History Stories

Bringing Australia's History to Life

The JC

In the late 1860s pastoralist and adventurer John Costello rode west from his holdings on Kyabra Creek, exploring the Channel Country out to the Diamantina. One night he camped beside a small creek, where he stripped back the bark of a bauhinia tree and carved his initials, JC. That tree became a popular stopping place…
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The Capture of the Kenniff Brothers

It was April the 2nd 1902 when Queensland policeman, Constable Doyle, closed in on Patrick and James Kenniff at a rugged mountain hideout called Lethbridge’s Pocket. With the manager of Carnarvon Station, Albert Dahlke, and a tracker called Sam Johnson for company, Doyle stealthily approached the camp. Wanted for horse stealing, Jim and Patrick had…
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Mary Watson of Lizard Island

The ruins of a stone cottage, once the home of pioneer Mary Watson, lie crumbling up behind the beach at Watson’s Bay on Lizard Island, three hundred kilometres north of Cairns. Mary was born in Cornwall, and her family settled in Maryborough, Queensland, when she was seventeen. Both educated and musical, Mary easily won a…
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Nemarluk

Nemarluk was a fighting man of the Daly River people who would not be tamed. Born in 1911, by the 1930s he and a small band of young men were waging an effective guerrilla war against interlopers on his territory. The Fitzmaurice and Daly River areas had never been fully settled. With the region’s jagged…
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Elizabeth Woolcock

Elizabeth Woolcock was the only woman ever to be executed in South Australia. Convicted of killing her husband by poisoning him with mercury, she was hanged by the neck until she was dead on the portable gallows at the old Adelaide Gaol. A letter from Elizabeth addressed to a Reverend Bickford, who had been counselling…
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Steele Rudd

“It’s twenty years ago now since we settled on the Creek. Twenty years! I remember well the day we came from Stanthorpe, on Jerome’s dray – eight of us, and all the things – beds, tubs, a bucket, the two cedar chairs with the pine bottoms and backs that Dad put in them, some pint-pots…
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The McGree Brothers of Taylors Arm

John, Michael and Patrick McGree were raised on their parents’ farm on the Mid-north coast of NSW. All three answered the call to arms in 1915. The ANZAC battalions were forming up, and the brothers were determined to have their chance at glory. Their mother, Bridget Sullivan, had married Irishman James McGree in St Augustine’s…
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Galloping Jones

  Queensland has produced a character or two over the years, but John Dacey “Galloping” Jones takes some beating. Apart from being one of the most talented rough riders of his generation, and one hell of a bare-knuckle fighter, he was famously light-fingered. Galloping Jones got his nickname from a horse race where he and…
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The Eulo Queen

More than a century ago, when the town of Eulo was a thriving centre on the Western Queensland opal fields, one of Australia’s most interesting women set out to make her mark. She was a short but striking redhead, spoke English, French and German, wore tight-fitting dresses over a voluptuous body, and had a fully-stocked…
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Nat Buchanan

  The greatest drover the world has ever known was an unassuming Irish-born Australian with an even temper, incredible organisational skills and an unerring sense of direction. Nat ‘Bluey’ Buchanan was a bushman par excellence with a passion for new horizons. He single-handedly opened up more country than some of our most famous explorers. In…
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Catherine Coleman – Pioneer

Catherine Cecilia Coleman wasn’t famous, but was typical of a generation of Australian settlers. She was born in Maitland, NSW in 1856, eldest of ten children. She married in 1871, at the age of 15, and had the first of her own children a couple of years later. Her husband, John Douglas Coleman, was determined…
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The Town on the Flood Plain

Gundagai Flood 1900: National Library of Australia   Australia’s worst flood drowned one third of the population of Gundagai in 1852. The town was originally built on low-lying areas around a natural river crossing and Morley’s Creek. The inhabitants were used to being cut off by floodwaters, taking refuge in their lofts when the water…
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The Girder that Wouldn’t Fit

