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]

“Not everything is black and white.”: Historian and author Jane Smith interviewed

The publishing world can be a harsh one, where even the most talented authors struggle to gain a foothold. One success story is Australian author, historian and librarian Jane Smith, who has carved out a niche for herself as a storyteller specialising in Australian history. Her series of children’s books about Australian bushrangers, with their colourful and cartoony covers, may be familiar to some readers. With the release of a new collection of her first four Tommy Bell books slated for release this month, Jane took the time to discuss her work with Aidan Phelan for A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

Thank you Jane for taking the time to have a chat. The first thing we perhaps should discuss is Tommy Bell, Bushranger Boy. How would you best describe the series to readers who are new to it?

‘Tommy Bell, Bushranger Boy’ is a historical fiction adventure series for children aged from about six to twelve. It features a contemporary boy who goes back in time to have adventures with real-life bushrangers. The books are light, easy reads, full of action, adventure and humour, with accurate historical background and facts thrown in.

What was your inspiration for devising the series?

I am fascinated by history and have always loved historical fiction. I wrote a nonfiction history series for children called ‘Australian Bushrangers’, which was published by Big Sky Publishing in 2014. It was actually the publisher who gave me the idea of a fictionalised version of the bushranger stories to follow on from this series. I thought it would be a great idea to feature a contemporary child who time-travels to the bushranging era, as it would allow children to see (through Tommy’s eyes) some of the great differences – and some of the similarities – between life in the nineteenth century and life today. As a school librarian, I was always looking for books that would get kids reading. I wanted to write books that would be engaging and full of action. The real-life bushranger stories just seemed to lend themselves to this format. 

You’ve clearly done the leg work to get the history right as much as you can, but we are essentially talking about true crime here. Was it hard to find a way to present it in a child-friendly way?

One thing I love about writing historical books is that the framework – the true history – is already there. And yes, I had already done the research for the nonfiction series, so the next step was working out how to weave in Tommy’s contemporary, fictional story. The true bushranger stories present real opportunities because they are so full of action. The challenge was in deciding how to present them and which stories to pick out. There were so many stories, and I wanted to write fairly short books, so I had to be selective in which episodes to include. I’m writing for young children, so I didn’t want to write too much that was bloodthirsty or would give them nightmares, and I didn’t want to glorify the bushrangers or their crimes. However, I saw this latter problem as an opportunity to explore moral dilemmas. For instance, Captain Thunderbolt was by all accounts a pretty personable fellow (if he wasn’t robbing you at gunpoint!). He could charm people. He wasn’t as violent as some of the other bushrangers, but he did commit some violent crimes. Human behaviour is complex, and I let Tommy see that. I have him being charmed by Captain Thunderbolt, while at the same time feeling troubled by his behaviour and wondering just how he should deal with it. I’ve written Tommy sometimes as a victim of a bushranger’s crime and sometimes as a witness. Sometimes he even gets caught up with the gang as an accomplice. At the same time, there are parallel problems going on in Tommy’s contemporary life. From book two onwards, for instance, he befriends Francis, a boy who frequently gets into trouble at school and often drags Tommy in with him. I hope that these comparisons will get children thinking about right and wrong, and noticing that not everything is black and white. So, to answer your question: yes, it was challenging!

Of all the bushrangers you have included in the series – people like Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall, Captain Moonlite, Mary Ann Bugg, and Harry Readford – which was the one that most captured your imagination?

That’s a hard question! One thing I learned through my research is that they were all so different – different backgrounds, different motivations, different crimes, different outcomes. I found Captain Thunderbolt (Fred Ward) pretty fascinating, largely because there are so many legends surrounding him that obscure the truth. He was probably the most likeable of them all. I feel saddest about Ben Hall, whose adulthood started off in such a promising way. He had a wife and child and a good reputation as a stockman and horseman, and he had a share in a property – but then he met Frank Gardiner, and his wife left him, and his life spiralled out of control. One thing led to another, and he came to a very sad end. 

You’ve also used the information you accumulated in the creation of the series to produce a series of non-fiction books about the bushrangers that cross paths with Tommy, also aimed at a younger audience, as well as teaching notes; clearly you have a passion for teaching children about this part of history. What is it about the bushrangers that you feel can teach children valuable lessons?

