History Stories

Bringing Australia's History to Life

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#37. Missus Dead Finish

When the Ragged Thirteen took possession of those eight adjoining claims, they had minimal experience with mining. One or two had swirled their pans around Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, or rocked a cradle on the Palmer, but none of them had any idea about chasing reef gold; sinking shafts. Their mindset was on adventure,…
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#38. Jake and the Girls

Hard work on the claim brought on a fierce hunger. Fitz had seen a mob of station bullocks on their logging forays and rode out with Jack Woods, three pack-horses, and a .577 calibre rifle to investigate. Twenty-four hours later they were back, loaded down with Durack beef, and Jack soon had tongue, rounds and…
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#39. The Heartbreaker

The shaft went twenty-five feet straight down before angling back towards Halls Creek. The work was done square and neat; well-shored and precise. Tom had seen how successful miners cut their shafts and he was keen to emulate them. After weeks of sweat and ten hard-won yards on the flat, speculation mounted that the leader…
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#40. Bow River

Missus Dead Finish and her patient, Tommy the Rag, passed through Baobab Wells at noon and reached Anton’s Landing a little after two on the third day. A crowd gathered while the big woman carried the once slight, now wasted, young man into the Wyndham hospital, a stone building run on a skeleton crew of…
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#41. Desert Rose

The Hall’s Creek area, being on the northern fringes of the Great Sandy Desert, was sparsely vegetated except along the river courses. Much of the ground was bare: soils of red, white, grey, or shades in between, relieved by hummocks of grass, curly spinifex and mean acacia shrubs. After rain, however, green pick came through…
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#42. The Vengeance Seekers

The Wet Season arrived for two weeks in February. Less work was done, replaced with horseplay and drinking. Some days the rain was so heavy that the best course of action was to cover the shaft with canvas, find some shelter, and open a bottle There was never a dull moment. Jake and his sisters…
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#43. The Ragged Twelve-and-a-Half

  No one said a word when Missus Dead Finish started sharing Tommy the Rag’s swag, her draught horses hobbled and wandering with nosebags of oats, and some to spare for the rest of the plant, who were rarely well enough fed. As fond of rum as the rest of the crew, Dead Finish never…
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Review: The Queen’s Colonial by Peter Watt

  1845, a village outside Sydney Town. Humble blacksmith Ian Steele struggles to support his widowed mother. All the while he dreams of a life in uniform, serving in Queen Victoria’s army. 1845, Puketutu, New Zealand. Second Lieutenant Samuel Forbes, a young poet from an aristocratic English family, wants nothing more than to run from…
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#44. Wyndham Prison

  Tom Nugent knew a bit about prison cells. He had once been thrown in the Blackall lock-up with his mate Harry Readford, accused of possessing eight stolen horses. It took three days for Harry’s bribes to filter out to all the witnesses. The charges were dropped and the pair walked free. Tom had also…
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#45. The Second Stone

  The dingo pack were starving, with rib bones sharp as knives and shrunken, high bellies. There were five altogether, led by the matriarch, with dugs as black as night, and her teeth worn with age. The pack had recently taken to shadowing the camps of prospectors, existing on bones or scraps left behind, and…
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#46. The Long Arm of the Law

Billy had been waiting under a lancewood tree, just outside the Newcastle Waters Telegraph Station, since the new moon. Sometimes, at night, he slept. During the day he smoked his clay pipe, or boiled up a billy of tea, but most of the time he just waited, like Mister Alfred Searcy had told him to.…
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#47. Mud crabs and Mullock heaps.

When Tommy the Rag and Carmody rode up, accompanied by a cloud of their own dust, Sandy swore so hard he had to stop and spit. ‘You bastards are s’posed to be watching the old claim. What the bloody hell are you doing here?’ Carmody swung off his horse. ‘Well that was a fair cow…
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#48. Red Jack and the Mare

When a Cantonese syndicate moved in on the old claim at Rosie’s Flat, most of the gang pretended not to care. But it was generally agreed that such an act wasn’t ‘right.’ ‘It’s not that I bloody liked the place,’ spat Sandy Myrtle, ‘but I don’t like the idea of them just walking in and…
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#49. Too Close for Bloody Comfort

Weeks had passed, and the routine varied little. Almost every afternoon, Tom rowed Miss Emily Byrne up the channel: crabbing and sometimes fishing. By the third week he was permitted to kiss her on the cheek. By the fifth they were holding hands when he walked her home after dinner at the pub. While Emily…
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#50. Tom the Afghan

Within a mile, Tom knew that he was never going to outpace the police patrol. He wished he’d thought to steal a better horse before he left Wyndham, but from here there’d be no opportunity to upgrade before Turkey Creek. His only chance now was to leave the road, and try to throw the trackers…
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#51. To Hell with Hall’s Creek

  To Hell with Hall’s Creek by Larrikin (With help from Fitz and Sandy Myrtle)   I’ve been thrown by horse, and gored by bull, An’ trampled by the same, I’ve been bit by dogs and old Joe Blake, Been rocked by storm and rain.   I’ve worn out boots, on the desert routes, An’…
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#52. The ‘Orphan’

Two days to the new moon and the sky darkened quickly. A faint yellow glow on the western horizon was the last remnant of a warm dry-season day. Tom Nugent’s eyes, however, were as good as a cat’s in low light. Years of night watches on droving jobs, and desperate dusk-to-dawn rides had honed that…
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#53. Dear Tom

  My Dear Tom I pray that this letter reaches you in whatever lonely extremity you have reached. I imagine that you are on the run and far from here. Please know that my thoughts and prayers have followed you every step of the way. Yesterday the strangest thing happened. A woman who looked like…
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#54. The Night they Robbed the Joss House