  Things were tough in the NSW North Coast forests in 1907. All the cedar had been cut years earlier, prices for hardwoods had slumped, and the best way to make money was by shaping girders and sleepers. Tamban Forest woodcutter Bob Cooper was lucky enough to snag an order for a huge 86 foot (26 m)…
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Bennelong

Image from the journals of James Grant   It’s hard to think of a born and bred Australian who inspired more place names than Bennelong, or Beneelon, of Sydney. His name lives on at Bennelong Point, where the Opera House now stands; the electorate of Bennelong; and Bennelong Park at Kissing Point. A genus of…
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Paddy Cahill

Paddy Cahill: State Library of South Australia   Originally from the Darling Downs, Paddy Cahill made his name in the Northern Territory as a bushman, stockman and buffalo hunter. Paddy and his two brothers, Tom and Matt, all cut their teeth with the famous Nat Buchanan on one of Australia’s biggest cattle drives, from St…
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The Capture of the Kenniff Brothers

It was April the 2nd 1902 when Queensland policeman, Constable Doyle, closed in on Patrick and James Kenniff at a rugged mountain hideout called Lethbridge’s Pocket. With the manager of Carnarvon Station, Albert Dahlke, and a tracker called Sam Johnson for company, Doyle stealthily approached the camp. Wanted for horse stealing, Jim and Patrick had…
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The JC

In the late 1860s pastoralist and adventurer John Costello rode west from his holdings on Kyabra Creek, exploring the Channel Country out to the Diamantina. One night he camped beside a small creek, where he stripped back the bark of a bauhinia tree and carved his initials, JC. That tree became a popular stopping place…
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As Brave as a Bushranger

  No one knew young Ada Foster when she arrived in the Forbes, New South Wales district in 1886. She was just twenty-three years old, but was attractive and hardworking, and had no trouble finding a position. Working as a domestic at Cadow Station, she was soon showing off her talents as a horsewoman. An…
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Collateral Damage

Following on from last week’s post about Kate Kelly, spare a thought for the Jones family, who owned the Glenrowan Hotel when the Kelly Gang decided to use it as the venue for a battle with police. Ann Jones was the owner and publican. In the battle her pride and joy was burned to the ground.…
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Captain Moonlite

It was Saturday, November 15, 1879, and the McDonald family, at Wantabadgery Station, half way between Wagga Wagga and Gundagai, were settling down for the evening. A shepherd galloped in from further down the Murrumbidgee with the news. “I seen a gang of horsemen coming up along the river,” he said breathlessly. “I swear it’s…
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The Battle of the Margaret River

  In 1880, Australia’s borders were open, with no quarantine restrictions, and few immigration controls. Chinese miners had been flooding into the Territory goldfields for years. The Margaret River goldfields, north of Pine Creek, were worked by two rival Chinese factions, one from Hong Kong and the other, Macao. When they weren’t attacking each other…
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James “Shearblade” Martin

James Martin was working as a boundary rider when he first got his hands on a copy of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.  He was thunderstruck by the possibilities. He carried the book everywhere while he absorbed every word. He then moved on to other socialist writers such as Bellamy and Nordeau. A dream was born,…
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The Man with a Mission

The year was 1882, and the sheets were wet with blood and sweat as the young woman fought to deliver her third child. The baby was born sickly and weak. Even worse, the midwife could not stop the new mother from bleeding. It was soon obvious that she was dying. A two-year-old boy was brought…
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Lost

It was May 1885, and twelve-year-old Clara Crosby was boarding with a local family at Yellingbo, Victoria, when she decided to visit her mother, who lived some two kilometres away. Setting off across paddocks and bushland, Clara was seen by several locals, including the publican, as she left town. She failed to reach her destination.…
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Where the Dead Men Lie

