Bolters, Bushrangers & Duffers

Album Notes by Edgar Waters (1965)

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Introduction to Side Two of the LP
Wallaby Stew
The Eumerella Shore

A great many more men were transported to Australia for stealing domestic animals than for poaching game. Some stock stealing was carried on by well-organised criminal gangs. The historian, Lloyd Robson, says: "Some were bred in the hills as thieves, and trained their children to be the same, and many were transported. . ." Perhaps in Australia, when they had served their time, some trained their children in the hills to be thieves. But other men who were transported for stealing stock stole only fat food for their own use. One transported convict had been overheard to say of the men from whom he had stolen a ewe:"You are rich and I am poor, when this is gone I'll come for more." In men have always stolen stock -sometimes for immediate use as food, sometimes in order to stock a tun when they did not have enough capital to buy sheep or cattle; and sometimes in order to sell them again for money. Poor men did not regard the first two forms of stock stealing as criminal, and were inclined to regard the last indulgently -so long as the stock was stolen from a wealthy landowner. The law and the wealthy squatters saw matters differently.

The stealing of stock was an inevitable part of the war for land between the big squatters and the poor small settlers. This war became more intense after the various free selection acts were passed in Victoria and New South Wales in the 1860s; the laws permitting men to take up small holdings in country which had been leased to the big squatters. The squatters naturally did everything they could to prevent selectors taking up land which they had regarded as their own, and (quite correctly) assumed that the selectors were likely to stock their runs with the squatters' sheep or cattle. The selectors, naturally, bitterly resented the attempts of the squatters to prevent them obtaining land, and were all the readier to duff the squatters' stock.

This struggle for land is the background to the bushranging of the 1860s and 1870s. A large number of the bushrangers of this period came from the families of selectors or struggling small squatters, and a large number began their careers in crime by duffing cattle or horses. Of course, by no means all men who found themselves in gaol for duffing stock ended up as bushrangers.

It seemed a good idea to include a couple of songs about stock duffers who did not end as bushrangers in this collection; they help to fill in the picture of this period of bushranging.


Wallaby Stew shows us a picture of the hardship and poverty of the struggling settler which was one of the chief causes of cattle duffing. Wallaby Stew, like a number of other bush songs, treats its theme with a rather tough kind of humour.

Cecil Poole, a minor versifier of the 1890s, published a poem called When Dad Comes Out of Gaol in the BULLETIN, in 1897. Either Poole borrowed from Wallaby Stew, or bush singers adapted Poole's poem to make their song. Whichever way it was, the song is the better piece of work.

Gary Shearston learnt the song from the singing of A.L. Lloyd. Lloyd heard it from a couple of young men when he was working on a sheep station in New South Wales, but they had their text confused with that of an English song called County Gaol. So, in recording the song, Lloyd used a tune he learnt in the 1920s and a text recorded later by Dr. Percy Jones from a Mrs. Bowran of Tallangatta in Victoria. Lloyd remarks that the tune is borrowed from an English sailor's song, According to the Act. Close relatives of this rune are used for a number of other bush songs.

broadarrows - traditional markings of convict garb.
cleanskins - unbranded animals
wallaby - a kind of small kangaroo.
footrot and the fluke -common diseases of sheep.
junked - scrapped.



The Eumerella Shore is written from the squatter's point of view. It satirically assumes that free selectors would rather earn their money by duffing cattle than by working their selections. Though the Eumerella River is in the Monaro Country of New South Wales, the text of the song seems to have been first printed in a Tasmanian paper, the Launceston Examiner, in March 1861. This was the year in which the parliament of New South Wales passed the first of the free selection laws, framed by the Premier, Sir John Robertson.

The version Gary Shearston sings here was collected by Alan Scott in 1955 from Thomas Bleakley of Virginia, Brisbane, and printed in "Singabout" -the journal of the Sydney Bush Music Club. Mr. Bleakley was a youth of sixteen when he learnt the song from the Post Master at Esk, Queensland. He was seventy six when he recorded it for Alan Scott. The Eumerella Shore is sung to variants of Darling Nellie Gray, an American song which was well known in Australia during the latter half of the 19th century.

dray - bullock dray.
swag - same as "bluey" (see The Maryborough Miner).
doing of the squatter so brown - putting one over on him.
John Robertson - (then) Premier of New South Wales (see above note).

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