I really enjoy history; I enjoy learning about how things were in the past and marvelling at the differences and similarities compared with life today. I think that knowing something of history is really important if you want to be a well-rounded human who can make informed decisions. When I was at school, however, I found history lessons boring. It seemed to me that history just meant memorising names and dates – and yet it’s so much more than that! I really just love the idea of bringing the stories of the past to life. The bushranging stories in particular have a lot going for them in this regard. We can use them to show kids what life was like in the gold rush era in an entertaining way. Stories about hardship and poverty and crime and justice can also facilitate great discussions about right and wrong and everything in between. As a librarian, I also care very deeply about information literacy – in other words, having the skills to distinguish fact from fiction. There are so many myths about bushrangers, and they provide excellent materials to show children how to analyse information critically. We can even use them to teach kids about primary and secondary information sources – what they are, and whether they are reliable. The conflicting stories of the bushrangers provide great case studies!

Are there plans to continue expanding the series?

I have drafted some more books in the series, so yes, I’m hoping more of them will come out before too long.

Jane Smith [Source]

In addition to the Tommy Bell series you have Carly Mills, Pioneer Girl, in which a girl can use a magical shawl to travel back in time to meet iconic women such as Caroline Chisholm, Nellie Melba and Lilian Cooper. How has that been received?

The series is very new, but it’s been well received so far. The books have had some great reviews and I’ve had some lovely feedback from readers. 

It’s fantastic to see the stories of notable women in history given a spotlight too, and it looks like you’re branching out to include women such as Florence Nightingale and Amelia Earhart in the series. What plans have you got for the future of the series?

You’re right: the book on Florence Nightingale is due out any day now, and the one on Amelia Earhart will come out later this year (that was a fun one to write – so much action!). I’ve also been preparing books about Marie Curie and Miles Franklin. There may be more – we’ll see! The options are endless. 

Of course, children aren’t your only audience. You have two books for mature readers, Ship of Death: Tragedy of the Emigrant, and Captain Starlight: the Strange but True Story of a Bushranger, Impostor and Murderer. Do you sometimes worry that you might be overachieving just a tad with such a fantastic catalogue already to your name?

Haha, never! I’m always looking out for the next story. 

Ship of Death, your book about the Emigrant’s ill-fated voyage to Queensland from Plymouth in 1850, has received some great praise. Can you give a little insight into how that project came to be?

I was on a family holiday at Stradbroke Island, when we visited the beautiful Dunwich Cemetery. I noticed twenty-six little white unnamed crosses in two rows. At one end of them stood two graves with inscriptions explaining that they were the final resting places of two doctors who died from typhus at the Dunwich quarantine station while attending the sick from the 1850 voyage of the Emigrant. At the other end was a plaque that listed the names of those who had died at sea or in quarantine. There were 48 dead in all – two doctors, a cook, a sailor, and 44 passengers. The plaque gave names, place of origin and, where known, date of death. It got me thinking: these were real people. Adventurous people, no doubt, with loved ones and interesting lives. There was so much more to them than these statistics, but the statistics were all we had left of them. It got me wondering about the stories of those people. And the people who had been left to mourn them: what had become of them? I decided to find out their stories and bring it all to life: the people, the voyage, the quarantine and the aftermath. I wanted to pay tribute to the doctors and the captain and all those involved in the tragic incident.

On top of all of this research and writing, you also do talks about the myriad topics you have written about. How has that been given the disruption over the virus?

Sadly, there have been cancellations! I was engaged to appear at my first festival in 2020, but of course that never happened. I’m pleased to say that things have been picking up lately though. Two festivals this year, and a handful of other talks are coming up. It’s ironic to think that promotion for my book about an infectious disease and a period of quarantine has been limited by an infectious disease and quarantine!

If all that wasn’t enough, you also offer editing and proofreading services for authors. Clearly you have a passion for helping other authors get off the ground too.