There have always been two schools of thought on the Australian bush: epitomised in the romantic writings of Banjo Patterson, and the harder, more brutal outback of Henry Lawson. The poet who presented the bush in the harshest light of all was stockman and poet Barcroft Boake. That doesn’t, of course, mean that he loved…
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Harry Readford Part One

Some men are born bad, some become outlaws through persecution and desperation. Some, like Harry Readford, are opportunists, who commit their crimes through a sense of fun and love of a challenge. Even as a young man, Harry was an unusually tall and impressive figure, face shaded by his hat and protected by a thick,…
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Harry Readford Part 2

(If you missed Part 1 you can read it here.) Riding like the born horseman he was, across South Australia, through Victoria and into New South Wales, Harry decided that the best way to throw the police off was to lose himself in some nondescript country town. He was smart enough not to ride openly…
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Harry Readford Part 3

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The story of Harry Readford has more twists and turns than an outback trail. The police nabbed him on the road to Sydney, and he was handed, with great fanfare, over to the Queensland authorities. But by then Harry was a folk hero. Every Australian loved the…
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Tom Turner – Pine Creek Cop

Tom Turner was just nineteen years old when he quit his trade as an iron and wire worker, and joined the South Australian Police Force. Posted to the mining town of Kapunda in 1907, a local girl soon caught his eye. Her name was Pauline Alma Rohde. Tom started courting the young trainee nurse, but…
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WHISTLER’S BONES A Novel of the Australian Frontier

This is the story of a fifteen-year-old boy who rode away from his home in Bendigo in 1880, looking for a life of adventure. Within a few months he was droving with Nat Buchanan across the Gulf Track to the Territory. At just seventeen he joined the Durack family’s epic cattle drive from Cooper’s Creek…
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Augusta Marion Gaunt

In these next few history posts I’m going to share some of Charlie Gaunt’s family background. These stories don’t appear in the novel, Whistler’s Bones. They’re extra background, and should be interesting whether you intend to read the book or not. Long before Charlie Gaunt rode the plains of Western Queensland and the Gulf Track…
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The Parapitcheri

This is the Parapitcheri waterhole, on the Georgina River west of Boulia. Charlie and the rest of the Durack party camped here with 7000 head of cattle for at least three months, waiting for rain to bring the drought-parched plains back to life so they could continue. It was a beautiful spot, though there was…
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Don Douglas – Outback Writer

Australian author Don Douglas writes vivid and thrilling outback adventure stories that are hard to put down. You can tell that he lived the life he writes about – he worked as a ringer, head stockman, manager and owner of stations across Queensland. I recently took the opportunity to ask Don a few questions. 1)…
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Whistler’s Bones

Want to know what it was really like on the Australian Frontier? Whistler’s Bones is the story of a fifteen-year-old boy who rode away from his home in Bendigo in 1880, looking for a life of adventure. Within a few months he was droving with Nat Buchanan across the Gulf Track to the Territory. At…
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John Urquhart’s Grave

If you ever find yourself in Roper Bar, Northern Territory, drive down the caravan park, climb over the fence at the far end and walk into the bush a hundred metres or so. There you’ll find the grave of John Urquhart. I took this photo in July, when I was researching the new book. John…
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The McGree Brothers of Taylor’s Arm

John, Michael and Patrick McGree were raised on their parents’ farm on the Mid-north coast of NSW. All three answered the call to arms in 1915. The ANZAC battalions were forming up, and the brothers were determined to have their chance at glory. Their mother, Bridget Sullivan, had married Irishman James McGree in St Augustine’s…
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John Moore Gaunt and the St Kilda Years

Continuing on the series of background articles to Whistler’s Bones, this one covers the arrival of Charlie’s father in Australia, the meeting of his parents, and Charlie’s early years. This is a long post, but if you’ve read Whistler’s Bones, or intend to, it will give you some extra background. Charlie Gaunt’s father was called…
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Broadmere

