Bolters, Bushrangers & Duffers

Album Notes by Edgar Waters (1965)

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The Maryborough Miner
Frank Gardiner
Jack Power
The Wild Colonial Boy



The gold rushes began in the early 1850s. The miner of this song tells of having taken part in some of the earliest gold rushes in Victoria, and later rushes in New South Wales and Queensland. There were many men who took to winning gold at the point of a pistol when they found they had no luck in winning it at the point of a pick. Some of them "wound up their avocations" at the end of a rope, but this digger-turned-bushranger was lucky to end up merely with ten years on Cockatoo - an island in Sydney Harbour which is now a dockyard, but was then a prison.

Gary Shearston learnt The Maryborough Miner from the singing of A.L. Lloyd, who presumably learnt it in the late 1920s when he was working as a station hand in New South Wales. Lloyd's version of The Maryborough Miner is the only one known to folklorists, but 'Banjo' Paterson published, in 1905, the words of a song called The Murrumbidgee Shearer, which are very little different from those of The Maryborough Miner. Probably it was made over from The Maryborough Miner in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

diggin's - goldfields.
long-tomming, cradling, puddling and panning are different ways of washing gold from soil. The pan is a simple, portable implement; the long-tom, a narrow trough tilted at an angle; the cradle is a trough placed on rockers. Clay and other stiff paydirt could not be washed so easily; it was worked - puddled - in a tub.
fossicked - searched for gold.
assayman - a Government official on the goldfields.
on the cross -i n a criminal fashion.
bluey - swagman's belongings, generally rolled in a blue blanket.
traps - police.
flipper - hand.
patent pill machine - pistol.
reef - vein of gold.



Henry (Jack) Power was an Irishman who arrived in Victoria in 1852 to look for gold. In 1855, police troopers asked him to prove that the horse he was riding was his own. Power fired his pistol at them and wounded one of the troopers; soon he was in gaol for fourteen years. He escaped when his time was almost up and took to highway robbery in northern Victoria. His career as a bushranger was short, however, and he was soon back in gaol for fifteen years.

Power was not one of the notable bushrangers, but the most notable of the Victorian bushrangers, Ned Kelly, was arrested in 1870 accused of giving help to Power. Kelly was fifteen years old at the time; he was discharged for lack of evidence.

Gary Shearston learnt this song from the singing of Alf Dyer, an old Victorian bushman (from a tape recording made by members of the Folk Lore Society of Victoria). In 1950, a correspondent sent an almost identical set of words to a Melbourne newspaper. She had taken them from a manuscript in her possession which she believed had been written in 1870 (the year in which Power was sentenced to gaol for highway robbery). The manuscript was signed Isaac Hall and named Erin-go-bragh as the tune to which the words should be sung. Alf Dyer sings the words to a rather worn-down version of the much-used tune known as Villikins and his Dinah. Erin-go-bragh (a Scottish song, despite its Irish name) is sometimes sung to this tune also.

Gary Shearston has amended a few words in Alf Dyer's version from Isaac Hall's text, and put the tune into better shape.

Pentridge - Melbourne's main gaol.
traps - police.
Cobb & Co. - most famous Australian coach company of the 19th century. bailed up - held up at gunpoint.
draymen - drivers of bullock drays, the main method of transporting goods at the time.
coachleader - lead horse in a coach team.
trooper - mounted policeman.



Frank Gardiner - who used many other names - was born near Goulburn in 1830. In 1850 he was in Pentridge Stockade, in Melbourne, for horse-stealing. He escaped after serving five months. In 1854 he was on Cockatoo Island, in Sydney, for the same crime, this time staying in gaol until the end of 1859. In 1862, a gang led by Gardiner robbed a coach carrying gold from Forbes to Sydney. It was one of the most daring and lucrative of all robberies carried out by Australian bushrangers. Some of the gang were captured and sent to prison for long terms; one was hanged. Gardiner escaped to Queensland with Kitty Brown, the wife of a stockman and sister to Ben Hall's wife. An indiscreet letter from Kitty Brown led to the arrest of Gardiner in 1864. He was sentenced to thirty-two years in gaol, but in 1874 he was pardoned on condition that he went into exile. He went to San Francisco (like many an Australian criminal before him) and became a publican.

