Bush Characters and Bush Customs


Bush Characters

Gone are the swagmen of yesterday and with them has gone most of the colour associated with carrying the swag.

'Hollow-log Jack' frequented the Monaro country. He reckons he never slept anywhere but in a hollow log, and swore that there wasn't a camping-place to equal it. He knew every hollow log along the routes he travelled and cleaned out many of them. when he moved on he plugged the ends so that snakes and rabbits would not take possession. According to Hollow-log Jack a man needed only one blanket on the very coldest of nights in these bunks. One end was plugged to stop draughts. Sometimes he walked late into the night to reach a log. His dog went in first and cleared out any wild intruders; then the dog crawled out and the swagman crawled in. Appropriately enough, Jack was found dead in a hollow log.

An early Australian postcard of a sundowner (swagman)
carrying a billy, a water cooler and his swag!

'Doggy Tom' was known to every man and woman on the South Coast of New South Wales. He always had at least a dozen dogs with him, and he camped with them at night and tramped the roads with them by day. doggy tom was found dead one day with his dogs guar ling his body.

Some of the sundowners used to sow pumpkin, marrow, melon and other seeds near camping-places to ensure supplies of vegetables when they worked round that way months afterwards. 'Pumpkin Paddy' had over one hundred such gardens around the Condamine and Warrego rivers. He liked potatoes and carried small ones, and thick peel, in a billy for sowing.'

Lemon-trees growing in unexpected places along the Richmond river are known as the Parson's Lemons after the Rev A. C. Selwy, who used to ride on horseback to stations and selections, carrying pocketfuls of circus seeds to be sown by the river and 'comfort for future travellers'.

'Quandong Joe' was known all over the west of New South Wales. He had quandong seeds on his clothes for buttons, and quandong seeds suspended from his hat to keep the flies from his face. From these seeds he made necklaces, rosary beads, and all kinds of novelties. He also made jam from quandongs and invariably feted a visitor to his cam with one of his quandong pies, in which he specialized.

'Charcoal Annie' was a woman sundowner in the Riverina district who burnt charcoal in river bends and sold it to blacksmiths. She seemed always middle-aged, always carried a sack on her back, and had great, deep, haunted eyes. She lived alone, did no wrong, and died a mystery. 'Billy Patches', a Queensland character, was so-called because of the many neat patches on his clothes. On his death a black note was found down under each patch. 'Old Bob' deserves inclusion in any list of bushy characters. He was a boundary-rider who spent most of his spare time with paints and brushes. In any picture he painted it was a certainty that there would be a fence of some sort. Old Bob had a mania for painting fences, whether his picture was of a horse, cow, hut or cottage. He had pictures of such fences as the dog-leg, clock-and-block, post-and-rail, the lazy cocky's and those varied bush fences that are nameless. A collection of Old Bob's paintings would surely be a complete record of all the types of fences that have been erected in outback Australia.

'Nangus Jack' was a famous whip-maker. His whips were used all over the country. He would spend a week or two making whips for any station he visited; stockwhip, buggy whip, and other kinds. the job finished, he would move on to another station. If things were slack he plaited whips and took them to saddlers in the townships, where they were sold for him. He never turned out a shoddy article. Everything he plaited was a first-class job. When not making whips he plaited bridles, halters, belts, braces and leather watch-chains. Nangus Jack was found dead on Old Man Plains, between Hay and Deniliquin, with one of his whips in his hand, as he would have wished to pass on.

One of the queerest characters ever to roam the outback was Paddy Lenny, known as 'The Horse King of the Northern Territory'. Although he did not own one acre of country, Lenny had at one time over eight hundred horses. With the assistance of a couple of native boys he used to travel his horses from one waterhole to another seeking the best feed. threats by irate station managers never worried Lenny, and though he hardly ever had enough to eat in his camp, the old Horse King refused to sell one of his horses. Upon his death in Darwin, the Public Curator employed stockmen to master Lenny's horses so that they could be sold, but drovers and others in the Territory had got in early, as soon as they heard of his death, and purloined many of the animals. One year a buyer offered Lenny 8 pounds a head for all the horses he could muster - at that time he had nearly seven hundred - but the old fellow refused. He preferred to keep his horses and roam the Territory in poverty.

A picturesque character was a woman known all over western Queensland as 'Red Jack'. Her real name was Annie Doyle. for more than twenty years she wandered the west, never remaining long in any locality. Red Jack was a rough character, a slim, wiry woman crowned with a thatch of long red hair, usually bundled up and sometimes skewered with a stick. She dossed at a campfire like the ordinary battler on the road, and knew the wide spaces better than most men. She was a first-class drover, but would tackle any kind of work at a pinch. Dressed like a man on the overland, and with her fiery locks under a wide-brimmed hat, she passed easily for a man and was always addressed as Jack. She owned two smart horses, riding one and leading the other. With these horses she attended every bush race meeting, training them and riding them in the various events. her most memorable race was at Cloncurry, a match for 10 pounds with a Chinese, who thought he owned the champion of the west. The race - a mile - was held on Sunday, and all Cloncurry turned out to see it. The Chinese was a splendid rider, but he lacked Annie's experience. After a desperate neck and neck race in which the celestial's pigtail came down and Red Jack's bundle of hair followed suit, Annie won by half a head. Her racings and her wanderings ended at Mareeba, North Queensland, where she died in 1902.  


