Category: 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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