Frank Gardiner
Frank Gardiner

Jack Bradshaw, who called himself "The Last of the Bushrangers", and wrote The True History of the Australian Bushrangers (which is quite untrue in many places), had a good word to say for almost all the bushrangers. But he admitted that he could not have much to say in favour of Gardiner: "he was a dirty terror to poor travellers." But singers in Gardiner's country found a lot to say in favour of the bushranger, and Bradshaw printed a version of this song, which flatly contradicts his own comment by calling Gardiner "the poor man's friend."

The folk song collector, John Meredith, recorded another set of the words and a tune from an old singer, Mrs. Popplewell, some years ago. It is Mrs. Popplewell's version that Gary Shearston sings here.

Sgt. Middleton - a police sergeant whom Gardiner wounded in an encounter in 1862 when Middleton and a trooper tried to arrest Gardiner on suspicion of cattle-duffing.
troopers - mounted police.
Queen's evidence - turned informer for reward.



The Wild Colonial Boy is a very mysterious personage. There are many versions of his ballad and they do not all tell the same story. But most tell the story as in the version used here, though with the small disagreements which almost invariably creep into any ballad which is passed on by word of mouth. It matters little that some versions of the ballad say the Wild Colonial Boy "left his father's home" when he was fifteen, others when he was sixteen; or that some say he "commenced his wild career" in 1861, others in 1863, or -as in this version -1864. It is odd, however, that the singers cannot agree whether his name was Dowling, Doolan or Duggan . . .

The ballad has been the cause of much research and much ingenious speculation. The story usually told by the ballad is not that of any bushranger known to the chroniclers of bushranging in the state of Victoria. So some think that the Wild Colonial Boy is a bushranger of fiction only. Others, impressed no doubt by circumstantial detail offered by the ballad and its air of historical authenticity, believe that he will be shown to be a bushranger of fact - if only the historical records are searched carefully enough. (And there has been much searching of the records, in Ireland as well as in Australia.) The ballad has long been known in Ireland, and today is perhaps sung more often there than in Australia. But it does not state whether the Wild Colonial Boy was born in Castlemaine in the state of Victoria, or Castlemaine in the County Kerry; and there is still no proof that the Wild Colonial Boy was an historical person.

There are some ballads which tell the story of Bold Jack Donahue, but call him the Wild Colonial Boy; and there are some which contain elements from the story of Jack Donahue and the usual Wild Colonial Boy story of the present version. Some researchers think that The Wild Colonial Boy is a fictional ballad which developed slowly out of the historical ballad of Bold Jack Donahue. Still others believe that Bold Jack Donahue and The Wild Colonial Boy began as independent ballads, but were confused by some bush singers producing crosses of a kind well-known in the balladry of other lands.

It has been said that a small boy sang The Wild Colonial Boy for the Kelly Gang in Glenrowan on the night before their last battle with the police. Maybe by then the song had become - as it certainly did later, along with Bold Jack Donahue - one of the most widely sung of all bushranger ballads.

Folk song collectors in Queensland recently collected a version of the song which is much like the one used here, but ends with the Wild Colonial Boy killing or wounding the police troopers and escaping. The old bushman who sang it claimed it was the authentic and proper way of telling the story and that the usual ending was meant only for singing in the presence of policemen or other champions of government authority.

The ballad was, and is still, known to folk singers in parts of Canada and the United States of America, as well as Ireland. The North American versions seem to have reached there by way of Ireland; for that matter, it is possible that the song is Irish by birth and not Australian anyway.

Gary Shearston learnt the present version of the song from the singing of Sally Sloane (from a tape recording made by Edgar Waters). He has slightly re-arranged the order of one or two words and lines and added the fourth verse to the song from a version sung by A.L. Lloyd. The fifth verse of the present version is used as a chorus for many versions of both The Wild Colonial Boy and Bold Jack Donahue.

Judge McEvoy - there was a Judge Macoboy who, according to family tradition, was bailed up by an unknown bushranger near Beechworth in 1861.
acted square - honourably the opposite of "on the cross" (see The Maryborough Miner).

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