Hidden away in the centre of Sydney’s financial district is Bulletin Place. Now lined with bars and restaurants, this back alley was once the location of the office of the Bulletin, a weekly magazine that was published from 1880 until 2008.
In the early days, Banjo Paterson and other bush poets such as Henry Lawson were frequent contributors to the magazine.
Recently in Sydney, we walked around the Writers Walk at Circular Quay. This long trail of plaques in the pavement commemorates writers who have written about the city. The plaque for Banjo Paterson is at the Opera House end of the walk. It includes a quote from one of his poems called, “It’s Grand”.
The town of Yass in central NSW, which Banjo Paterson visited often, remembers the famous poet by having a park named after him. Banjo Paterson Park has beds of roses, a bust of the poet and plaques with quotes from some of his most famous poems.
Binalong, in central NSW is a place that Banjo Paterson knew well. When he was seven years old, his family moved to a property called Illalong Station, about 7km east of Binalong. Banjo rode a pony to the village school every day, until the age of 11, when he went to boarding school in Sydney. When Paterson began writing poems for publication in the 1880s he used the pen name “The Banjo”, which was the name of one of the horses on the Illalong property.
In a tiny park in the centre of Binalong there are a bust of Banjo Paterson and some information boards detailing his connection with the village. Banjo’s father is buried in the local Anglican cemetery.
Many Australians can recite a few lines from the Man from Snowy River, and Waltzing Matilda almost counts as our national anthem. Banjo Paterson, Australia’s greatest bush poet wrote these and many other iconic poems set in the Australian bush. Banjo’s childhood was spent on a rural property near the tiny town of Binalong, not far from Yass in central NSW.
Binalong is also the setting for the dramatic death of the bushranger John Gilbert. In May 1865, Gilbert died in a shootout with police near Binalong. Banjo Paterson’s poem, How Gilbert Died, is a very moving account of how Gilbert was betrayed at the end and how he gave up his own life to try and save the life of his mate John Dunn. Gilbert’s grave, which is still carefully tended, can be seen on the left hand side of the road as you drive out of Binalong towards Harden.
Captain Starlight is the bushranger hero of the novel, Robbery under Arms, written in 1882 by Rolfe Boldrewood. Like John Boyle O’Reilly’s novel, Moondyne, Boldrewood’s saga is also based on a real life bushranger called Captain Midnight. In actual fact, Captain Starlight’s exploits are also based on the activities of other famous 19th century bushrangers like Ben Hall and John Gilbert.
In Robbery under Arms, Captain Starlight is sentenced to seven years imprisonment in Berrima Gaol, when this very grim prison was known for its harsh conditions.
Berrima, 130km south west of Sydney, is a small town with many historic buildings. Tourists can visit the courthouse which was built in 1838, and get a good idea of how the justice system worked in 19th century Australia.
John Boyle O’Reilly’s novel Moondyne is in part loosely based on the life of a real life bushranger who was nicknamed Moondyne Joe.
Born in Wales, as Joseph Bolitho Johns, Moondyne Joe was transported to Fremantle, Western Australia on a convict ship in 1853. Pardoned in 1855, he settled in the Avon Valley near Toodyay. But he couldn’t seem to keep himself out of trouble and was in out of various gaols around the state, often arrested for fairly petty crimes like horse stealing.
In Toodyay, in early the 1860s, a new gaol was built especially to incarcerate Moondyne after he had escaped from a previous lock-up. The gaol is now a museum, still with some of the original cells.
When John Boyle O’Reilly was transported as a convict to Western Australia on the Hougoumont, he was one of a group of 62 Fenian prisoners. On the journey, O’Reilly and a number of other Irish political prisoners produced a shipboard newspaper called the Wild Goose. Seven single hand written editions of the newspaper were made and read aloud to the convicts on the ship.
In 1875, after his escape to Boston, O’Reilly devised a plan to rescue six Irish political prisoners still in Fremantle Gaol. An American whaling ship, the Catalpa, was to wait off shore for the arrival of the escaped convicts. The Fenians made a narrow escape, pursued by soldiers and police and eventually reached the USA.
On the beach at Rockingham, south of Perth, there is a monument, depicting the Fenian prisoners as wild geese, at the site where they made their escape.
In January 1868, John Boyle O’Reilly arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia, on board the convict ship Hougoumont. He was not a thief or a murderer, but had been sentenced to 20 years of penal servitude for belonging to the Fenians, a group plotting an armed uprising against British rule in Ireland. Someone has commented that he wasn’t convicted of any crime, except the crime of being Irish.
After a month in Fremantle prison, O’Reilly was sent to Bunbury where he worked with a team of convicts who were building a road. A Catholic priest introduced O’Reilly to some Irish settlers at Dardanup, who assisted him to plan an audacious escape. They helped him to hide in the sand dunes on the coast north of Bunbury, from where he was picked up by an American whaling ship.
O’Reilly eventually settled amongst the Irish community in Boston, USA where he became a successful newspaper editor and poet. He wrote a novel called Moondyne which is set in Western Australia.
Now the beach from where he made his escape is part of the Leschenault Peninsula Conservation Park and a monument has been erected in his memory.
The High Street in the port city of Fremantle, Western Australia, is one of the nicest streetscapes in Australia. The row of beautifully restored 19th century buildings has Fremantle Town Hall at one end, and the Round House, which is WA’s oldest building, at the other end.
High Street also has a short but interesting Writers Walk. Fremantle artist, Bridget Norton, has created 2.4m high markers with a quote inscribed on one side from the work of a writer with Fremantle connections.
Five writers are honoured, with the first marker on the corner of Pakenham Street being for Tim Winton, with a quote from his most famous novel Cloudstreet. Winton has never revealed which suburb inspired the location of No. 1 Cloud Street, where the main characters in the book live. Many readers opt for the Perth suburbs of Subiaco or West Leederville, but the Cloudstreet characters do make a brief foray in an old truck to what is obviously Fremantle.
The second marker is for Joan London whose two novels Gilgamesh and The Good Parent have been best sellers, and the last marker is for indigenous writer Kim Scott. Both these writers live or have lived in Fremantle.
In between are markers for John Boyle O’Reilly and Xavier Herbert. More about these two writers in future blog entries.