Friday, 19 December 2014


Police party. Thomas Lawless, far left.  Hare in the middle.  Courtesy of Victorian Police Archives.

When you read of the hunt for the Kelly Gang, it appears that the police were going around in crazy circles.  They were up against it from the start.

The policemen lacked any knowledge of the bush and the large numbers of Kelly sympathisers kept the gang updated of police movements. Only later, did Hare decide to use Aboriginal trackers from Queensland.
The seven policemen who were in Hare’s party lived rough.  They were unable to pitch tents or build a campfire, so as to avoid attracting attention. In the bitter cold of the Warby Ranges, a campfire would have been a welcome relief.  They woke up every morning, usually covered in frost. Their food consisted of potted beef, biscuits and sardines.  They lived like this for weeks on end. Morale wasn’t good.

As Superintendant Hare later admitted, ‘Ned Kelly knew all of our movements in the Warby Ranges. He told of all our movements and described the men.’
After his capture, Kelly told the police that he knew even which police officer used to get the horses in the morning. He said it was always Thomas Lawless. If they had wanted to, the gang probably could have wiped out the police party. It would have been easy. 
The hunt continued. In one incident, the police rode across a house known to contain a group of Kelly informers. As they approached, the people rushed out of the house calling the names of the Kelly Gang. When the police got closer, the sympathisers realised it was the police and rushed back inside.  
Lawless approached the house from a different direction, and in doing so, came across an informer who wasn’t in the house. The man called out to Thomas Lawless, calling him Steve initially. The man had mistaken Thomas for Steve Hart, who was a member of the Kelly Gang.  Thomas and Hart apparently had a similar physique.
Thomas Lawless was able to get out of the sympathiser that the gang would be coming to the house that night. The police settled in for the night, telling the people  to stay in the house. The sympathisers were warned that if they tried to leave the house they would be shot. The people complied but decided to have a party. The noise created, probably warned the Kelly Gang to stay away. Once again, the bushrangers had evaded capture.
The police continued to go around in circles for sixteen months and the Kelly continued to rob banks until the famous shootout at Glenrowan.  Thomas Lawless was in another search party when Glenrowan occurred, but in the aftermath of publicity, he became known as one of the best horse riders in Australia.  

When British peer, Earl of Clan William, visited Melbourne, Lawless and several other officers did a riding exhibition for him. The Earl was so impressed that he presented Lawless with a gold watch ( sadly, later stolen).

Lawless was shortly afterwards discharged from the police for being drunk on duty and assaulting a superior officer. Well, the officer had called Lawless an Irish Catholic bastard.
 Thomas continued doing riding displays but while preparing for one, he was thrown from the horse and killed. He was only thirty-two. 


Sunday, 16 November 2014


‘Such is life.’- Ned Kelly’s final words before execution.

 Ned Kelly remains a controversial figure in Australia; was he a murderer ( his gang murdered three police officers and an informer) or was he a Robin Hood character?  More books have been written about him than any other Australian and three movies (one starring Mick Jagger, another starring Heath Ledger) have been made about the Kelly Gang.

 I can proudly say that my two Irish great, great uncles, Thomas and Richard Lawless, as members of the Victorian Mounted Police, were involved in the hunt for the Ned Kelly gang. The two brothers were not at the final shootout at Glenrowan but they were in the police parties hunting for the gang.

The two brothers had emigrated to Melbourne in the early 1860’s with their mother and siblings (including my great grandmother)  from Castlecomer, Kilkenny, Ireland. The family had barely survived the Irish Famine and were keen to start a new life in Australia.
  Thomas and Richard, from an early age, were renowned for their riding skills and both joined the Victorian police force where they became horse breakers at Richmond Barracks in Melbourne.
The police hunt through the Wombat Ranges.

After the murder of three police officers at Stringybark Creek by the Kelly Gang in October 1878, Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare assembled a group of police officers to head to the town of Benalla in North East Victoria to capture the Kelly Gang. The Lawless brothers were picked to be part of the contingent, because of their riding skills.

