weaved a certain halo of romance and rough chivalry around themselves…

One could be forgiven for assuming from the way Hare spoke of the syndicate of sympathisers that he viewed the gang with a sort of admiration. Certainly Ned Kelly had learned some very important lessons from his time with Harry Power about the value of maintaining sympathy via the distribution of the proceeds of crime. Of course, robbing banks proved a short-lived solution as the raid on the banks at Euroa and Jerilderie prompted the government to supply banks with armed guards. This resulted in the gang disappearing for the majority of 1879 while they devised a plan. During this time the police made moves of dubious moral substance, first arresting anyone they suspected of being a sympathiser and holding them in indefinite remand until they could find something to pin on them, second there was a rumoured blacklist that prohibited members of the Kelly, Hart and Byrne clans to buy property in the district (this included relatives such as the Lloyds). This attack on the relatives and associates of the gang, in conjunction with the £8000 reward for their capture dead or alive (£4000 each from Victoria and New South Wales) meant that the gang were becoming desperate. Ned seems to have interpreted these as acts of war of a sort and began devising a plot to escalate things to a level that would truly reflect a war between the outlaws and their supporters and the forces of the law.

Having observed Superintendent Nicolson’s success with hiring spies and informants, Hare had set about recruiting his own spies. Most significant of these was Aaron Sherritt, who Hare considered the best chance they had of nabbing the gang. Sherritt kept the police at arm’s length from the gang at all times until things began to heat up and Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne began to put pressure on him and his brother Jack. Byrne would summon the brothers to meetings in the bush but wouldn’t always be there, or when he did would look very unwell. Meanwhile Dan was prone to calling on Jack Sherritt at home, on one occasion raiding the house with a pistol in his hand. This made Sherritt understandably edgy and constables were stationed at his place around the clock to protect him. Hare had taken a particular shine to Sherritt, as had Detective Ward, and the two lavished their star informant with gifts of silverware and clothing. As well-intentioned as the constables were, they would prove to be more of a liability than insurance.

Aaron Sherritt.jpg
Aaron Sherritt posing in a jacket and boots gifted to him by Hare.

Hare’s attempt at active duty in the field resulted in poor health and he was replaced briefly by Nicolson but was quickly re-instated on the orders of the Chief Secretary Robert Ramsay who gave Hare Carte Blanche to tackle the pursuit however he wished. When Hare resumed work as leader of the hunt on 1 June, 1880, he took dramatic measures, arranging police to watch the domiciles of the Byrnes, Harts and Kellys (posting Constable Hugh Bracken as the lone policeman at Glenrowan to facilitate ease of spying on the Kellys in nearby Greta) then seeking to have the Queensland trackers sent home as he believed their intimidating presence was stopping the gang from emerging. When the gang re-emerged in late June 1880, Sherritt was the first domino in Ned Kelly’s master plan to land a decisive blow against the police and launch a war against the authorities. Hare had been trying to tackle seemingly deliberate inefficiency in his subordinates, namely the constables stationed with Sherritt, as their shirking of their duty was at risk of allowing the outlaws to go about unperturbed. It was in the midst of this attempt to force his constables to shape up that Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly murdered Sherritt and then threatened the other occupants of the hut – Sherritt’s wife and mother-in-law as well as the four assigned constables. This was to lure a train full of police to Beechworth to investigate while the trail was hot, only to be derailed at Glenrowan. The exact nature of Ned’s plan here was subject of much speculation, though based on comments he made to people over the course of the weekend they held Glenrowan captive, we do know he planned to destroy the train and kill all the police and black trackers on board, though his later claims contradicted this. Unfortunately Joe and Dan did such a good job of terrorising the police and then their sympathisers, clearly not understanding the plan, did such a good job of intimidating messengers that news of Sherritt’s death was unable to leave the hut until daybreak. Hare and Superintendent Sadleir would subsequently spend most of the day in the telegraph office in Benalla trying to reach Captain Standish in Melbourne in order to establish a course of action.

When things eventually fell into place for Hare, he and a party of police as well as Sub-Inspector O’Connor and his Queensland trackers headed for Beechworth via a special train. The hunt for the gang was shortly to be brought to a violent end when the police besieged Ann Jones’ Glenrowan Inn. In the fray Hare’s left wrist was shattered by a bullet from Ned Kelly – a wound that almost resulted in an amputation – and his absence from the field left a power vacuum until Sadleir arrived with reinforcements later in the morning.

Hare’s last act as head of the hunt for the gang was to lead the charge against them at Glenrowan.