Currency theorists may be interested in a practice which, for good or ill, has fallen into disuse. At one time printed notes of various denominations were issued by storekeepers over most of north-west Queensland. they could be cashed anywhere in that vast area just the same as banknotes. They were nicknamed 'shinplasters'.

As might be expected, there was a certain amount of abuse. Although forgeries were uncommon, there was another way by which the public could be cheated. Unscrupulous store-keepers issuing these notes would often bake them in a hot oven and slightly dampen them. As a result, after a certain period, they would crumble to bits. Many a bushman taking change in the notes would find on arrival at another town that the shin-plasters had turned into powder and were utterly useless.


'And he raced his stockhorse past them
And he made the ranges ring
With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.'

'Banjo' Paterson's song of the stockwhip recalls the fact that the stockwhip is a symbol of the Australian outback; the constant companion of the stockman who handles cattle, wild horses and sheep.

The Australian stockman rides a different kind of horse, wears different clothes, uses different gear from men who handle stock in other parts of the world. One of the things that sets him apart is his stockwhip. Like him it is unique, What the lariat is to the North American cowboy, the bolas to the South American gaucho, and the zhambok is to the South African, the whip is to the Australian stockman. When a whip is used in other countries it is short-handled and made for striking rather than cracking. Australian whips have been sent all over the world, but mainly as curiosities, for it takes an Australian stockman to handle them. a whip plaited by an expert is a beautiful piece of work. It is really two whips - one is plaited and another plaited over the top of the first. eight feet is the average length of the stockwhip, though some are made up two twenty feet long. 'Sailtbush' Bill Mills - one of the first bushmen to win international fame for his prowess with the stockwhip - used a 55-foot whip.

Kangaroo hide is the main reason why Australian whips are so good. 'for its weight it is much stronger than any other hide, and it works up into a fine finish. Plaited leather is used on the handle, which is just as important as the rest of the whip. a handle too long or too short can destroy the balance of the whip. the handle, and the way the whip is fixed by an interlocking keeper to the handle, is where the Australian whip differs most from others. A man who uses a stockwhip all day becomes extremely accurate with it. No wonder it is called the stockman's 'third arm', Cattlemen have been known to cut a brand on a beast's hide with a whip. some of the fancy and trick cracks of the experts are remarkable. they can, to all appearances, flog a man unmercifully, yet they are not hurting him in the least, for they crack the whip about a foot to the side of the body and let it curl around harmlessly. If you have tasted a cake made with an emu egg you will really know the meaning of the word 'rich'. One emu egg is equal to twelve hen eggs, and a cake made with one is just food for the Gods. They are delicious, too, scrambled. But if you like your eggs boiled you must cook them for nearly half an hour and keep turning them in the water.

Many and varied are the methods adopted by bushmen to tell if the eggs are fresh. Emu eggs will keep fresh for nine months, or more, and if you smear some fat or wax over them they will last for years. To test their freshness bushmen often use the spinning method. You take three eggs and place them end to end on top of each other, holding the top and bottom ones in each hand. The pressure holds the egg in the centre. That centre egg, if it is fresh, will start to spin round and round. If it stays still, you will know it has had its day. should you have but one emu egg to test, you place a straw on top of it. If the egg is fresh the straw will start spinning round. A medium-sized egg weighs about one and a half pounds. If a horseman comes across a nest, and has no means of carrying them, he usually takes off his shirt, ties the ends of the sleeves, and fills the latter with the eggs. Then he puts a sleeve on each side of his saddle and rides home. Outback folks regard the emu as an excellent weather prophet. the birds will lay their eggs only if they know there will be rain soon, with plenty of juicy green feed for the chicks when they hatch out. If eggs are not found in the months when the birds usually lay, a dry season is indicated.


The name 'billy' seems to be a purely Australian word. Legend says that it was first used in Western Australia on the goldfields. In the early days France used to export quantities of tinned meat to the miners there. It was labelled 'Beauf Bouilli' (boiled beef). As cooking utensils were extremely scarce on the goldfields the miners put the empty tins to good use. some they used as drinking cups, others they put handles on to make pots for boiling water and cooking purposes. they called them 'bouilli' cans. It was only a matter of time before the same became bully can and was later shortened to billy. The billy is one of the most widely used articles in outdoor Australia, popular among rich and poor alike. Swagmen sometimes carry sets of billies of graduated size that fit inside each other. rarely, though, will you see a swaggie with a new or bright-looking billy. It brands him as a new chum, so he blackens it as quickly as possible, boiling it over smoky fires until it becomes a 'respectable' black. 

Years ago, billy-boiling contests were popular pastimes at bush carnivals, especially in the districts where drovers used to meet. Some of the entrants carried special billies for these contests. They were as thin as tissue paper. No black or soot stained them, for the cleaner the billy the quicker it boils. Also the fire needs to be a small, compact one, kept directly under the billy. From Western Australia also came the invention of the Coolgardie safe. It was on the goldfields, too, that this had its origin. Ice was unknown in those parts, but the miners soon solved the problem of keeping food cool and fresh with this safe. the principle was sound but simple. A tray of water on the top of the food container was connected with a drip tray underneath, by means of stripe of hessian. the water kept the hessian sides damp, and, as the safe was placed in a current of air, the process of evaporation lowered the temperature inside the safe. It was only necessary to keep water in the top tray in order to keep food in the safe cool and fresh. today, lots of people prefer the Coolgardie safe to the modern ice chest. From somewhere in the outback came the idea of the tucker-box. Every bushman who travelled in any kind of vehicle carried a box as a food receptacle. An ideal one was made from a gin case. Small holes were cut in the ends, and these were covered with fine gauze wire to allow air to circulate in the tucker-box, and also to keep out the flies. whilst the food was being eaten in front of the camp-fire the tucker-box served as a seat. 