Hare remains a controversial figure also. He was an unpopular character and notorious self- promoter. Augustus Hare would later write an account of his hunt for the Kelly Gang called, The Last of the Bushrangers.  Hare was at the final shootout at Glenrowan and was wounded in the hand.
In Benalla, acting on a tip-off by an informer, Hare and three men (including Thomas Lawless) went undercover at the Whorouly race meeting. Whorouly was a small town near Benalla.  The informer had told Hare that the Kelly Gang would be at the meeting. The police officers mingled with the crowd and in the case of Thomas Lawless, set up a table and performed card tricks for the punters.

After performing card tricks for some time, Lawless decided to enter one of the races hoping to get a better view of the racecourse. Lawless rode in the race and won it!  Of course. It was the only exciting event that happened to the police that day. 

 Aided by their many sympathisers, The Kelly Gang did not make an appearance at the racecourse. Apparently, they had watched the races from a hill at the rear of the racecourse.  To be continued….


Wednesday, 8 October 2014



‘I came here a free man, under Hugh Glass.’

Those are the distant words of my great, great grandfather, Patrick Bell who arrived in Melbourne after a tragic sea voyage from Ireland.  
Unlike many people coming to this country at the time, he was not a convict but a free settler. He had arrived here under what was called the assisted migration scheme. All you had to do was work off your passage for seven years for an Australian sponsor. In Patrick’s case, that sponsor was Hugh Glass.

Hugh was an interesting character.  He had arrived from Ireland as a poor immigrant in 1840. By the time Patrick stepped ashore, Hugh was one of the largest landowners and best political manipulators in Australia.  As a monument to his wealth, Hugh built Flemington House in Melbourne in the 1850's for 60,000 pounds (now about ten million dollars).  It boasted its own artificial lake, stocked with white swans imported from Ireland. Sadly, he died later, aged only fifty-five and flat broke.

Patrick had left Ireland with his pregnant wife and one child.  Just days out from arriving in Australia his wife went into labor and had a baby boy. The celebration was short lived. Patrick’s wife died from dysentery soon afterwards.
So Patrick was now a widower with two children in a strange land working for Hugh Glass. He wasn’t alone for long.  He soon met an Irish servant girl named Anastasia Grace, got her pregnant and married her. But Patrick couldn’t settle and when he heard of the gold rush in California in 1848, he deserted his expanding family and headed to California. California here I come.

Patrick had an interesting time in California. One night in a saloon, he was playing cards when he noticed that one of the players was cheating. In true Wild West style, he drew his pistol and shot the man in the leg. Violence and death were common on the goldfield. So common, that one in five miners would die from violence, disease and accidents within six months of arrival.

He didn’t get rich but I guess he didn’t die there. He returned to Melbourne and reunited with his wife and family. It didn’t end well as you would have wanted it to. Once, in a drunken rage, he tried to kill Anastasia. The judge ordered him to stay away from Anastasia permanently.  Not long after that, he died from the effects of alcoholism and was buried in an unmarked grave. Patrick was aged only thirty-eight.

His grave is next to the Elvis Presley Memorial; a fitting place to rest for a man who tried to make the big time in America.        


Sunday, 14 September 2014


John Patrick Bell. Cardigan Station. 1915.. 

We’re going back in time to a disturbing incident when my great uncle, my grandfather and another man were poisoned.
It occurred at Cardigan Station, near Charters Towers in 1900. The station was managed by my great uncle, John Patrick Bell. My grandfather, Richard George Bell, was working there at the time. After returning to the station after mustering for a few days, my great uncle went to the cupboard containing bottles of brandy, whisky and port. Yes, the Bells did not drink milk.  John poured a glass of port and brandy for Richard and himself.  After tasting his, John complained that it had a bitter taste. He told my grandfather that he thought it must be off. They decided against drinking anymore.
The next day, a visitor by the name of Graham was visiting and that evening, John got out the bottle of brandy and poured glasses for Graham, himself and my grandfather. Graham drank his first and immediately said that it contained poison. He then fell to the floor and started convulsing.  Fortunately, Graham did not die.
After straining the brandy, my great uncle found crystals at the bottom of the glass. John suspected it was strychnine and informed the police. If you don’t know what strychnine is, it is a deadly poison that is pink in colour and has a bitter taste. If inhaled, absorbed through the eyes or mouth or swallowed, it can cause severe convulsions and death by asphyxia. It is the poison that has been portrayed in literature and movies over the years.
When the police arrived from Charters Towers, they questioned a young employee named Frederick Cole who was only fifteen. Cole confessed under questioning that he had decided to kill my great uncle who had earlier chastised him. Cole said that he had stolen the poison from my grandfather’s locker and put it in the bottles of alcohol. My grandfather used the poison to kill dingoes.

