Following on from last week’s post on the naming of Alice Springs, 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 shrimp, Bennelongia was also named after him. Some suburbs, streets and locations similar to Bennelong’s other traditional name, Woollarawarre, may also owe their origins to this immensely interesting man. The development at Barangaroo is named after his first wife, herself a powerful figure amongst the Cammeraygal people.
Bennelong was a member of the Wangal clan, whose country stretched from Parramatta to Darling Harbour, and included highly productive estuarine hunting grounds. He was abducted from his people on the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip, apparently in an effort to better understand local Indigenous groups. At that time Bennelong was around twenty-five years old, described by a Captain Watkin Tench as being: “of good statue, and stoutly made, with a bold intrepid countenance, which bespoke defiance and revenge.”
The young Bennelong lived in Governor Phillip’s home and soon had a working grasp of the English language as well as a taste for food and liquor. He could, apparently, eat a week’s rations in a day. Despite this largesse, the bush life called to him and he escaped after a few months. He turned up later at Manly in a confrontation between armed parties that resulted in Phillip being wounded by a spear. Bennelong was so worried about his former host that he took to hanging around the settlement again. By 1791 he lived in a brick hut built for him at Bennelong Point.
Barangaroo gave birth to a daughter called Dilboong, but the young mother died soon after. Her body was wrapped in an English blanket, and burned along with a basket of her fishing gear. The service was accompanied by a traditional shower of thrown spears.
Dilboong also died while still an infant, and Bennelong begged Phillip to let him bury her in his garden. He produced only one other confirmed descendant, a boy called Thomas Coke, most likely the son of his second wife. Thomas was raised by a clergyman and died at the age of just twenty.
When Governor Phillip returned to England in late 1792, Bennelong went with him.
According to an account by Royal Navy Lieutenant James Grant: “Benelong (sic) visited England with Governor Philips, and returned to New South Wales with Governor Hunter; and I am sorry to add, far from being improved by the voyage. He has unfortunately acquired a fondness for strong liquors, and is apt to take them to a great excess, at which time he proves very disorderly and ungovernable. He still retains the highest respect for Governor Philips (sic), and discovers a grateful sense of the favours received at his hands.”
On his return, Bennelong found that his second wife had left him, and he spent the rest of his life caught between two worlds. He was an adviser to Governor Hunter, but also an elder of his people, participating fully in ceremonies and payback fights. His two favourite activities, it was said, were ‘love and war.’
Bennelong died in January 1813 at Kissing Point, and was buried in an orchard belonging to his friend and early brewer, James Squire.
Researched and Written by Greg Barron
This article is available for download as a free pdf to print or view on-screen at
Image credit: The plate depicting Bennelong appeared in The Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery, by James Grant, lieutenant in the Royal Navy.

So who the hell was Alice anyway?