Hare’s recovery was prolonged but he was healthy enough to visit Ned Kelly in the hospital of Melbourne Gaol and remain active in the aftermath of the Glenrowan siege. He gifted Joe Byrne’s armour and Ned Kelly’s Colt revolving carbine to the family who looked after him as a way of thanking them. Hare would be brought into the 1881 Royal Commission as a champion of law and order but come out the other side with his tail between his legs and a recommendation from the commission that he be redeployed away from active service. He spent the rest of his career as a police magistrate, during which time he compiled his memoirs before succumbing to diabetes in 1892.

Selected Source:

Hare, Francis Augustus. The last of the bushrangers; an account of the capture of the Kelly gang. 3d. ed. London, Hurst and Blackett ltd., 1894.

The Tracker (Review)

New from Umbrella Entertainment is the Blu-Ray release of Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker. Starring the legendary David Gulpilil in the first lead role of his career, it is the story of a posse in the Northern Territory searching for an Aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman and the harrowing misadventures that occur along the way. First released in 2002, it was lauded by industry types and critics for its lyrical and powerful study of racism in post-colonial times.

In the history of Australian law enforcement through the colonial era and the early 20th century, Aboriginal trackers were vital for finding victims and offenders in the bush or the outback. The abilities of these trackers were the stuff of legend and many superstitious whites considered their ability to read signs in the natural environment as supernatural. For almost the entirety of bushranging history, trackers were employed to find bandits in the bush – a terrain the settlers found alien and treacherous. By the 1920s, when The Tracker is set, bushranging was seemingly in its death throes (bushranging is like a blackberry bush – it never stays dead for too long) but the trackers were still the bushrangers’ greatest nemesis. And thus it is with The Tracker, a simple hunt narrative based around the incomparable abilities of the Aboriginal trackers. Though to refer to this as a bushranger film is tenuous, many common tropes are apparent: the bush-faring fugitive protected by friends and relatives, the haplessness of the police in searching the bush and themes of crime and punishment and justice. By focusing not on the criminal, not on the police but on the humble tracker we get a whole new perspective on this element of law enforcement, which creates fertile soil to grow from.

Gulpilil is amusing, enigmatic and captivating as the titular Tracker. His weariness of the white men he has been drafted to serve is matched by his determination to complete his task and his sympathy for his fellows who suffer immeasurably at the hands of white men. Gary Sweet is on top form as the relentless, amoral policeman hell-bent on finding his quarry. While his role may seem cartoonishly evil at times there’s a truth to it that perhaps many modern day Australians can’t recognise. Damon Gameau, in his screen debut, shows what has made him a mainstay of the Australian cinema ever since with his performance as a young man who becomes disillusioned and broken by the evils he witnesses. Finally Grant Page represents the settlers, halfway between understanding the Aboriginals and stuck in the sense of superiority of the whites. He does not approve nor condemn the horrifying things that the police do to Aboriginals and becomes the first casualty, testing his colleagues’ moral fortitude.

The film’s visuals are lyrical and immersive. The landscape dominates proceedings, the camera frequently pulling back to contextualise these figures in the undulating wilderness or lingering on craggy outcrops and cracked earth. The dust from the earth permeates everything, sapping the colours into shades of yellow, brown and orange with lashings of blue and green. The Blu-Ray transfer renders this with brilliant clarity and colour so vibrant you can almost taste it. Umbrella have continued their trend of producing the highest quality restorations and HD transfers, with The Tracker enjoying the benefits of its first 4K restoration.

An intriguing device utilised throughout is employing paintings by artist Peter Coad to illustrate the violence rather than depicting gore and turning it into a grisly spectacle. The violence here is not about titillation, it’s about highlighting the horrendous things people do to each other. The effectiveness of this technique is not 100% but it does create a welcome respite from the viscera employed by most cinema.

Rather than a score, Rolf de Heer uses the musical talents of Archie Roach as the soundtrack, lending a strange anachronistic vibe that reminds the viewer that this was not so far into the past.


Extras on this disc are generous and showcase the process as well as the reception for the film. The featurette David Gulpilil: “I Remember…” is an emotional road trip through the locations from the movie with Gulpilil describing his reminiscences. We are also treated to interviews and outtakes as well as footage from various premieres and festivals and an Archie Roach music video to round it off – overall a wonderful collection of supplementary materials.

If you are a lover of Australian film, drama or even just a simple yet moving story beautifully told, The Tracker is essential viewing and with this Blu-Ray release you get the benefit of seeing it the best that you probably ever could have.

If you would like to grab your own copy of The Tracker on Blu-Ray, you can purchase it online here. It is also available in its standard definition on DVD here.