Apart from the invention of such makeshift masterpieces as the Murrumbidgee blanket and the Wagga rug, it is claimed that the wire mattress was the invention of an Australian bushman. The Wagga rug is made from old sacks. the Murrumbidgee blanket is also made from old sacs with the addition of strips of paper-bark sewn inside it. The first bush wire mattress was merely a frame of saplings. Holes were bored into the wood so that fencing-wire could be interlaced to form a platform on which gum leaves or dry grass were placed. It formed a snug and comfortable bed. Later on netting wire was substituted for the fencing-wire. It is said that the first bush telegraph was invented in the early nineties by Edward Argyle, manager of Gunbower sheep station, Victoria. He bought at a Melbourne shop a toy-like telephone gadget, which he tried out to practical use on his fence. to his surprise it worked, and it was not long before the fences were wired to communicate with outlying stations. The scheme was widely adopted, not only in Australia but on the ranches of Texas and Arizona. American papers, including the Scientific American, published the story of the Australian origin of the outback 'phone service.


Most people take it for granted that Australian damper originated in the bush. According to the historian Bonwick, the inventor was a First fleeter named William Bond, Australia's first baker, who had his place of business in Pitt Street, Sydney.

This pioneer died in 1838, at the reputed age of a hundred and ten. Probably through lack of facilities for making the common bread loaf, much of the bread he made at first was 'damper'. the name 'damper' was derived from his custom of 'damping the fire - covering it with ashes, so as to preserve the red coals with which to make a blaze in the morning. the bush damper is still covered in much the same manner. there are many ways of making damper. Here is one recipe of pioneer days:

Take 1 lb. of flour, water, and pinch of salt.
Mix into a stiff dough and knead for at least one hour,
not continuously, but the longer it is kneaded the better the damper.
Press with the hands into a flat cake, and cook in at least a foot of hot ashes.

When the pioneers trail-blazed the bush there were no self-raising flours, baking-powders or yeast. Nevertheless, bushmen and women had many substitutes for baking-powder, the most popular being a handful of white wood-asses. In the artesian bore country, bore-water was sufficient to make the damper rise. Damper has always retained its popularity with swagmen. At Christmas time, when these wondering gentlemen foregather in celebration, they sometimes put threepenny-bits in the damper!

The man outback seldom had a pair of scales and even if he had a foot-rule he rarely used it. He measured corn, bran or anything else on his farm, with a kerosene-tin, and he was generally pretty accurate. by looking at a beast for a few moments he could judge within a pound or two in correct weight, and guessing the weight of bullock is still popular at country shows. timber could be measured with the hands. Bushmen knew exactly the width of their hands, how far they could span, and how many steps they took to a hundred yards. On the south coast of New south Wales a story is told of a woman who was famed for always winning the 'stepping the hundred yards' event at all country sports carnivals. However, an event at 'Wyndham was the last one she won. Just before she finished stepping the hundred yards a dog ran in front of her and she tripped and fell. her dress flew up and revealed a peace of cord fastened from one leg to another so that by stepping the full extent of this cord she was able to measure her paces exactly.

Children of the great outback rarely saw sweets, and they knew nothing of cinemas and radio, but they made their own fun and entertainment. They roasted cobs of young corn at the fire, baked potatoes, quinces and apples in the hot ashes, gathered bunya-nuts and roasted them like chestnuts, used quandong seeds for marbles, after eating the fruit, and where bush-nuts were plentiful up north they had no need to buy peanuts. Thy used to eat the thick red mass from briar pips before experts knew it was rich in vitamin C. they made their own sporting material. bush timber made cricket bats, and a fungus known as blackfellow's bread provided the balls. When dad killed a bullock they inflated the bladder and made a football. And then there were the joys of swimming in the creek, or billabong, or at least some kind of waterhole.

The prickly pear has been a costly menace in Australia nevertheless it was a boon to the old-timers. Many have pulped the pear and used it as a cattle fodder with good results. Bush women have found that the fruit made delicious jam and jelly indeed, where ordinary fruit was scarce many children have known no other jam. bushmen in the outback, and even children doing their homework for the correspondence school have written with prickly-pear juice as a substitute for ink. It has even been used as a paint. there are many people who swear by prickly pear as a remedy for diabetes. they boil some of the green leaves and drink the juice. And there's a tiip regarding the spikes on the plant. they are an excellent substitute for gramophone needles, giving a mellow tone which is not obtainable from the usual steel needles.


Quinn's Light - Fisher's Ghost 0 Ghost Glen - The Maretinet Major - Black Horse of Sutton -
Ghost of Glengallan Gates - Light that Falls - Ghost of Yarralumla - Morgan's Ghost - The Bunyip.