As an old man Charlie Gaunt wrote in the Northern Standard Newspaper (May 29 1934): “The head of (Edward) Lenehan we wrapped in a saddlecloth and carried into Broadmere. At the foot of one of those giant paper bark trees it now rests and with the help of a carpenter’s chisel, stripping the bark, we…
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Lake Nash: A harrowing tale of drought and disaster

In 1889 Charlie Gaunt was working on Lake Nash Station, near the NT/Queensland border first breaking horses and then as a stockman. Lake Nash Station was, at the time Charlie arrived there, under the ownership of John Costello. John’s pride and joy, Valley of Springs Station had, by this stage, been abandoned. John Costello’s son…
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Catherine Coleman – Pioneer

I’m curious whether anyone who read this story when it was originally posted, and who has also read Whistler’s Bones, noticed the reference on page 75 to Catherine Coleman. Charlie Gaunt and Catherine must surely have met when the Durack droving teams passed through Forest Grove in 1883. Catherine Cecilia Coleman wasn’t famous, but was…
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The Slave Ship

Charlie Gaunt was in his late thirties, veteran of the Northern Territory cattle trails, and a hard-fought Boer War, when he began several decades of international wandering. His willingness to work as a seaman took him wherever he wanted to go. Since Whistler’s Bones is essentially a novel about Charlie’s Australian experiences, there was no…
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Ben Hall the Bushranger

“Bushranger” is a uniquely Australian term for the lawless characters who roamed the fringes of civilised districts seeking out easy money through robbery and violence. The word was first used in the Sydney Gazette in 1805, referring to a wild assortment of escaped convicts, deserters from the military and disillusioned free immigrants; full-bearded, dirty, and…
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“Captain” Joe Bradshaw

“Captain” Joe Bradshaw was one of the most adventurous of the early Northern Australian pastoralists. He was born in Melbourne in 1855 with cattle and farming in his blood. His father owned several properties in Victoria, including Bolwarra and Bacchus Marsh Stations. An explorer by nature, by his early twenties, “Captain” Joe Bradshaw was plying…
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Jack and Kate

John Warrington Rogers was the eldest son of a politician and QC from Tasmania and Victoria. Young “Jack” as he was called, was sent “home” to England to attend an expensive private school, but he wanted no truck with balls and banquets. As soon as he returned to Australia, he saddled a horse and rode…
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The Wanderer

One of the most touching stories from Charlie Gaunt’s later years came from a time when he’d left the Australian outback far behind and wandered the Western States of America as a hobo. This is one of many periods of his life there just wasn’t room for in the book. “From Colorado I hopped fast…
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Edward Dickens

Not many people know that the youngest son of one of the great English novelists, Charles Dickens, lies at rest in the cemetery of an Australian outback town. Edward Dickens was encouraged by his father to migrate to Australia, where he took to farm and station life as if he was born to it. He…
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The Marion Sleigh

A ship like this steaming up Gulf rivers would raise a few eyebrows these days, but in the early 1900s the Marion Sleigh was a regular sight carrying supplies as far up as the Roper River Bar, and Borroloola on the Macarthur. The Marion Sleigh was of 506 tons burden, had a number of cabins…
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Book Review: Curlew Fugitive by Don Douglas

I always enjoy a good Australian historical adventure yarn, and Curlew Fugitive is a ripper of a story. The author, Don Douglas, grew up living the life of a stockman, manager and owner throughout Western Queensland, and that real life experience shows through in his writing. The perils of the Gulf Track, station life on…
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Charles Fisher – Cattle King

Most Australians know the names of our biggest cattle kings, Sidney Kidman and John Cox. Charles Brown Fisher was in the same league, building an empire of land, men, cattle and sheep when things were much tougher. Charles was born in 1818, in London. Feeling restricted by city life, as a young man he moved…
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Pearling on the Mona

One of the parts of Charlie Gaunt’s life that I would have liked to explore more in Whistler’s Bones, but it didn’t fit into the story, was his years skippering a pearl lugger out of Broome in the 1890s. Charlie was able to throw in with a partner, a local businessman called Stanley Piggott, to…
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James “Jimmy” Darcy