Cole was arrested. My great uncle, grandfather and Graham had no lasting effects from the poison.  It takes more than a glass of poison to kill outback men.

Thursday, 31 July 2014


The Escapee.

In keeping with the theme of my latest blogs, I will relate a story about my most adventurous near miss. 

As a kid on a cattle station, I was always on the move or on the run. I think as soon as I could walk I was off down the bush seeking adventure. You could call me a runaway, an infant escapee. Others may have used less flattering descriptions for me.  As you would expect, living in the bush is more hazardous for a kid than one living on a suburban street. For a start there’s no wild pigs, thick bush, deep rivers or snakes in most leafy suburbs.
My parents just had to turn their backs and I was gone. A friend of my parents suggested they tie me to the clothes line if I was outside. My parents used to smack me when I came back but that was no deterrence. Usually I’d disappear for a few hours, usually in the company of two cattle dogs. I remember a female dog called Battler. Those dogs are most probably the reason why I didn’t die. I’m convinced God and those cattle dogs were looking after me.

The day of the Great Escape, I apparently took off in the early morning, heading for the river as usual. Mum was left at the homestead as Dad and the stockmen were out mustering cattle. As you would expect, mum soon went into a blind panic when she couldn't find me. She ran to the river but couldn’t find me. She could see bubbles in the water. She went in but of course I wasn’t there. She ran back to the homestead and tried to use the radio but she couldn’t get it to operate (we didn’t have a phone). She tried to start the car but without success, then she attempted to catch a horse but it bolted. She must have been overwhelmed with fear of what had happened to me. Alone and afraid, she probably had already decided I wasn’t coming home. All she could do was to keep searching, hope and wait.

As for me, I don’t remember much about that day (I was aged only three) except for two events. I can still see clearly in my head, the two cattle dogs attacking a bunch of wild pigs near the riverbank. Whether, I had walked into them and the dogs were defending me, I can’t remember.
The other recollection, is sitting naked (I apparently always took off my clothes when I took off. Thankfully, it’s not a habit I have anymore) and covered in sand in the kitchen of the homestead. Then my mother came into the kitchen, saw me sitting in the chair.  You'd think she would have  grabbed me and smacked my bare behind wouldn't you? Instead, I remember clearly her crying and collapsing on the floor.

I probably kept running away but I never ran away for that long again. Even as a kid, I saw no future in it.


Sunday, 22 June 2014


On the road to the cattle station. Parents and I with a Land Rover.  Circa 1964.

Rule number one when rowing across a river if you’re a teenager. When you’re a  teenage boy crossing a river and you want to tip all of your mates, don’t forget to ask if everyone can swim first.

Somehow, I found myself , aged all of seven, in dad’s rowing boat in the middle of a the river with a bunch of rowdy teenage boys, when some bright spark decided to tip everyone all of the boat. I knew that I couldn’t swim but no one else seemed to know that. I had a thing about learning to swim at the time. Dad tried to teach me lots of time. It was probably a good idea when you live close to two intercepting rivers but I used to go beserk every time dad tried to put my head in the water. I had a big fear of drowning. Still do. 

Of course, it was a little too late to contemplate swimming lessons when you’ve just been tipped out of a boat into the murky depths of the Suttor River. I didn’t even have time to yell. I just remember going down and down, like I was floating in a huge water bubble. I tried to thrash my legs about but it was like trying to climb a set of stairs when there aren’t any stairs. I was going down. I stopped panicking and started surrendering to the void. Then a hand plunged into the water from nowhere and I suddenly found myself being pulled from the deep by one of the teenage boys.