William Whitfield Mills, Overseer of Section C of the Overland Telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin, was heading north with men and heavy equipment, on the way to the starting point for his section of the line.
He wrote in a report to his boss, Charles Todd, Superintendent of Telegraphs:
“On the 7th (March 1871) I started again for the Ranges, the drays in the meantime following the Hugh (River). On March 11th I again arrived at the MacDonnell Ranges and was successful in finding a pass, about 30 miles east of Stuart’s track, with numerous waterholes and springs, the principal of which is the Alice Spring which I had the honour of naming after Mrs Todd.”
Lady Alice Todd, wife of the Superintendent of Telegraphs, inspired not only the name of the town, Alice Springs, but also the Todd River. Who was she, and why did she deserve such adoration?
Alice Gillam Bell was born in 1836 in Cambridgeshire, England. When she was twelve years old a young man, Charles Heavitree Todd, assistant Astronomer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, came to call on her mother. Alice was lying on a bear skin rug in front of the fire, watching the visitor, impressed by his serious ways and dark good looks.
“If no one else will have you, then I will marry you, Mr Todd,” she told him.
Unlikely as it must have seemed at the time, the pair exchanged vows a few years later and Charles whisked her away to Adelaide, Australia. After many years at Greenwich working on electrical apparatus for the transmission of time signals he had been appointed as the Superintendent of Electric Telegraph by the South Australian Government.
Over the years, away from home setting up a link between Adelaide and Melbourne, then the Overland Telegraph to Darwin, Charles wrote to his wife daily. Each letter started out with, “My Dearest Alice.” He talked of his life in remote places, and his troubles with getting the telegraph lines across some of the most rugged and isolated terrain on earth.
From the Roper River, near a particularly difficult part of the construction, he wrote, ‘I wish you could see it, especially at sunset, when the tints and reflections on the water are most beautiful.’
The strength of Charles and Alice’s relationship shows through in those letters, feelings growing stronger from the foundations laid all those years earlier in that little home in Cambridgeshire. All who knew Alice loved her, and as her daughter Lorna later wrote:
“No one could look into my mother’s blue eyes, which always had a twinkle of fun in them, without being sure of her enjoyment of life.”
The couple had two sons and four daughters, and were regular churchgoers as well as members of Adelaide society in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Alice died in 1898 at the age of just 62, when the town she gave her name to was well on its way to becoming a vibrant outback community. Her husband’s middle name was used to name Heavitree Gap, the location of Alice Spring, and site of the original Telegraph Station. Charles died at Semaphore, Adelaide, of gangrene, in 1910.
“I will marry you, Mr Todd,” Alice said as a twelve year old. But she could surely not have imagined that with those simple words her name would live on as the title of arguably Australia’s most iconic outback city.
Please like the Stories of Oz page for weekly posts on Australian history.
(Researched and Written by Greg Barron/Photo of Alice credit State Library of South Australia/Sources:

The True Story of Tom Coolon (Conclusion)

Native Bear Mine in Mt. Coolon Queensland. Coolon Queensland John Oxley Library

The freshly-pegged gold mine that Tom Coolon found on Yacamunda Station was in a remote area, far from other diggings. With his knowledge of prospecting Tom suspected that it would be the start of something big. He cunningly learned everything he could about the man who had pegged the claim.

The words on a claim notice fixed to a stake meant nothing to the illiterate Tom. He instead used his tracking skills to learn of the claimant’s movements. Footprints led to a nearby campsite, a small waterhole, and finally, horse tracks heading north towards Charters Towers.

Tom must have grinned to himself when he realised that the claimant was heading in the wrong direction. Mineral rights in this area, he knew, were under the jurisdiction of the mining warden in Clermont, to the south. Without wasting any time Tom saddled up and galloped off to find the warden, registering the claim in his own name. He was in full, legal possession of the claim when the man who originally pegged it, Luke Reynolds, arrived.

Reynolds had ridden all the way to Charters Towers, only to be told that he needed to go to Clermont, and was calling in to check on his claim on the way through. Tom was ready and waiting, his trusty lever-action Winchester close at hand.

‘Who the bloody hell are you?’ Reynolds asked.

‘I’m the legal owner of this claim,’ Tom replied. ‘So if you value your life you’ll turn around and keep riding.’

Reynolds was too smart to take Coolon head on, instead talking him into a partnership. This arrangement lasted only a few weeks before it fell apart. Reynolds decided that discretion was the better part of valour and pegged a new claim just along the ridge.

By this time Tom had built a sturdy hut and brought Catherine out to live with him. His mine had a thick seam of gold-bearing quartz, and hundreds of diggers flocked to the area, now named Mount Coolon. Within months the first stamper mill was on site, crushing piles of rich ore for the miners.

Finally, in his fifties, things seemed to have come together for Tom Coolon. He lived at home with Catherine. They had a garden and a flock of goats. The mine was making good money without too much hard work.

Yet, with no employees, Tom was obliged to travel away at times for supplies. Greedy eyes were watching when he rode off to Clermont with Catherine in late October, 1918. Under the law at the time a claim became void if it was left unattended by the owners.

A mining entrepreneur called Bernard Thompson waited until Coolon had been away for a few days then went to the local mining warden, filing for forfeiture of the mine because of Tom’s absence. The warden backed him up, and Thompson now had title to the mine, obtained in a similar tricky way to how Tom had stolen the mine in the first place.