Yes. I realised early on that it’s writing the second and subsequent drafts of my books that I really enjoy. I love the polishing stages. I don’t mind whether it’s my own book or other people’s books! Most of the authors I’ve edited have been new to the publishing industry and don’t realise how much there is to learn about it. I can remember being in that situation myself, so I’m happy to help guide others through it. 

This month sees the new Tommy Bell box set, which puts the first four books in the series together. Was there a particular motivation behind collecting the books in a box set now?

It was my publisher’s idea. I think that when there are lots of books in a series, sometimes it can be overwhelming for a school librarian; they wonder how many to get or whether it’s worth getting a few if they can’t get them all. Budgets are always tight. I think that if a school library doesn’t have any of them yet, this four-volume box set will make a great starter pack. As for the timing: I think it’s just that it’s a good time to remind people that they’re out there, while the Carly Mills books are in the spotlight. By the way, this year’s Book Week theme is ‘Old worlds, new worlds, other worlds’ – so my books will support the theme perfectly!

I should point out that your writing has been receiving awards and nominations too. Shoot-out at the Rock was a Children’s Book Council of Australia ‘notable’ book in 2016, The Runaway was shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia ‘Book of the Year’ in 2019, and your book Captain Thunderbolt was shortlisted for an Australian Book Industry Award in 2015. How does it feel to have your work acknowledged with such nominations and awards?

It’s really gratifying. Not many authors make a living out of writing, and even award-winning books are not particularly lucrative. So I suspect that few authors are motivated by financial gain. What we do like, though, is to know that our books are of good quality and are being enjoyed by their target audience. I’m really stoked about the recognition that my books have received so far.

Jane Smith, historian and author extraordinaire, it looks like there are many things to look forward to, and we shall watch this space with interest. Thank you very much for your time.

If you would like to learn more about Jane Smith and her books you can go to her website, https://www.janesmithauthor.com/books.html

For teaching notes pertaining to her books you can head to https://www.janesmithauthor.com/teaching-notes.html

And if you would like to check out the Tommy Bell boxed set, you can head to https://www.simonandschuster.com.au/books/Tommy-Bell-Bushranger-Boy-Slipcase-Books-1-4/Jane-Smith/Tommy-Bell-Bushranger-Boy/9781922488206

Bushranging Gazette #3

Saturday, 1 May 2021

The past month has been much quieter on the news front than in previous months, but there are still new things to report and a little bonus feature at the end.

New film about Sgt. Kennedy in development

Filmmaker Darren Hawkins of Lonely Hill Films is attempting to get a feature film about Sergeant Michael Kennedy off the ground. The project, titled Michael, is described as “a dramatic retelling of an often forgotten side of the iconic Ned Kelly saga, told from the perspective of one of the murdered police, his family, his community and the repercussions that still echo today.”

The story of the police killings at Stringybark Creek has been retold on film many times, beginning with 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang, and most recently being the subject of 2019’s Stringybark. Where this film will differ from previous versions, according to Hawkins, is that it focuses on the Kennedys but is not designed to be a take-down of the Ned Kelly legend.

Hawkins explains, “It’s told from the perspective of one of the murdered police, his family, his community and the repercussions that still echo today. It’s core narrative is from one of the turning points in the Kelly saga from a side that is so often overlooked. We’re not about tearing apart the Kelly story or legacy, rather, about addressing an imbalance.”

The decision to make a film about Kennedy has been met with great enthusiasm from his descendants, especially Leo Kennedy who is the slain sergeant’s great grandson. Kennedy released a book, co-written with Mic Looby, in 2018 titled Black Snake, which tells the story of Michael Kennedy and his family, as well as attempts to tear down popular perceptions of Ned Kelly.

“Michael was an exemplary policeman; and an all round good man. Telling his story will set the record straight on many accounts,” says Kennedy, “We hope this movie – Michael – will play a huge part in achieving that.”

Hawkins is currently raising funds online to create a short feature that can be used as a proof of concept to help gather funds for an eventual full-length feature film. Donations can be made via the Australian Cultural Fund with all donations over $2 being tax-deductible. The campaign will run until May 31, 2021.

You can donate here.

Ned’s armour back on display

With the Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, the State Library of Victoria took the opportunity to do some renovations. One of their projects was to create a space for their most popular exhibit: the armour worn by Ned Kelly.