The year was 1917, and it had been a long day in the saddle for Walter and Thomas Darcy. They drew first turn at the night watch, keeping the cattle contained on the river flats, while the rest of the crew slept. A rider came in from Wyndham with terrible news. Walter and Thomas’s brother…
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Tom Kilfoyle

Tom Kilfoyle, a cousin of the pioneering Durack family, was Charlie Gaunt’s boss for much of the 1883-6 overland drive from the Channel Country in Queensland to Rosewood Station in the Kimberleys. Tom was born in County Clare, Ireland in 1842 but became a highly skilled bushman. Interestingly, he later married Catherine Byrne, a close…
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Charlie Flannigan and the Auvergne Station Murder

  September 1892. The game was cribbage for a stick of tobacco each hand. Four men whiling away a long night by the light of a slush lamp on Auvergne Station, near the NT/WA border. Even today, Auvergne is an isolated and dramatic locale; rugged mountains cut through by the Bullo, Baines and Victoria Rivers.…
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Jim Roxburgh and his Stand against Racism.

I was lucky enough to know one of the main players in this little story from Australia’s recent history. Everyone knew that one of our English teachers at high school had played rugby for the Wallabies. We’d also heard that he’d done something special. It wasn’t until later in life, however, that I found out…
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The Siege of Dagworth

The shearers’ strikes of the 1890s flared dangerously close to open warfare. It was a bitter struggle, with no sympathies between the conflicting sides. As one old timer recalled: The wonder is that the strike and its attendant disturbances did not end in civil war. Since the Eureka Stockade, Australia has never experienced such a…
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Dunwich Benevolent Asylum

If you’ve read Whistler’s Bones you’ll know that Charlie Gaunt died at the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum on January 29, 1938 of myocarditis and a rodent ulcer. His was just one of ten or more thousand, mainly unmarked, graves that lie beneath the sands of North Stradbroke Island. The Dunwich Benevolent Asylum first opened in 1865…
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Carrie Creaghe

Women in the Victorian era were often sheltered and protected; dominated by strict male figures and lacking experience in the real world. Yet, not all women were like that. There were female outlaws, ship’s captains, drovers, and even the odd well-bred adventurer like Carrie Creagh, probably the first European female to cross the Gulf of…
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Alma McGee

    Back in the 1920s, mental illness was seen as shameful. Sufferers were locked away, and subjected to “treatments” based on barely tested theories. The story of Alma McGee is a case in point. Alma’s mother, Frances, came from a Protestant family – landed gentry in Cork, Ireland.  Frances fell in love with the…
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Making Fools of the Law

There’s a long tradition of laughing at authority in Australia. Holding the constabulary up to ridicule was often the response to oppressive police tactics. Australian bushrangers loved nothing better than making fools of the “traps.” Some entered stolen racehorses in bush races and won, or even impersonated the police commanders who were hunting them. Many…
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Prologue: The Legend of Red Jack

They called her Red Jack, for her hair was as bright as an outback sunset, hanging to her waist from beneath a stained cattleman’s hat. Borne on her jet-black stallion, Mephistopheles, she roved the north, riding into towns and setting up camp, knocking up a rough set of yards where she would break horses, bring…
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Buckley’s Chance

William Buckley was an English bricklayer, and ex-soldier, transported to Australia in 1803 for being caught in possession of stolen goods. He was a huge man, standing six foot six in his socks. Resuming his trade at Port Phillip, he laid the first brick of the town that would eventually become Melbourne. Escaping with five…
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#1. The Man at the Waterhole

Not far from where the Mataranka Pub stands today, upstream from the Bitter Springs, the Roper River broadens into a waterhole. Giant paperbarks crowd the banks, the spaces between pierced with blades of sun-lit pandanus. Archer fish dart here and there in the green water, and cormorants hunt deep, surfacing amongst the snags. Back in…
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#2. The Eleven

