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Policing the Goldfields.




Luke Webb & Warren Fahey sing ‘Coming Down The Flat’

Thatcher was a deft hand at using well-known tunes for his songs, a trick that certainly would have endeared him to audiences, especially in the goldfields singing rooms. This one is set to the Scottish song  Comin’ Through the Rye’.

The gold diggings also contributed to the Australian language. Although the term ‘diggings’ had been in use in England since 1769, locally we produced the word ‘digger’ and the variants – ‘diggerdom’ (appeared 1854) to describe the tent cities and ‘diggeress’ for a female partner of a digger (appeared 1855). Other locally created words include ‘fossicker’ (1853), ‘night fossicker’ (meaning night thief), ‘nugget’, ‘Jenny Lind’ (a mining cradle named after the famous Swedish singer), ‘trooper’ and ‘trap’ (for police), ‘miner’s camp’, ‘salting’ (faking a claim), ‘pepperring’ (over-promoting a fake claim), ‘claim’ and ‘duffer (unsuccessful rush or mine). The word ‘Joe’ mentioned in this song alerted diggers that license schecking troopers were in the area – got its name from Joseph ‘Joe’ Latrobe, colonial official and an ardent champion of law and order in Victoria.

One can imagine Thatcher singing this in a crowded Ballarat or Bendigo tavern as the assembled miners responded by shouting out a jubilant “Joe!” every time it appeared in the song. It wouldn’t have done him any favours with the local troopers. The song references various headgear – cabbage tree, caps and wide-awakes, the latter being similar to a Quaker’s hat being soft felt with a broad brim and a low crown.


Luke Webb sings ‘The Jolly Puddlers’

With the discovery of gold in the colony of Victoria in 1851 mayhem broke out. The goldfields, being within 100 miles of Melbourne, were more accessible than west New South Wales, and thousands immediately bolted to seek their fortune. The colonial government became freaked at the sheer number of people deserting work stations and promptly introduced plans to control the blotters by imposing good digging licences. Charles Thatcher, the self-styled ‘colonial minstrel’, delighted audiences with his witty and sarcastic topical songs. He used the traditional song ‘The Jolly Waggoner’ for his parody. Thatcher was not above sending himself up and is referenced in the last verse of this next song, along with Hefferman, who was the owner of the celebrated Shamrock Hotel where Thatcher often performed. Puddling refers to the alluvial mud sifting, horse-driven contraption used to pan for gold. It was effective at washing a large amount of river mud but created extremely messy and muddy water waste with the consistency of cake batter.


Warren Fahey sings ‘Where’s Your License?”

The collecting of gold licences was a farce. Troopers, often called ‘traps’ or ‘bobbies’, would arrive, usually on horseback, and immediately the diggers would ‘disappear’, running down gullies, jumping down mine holes and generally hot-footing to the nearby bushland. At the same time warning calls were made that echoed across the diggings – “Traps!”. As this comic song by Thatcher observes, the diggers were ‘not often caught on the hop’. This version comes from the Victorian Songster of 1855. One newspaper reported that whenever Thatcher sang the song he received ‘thunderous applause’. The tune is ‘The Gay Cavalier’.


Warren Fahey (accompanied on concertina) sings ‘The Maryborough Miner’

This song has confused folklorists for decades ever since the British singer A. L. Lloyd recorded it for Wattle Records. We believe it is a Lloyd reworking of a shearing song, The Murrumbidgee Shearer, which appeared in A. B. Paterson’s Old Bush Songs, 1905. Whatever the case it is a mighty fine song to sing. Of the Victorian township of Maryborough, Mark Twain said it was a “railway station with a town attached.” The people of Maryborough replied: “Even Mark Twain has to pay tribute to our impressive railway station.” (Some say that the railway people got their plans mixed and that the station they built at Maryborough had been designed for the centre of Melbourne. The song itself is sung in the first person, a trick to reinforce its emotional charge, and relates the familiar story of licence hunting troopers. The final reference to ‘Cockatoo’ refers to the time the digger had spent in the Cockatoo Island convict prison, Sydney Harbour.