Thompson took on three partners to help work the claim: Harold Smith, Robert Wells and William Brown. When Tom returned from Clermont he found four armed strangers in legal possession of his mine. He flew into a terrible rage, demanding that the men leave immediately. They stood their ground. Thompson had decided to take Tom on in full knowledge of his reputation. He too was a hard man, and not easily cowed.

Tom filed an appeal against the warden’s decision but the District Court confirmed the forfeiture. Tom was forced to watch from his hut as Thompson and Company brought gold ore up from the depths of a mine he had dug with his own hands.

On the morning of Wednesday November 13, 1918, Tom walked to the camp of a man called Charles Woodland, a JP, and asked him to take down his last will and testament. Once this was done, signed and witnessed, Tom walked back to his hut, fetching his Winchester and horse.

Riding up to his old claim he saw Bernard Thompson working up top. ‘You’ve got five minutes to get off my claim,’ Tom said.

Thompson shook his head. ‘I’m not going.’

Tom raised the butt of his rifle to his shoulder and fired into the ground between them. Thompson went for the revolver on his belt. He fired but missed, and Tom’s second shot took him under the arm, the third ploughed into his chest, killing him.

People had heard the shots, and news of Tom Coolon taking vengeance with a rifle spread like a grass fire. Men dived down mineshafts and hid. One of Tom’s targets, Robert Wells, reckoned he owed his survival to sheer laziness, for he was having a smoke down the mine and couldn’t be bothered going up when he heard someone yelling for him at the top.

Tom stopped at the Native Bear mine where he found an employee of Thompson’s called William Bloom, who turned and ran. But to the old roo hunter a running man was easy prey. He brought him down with one shot.

Another man that Tom had intended to kill – Alexander Smith – fell to his knees and declared that he was Tom’s friend, and that they had no quarrel. They shook hands and Tom declared that his plan was to kill a few more men and then “do himself in.”

Tom rode fast, ahead of the rumours, to the stamp mill two miles away. There he found two more of Thompson’s associates: Harold Smith and William Brown. He shot them both dead.

Finally, having killed four men all up, Tom rode off into the bush, leaving Catherine at home in the hut. Police from all over the district, led by an Inspector Quinn, scrambled to collect bodies and come to terms with what had happened.

A manhunt of epic proportions followed, but Tom, with his bush skills, had no trouble evading the police. Every man who had ever had reason to argue with Tom Coolon now believed himself a possible target. There was a sudden exodus from Mt Coolon and also Clermont of men who believed themselves to be on his hit list. On horseback and motor vehicle they fled, vowing to stay away until the murderer was caught.

Three days after the murders, however, Tom slipped through the police cordon and rode home to the hut he shared with Catherine. He kissed her for the last time, then turned the gun on himself. They found him there, in a pool of blood, with his wife of almost thirty years crying over him.

(Researched and written by Greg Barron/Image of Native Bear Mine, Mt Coolon courtesy of John Oxley Library/Sources:


The True Story of Tom Coolon (Part Two)

Tom Coolon

It was race day in Clermont when Tom came up against the law again. He was drinking at the pub when a stranger tried to pick a fight. The two men were shaping up when a huge policeman called Ormes banged their heads together and threw them against a wall.

Legend has it that Tom Coolon slowly stood up, then fixed his eyes on Constable Ormes. “I won’t forget this. It will be evened up.”

When, a few months later, the policeman’s corpse was found at a place called Camp Oven Hole on the Charters Towers Road, Tom was naturally a suspect.

From a recollection in the Townsville Bulletin:
“It was in that country later that Constable Ormes was shot at the 33 Mile, better known as Camp Oven Waterhole, on the Clermont-Charters Towers Road. The head of Ormes’s horse was still hanging on a limb of a tree when I was along that road in 1938. It seems whoever did it, shot the horse behind the shoulder and then killed poor Ormes with either a stick or a rifle barrel.”