Australia's ghosts seem to have died out in recent years. Perhaps the country has been opened up too much for them. There were the Headless Horseman that caused cattle to stampede; the Tinonee ghost which appeared on a marshy flat near the manning river; the Phantom Mail - a light which appeared to be on a mail-coach in the One Tree Plain district, near Hay, and which travelled rapidly across the iplain. Men have galloped after it, but have never caught it.

Quinn's Light

No ghost can be altogether satisfactory unless it makes repeated and somewhat regular appearances. One spectre that endeavours to uphold a good ghostly tradition is Quinn's Light. the strange phenomenon is well attested. It has chosen as its locale the Daudman Valley in the Go-Go-Billi Range down by the Lachlan River, and it takes its name from one John Quinn, who for very many years was a judge at the New South Wales sheepdog trials and a man of sound common sense.

Quinn claimed that on numerous occasions he saw a strange light of extraordinary brilliance which came floating down the valley among the tall timbers, circled his homestead, then made back to its hills. Quinn described it as resembling a large, yellow, crested eagle with outstretched wings, and said that it illuminated the trees as it passed with a phosphorescent glow. He showed it to others - in case his own testimony should not be believed - and he organized night riders who pursued it, and hunters who shot at the apparition but to no purpose.

Ghosts of the Glen

In the town of Kiama, on the South coast of New South Wales, the old folks tell a ghostly tale of the early days there. The story is as old almost as the town itself. The drama occurred in the days when ticket-of-leave men roamed the countryside - when Kiama was thickly timbered cutting. Many an old resident will recall for you the vivid verse that tells of Kiama's blood-curdling ghosts:

'Over a pitfall, the moon dew is thawing,
And with never a body two shadows stand sawing,
The wraiths of two sawyers (step under and under),
Who did a foul murder, and were blackened with thunder;
As whenever a storm wind comes driving and driving,
Through the blood-spattered timber you may see the saw striving,
You may see the saw heaving and falling and heaving,
Whenever the sea-creek is chafing and grieving.'

In the convict days many of the ticket-of-leave men were to be feared, especially those found amongst the Illawarra sawyers. They were a cut-throat crew who would stop at no evil feed. One late night a young English immigrant, with a sheep-dog at his side, entered the inn at Kiama. He strolled over to the bar, calling out:

'Good evening, gentlemen! I'm a stranger to the district, but I hope you don't mind me joining the company. Have a drink everybody! Come on - all of you! The drinks are on me!'

In 'shouting' for the crowd the young man foolishly displayed a purseful of money. The evening passed, and then, slightly drunk, he decided to continue his journey. Up spoke one of the few remaining drinkers: 'Now look here, new chum, me and me mate wouldn't think of letting you go out in the bush alone. Anyway, you'd never find your way on a pitch dark night like this. And, what's more, young feller-me-lad, if you're going south we can put you on the right track.'

And so the three men and the dog went into the darkness. they never returned.

It was some months later that a man well known in the district became lost in the thick bush near the present township of Gerringong. When night came he made a rough shelter in a glen and lay down and went to sleep. He awoke to the rumble of thunder. suddenly he felt his eyes being drawn to an object a few yards away. to his horror he saw it it was the doubled-u body of a man. A wasted sheep=dog was licking the dead face - gashed, bloody and terrible to see. Then he heard the rasping sound of a cross-but saw and, looking farther into the darkness, he perceived the silhouetted figures of two men working in a saw-pit, complete with logs and crosspieces. A burst of thunder came and, as it died away, one of the men spoke:

'He's still got fifty golden sovereigns left. that's twenty-five apiece. A nice little nest-egg for us. We'll pitch the swine into the fire! "but mind the dog - we'd better cut its throat.'

There was a flash of lightning and the apparition vanished. Next day a search party found the lost man. He told his rescuers of the vision in the glen. Afterwards another search was made where the lost settler was discovered. At the spot he indicated, the burnt bones of a man were found - near by was the skeleton of a dog. Years later, in the 1830s, a man walked into the same inn at Kiama. His name was Jem Hicks, and he had the dr5awn features of a haunted soul. someone remarked that they hadn't seen him for a matter of years - in fact not since the time the new chum had 'shouted' for everyone and then disappeared. All of a sudden a clap of thunder and lightning rent the air. A dog that was stretched out before the fire began to howl. Hicks started to tremble, and cried out:

'Curse the money! Curse the dog! Am I never to get peace?

In a stumbling rush he went into the night and was never seen again. So ends the story of the ghosts of the glen. but not so the spectres themselves, for, as old-timers in the district will inform you, the ghostly tableau has appeared on several occasions wanderers in the glen.

Fisher's Ghost

Most historic of Australia's ghosts is Fisher's, at Campbelltown, New South Wales. Near Sydney, on the main highway through Campbelltown, the road crosses a small creek on which is a neat sign marked FISHER'S GHOST CREEK.

Of the thousands of motorists who have read that notice few have failed to wonder as to the origin of the name. Is there a story? there certainly is. On the 17th of June, 1826 John Farley, a ticket-of-leave man burst into the crowded parlour of the Plough Inn at Campbelltown. His face was pallid, his eyes staring, and he was shaking as if with palsy. He cried out:

'A ghost! I've seen a ghost!'

An uproar of laughter greeted this dramatic announcement. Farley was bombarded from all sides by derisive questions and ri bald interjections. The pub patrons agreed that he had been the victim of a practical joker, or else was suffering from hallucinations. But he stuck to his story.