The armour is on display in a purpose-built cabinet that controls the climate and environmental conditions in order to preserve the contents. The cabinet, in turn, is on display in a designated space that is dedicated to the Kelly story.

Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed that a piece of the armour is missing – the left shoulder plate. This piece is owned by Museums Victoria, who had loaned the piece to the library for display with the armour. With the arrangement expiring, it would appear that either the piece has been reclaimed by the museum, who are in the midst of redesigning much of their interior and displays, or has been respectfully withdrawn from display by the library until another agreement is made.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy Box Set

This month a box set of Jane Smith’s first four Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy books is slated for release.

The historical fiction books, aimed at audiences aged 6+ and illustrated by Pat Kan, focus around a time-travelling boy who crosses paths with some of history’s most renowned bushrangers such as Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner and Captain Thunderbolt, and have been published by Big Sky Publishing since 2016.

In the first box set are the books Shoot-out at the Rock, The Horse Thief, The Gold Escort Gang and Outback Adventure.

In addition to this popular set of chapter books, Jane Smith has also published multiple non-fiction books on bushrangers. For children she has published Captain Thunderbolt (shortlisted for an ABIA 2015), Captain Moonlite, Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner, and Captain Starlight. For older audiences she has also published Captain Starlight: the strange but true story of a bushranger, impostor and murderer.

Teaching notes for all of the children’s books can be downloaded freely from the author’s website: https://www.janesmithauthor.com/teaching-notes.html

You can find out more about the books here: https://www.janesmithauthor.com/books.html

Australian Bushranging Podcast

On the A Guide to Australian Bushranging YouTube channel there is now an ongoing podcast. Though it is only two instalments in, there is much fertile ground to be covered in upcoming episodes. You can listen to the first two podcasts below.

This Month’s Articles on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

– An interview with author of Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy, Jane Smith.

– An interview with Darren Hawkins and Leo Kennedy about the in-development film Michael.


Canaries and Magpies

Convict uniforms at Port Arthur

At the beginning of the British occupation of Australia, convicts wore the same clothes they were transported in. It wasn’t until the early part of the nineteenth century that there were calls for a standard issue of clothing for convicts, along with other penal reforms.
The first convict uniforms consisted of a linen shirt, white duck trousers, stockings, a blue kersey wool jacket and a woollen cap. As time went on, however, uniforms changed and were generally used to distinguish between classes of convict.

Throughout New South Wales the majority of convicts were dressed in “slops” — uniforms cut to a single, standard size and made of white duck, which was stamped with broad arrows. These uniforms did not weather well, and had to be replaced frequently. Many transportees were made to wear their slops through the duration of the transportation process and into their sentence once they reached Australia. Ticket-of-leave men were allowed to wear civilian clothing, and eventually convicts that were educated but still had much of their sentence to endure wore grey woollen uniforms.

Van Diemen’s Land was given its own classes of convict uniforms. From 1833 onwards, as soon as convicts arrived in Van Diemen’s Land they were given their “punishment suit”. For the regular convicts was the “canary” — a woollen uniform with side-buttoning trousers (to allow removal while wearing leg irons) that was dyed bright yellow. The colour allowed the convicts to be easily spotted in the bush or amongst crowds. They wire a grey woollen cap in the winter months and the rest of the time wore leather caps with large side flaps that could be tied up, and when let down formed a brim to keep the sun off.

In 1814, Government Macquarie devised the “magpie” uniform, which had the same design as the canary, but instead of being completely yellow it comprised juxtaposed black and white panels that were inspired by a harlequin costume. These punishment suits later became available in black and yellow and yellow and grey. In Van Diemen’s Land these were worn by the worst offenders and recidivists. They not only made the wearer even more noticeable, but acted to humiliate the wearer.

In order to stop the illegal trade in repurposed uniforms, the government stamped broad arrows onto every part of the uniform. Often, convicts would salvage the good parts of the fabric, recondition it and trade it. Very often, as a further punishment, convicts were made to wear their uniforms until they had completely rotted away, shoes included. For this reason, very few original examples remain today.