Australian folklore has had Coolon pinned as the murderer ever since, but an eyewitness report by an old man called “T.C.W.” fifty years later clears his name.

“Coolon (was) an outstanding bushman and a deadly rifle shot; he could hit anything as far as he could see. I knew Coolon very well, and he could be a good friend. I also knew Mrs Coolon, a fine Irishwoman, and, their eldest daughter Violet, and son Hector, the latter only a baby then. Regarding Constable Ormes’s death on the Charters Towers-Clermont road, there was no foul play; he was not murdered nor was his horse shot.

“I was coming into Clermont from the Suttor River about 1903, when, at the 60 Mile on the Charters Towers road, I found a dead man, perished from thirst, about three miles on the Clermont side of Lanark Station on Mistake Creek, then deserted. I pushed on to the Black Ridge Hotel, which was owned by the late Eugene McCarthy. It was a gold mining place that was in full swing at the time, twelve miles from Clermont.

“I reported finding the dead man to the police. Constable Ormes was sent out to bury the dead man. It was about three days to Christmas and very hot weather. So he rode out and stayed at the hotel that night and left next morning for the 60 Mile to bury the man. He said he could do it and be back that night, a round trip of 96 miles, no water anywhere, and only one horse to do the journey. He reached and buried the man and was no doubt trying to make the journey back in the night, was very thirsty and his horse galloped off the road and ran into a fallen tree. This killed the horse, and the policeman was found dead some distance away from the horse; the limbs of the tree were responsible for his death also.”

Either way, Tom Coolon went about his business, kangaroo shooting in the Belyando River country, prospecting and working as a stockman. As one of his old comrades wrote:

“(Tom) was also a marvelous bushman, and as a buckjump rider he was above average, although not in the Lance Skuthorpe class. Coolon was never guilty of riding a poor or weak horse, and if a buckjumper ran loose he would ride him, but not in a yard. He was one of the cleverest scrub riders that ever steered a horse through the mulga.”

Though he loved horses, Tom had a mortal fear of dogs, and would not suffer them anywhere near him. He would never refuse a bet, one night riding seven miles with no moon to locate a tomahawk he had left in the scrub, winning twenty pounds in the process. He also spent much more time away from his wife and children than near them. This last fact must have occurred to him, and he decided that it was time to settle.

One day, working around Yacamunda Station, Tom came across a recently-pegged gold mine. The owner, it seemed, had ridden to Charters Towers to register it. A few washes with the pan, however, told Tom that it was a rich claim, and he decided then and there that he wanted it.


(Researched and written by Greg Barron/Image credit: Brisbane Truth/Sources:


Thomas Cuthbert Coolon was born in Richmond, NSW 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 wild blacks, learning and honing bush skills that would become legendary. He also learned harsh laws of retribution and payback that would later in life lead to a shocking tragedy.

As stations pushed out into the scrub Tom found himself once more part of white society. With his lean frame and general toughness he quickly fell into station work. Some cattle stealing on the side saw a policeman ride out with an arrest warrant in Tom’s name.

Tom, however, had the “trap” in his sights long before he arrived, and shot the horse out from under him.

This, it seemed to Tom, was a good time to take a change of scenery up in Queensland where he worked as a ringer, dog-baiter, and roo-shooter. In his spare time he developed an interest in prospecting.

Tom was a striking looking man; tall with blue eyes and a blazing red beard. In 1890 he married Catherine Mongovan. The couple had two daughters and a son, living in the Clermont district, Queensland.

The turn of the century saw Tom droving with Ted Drewer in the Territory, taking a mob of brood mares to one of the vast Fisher and Lyons properties. When the mares had been delivered he headed for Darwin, intending to take a ship home to Queensland. The wet season had struck early, rivers were flooded and impassable all the way down the Top End and across the Gulf country. Riding home would have been impossible.

News hit Darwin of a droving camp near Newcastle Waters facing starvation and fever, cut off from the world. A desperate call went out for a volunteer to ride five hundred miles south with supplies for the stricken men.

Tom Coolon stepped forward, and with three riding horses and two packs he set out on a mission few men would have attempted.