At four in the afternoon, Tom set his pocket watch to the same time as Sandy Myrtle’s and sent the big man into town with Larrikin. Their saddle bags bulged with costumes that had been the subject of much discussion, with some important input from Jake’s two girls. Larrikin had his dancing shoes tied by…
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#55. A Tale of Two Foals

  An hour before midnight, Scotty rode off to fetch Red Jack. By the time he returned with her, Larrikin’s mare was agitated and sweating, milk seeping from her teats. The red-haired woman washed her hands and examined her. ‘They’re sitting well, I reckon,’ she said, ‘and the contractions are strong. Let’s see if we…
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#56. The Break-up

With dawn not far off, Tom sent Blind Joe on a good night horse to a peak about a mile away, to watch for any signs of pursuit. Then, while camp was struck, horses saddled and packs loaded, Tom and Larrikin divided the gold into sixteen fair parcels. Jack Martin, ‘The Orphan,’ rode in for…
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#57. Banka Banka

On the long ride to the Territory border, Tom Nugent had plenty of time to think. After months of hard labour on the goldfields, and those life-changing months in Wyndham as a prisoner and free man, it felt good to be back in the saddle, riding past red cliffs, dramatic river gorges, and plains of…
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#58. Epilogue

What happened to these legends? These larrikins who rode, robbed and drank rum together? Many of the facts have been lost, but these, as far as can be ascertained, from historical records, grave sites, and information from family members, were the fates of the Ragged Thirteen. Alexander McDonald, better known as Sandy Myrtle, rode back…
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Red Jack and the Ragged Thirteen

Print copies of Red Jack and the Ragged Thirteen are now in stock. The book looks great, 290 pages. (Preorders are now being dispatched.) You can get a copy by clicking on the links below. Paperback: https://storiesofoz.selz.com/item/redjack Kindle: https://www.amazon.com.au/…/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_oXAeDbTK…

Donegan and the Divorce

Mounted Constable Michael Donegan woke up in his cot at the Leichhardt’s Crossing Police Station, with a hangover so bad he’d been dreaming that he was back home in Derry, Ireland, where a huge shirtless man was hitting the side of his head with a ten-pound hammer. His sleeping mind had wandered back to a…
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The Ballad of Tom Coolon

Thomas Cuthbert Coolon was born in Richmond, New South Wales, on the tenth of April 1859. His mother, Sarah Douglass, died when he was seven years old. His father remarried and moved out west of the Darling River where Tom was abducted by a group of Aborigines. For the next decade Tom was raised by…
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OUTLAW – New Serial Story

New Stories of Oz serial story starting next Sunday September 15 and continuing in weekly instalments. OUTLAW written by Greg Barron When anthropologist Robert Morris arrives at the old Doomadgee Mission, at Bayley Point near Burketown in 1934, he’s intent on learning local languages and customs. One very old woman living there, he discovers, was…
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1. The Mother of an Outlaw

In 1934 I applied to the School of Anthropology, Sydney University, to undertake field research for my doctoral thesis. A cousin of my father’s was a member of the Waitara branch of the Christian Brethren, and through them I was invited to ‘visit and assist’ at Doomadgee Mission, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. While there…
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2. The Brook Hotel

At the Mission; that island in the clay and salt of the wild Gulf shore, came days of building heat, followed by thunderstorms such as I had never dreamed possible. Raking winds and black thunderheads roving ahead of a packed, boiling cloud mass, spitting lightning over a shallow sea churned to a furious white. Years…
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3. The ‘Shooting’ of Cashman

Cashman’s boy saw Joe coming, and rose to his full height, brandishing the knife. ‘You been lookout for trouble with me?’ he asked. Yet he hadn’t reckoned on the way Joe covered the ground between them, scarcely having time to raise his guard before copping a right-cross flush to his jaw. Joe was not a…
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4. Hasenkamp

Work at the Doomadgee Mission continued, despite rain and humid heat. Through it all, Len Akehurst toiled from before dawn to long after dusk, assisting with building works, teaching lessons, carrying water, performing the occasional baptism and preaching at prayer meetings. He had, during his training, completed a course in basic dentistry, and ringers from…
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5. Escape from Normanton

Hasenkamp and his men shackled Joe with iron chains, and escorted him 130 miles to Normanton, a five-day ordeal on horseback. There had been some late rain, and the black soil country was hard going in the mud. By the time they reached the town’s neatly surveyed streets, laid out on the western bank of…
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Joe Flick: Chapter 1-5 Catch-up PDF

If you’ve missed some chapters or you’ve been meaning to catch up on the story so far, here it is in PDF format. Then you’ll be ready for the next chapter, which will be posted on Sunday afternoon. You can either download the PDF by clicking here or read it below.

6. Magoura

Being interested in the original people of the Gulf and their culture, I often stopped to talk to an old man called Charlie after my meetings with Kitty. He was a wiry fellow, knotted like old rope, with a sharp mind and encyclopedic knowledge of that strip of coast. Somehow, after a few of these…
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7. Hunted

The feeling of being hunted … Of every rocky outcrop hiding an ambush. Every traveller an informer. Trackers poring over every impression of hoof and boot; reading the sign each time Joe dismounted to eat or brew tea. Joe directed his mount along shallow stony creek beds, walking both horses backwards up the banks several…
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8. Wounded

Kitty told me how her son Joe rode to the west in the wild upper Nicholson country, through a river gorge intersected with knife blades of red stone, ancient cycads and calm, clear pools rich with turtle and fish. She told me about Wanggala – the age of creation – when the river was formed;…
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9. Hodgson Downs

Again the monsoon retreated, and apart from storms bustling out from the horizon in the evening, the weather was better. I had my first touch of Gulf fever, but Dorothy Akehurst’s store of quinine kept it at bay, and I remained on my feet, most of the time. I fished for barramundi in the creek,…
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