'I was passing Fisher's farm and, as you know, there's a full moon outside. Leaning over the slip-rails I saw a man with a pipe in his mouth. but he wasn't smoking, and, when I got a bit nearer I saw it was Fred Fisher himself. hen I got panicky, for I could see right through him, as if he wasn't solid. I knew then that it wasn't Fred Fisher himself. It was his ghost!'

'How did you know it was Fred Fisher's ghost? How do you know he's dead? someone called out. True, Fred Fisher had simply disappeared from the district, and there had been no cause to believe other than that he'd gone elsewhere in the country.

'What was the ghost doing?' came another question. Farley continued his story. 'He was just leaving over the slip-rails. then, as I went nearer, he began to point. I was too scared to move. Still, he kept on pointing down the paddock towards the creek. Then he just wasn't there - sort of faded away!'

Next morning Fisher's ghost was the one topic of conversation in the township. the news reached the local sergeant of police, who had already been making inquiries about Fisher's disappearance, and had notified the police headquarters in Sydney about the matter. The sergeant decided to act on Farley's story. He sent a trooper and two native trackers to examine Fisher's property, remarking with a laugh not to expect to find footprints of a ghost. No sooner had the party reached the slip-rails than Gilbert, one of the trackers, pointed to certain marks. there, smeared on the rails of the fence, in the exact position described by Farley, were traces of dried blood. Soon, Gilbert gave a little cry of triumph. The whites of his eyes gleamed excitedly as he followed a trail towards the creek. there, at a particular spot, he directed the party to dig. In a few moments they came upon the body of Fisher dressed in the clothes described by Farley, and in the place he said the ghost had indicated. Who was the murderer? Police investigations resulted in fisher's partner, a man named Worrall, who was then living in Sydney, being charged with the crime. though he protested his innocence he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On the day of his execution he confessed to the crime. And to this day, in Campbelltown, the oldest inhabitants will tell you that if you care to wander, unaccompanied as did John Farley, round Fisher's farm about midnight on the night of the 17th of June you will see a dim figure leaning over the slip-rails, pointing in the direction of the creek that runs at the bottom of the farm.

There is a sequel to this story. Mr. J. K. Chisholm of Gledswood knew Farley well. When the latter was on his dead-bed Mr. Chisholm went to see him.
'I want to ask you a question, Farley,' he said. 'Will you tell me the truth?'
Farley answered: 'I am a dying man, Mr. Chisholm. I'll speak only the truth.'
'Well, it's only one question, Farley, and this is it: did you really see Fisher's ghost, or did you make up that story because you had suspicions and wanted to matter investigated?'
Farley raised himself on his elbows painfully and looked straight at his visitor.
'Mr. Chisholm, I saw that ghost as plainly as I see you now.

Ghost of Glengallan Gates

The apparition was a gate opener in the Allora district of Queensland. riders would feel their horses trembling and sweating with fear as they approached the gates. Then a grey billowy form would fly from a post, and the gates would spring open. As soon as the horseman passed through, generally at a frenzied gallop, the gates would swing to again. The haunting continued for many years, and seemed to defy explanation. Unbelievers claimed that the ghost was merely a large, whitish owl, which made the gate-post its nightly perch. When the bird rose at the approach of a horseman the sudden movement caused the finely-balanced gates to swing open, and then, having reached the limit of their movement, they swung back again.

The gates were removed some years ago, when the old track was transformed into a main road, but it ids said that horses still betray terror when the crumbling gate stumps at night.

Records of the Monaro district of New South Wales abound in stories of wayside ghosts, shades of bushrangers who returned to the scenes of their crimes, sudden apparitions of the long since dead. Here are some picturesque tales of these spooks:

The Martinet Major

More than a century ago a certain major acquired large tracts of land in the Monaro district. A bachelor, he was a martinet of the worst kind. He had a number of convicts working for him, including an unruly member sent out as a political rebel. The latter resented the fact that he was 'a lag' along with the pick-pockets and cut-throats working on the station and, as a result, always exasperated the peppery major.

One day the major abused this convict, who picked up a stone and threw it at him. the major, who was also a magistrate, immediately sentenced the man to death, and the hanging took place on the property that same evening. but, so the story goes, the convict had his revenge. He haunted the place in a most annoying fashion, singing ribald songs at the foot of the major's four-poster bedstead; hunting the cattle out of the barns at night; kicking over buckets of milk left on the dairy floor by the milkmaids; rattling tins and tolling bells in the dead of night until the major could no longer stand it. Thoroughly exasperated, though he never admitted to being scared. thoroughly exasperated, though he never admitted to being scared, he sold his property and returned to England. he present owner of the property (it seems a pity to have to record) has never seen the ghost.

Black Horse of Sutton

Also in the Monaro district operated a famous spectre known as the Black Horse of Sutton. This apparition was seen at intervals by a certain family, but only when disaster befell their house. The first visitation took place when the father of the house went to Goulburn to arrange a land deal to extend his large property. As he was returning home he was thrown from his horse and killed.

It was a mild summer night and the man's wife was seated on the broad-flagged verandah of the homestead when she heard the faint echo of galloping hoofs along the dusty home road. There was silence; then the sound of a gate being opened; the wheeling of a horse as though a man had turned to close the gate; the changing sound as it shut fast; then the sound galloping hoofs again. The woman stood up and walked to the top of the verandah steps to welcome her husband. ...