Swimming the horses across flooded rivers he managed to cover an astonishing fifty miles each day.

Sadly that perilous rescue mission came too late, for the last of the drovers died on the day Tom arrived.

Tom was now a legend in the Territory, but back in Queensland things went bad. First, the Coolon’s twelve-year-old daughter Mary died. Then Tom took up a partnership on a station called Prairie Run, near Clermont, but the business arrangement degenerated into a bitter feud that included the odd gunfight.

Tom and Catherine took up the adjoining property, Spoonbill Farm, but Tom’s former partners, the Kirkups, were out to get him, framing him for the possession of stolen livestock, a ‘crime’ that saw him imprisoned for two years at hard labour.

When he was released Tom Coolon was a changed man.

(Researched and written by Greg Barron/Image credit: Brisbane Truth/Sources:

A Night in the Woodend Lockup


Australians have always loved a yarn where someone makes a fool out of a policeman. This true story comes from Woodend in the Macedon Ranges, Victoria, way back in 1902.
A young constable by the name of McKane was trying to arrest an out-of-control drunk outside the local hotel, but the drunk knew how to handle himself and was making things difficult. McKane spied a teenage boy watching and called out.
‘Hey you, come and give us a hand instead of standing there gawkin’.’
Taylor did as he was told, and the two of them managed to drag the man all the way to the lock-up out the back of the police station – a dark cell made of logs with a heavy wood and iron door. It was only a small town so McKane manned the station alone.
Once they had the drunk inside the cell, the constable decided to search him for weapons or money, so he asked Taylor to hold the door open while he did so.
Whether the boy got distracted, or he simply wasn’t strong enough to hold the door against a sudden gust of wind, we’ll never know.
Either way, the door slammed shut, locking all three of them inside: a policeman, a boy, and a violent drunk.
McKane and Taylor screamed, hammered and cooeed, but the townspeople all knew that a drunk had been arrested so they assumed it was him making all the noise. Sounds of scuffling and yelling went on all night.
The next morning a council worker, heading past on his way to work, went over to investigate and released the unhappy pair. You can only imagine how the people of Woodend must have laughed when the story got out.
As for the drunk – he must have entertained many a bar with tales of his night in the Woodend lock-up.
(Written and researched by Greg Barron. Image: The Warracknabeal Lockup, built in 1872 and still standing today. The Woodend lockup would have been similar. Credit: State Library of Victoria Sources:


Barbara of the Kaurareg

The year was 1843, and Barbara Thompson was just thirteen years old. At this tender age she had already emigrated with her family from Scotland to Australia, and was living as the de facto wife of a man called William Thompson. They were both on board the cutter America when it ran into a reef off Possession Island, Cape York.

The boat was breaking up on rocks when a lookout sighted a fleet of canoes heading for the wreck, bristling with spears and war clubs. Attempts to parley with the Kaurareg warriors failed. Every man on board was slaughtered, and the doomed ship ransacked.

When the Kaurareg chief, a man called Peaquee, saw Barbara, she reminded him of his daughter, who had recently died. He ordered that she be spared and taken ashore alive.

For five years Barbara lived the life of the chief’s daughter, until a party from a passing ship, the HMS Rattlesnake, came ashore for water. While they were trading with the Kaurareg, they spotted a naked white girl, and after establishing her story, took her aboard and back to civilisation.

Barbara would later marry twice, and became the subject of Ion Idriess’s fictional account: Isles of Despair.

(Written and researched by Greg Barron – Image of the beach where Barbara was rescued, credit: BBC – Sources:


The Hammer of Ramenskoye

With Moscow in lock-down over a Chechen terror threat, FSB agent Alessandro Karsyov and his partner Ira dream of being at the forefront of the action. Instead they are sent to a dreary apartment block in the Kapotnya district to investigate an elderly woman’s complaint that a group of men in a nearby room threatened her.

Within minutes of their arrival, however, one member of the team has been gunned down, and Alessandro and Ira alone hold the key to stopping a devastating attack. The only chance for Moscow is a desperate race across the city, and a contest requiring unimaginable strength and endurance. Can Alessandro prove himself to Ira and save his city?

