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: gregbarron.com/resources/sources)
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 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.
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.
Nat’s family originally settled in New England, NSW south of Armidale, but after an abortive trip to the Californian goldfields with his brothers, he headed for Queensland and the vast frontier. His first real foray into the wilderness was from Rockhampton with William Landsborough in 1860. Within a year they had formed Bowen Downs station on the Thomson River, and Nat was installed as manager.
Nat met the attractive brunette Catherine Gordon when by chance he rode into her family’s campsite near Rockhampton. The young couple were married soon after, and Nat took his bride out to Bowen Downs in a buggy.
Married or not, Buchanan had no intention of living a settled life. After checking out much of Western Queensland he started exploring the Gulf around Burketown, looking for suitable pastoral country for his partners in Bowen Downs. By 1867 he had struck out on his own again, heading south for a year or two on a Bellingen River (NSW) selection. Catherine must have thought he’d grown roots, but his adventurous years were barely getting started.
Moving Catherine and their son Gordon north again, he managed Craven Station for a while, then took on his first big droving contracts. He was the first to cross the Barkly Tablelands in 1877, sparking an explosion of land speculation. Most lease contracts, moreover, stipulated that the run had be stocked within two years. The owners were crying out for cattle and men to drive them.
Now in his fifties, Nat led the largest cattle drive in history – 20 000 head from St George in Queensland to Glencoe in the Northern Territory. He made the record books again a few years later, delivering the first cattle to the East Kimberley. One of his most harrowing achievements was the blazing of the bleak Murranji Track, from near Daly Waters to Victoria River Downs.
Nat’s plan now was to bring the family together on one of the largest cattle runs in history – Wave Hill Station – one of several leases Nat took up in partnership with his brother. Unfortunately the skills that made him a great drover and adventurer did not extend to management. Distance to markets and attacks on stock by the local Gurindji people were major problems. Nat, by the way, was known for a generally conciliatory approach to Aboriginal people, and was spoken of fondly by Aboriginal workers in oral histories from the region, but his cattle, fences and men were not welcomed by traditional owners, and conflict was a fact of the frontier.
Even at the age of 70 Nat was out exploring again, searching for a stock route from the Barkly Tableland to Western Australia. His health was poor by then, and in 1899 he retired to a small property near Walcha, NSW with his beloved Catherine. He died two years later and his gravestone still stands in the Walcha cemetery, along with a plaque commemorating his life.
(Researched and written by GJ Barron Image credit: Public Domain Sources: gregbarron.com/resources/sources)
John A Reddell was the owner of a fleet of pearl luggers operating out of Broome, Western Australia. He personally skippered the supply ship for the fleet, a brig by the name of Ethel, and was known as a hard man who pushed his crews to the limit.
In 1899 he sailed out of Roebuck Bay on the Ethel, bound for Lagrange Bay, 200 kilometres to the south. On board was his son, Jack, a first mate by the name of Taylor, and around ten crew, mostly Filipinos. Trouble had been brewing for a while, and mutiny was afoot.
The captain was standing beside the helmsman when one of the ringleaders, most likely the physically powerful Peter Perez, crept up behind him and buried an axe in the back of his head. The boy Jack met the same fate a few moments later, as did the first mate. Two Japanese divers were also hacked to pieces by the blood-crazed crew and their bodies thrown overboard.
The new leaders, Perez and his friend Pedro de la Cruz, ordered the brig to turn around, setting a course for Timor, then Ambon. On the voyage north they ordered the killing of anyone they suspected of disloyalty.
Arriving off the coast of Ambon they filled the ships’ boats with valuables and stores from the Ethel, scuttled her, then rowed for the coast. There they set about selling the captain’s gold watch and a host of other items. The big-spending strangers soon drew the attention of local authorities.
They might have got away with it if the Chinese cook, Pooh Ah Ming, hadn’t told the whole story to a local schoolmaster. The story was reported, the mutineers arrested, and a British gunboat arrived to take the six main offenders to Fremantle. One man was acquitted, and the other five sentenced to death. Three of those death sentences, however, were commuted.