'It must be John. Strange - I wonder why he didn't cooee as he always does? Why - I'm trembling! Perhaps it's just - oh! his horse! John! John! Where are you? ... A riderless horse had come into view, its hoofs drumming on the drive. It crossed the lawn at breakneck speed straight towards the house. The sound was muffled, only to be taken up again at the back of the house. the riderless horse had passed through the house and disappeared into the ranges beyond. The woman watched it in the dusk petrified. she hoped was a trick of her imagination in the fast-falling evening shadows. but she knew she would wait in vain for the return of her husband. When a search was made he was found dead - his horse grazing near by.

Old identities in the district will tell you that when disaster came to that family the riderless horse was seen galloping swiftly - a messenger of death. It made its appearance when the woman's eldest son was killed at the Boer War. Again when the youngest son met his death in an accident.

The house has long been demolished and sheep graze across the country where the riderless horse comes no more.

Black Ghost of Yarralumla

Yarralumla House, the beautiful Canberra residence of Australia's Governor-General, possesses a mystery of its own that is most intriguing. According to more or less conflicting versions of the story, a ghost - a real Australian blackfellow ghost - has been known to walk there. The wanderer is popularly supposed to be an aborigine searching for a lost diamond. but he is a very modest ghost who knows his place, never entering the house, but wandering about the lawns at Yarralumla, harmless and self-effacing. It is said he has been seen from the dining-room on cold dreary nights when the breezes whistle down on Canberra from the snowbound Monaro ranges. 

On summer nights he has been seen digging under a deodar tree, where a diamond of great value, for which he is ever searching, is said to be hidden. The tale is told in an unsigned manuscript dated 1881, 'written near Yarralumba'. The letter was found in this historic home after it had been handed over to the Commonwealth government by its former owners. It states:

'In 1826, a large diamond was stolen from James Cobbity, on an obscure station in Queensland. The theft was traced to one of the convicts who had run away, probably to New south Wales. The convict was captured in 1858, but the diamond could not be traced; neither would the convict (name unknown) give any information, in spite of frequent floggings.

'During 1842 he left a statement to a groom, and a map of the hiding-place of the hidden diamond. The groom, for a minor offence, was sent to Berrima gaol. He was clever with horses, and one day, when left to his duties, plaited a rope of straw and then escaped by throwing it over the wall, where he caught an iron bar. Passing it over, he swung himself down and escaped. He and his family lived out west for several years, according to the Rev James Hassall who, seeing him live honestly, did not think it necessary to inform against him. I have no reason to think he tried to sell the diamond. Probably the ownership of a thing so valuable would bring suspicion and lead to his re-arrest.

'After his death his son took possession of the jewel, and with a trusty blackfellow set off for Sydney. After leaving Cooms for Queanbeyan they met with, it was afterwards ascertained, a bushranging gang. The blackfellow and his companion became separated, and finally the former was captured and searched, to no avail, for he had swallowed the jewel. The gang, in anger, shot him. He w3as buried in a piece of land belonging to Colonel Gibbs, and later Mr. Campbell. I believe the diamond to be among his bones. It is of great value. My hand is enfeebled with age, or I should describe the trouble through which I have passed. My life has been wasted, my money expended, I die almost destitute, and in sight of my goal. I believe the grave to be under the large deodar-tree. Being buried by blacks, it would be in a round hole. Believe and receive a fortune. Scoff and leave the jewel in its hiding place.

'Written near Yarralumla.'

If the story is untrue, the deodar is not. The tree is considered to be the finest of its kind in the Commonwealth. No attempt has been made to uproot it, for the owners of Yarralumla have always thought more of this grand old tree than the chance of treasure among its roots, and they have left the jewel - if any - in its hiding-place. Many thousands of deodars growing throughout the country have been planted from the seeds of this famous old-timer with its absorbing tale of mystery.

Light that Fails

Broome, the pearling port of Western Australia, provides a ghostly manifestation that has been in evidence for many years. there is a beacon on the foreshore that, for some unaccountable reason, sometimes becomes dim. Complaints have been made by skippers in those waters, and time and again the light has been completely overhauled and cleaned, but all to no avail. without any known cause the light continues to grow dim at certain times. The coloured divers firmly believe that ghosts of drowned pearlers, on certain memorial nights, flit and roam round the beacon. that, they declare, is the explanation for the light dimming, as if enveloped by mist, even on the clearest of nights. Moreover, say the coloured seamen, it will always be so, for no effort of the white man can clear the ghosts of the dead away.

Morgan's Ghost

Old hands around Woodend, Victoria, will tell you that the ghost of bushranger Dan Morgan still rides over the mountains in the vicinity at night. Not far from Woodend is Hanging Rock, claimed to be Morgan's hideout. there is an underground stream which emerges near the foot of the rock and runs over the cliff. the water in this stream is always rust-coloured, and a deposit of red rust is left on the rocks. Because of this and the link with Morgan the water has long been referred to locally as 'Morgan's Blood.'

When Morgan was shot dead at Peechelba his head was cut off and sent to Melbourne to be examined for scientific purposes, which no doubt accounts for the story that the ghost riding about the hills is a headless ghost.