I was coughing and sputtering my guts out but I was alive. Thankfully the boat hadn’t sunk so someone had been able to pull me back into it. Asked quickly if I was all right to which I responded in the affirmative. I quickly followed that by spewing up a lungful full of water. Then one of them of them implored that I don’t tell my father.  And I didn’t until much later. How silly of me. If I hadn’t have been a na├»ve bush kid, I could have eaten a lot of lollies and chocolates and acquired some more toy cars.     

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


Standing on the roof of a car with my pet goat.

It’s really hard to confine a kid with a non-existent attention span  in the Australian bush. I know. I was that kid who if my parents turned their backs I was off seeking adventure.

I think my mother was always hovering on the brink of a nervous breakdown, always worried about where I would end up.  My father was more laid back about my wanderings. Or maybe he had resigned himself  to my fate. There was a strong possibly I was going to die in childhood and the bush has many ways to kill you, especially if you’re a kid. 

For a start there was the nearby river. I couldn’t swim. Dad had attempted to teach me but without success. I did only manage to nearly drown twice. I think I’ll do a drowning blog as both episodes are interesting.
Talking about near misses. There was the wild pig that charged at me when I went with dad to check a dam. Luckily my father was there to save me. Wild pigs are big, black brutes with razor sharp tusks. They can do a lot of damage. Then there are the snakes. Venomous ones.  I once rode over one on a tricycle. Dad grabbed me before it could bite me. Can you see a theme developing here? My father was a good rescuer.

I think the closest I came to being taken out was when I wandered into a stock yard  full of cattle aged five. I climbed into the yard only to have them rush at me. Fortunately for me they stopped in front of me or I would have been trampled to death. Was that all of the near misses.

 I ran away for a whole day and managed to come home. I was aged all of three.

That deserves its own blog. Stay tuned.



Saturday, 3 May 2014


My father was going back to the river care of the crocodile.  He had heard recent reports from stockmen that a crocodile had been in the river near the homestead. Having just been nearly taken crossing the river overnight, there was clear evidence of that.  He knew it would be most probably at the Big Hole as it was known. Crocs liked to sun themselves during the day and where better; The Big Hole.

The Big Hole was a large bend in the Suttor River which flowed past the Lornesleigh homestead. Its measured depth was over twenty feet deep. A large sand bank jutted into it and it was a great place to swim on a hot day.  Years later, I remember that it looked like an expanse of beach.  Only difference is the river sand is course and the water wasn’t rolling waves but murky still water. In fact, my mother had been recently swimming in The Big Hole while she had been pregnant with me. Obviously a croc was not in the big hole at the time or was it?
My father left the homestead armed with a German Mauser bolt action rifle 9.3 calibre. It had previously belonged to a game warden in Kenya. The homestead was two miles from the Big Hole. Dad said he stalked the croc upwind along the river for a mile. He knew by previous experience that crocodiles were sensitive to smell and movement.  Getting to a hundred yards from the big hole he was able to first see sight of his target. Thinking it was going to one crocodile, instead it was two; a male and female.
My father stepped slowly forward, but started to sink into a patch of soft sand up to his waist. He pulled himself out of it but the noise of his exertion, started to unsettle the crocodiles. They slid slowly towards the edge of the sand. Dad knew he only had seconds to shoot. He slipped off the safety, aimed and fired just as they slipped into the water. The male buckled as it was hit and then both crocodiles disappeared under the dark water. 

Thinking he had missed, dad returned disappointed to the homestead. A few days later, the mailman was crossing the river when he spotted the male crocodile floating dead on its back. It measured 16 feet ( 4.8 metres). The female crocodile disappeared but there were always suspected sightings over the years. Swimming in the river always made me feel a little uneasy as a kid. Would the female crocodile ever return? Thankfully, she never did.   

Saturday, 26 April 2014


For many years crocodiles filled the rivers that my family’s cattle stations were situated on. They had not taken a human being during the hundred years that my family lived there but that wasn’t for want of trying.

The danger with crocodiles is that you could not see them in the water even if they were right near you as the water is very murky. You would only see them when they came out of the water and grabbed you. The crocs could always see you. Dad remembers an Aboriginal stockman filling his billy can at the river bank one day. The stockman couldn’t move quick enough to fill his billy and jump back from the water. He knew they were there.