Still in the saddle, Sandy Myrtle peered down at the stranger camped on the waterhole. ‘I’ll give you five minutes to piss off,’ he said, then dragged a silver pocket watch from a recess in the flowing caftan he wore in place of a shirt. He lifted the face to one eye, and squinted. ‘When…
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#3. Jimmy Woodford’s Horse

For the first time in two long weeks, Jimmy Woodford knew that the journey’s end was nigh. Two weeks of scarcely a solid hour of sleep. Half starved. Near perishing for water at times. Tracking the mongrel bastards who stole his horse. Now, at last, he was so close to the thieves he could almost…
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#4. The Hanging of Maori Jack Reid

Tom Nugent had packed a lifetime of experience into his thirty-seven years, but he’d never seen Red Jack in the flesh, and had never watched a man murder a horse. Today, at this Roper River shanty, he’d seen both those things. Each was troubling in different ways. Most of the crowd were still in shock,…
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Sixty Ships and One Thousand Men.

The extent of the Macassar penetration into Northern Australia was greater than is generally acknowledged: much more than a few scattered trepang-seeking proas. In fact, as this excerpt from Voyage to Terra Australia by Matthew Flinders, shows, Macassar incursions featured large numbers of boats and men; heavily armed and organised on military lines. The following…
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#5. The Shanty

Sandy Myrtle fronted the bar, standing like a giant with his hair almost brushing the cypress rafters. He pulled his chequebook from his pocket, borrowed a pen and inkpot, then scribbled a figure. ‘Here boy, let me know when this runs out. Whiskies for me and the Scotsmen, then rums all round for the rest…
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#6. The Bitter Springs

It was a two mile ride to the thermal pools known as Bitter Springs, but no one considered the time wasted. Leaving the stock boys in charge of the camp, the thirteen men rode in double file down the moon-lit track, swigging from bottles and skylarking as they went. Leaving their horses tied to paperbark…
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#7. The Beef Raid

Matt Kirwan was no fool. He’d left a guard on the bullock carcass that hung from a chain in the yards beside the store. The guard was a young Jangman helper. White men called him Billy, though he already had a name, that they did not choose to learn. Billy heard the Thirteen coming from…
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#8. Searcy and O’Donahue

Alfred Searcy loved a good camp, and the Hodgson River crossing was a first-rate site, with flat shelves of dark rock, waist-high waterfalls, and fish to be had in the deep pools below. With a suitable rock as a seat, Alfred lit his pipe and sighed contentedly. He considered himself a true bushman: the kind…
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#9. The King River

While Tom Nugent, Jack Dalley, Fitz and Tommy the Rag headed for the Gulf, the rest of the Thirteen struck camp and rode the track in a north-westerly direction, towards the Katherine. With the stockboys droving a plant of near forty horses they moved slowly, often with the Overland Telegraph Line in sight, six or…
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#10. What Happened in the Gulf

After a slap-up feast of salt beef and johnny-cakes, Tom Nugent stoked the fire and took pride of place on a stump. Jack Dalley, Tommy the Rag, and Fitz, still proud of his bullet wound, took their places nearby. ‘Gather ’round and hear the yarn you blokes,’ Tom called. ‘There’s been deeds done in the…
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#11. Jack Comes Back

Their ears were still ringing from the gunshot, scattered embers glowing all around the camp, when Carmody raised his head warily. ‘Hey Tom,’ he hissed, eyes glowing white in a face shiny with sweat. ‘That sounds like Maori Jack out there.’ ‘So it does,’ said Tom. ‘I’d know that devil’s voice anywhere.’ Standing, holding his…
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#12. Katherine Town

The last leg of the journey to the Katherine covered mile after mile of flat woodland. Tommy the Rag entertained himself by flicking his stockwhip at the tops of termite mounds along the way, and Bob Anderson sang as he rode, old Scottish songs, that strangely seemed not out of place in the Territory. The…
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#13. Billy and the Traps