Behold the Bunyip

Mention of the bunyip will perhaps mean little to the present generation of young Australians. but there are many other folk who can vividly recall the fears inspired by lonely parts of the bush where they wandered as youngsters - fears arising from alleged association of the localities with this mysterious feast. A flourishing Victorian country newspaper still circulates under the name of The Bunyip, and Australia's fairy-tale creature is known to both black folk and white, though nobody knows what it looks like. Oddly enough, this truly fabulous creature has never been represented in any definite form in art or literature.

Despite some local variations, the story of the bunyip has so much in common throughout a considerable part of 'Australia that is fair to assume that the myth had a basis in some common act of natural history. The bunyip of the aborigines was a large, dark-coloured, furred animal, with glowing eyes and a bellowing call, a haunter of swamps and billabongs. It did not take the white man long to get interested in the bunyip. Indicating a pre-knowledge, the first official reference appeared in the minutes of the Geographical Society of Australia, on the 19th December, 1821. the suggestion was recorded, following the report by the explorer Hamilton Hume of the existence of a strange animal in Lake Bathurst, supposedly a manatee, hippopotamus, or bunyip, that Hume be reimbursed for expenditure incurred in any further attempt to obtain hide, teeth or other tangible evidence of the existence of this creature.

In the early days of Victoria, before it became a separate colony, Governor Latrobe wrote that there were 'two kinds' of bunyip. He sent drawings of the 'southern' kind to Tasmania but they have been lost. It may be that the 'northern' kind of bunyiip was in part inspired by swamp-feeding cows, truants from the infant settlement of Parramatta. Early Sydney records of the marsh monster introduce horns and tasselled tails, which must have added special terror to the age-old stories of the local aborigines. It is a pity that no copies remains of Latrobe's drawings of the bunyip. Contemporary Victorian writers called it the 'bunyip or kianpraty'. There are records of alleged eyewitnesses. The year 1872 was the date of the Narrandera (New South Wales) bunyiip, which was seen by many observers. It was described as: 'About half as long again as an ordinary retriever dog. Hair all over its body, jet black and shining. Its coat very long.' The following year one was recorded and described from Dalby, Queensland: 'it had a head like a seal, and a tail consisting of two fins, a larger and a smaller one'.

The Great Lake in Tasmania is supposed to have been inhabited by several bunyips. One bumped a boat in the Francis McPartland, in 1870, and three or four together. Several observers in this locality, within ten years, all agree in describing the creature as like a huge sheep-dog about the head, and from three to five feet long. There are many observers who steadfastly believe, and with much reason, that the actual origin of the widespread bunyip myth lies in the fact that from time to time seals have made their way uip the winding waters of the Murray and Darling rivers and the vast network of associated streams, to live there for a time in the billabongs and lagoons.

More than many years ago a seal was actually shot in a lagoon near Conargo, New South Wales it was stuffed and remained over the chimney-place at the Conargo Hotel for many years. This animal had penetrated over nine hundred miles inland along the streams of the Murray basin. The mysterious booming sound made by the bittern, a very shy bird, has become associated with the bunyip, but actual observers have usually described the sound of the latter as a roar or bellow. The imagination of the Port Phillip natives pictured the bunyip as a fearsome booming beast, as big as a bullock, with an emu's neck, the mane and tail of a horse, and a seal's flippers. It had a cuckoo's instinct, and had turtle's eggs in the nest of a platypus. Strangely enough the description fits very closely that extinct marine reptile the plesiosaurus. but the bunyip, unlike the plesiosaurus, when it tired of crayfish, ate blacks!

In any case it seems that the fabled bunyip has at lease some slight substratum of fact. 


From Spanish Shores - Dog God Idol - Ship with a Silver Keel - Mystery Trees - One Chance in a Million - Stolen gold - The 10,000 pound pearl.

The islands of North Australia, especially in the Torres Strait, are a fascinating field for treasure trove. some of the old Spanish shipwrecks have been seen by the pearl divers and a fair amount of their treasures recovered. Most of it, however, now lies smothered beneath coral. Some years ago Frank Jardine, a well-known pearler, found beneath the rusty anchor of one of these wrecks a small fortune in ancient Spanish gold coins. On Stephens Island a fisherman found a native idol which was decorated with valuable old Castilian jewellery. Then again, on Prince of Wales Island a crumbling skeleton was found, alongside of which was a huge rusty sword of ancient Spanish design. Nearby was a valuable gold goblet.

Quite a number of gold coins have been found on Booby Island. In the early days Booby Island was the headquarters of the only real pirates that Australia has ever known. They were a band of Asiatic cut-throats who plundered the Spanish treasure ships as they sailed to and from the Philippines. The buccaneers were finally wiped out in a sea battle with a Spanish man-of-war, but their valuable loot is thought to be buried somewhere on booby. that lonely island is riddled with caves, some of which have never been explored. Maybe the pirates' hoard is hidden in one of them. 

Sixty odd years ago Booby Island was a regular calling-place for all the sailing vessels plying to and from Australia via Torres Strait. There is very little to be seen today on the island to remind one of its importance, save one curiosity - a cave that was used as a post-office. It was an arrangement between the captains and crews whereby they used to drop their letters into a box that was kept in the cave. When a ship called the captain would open the box and, if there were any letters for his run, collect them. alongside the seamen's letter-box, was a big diary. In this the captains signed and entered the dates their ships called. the letter-box is still there but the diary has vanished. The only records to be seen are hundreds of names of seamen and their ships scratched on the walls of the cave. At one time the Queensland Government always kept in this unattended post-office food, water and clothing for shipwrecked sailors.