Crocodiles were always a danger to cattle especially when they wandered down to the river to drink. Dad had seen bulls over the years with large claw marks on them. Those cattle were the lucky ones, probably only saved by their weight and fighting spirit.  The closest one of the my family had come to being taken by a croc was when my father tried to cross a river one night, only to be confronted by two orange-coloured eyes coming towards him through the water. The water was up to his chest and he luckily had time to get out of the water.
Choosing discretion over valor, dad decided to sleep that night on the river bank.Unfortunately for dad, when he arrived back at the homestead in the morning for breakfast, my mother got very angry with him. She thought that he had been drinking all night with his brother at the other station. Dad went to the gun cabinet. For the sake of domestic harmony that croc had to go. More of that story in my next blog.  

Until the 1970s, crocodiles could be hunted and so my father and uncle had made a concerted effort to rid the rivers of the man-eating reptile. They finally succeeded in the late 1950’s. Dad is always credited with shooting the last crocodile.  I was born in 1958 and don’t remember seeing any crocodiles in the rivers as a kid. But there was always the myth that not all had been shot.  To be continued. 

Thursday, 13 March 2014


War Souvenirs

The above photograph, taken in the nineteen eighties, shows a sample of the war souvenirs that people brought home from the Second War World. Most were collected by my uncles in North Africa but others were given to the family by friends.
Why you would collect souvenirs from the battle field is beyond me. I’d want to get the hell out of there but that’s what soldiers have always done throughout history.

The red object at the top of the photo is an Italian grenade. Diffused of course. It was made of aluminium and it looked like a toy rocket. The second object is a German Africa Korp ammunition pouch, followed by a German soldier’s belt. As we know, the Nazis were one of the most evil and Godless regimes that ever existed.  It is bizarre that such evil people would have put Gott Mitt Uns ( God be with us) on their belt buckles.

Taken out of the scabbard, is a Samurai sword, that a mate of my dad’s gave to him when he returned from New Guinea. I remember it been razor sharp and it was mainly locked away in dad’s gun cupboard.  The craftsmanship was amazing. It was so sharp that you could have easily cut your finger running your finger down the blade. Occasionally dad would take it out for visitors. Most people were always scared by it, especially my mother. I think she thought dad would do something stupid. I remember him pretending to shave with it. Dad sold it in the late nineteen eighties and the guy who had bought it, later told dad that the sword was two hundred and fifty years old. Finally, is a Turkish bayonet that was collected in Gallipoli by an Australian light horseman who used to work for the family. And yes folks, the feet in the picture are mine. They’ve aged a little since then.
And no, we didn’t have a souvenired Tiger tank in the back yard. I wish. But dad did have an American GMC military truck which he nicknamed Gilda, after a Rita Hayworth movie. The ride was rough, the cabin was bare metal but it would go anywhere.  It had a hydraulic winch that was used on many occasions. Over the years dad had crossed a flooded river with the water lapping at his knees and had stuck it in mud that went over the wheels. It didn’t stop in the river and with the help of the winch, he pulled it out.     

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


I want to say upfront. I’m not a gun enthusiast myself but I can see a place for a firearm. In the Australian bush especially there’s definitely a need to carry a firearm whether it be a pistol or rifle.
 You never know when you’ll have to put down livestock that are in pain or unable to walk. There may be the need to shoot dingoes who attack and kill the cattle. Wild cattle known as shrubbers will also be shot as they can’t be mustered and will definitely kill a human if approached.
It may sound cruel and unnecessary to some, but cattle are your livelihood and they have to be protected. A firearm will be carried these days in four wheel drive ( RV) but in the old days, they were carried on a horse. I remember my dad, carrying a pump action Remington rifle in the car which he called the dingo gun. When riding a horse, my father carried a pistol and my grandfather Bell, had a lever action Winchester in a holster attached to his saddle.