The Perth Daily Mail recorded the last moments of Pedro de la Cruz and Peter Perez: “The prisoners, who were attended to the last by their spiritual advisers, devoutly invoked the Divine mercy, their last words being, O Padre Mio, O Madre Mia (Oh My Father, Oh My Mother) which was repeated several times in the Spanish language. The hangman pulled the lever, and the next moment the murderers of Captain Reddell were dangling lifeless in the pit below.”
(Written and researched by GJ Barron/Image of Broome’s Roebuck Bay in 1913 credit: National Library of Australia/Sources:gregbarron.com/resources/sources)
Paddy Cahill was originally from the Darling Downs, but he 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 George in Queensland to Glencoe Station in the Northern Territory. All three stayed on in the frontier country, Paddy forming Oenpelli Station on the East Alligator River, where he produced beef and even milk from a small dairy herd.
Within a few years, with a burgeoning market for hides, Paddy started buffalo hunting. This was a risky undertaking, pursued in wetlands frequented by huge crocs. The ground was treacherous for horses, and therefore the key to the business was a good supply of surefooted mounts, and a skilful team. Paddy’s horse St Lawrence was a legend in the north, and one of the reasons for his success.
The team had to work with precision. Generally Paddy and another man were mounted during the ‘run’, both armed with Martini Enfield carbines. The early models were chambered in .450 calibre, then later the new .303 military cartridge. The men on horseback would ride in close and shoot at point blank range, while a steady foot shooter could take out running animals. Once the buffalo were down they would be finished off and the skinners stropped their knives and started work.
Injuries and deaths amongst the men were common, often from being thrown and occasionally from being attacked by a wounded or enraged buffalo. Horses were often gored. It was bloody and dangerous work; not for the fainthearted. Most of the skinners and foot shooters were Aboriginal, who were fearless, and used to the harsh conditions in the tropical Top End.
At the beginning of the season agents in Darwin would offer contracts for whatever number of hides the buffalo hunters thought they could manage, and the product, salted down and tied into bales, would be collected from bush jetties on the East Alligator River, and the King or Liverpool Rivers for the shooters working further east. Paddy Cahill and his team managed at least 1600 hides each year.
Paddy Cahill sold up in 1913, and died of influenza in Sydney ten years later. Next time you throw a lure in at Cahill’s Crossing, spare a thought for the man it’s named after.
Written and researched by GJ Barron
Image credit: NT Library
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 to make his mark in business, and in 1887 the young family packed up and moved north. Their new home would be the land of opportunity, Western Queensland, a wilderness only just then being opened up to cattle and sheep.
Arriving at Whittown (Isisford), near Longreach, the Barcoo River had broken its banks and was in full flood. Catherine’s quick-thinking brother Dan placed the young Catherine and her children in a large drapers’ packing case and towed them across on a rope.
John moved them further west to the fledgling town of Forest Grove (Arrilalah), a natural stop for drovers and teamsters making their way up the Thomson River.
At Forest Grove John and Catherine built the mud-brick Club Hotel and a store, operating both for many years with the help of the resourceful Dan. The babies kept coming, and Catherine gave birth to ten children overall while mobs of cattle and sheep came up along the river bed, and dusty men in felt hats rode in to slake their thirst. Picnic races, held every few months, brought a colourful crowd of riders, punters and revellers in from stations and nearby towns.
Then, in September 1888 the dream ended. John fell ill, and did not recover. He died on the 26th of September, and was buried up behind the pub.
Catherine sold up and moved to Isisford, where she lived for 63 years. Her brother Dan also remained in the district. Even in her eighties Catherine was still slim and active, and could apparently read without glasses.
Catherine died in August 1944 at the age of 88. Only four of her ten children outlived her. At the time of her death she was survived by 30 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren, and 12 great-great grandchildren. Most still lived in the Isisford district at that stage.
There is nothing left of the once thriving town of Arrilalah now but ruins, some signage placed by a Longreach historical society, and one gravestone.
(Written and researched by GJ Barron Sources: gregbarron.com/resources/sources Image credit: John Oxley Library)