Up from the Gulf on a mission of revenge, Troopers Searcy and O’Donahue rode side by side, reaching the Elsey in record time, and veering north towards the Katherine. ‘You don’t think Inspector Foelsche will be angry that we’ve ridden back all this way when we’re supposed to be on duty in Borroloola by now?’…
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#14. Before the Raid

With the supply of rifle cartridges replenished, Tom turned his thoughts to the revolvers, or ‘squirts’ they all carried. These were, in the main, cap and ball weapons such as Tom’s own Colt Navy. Aware that they had just a handful of .36 calibre balls left, Tom set about casting new ones. He rummaged through…
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#15. The Katherine Robbery

Scattered over a mile of river bank, the settlement of Katherine was deep in midnight slumber. There was no wind, the air warm and smoky from hearth fires that burned beside bark and iron humpies. Thirteen mounted men rode out from their camp downstream, skilled horsemen all, keeping to the scrub where they could, moving…
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#16. A Company of Thieves

Alfred Searcy’s legs were steady and his hands did not shake as he peered through the iron sights of one of the most feared weapons in those parts, a Winchester repeating rifle. Beside him stood O’Donahue, with his Martini-Henry locked and loaded. Together they were representatives of the law, a force to reckoned with. Alfred…
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#17. Fugitives from Justice

‘Everyone alright?’ Tom Nugent had called, when they pulled up ten miles south west of the Katherine township. Sandy Myrtle took off his cabbage-tree hat and thrust his hand inside, extending a finger through a bullet hole in the weave. ‘Well damn me for being a lucky bastard,’ he said. ‘I thought I felt something.’…
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#18. Searcy Turns Back

In the middle of the afternoon, Alfred Searcy and his mate O’Donahue followed their tracker up to the remains of the Ragged Thirteen’s dinner camp on the river. They walked the horses in, carbines in their laps as they rode, inhaling the smell of food scraps and cold campfire. Some hasty drying racks over the…
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The Big Australian

When boundary rider Charles Rasp stumbled on an interesting hill in far western NSW, with a fractured body of ore running right through it, he wasn’t sure if he’d found something of value or not. He consulted his battered copy of ‘The Prospector’s Guide’ to be certain. Within a few weeks he and six others…
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#19. The Stone Knife

The boy loved being there on the Flora River, where calcium-rich water flowed from distant underground springs, forming a green channel that never stopped flowing. Upstream from the junction the waters cascaded over raft-walls of skeletonised logs, boiling into pools and churning through rapids. There were wild blacks around. Blind Joe went to warn them…
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#20. A Strange Kind of Justice

Tom Nugent was riding beside Blind Joe, when a high-pitched, unearthly wail carried on the air, rising above the sounds of the breeze and the river, the clink of spurs and the creak of leather. He spurred his horse, heedless of the river scrub, reaching the riverside camp at a furious gallop. There, on a…
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#21. Alligator Jim

Tom Nugent and his hunting party reached the main camp in the late afternoon. Storm clouds glowed yellow, reflecting like gold on the surface of the Flora River as it snaked out of the limestone plains, twining with the Katherine to create the mighty Daly River. The plant were soon hobbled and grazing on green…
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#22. A Town called Borroloola

After a break-neck ride Alfred and O’Donohue pulled up at Abraham’s Billabong for supplies and a breather. Young Bowen, a little tougher looking than last time they had seen him, fronted the counter of the store. ‘It’s a relief to see some troopers in the area. You’re on your way to Borroloola?’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘Well…
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#23. Beef for Christmas

Riding in a south westerly direction, upstream on the Flora River, the Ragged Thirteen ran headlong into solid Wet Season rain. Some nights the only fire they could maintain was deep between the raised roots of a thick old paperbark, or far back in a rocky cleft with the flames brushing soot onto lichen and…
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#24. Crossing the Victoria