Yes, I almost forgot, a gun may even save your life in the bush. Apart from rampaging shrubbers coming out of the bush at you, there are snakes and just before I was born in the late fifties, the rivers on our cattle stations were full of crocodiles. My dad shot the last one when I was a baby. Apparently. But that’s another blog.  I have to add,native animals such as kangaroos were not considered as animals to shoot by my family.  
Horses, cattle and the land are the building blocks of my family’s dna but my father and his brother were the gun nuts for want of a better term. Between them their gun collection probably could have outfitted a large partisan group who wanted to take on the Nazis. Their collection comprised many types of firearms, ranging from conventional rifles, shotguns and pistols to a World War One machine gun that had once been mounted on an aircraft. I remember that was stored under a bed. As you do.
Yes, there was the Martini Henry that had been used by the English in the Zulu War. It took bullets made of wrapped brass with a lead bullet and when fired, enveloped the area in a white cloud.  You had to look under the cloud to see if you had hit the target. There were many military rifles from several countries; British, American, Italian, Japanese and German.  It’s all worth another blog.              


Thursday, 23 January 2014



When I thought about writing this blog I knew it was going to be distressing. The death of children is heart rending for everyone. But just imagine what it was like in the Australian outback one hundred years ago when a child got injured or took ill.

No doctor for a hundred miles; a trip that involved a ride in a buggy over a barely formed road. If you could get to a doctor in time he couldn’t have done anything for infectious diseases that were still around like diphtheria.
 Certainly he could give pain relief (usually opium), set broken bones or do a basic operation. At the turn of the century, one third of the deaths in the vast region of North Queensland (where the family had settled), were children under ten.  Most deaths were from dysentery, scarlet fever and diphtheria.  
John Clark as you can remember had already lost his first wife and their baby girl. Enough was enough you’d think. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike again and it struck twice. Esther and John Clark had had four girls over the years, Jane Florence (my grandmother), Minnie Maud, Georgina and Constance Isabel.
In 1889 Georgina aged five died from a ruptured appendix and in 1892, Constance died from diphtheria. They both died at the Lornesleigh homestead and were buried near the stockyards. Their headstones are still there despite flood waters having passed over them several times. To see your children die is suffering beyond belief and then having to bury them on top of that. How do you keep functioning? I guess, in those days you had to keep going or you gave up and died. For Esther and John, they kept going.
I remember as a kid at Lornesleigh looking at the ornate headstones of the two girls side by side, the graves covered in old seashells. I thought about the two girls and wondered how life would have turned out for them if they had lived. I still think about them occasionally. Probably always will.   

Monday, 6 January 2014



In 1880, John Clark certainly married a woman suited for the rugged Australian outback. My great grandmother, Esther Geary, was no genteel, fainting lady from the city salons. 

She was a true Geary but she was genteel in a way; she didn’t have a police record. In turn, she married a tough man who was creating a cattle empire in one of the most remote and hostile parts of Australia.  During this time, Europeans were encroaching on Aboriginal land and the Aborigines were fighting back.  When she came to Lornesleigh Station in 1880, there was a tribe of Aborigines living at the nearby river.
There was a frontier war going on between Europeans and Aborigines across North Queensland. It was brutal as any war with many thousands of people losing their lives, many been innocently massacred. For the Aborigines, it ultimately meant the loss of their culture and traditional lands. I will speak more about the frontier war in future blogs.
ABORIGINAL FAMILY. Source: janesoceania.

Unlike his contemporaries who were employing savage methods to rid their stations of Aborigines, John Clark wanted to live in harmony with them. I think he thought that this vast land was big enough to support everyone.  A great cause of conflict on cattle stations was the spearing of cattle.  Usually the Aborigines speared the cattle as they were easy targets which in turn resulted in reprisals. At Lornesleigh, John Clark would kill cattle for the Aborigines thus avoiding the savage cascade of events. It was, I guess, frontier diplomacy.

Sometimes, there was a breakdown in communication. My great grandmother was at the homestead by herself one morning when a lone Aboriginal man decided to visit. She was in the kitchen.The stockmen and John Clark were out mustering cattle. The Aboriginal male demanded tobacco. When Esther told him she didn’t have any he became agitated. He was agitated enough that Esther produced a rifle and told him to leave. Unfortunately for him, he laughed and said, “White Mary can’t shoot.”

She fired over his head, the bullet going through the wall of the kitchen. Her last sight of him was him tearing through the bush back to the safety of the Aboriginal camp.