Luke Webb sings ‘Dunn, Gilbert & Ben Hall’

The most active bushrangers associated with gold are the so-called Frank Gardiner/Ben Hall gangs which included John Dunn, John O’Meally, John Vane, John Burke and John Gilbert, and, later, the Kelly gang, There were others who bailed up station owners and travellers but the aforementioned went for the gold escorts and banks. The legendary ‘wild colonial boy’ supposedly ‘stuck up the Beechworth mail coach’ however, as far as we can ascertain, he was a character of fiction, possibly inspired by Bold Jack Donohoe, who pre-dated the gold rushes.

This is one of the three songs composed and sung after the death of Ben Hall. The bushranger was surrounded in his camp and shot by a party of police, who riddled his body with bullets, being afraid to approach him. This took place on May 5, 1866, and the date of the song must have been sometime later. Morgan was shot on April 10, 1865, Gilbert on May 13, and Dunn was executed on December 24, of the same year. The song is quite accurate in saying that a thousand pounds reward was offered for the apprehension of any one of the three – Dunn, Gilbert or Ben Hall: For Morgan also £1000 reward was offered). I found this particular version in Australian Town And Country Journal 12 December 1906.


Warren Fahey sings ‘The Bail Up At Eugowra Rocks’

There are grounds to indicate this song was fashioned from a verse written by the bushranger Frank Gardiner. They were certainly made more singable by the British folk singer, A. L. Lloyd, who recorded the song as ‘The Morning of the Fray’ on his album, ‘The Great Australian Legend’ in1971. This well-crafted song captures the excitement of Gardiner’s Gang after they bailed-up the Lachlan Stage Coach at Eugowra’s Coonbong Rocks, just out of Forbes, on 15 June 1862. Gardiner’s gang got away with £14,000 including the Royal Mail. The bushranger went down in history as the mastermind of the nineteenth century equivalent of the Great Train Robbery, however, in this case, the majority of the gold was never found! Gardiner often referred to himself as ‘The Prince of all Toby Men’ and was cheeky enough to write to newspapers about his supposed exploits.


Warren Fahey sings ‘Frank Gardiner He Is Caught At Last’ (accompanied on concertina) with Marcus Holden & Luke Webb.


Frank Gardiner’s real name was Francis Christie (1830-1903?), but he has gone down in history and folklore as Frank ‘Darkie’ Gardiner. For many years the ‘Darkie’ nickname was assumed to indicate Aboriginal heritage but his swarthy looks came from his Scottish Lowland family. After the brazen 1862 Forbes gold escort robbery a large manhunt was immediately put into effect and in 1864 Gardiner was arrested in Queensland, where he had been living with Katharine ‘Kitty’ Brown, the ‘Mrs Brown’ mentioned in the song (she was also Ben Hall’s sister-in-law), as ‘Mr. and Mrs Frank Christie’. Tried for wounding Sergeant Middleton with intent to kill, he was acquitted by the jury but found guilty in July on two non-capital charges. Chief Justice (Sir) Alfred Stephen, gave him a cumulative sentence of thirty-two years’ hard labour. In 1872 William Bede Dalley, who had defended Gardiner, organised petitions to the Governor to use his prerogative of mercy. Sir Hercules Robinson decided that Gardiner had been harshly sentenced and in 1874 released him subject to his exile. This decision provoked a public controversy with multiple petitions, counter-petitions and violent debates in the Legislative Assembly that, eventually, led to the fall of Henry Parkes‘s government. It also resulted in this anonymous song. Gardiner’s career had long been a matter of public entertainment and the court cases were what we would now call a ‘public circus’. On 27 July Gardiner embarked for Hong Kong and by February 1875 was in San Francisco where he ran the Twilight Saloon. The press continued to note his activities, including his death in Colorado about 1903, but most reports were unsubstantiated.

There are various, mostly fragmentary versions of this song in Jack Bradshaw’s The Only True Account of Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall and Gang, published in Orange, NSW in the 1890s and another collected by John Meredith and Nancy Keesing from Mrs Ina Popplewell, South Sydney, 1954. The lyric I have used was reconstructed by John Meredith from these sources and published in John Manifold’s The Penguin Australian Song Book. The tune is also used for the Irish song ‘Willie Riley’ and for a Scots song usually called ‘Tramps and Hawkers’.