Dog God Idol

Not all the hidden treasure of Torres Strait are from the old Spanish wrecks. Secreted somewhere on Moa Island is an ancient and valuable tortoise-shell idol that was once worshipped by the former savage warriors there. the idol was the famous Dog God of Moa. It was a huge and remarkable figure of a dog. About 20 feet long and 12 feet high; modelled in thick tortoise-shell; more than two hundred of the finest tortoise-shells were used in its construction. At present-day values the shell alone would be worth more than 2000 pounds.

The missionaries began their work in the Torres Strait about eighty years ago. When rumour reached the natives of Moa about these strange white men who destroyed the old gods and idols, the chiefs determined to safeguard the Dog God. they carried the great idol to a secret cave and sealed up the entrance to it. Then they made a pledge never to reveal its whereabouts to any white man. those who knew of its hiding-place are now dead, and they have taken the secret with them to the grave. It is now believed that a landslide in past years must have covered the entrance to the Dog god's home, hiding the idol forever from the prying eyes of man.

Ship With A Silver Keel

The natives of Murray Island tell a tale of a ship with a silver keel which was wrecked off the island a long time ago. they say that every person aboard the ship was massacred by the fierce natives of those days. The legend is emphatic that the keel of the vessel was of solid silver - a rich prize to the finder. Unfortunately the natives have a deep, superstitious dread of the wreck and refuse to guide treasure seekers to its whereabouts. some years ago a white official found a group of native children on Murray island using large Spanish gold pieces as counters in a game in which flat beans usually serve as this medium. among the natives, apart from the stories they tell of white men who came in ships, there is definite evidence that large groups of white men have spent much time among them. some of the island tribes have a strangely light skin with pronounced Latin features. Moreover, Spanish words are included in their dialects.

One Chance In A Million

One of the strangest tales of the Torres Strait - and literally true - concerns the schooner Lancashire Lass that struck a reef on one of the Barrier Reef islands in 1890. The vessel laden with pearl-shell was returning to a Queensland port from the pearling grounds east of Cape York. A gale blew up, but the schooner flew before it and made fast time on the homeward course, for she was a good sea boat and skilfully handled. And then, with startling suddenness, there loomed, immediately ahead, great surges piling up and breaking in walls of foam - a sure indication of the weather side of a coral-reef. It was a terrifying sight, and to change course was quite impossible.

All the shipper could do was to look for a gap in the reef through which he might attempt a passage. But there was no gap; look as he might, he could see nothing but a wall of reef stretching right across the course from one extreme to the other of the limited horizon. there was nothing to be done except to keep the plunging schooner at it, in the desperate hope that some great wave might lift the vessel over the wall. The one chance in a million came off; as the little craft approached the reef and almost inevitable destruction, a huge comber roared up behind her and carried her over the obstruction into the calmness of the lagoon on the other side. The sails were lowered, and the anchor let go. The schooner rode in safety, while all hands thanked their lucky stars for such unexpected good fortune. Next day, wind and sea were fairly normal. It now became necessary to find a way out, but, after exploring all round the coral barrier, no gap could be discovered through which the schooner might pass to the open sea. The only hope of escaped lay in putting the cargo of pearl shells overboard, so that the ship might be sufficiently lightened to be floated across the reef at high tide.

This was done; the shell was sewn up in bags and lowered over the side to the bottom of the lagoon, into a depth of about 30 feet of water. The site of the cargo was marked by a buoy, and the geographical position determined. At the next high tide, the schooner managed to scrape over the reef and made the Queensland coast in a few days. When, on arriving at her home port, the story was told, the owners fitted out another and lighter vessel, and with an experienced diver on board this ship sailed for the spot where the cargo had been jettisoned. The reef was crossed safely, and the buoy found. The anchor dropped, the diver was sent below to begin his job. A few minutes passed without any signal from him, and then he came up again, making signs for his helmet to be unscrewed.

His story created a sensation; the bags of shell were there right enough, but, he said, they were lying on top of a great mound piled up above the floor of the lagoon; and this mound was composed entirely, as far as he could make out, of silver coins. to convince the sceptics, he took from the pocket of his diver's dress a lump of Spanish dollars all cemented together by the coral insencts, but quite easily separated into individual coins. There was no delay in beginning the task of raising the loot. There were thousands of dollars there; the schooner had to make several voyages before all the treasure was salvaged.

Consider the miraculous chance that led to the discovery. How the coin got into the lagoon no one can answer with any certainty. Probably a Spanish ship on her way to the Philippines was wrecked on the outer reef and at some time lifted bodily over the coral wall into the shallow water inside. Then, in the course of long years, the ship disintegrated, until nothing was left but the most valuable and imperishable part of the lading - the treasure of silver dollars.

Mystery Trees

A curiosity at Palm Island, close to Townsville, Queensland, is said to be the location of buried treasure. On the island is growing an avenue of strange trees, not to be found elsewhere in Australia. The trees are large and shady, in two rows. The individual trees are so evenly spaced that the planting of them was obviously the work of man. Though there is no direct evidence to indicate that the Spaniards planted them, they were certainly placed there in the days before Captain cook came to Australia.

Bush Characters and Bush Customs


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