Praise for Greg Barron’s novels:

‘Combines the very best of a thriller by Tom Clancy with the Boys’ Own action blockbuster of someone like Chris Ryan. The speed of the action is matched only by the sophistication of the prose and the originality of the plot. Greg Barron has proved he is a political thriller writer at the very top of his game.’ ABC Radio Weekend Bookworm

‘A high-octane thriller … the pace is excellent, the writing is sharp and Barron has a real talent for the evocation of place … sufficiently gripping to keep you up at night’ The Australian Newspaper

‘Barron echoes the work of authors such as MacLean, Clancy and Ludlum’ Canberra Times

‘Barron is not one to pull his punches’ Brisbane Courier-Mail



Assisted Immigration

1930 Caledonia

Assisted immigration was a scheme where the Australian colony of Victoria sent agents to the United Kingdom, drumming up interest in the wide open spaces, sunshine, and opportunities offered in this new land. The colony paid for the passage of families and individuals, aiming to boost Victoria’s population relative to New South Wales, and eventually, economic growth.

By 1851 assisted immigrants were arriving from British ports mainly on side-paddle steamers, the journey averaging some five months. Each immigrant cost the colony £14 17s 4d.
Some statistics for the year 1852, when gold had been recently discovered, tell an interesting story.
15 477 assisted immigrants arrived on forty-two ships, landed at Melbourne, Portland and Geelong. The ships averaged 827 tons.
5077 were adult males.
5315 were adult females.
5125 were children.
849 people died on the voyage.
270 living children were born on the voyage.
5319 were from England. 7127 were from Scotland. 3001 were from Ireland.
Just 11.3% of these immigrants were able to read and write. By far the lowest literacy rates were amongst the Roman Catholic Irish.
The majority of men listed their occupation as “agricultural labourer.”
Most would take up land and help forge the strong farming communities of Victoria; generally hard workers fully committed to their families and their new country.
In the same year, 1852, the astonishing number of 79 187 unassisted immigrants arrived in Victoria, the majority of them men heading for the goldfields. Only 9072 of these were female. A large but unknown proportion would leave within a few years.
(Researched and Written by GJ Barron Image: Postcard of sidepaddle steamer RMS Caledonia, public domain. Sources:

The Snowy Mountains Scheme



People talk about renewable energy as if it’s something new. Yet, Australia’s largest renewable energy project was begun in 1949. It took twenty-five years to build, cost 121 lives during construction, and produces 10% of NSW’s power needs along with a significant supply to Victoria.
Early last century the high snow-melt flows of the Snowy River were seen as a waste, flowing south through lightly inhabited regions to Gippsland. Serious plans to divert the water into western flowing rivers were drawn up in the 1940s, mainly as a boost to agriculture along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers.
The planned scheme would see water pumped from the Snowy through huge tunnels, some of the longest in the world, to man-made reservoirs including Blowering, Talbingo, Tantangara, Geehi, Jindabyne, and the massive Lake Eucumbene. Ten power stations now produce 3.772 gigawatts of power from these lakes.
A by-product of the scheme has been an incalculable boost to the Australian trout fishery. The early days of Lake Eucumbene, as the water slowly rose, gave rise to some incredible catches. In 1962-63 accurate records were kept for the lake. Out of 107 000 fishing trips, 184 000 legal fish were caught. The average size rainbow trout caught was 2 pounds 11 ounces and 3 pounds 11 ounces for browns. The biggest trout ever caught at the lake weighed 22.2 pounds (10kg) and was taken in 1969 by Melbourne angler Max Harman on a ‘wonder wobbler’ lure.
In all, more than 100 000 workers from all over the world came to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It gave birth to two towns: Cabramurra and Khancoban. Some of the finest engineers of the last century worked on its design, and despite (slowly improving) environmental issues, it stands today as a tribute to what can be achieved when a government with vision plans for the nation’s future.
(Written and researched by GJ Barron Image credit: W Pederson Sources: