A Night in the Woodend Lockup

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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: gregbarron.com/resources/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: gregbarron.com/resources/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

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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: gregbarron.com/resources/sources)

The Snowy Mountains Scheme

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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: gregbarron.com/resources/sources)

Nat Buchanan

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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)

The Piracy of the Ethel

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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

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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

Sources: gregbarron.com/resources/sources)

Catherine Coleman – Pioneer

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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)