The Victoria River, when they reached it, riding down a spur of one of those jagged hills, was a turbid, flowing lake, rimmed with mud and thick undergrowth. The sun was out, but it cheered nobody, for the heat was almost unbearable. Horse and man alike saw no pleasure in that day, and tempers flared,…
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#25. Whisky and Water. The Victoria River Depot

The Victoria River Depot, when they reached it, wasn’t much of a place, a couple of jetties half-afloat in tidal mud, the usual collection of bush dwellings, tents and rough camps. There was noise enough at first, even some music, but everything went silent as the Thirteen left the women and stock boys with the…
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#26. Red Jack’s Camp

While the Ragged Thirteen rode south from the Victoria River Depot, Red Jack met the river at Gregory Creek and resolved to follow the eastern bank as it dog-legged south to Victoria River Downs and beyond. While a fiery sunset filled the horizon, Red Jack crossed the creek on a gravel bar, reined in her…
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#27. Billy Reports Back

  Every day Alfred Searcy wrote a new entry in his journal. He saw himself as a sea-captain, with the vessel being his own body. Just like James Cook or Matthew Flinders, on land and on water. He set down in detail the events of the day; ground covered, and places visited. Borroloola had proved…
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#28. Tom’s Trick

‘I can’t see a bloody thing,’ called Tom Nugent. Sandy Myrtle cupped his hands and shouted up towards the crown of the tree. ‘Well climb up higher then, and stop yer blessed complaining. I’d have shimmied up the blasted tree myself if I were as skinny as you.’ After a week or two heading south…
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#29. The VRD Raid

Setting off towards the Victoria River Downs station outbuildings, ducking under ironwood rails into the station horse paddock, Sandy Myrtle attempted to move with stealth, but his bulk made it difficult. Every time he bent over he felt a twinge of pain that shot up his spine and down through his thighs. Moving ahead of…
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#30. Across the Murranji

  ‘There’s only one way to save time,’ said Alfred. ‘We’ll have to take the Murranji Track.’ After a frantic ride from Borroloola, up through Anthony’s Lagoon and Brunette, they had reached Newcastle Waters in four days of hard riding. Arriving at the homestead, they’d enjoyed the hospitality of the manager, a friendly man by…
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#31. On The Border

Reaching the Negri River was like a homecoming for the gang. There, camped on the opposite bank, were the stock boys and women they had sent ahead. Blind Joe stood watching the Thirteen ride in, one hand on the shoulder of Tom Nugent’s orphan from Borroloola, who looked disappointed when the leader did not appear.…
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#32. Changing the Brand

‘Listen to me Tom, and listen good,’ Sandy Myrtle said after breakfast, still licking crumbs from his beard. ‘You have to do something about that horse.’ ‘What can he do, apart from turnin’ it loose?’ asked Fitz ‘I’m not letting the horse go,’ Tom said, ‘and that’s flat.’ ‘You know,’ said Larrikin, relighting his pipe…
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#33. The Call of Nature

An hour before dawn Alfred Searcy led a line of horsemen across the Negri, half a mile upstream from the Ragged Thirteen’s camp. Moving carefully in the dark, armed with coils of rope and loaded carbines, the police party worked their way back down on foot, taking up their positions around the camp, spaced at…
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#34. Hall’s Creek

The Elvire River wound down towards Hall’s Creek, with an established trail on the high ground beside it, marked with heavy wagon ruts and bush camps along the way. Graves were common, as were cairns of stones and timber crucifixes. On a short cut between loops of the river, propped up at the foot of…
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#35. Staking a Claim

Just as the sun’s first rays touched the gully, a cupped handful of water from the shallow brown waterhole hit Tom Nugent’s face. When the ripples had stilled he used his reflection on the surface to comb his hair with his fingers. He had washed his shirt the night before and, hung it on a…
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