Bolters, Bushrangers & Duffers

Album Notes by Edgar Waters (1965)

Back to Bolters, Bushrangers & Duffers Go to Album Notes Parts 1 2 3 4 5 Maps

Ned Kelly - biographical notes
My Name is Edward Kelly
Farewell to Greta
Stringybark Creek
Other Bushrangers mentioned in the songs

Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly is the most famous of the bushrangers and was almost the last of them. His father had been transported from Ireland to Van Diemen's Land for (it is said) shooting at his landlord. Then he had served his time he moved to Victoria, as did many of the old lags from Van Diemen's Land. They were known as Vandemonians in Victoria and some of them were recruited into the Victorian police force. John Kelly married in Victoria and acquired kin who were often in trouble with the police -usually for duffing cattle or horses. Young Ned had his first run-in with the police in 1870 when he was charged with helping the bushranger Jack Power. He was discharged for lack of evidence. But before he was sixteen he had been sentenced to three years in gaol with hard labour for a crime of a kind more usual in his family - stealing a horse.

The land war was at its most intense in north- eastern Victoria and cattle-duffing was rife. The Kelly family were a turbulent lot who despised and defied the police; they in turn, rightly or wrongly, felt that the whole family was a gang of criminals. Ned had not been long out of gaol when both he and his brother, Dan, had brushes with the police again. The superintendent of police issued an instruction about them: "I expressed my opinion to the officer in charge of that district, that, without opressing the people or worrying them in any way he should endeavour, whenever they commit any paltry crime, to bring them to justice, and send them to Pentridge, even on a paltry sentence, the object being to take their prestige away from them..."

It may be that Kelly was not as innocent of the early charges of duffing - brought against him by police and squatters - as he claimed. But it is quite certain that police provocation and persecution of his family (and his family's friends) was largely responsible for turning him into a bushranger. And then it was the police, not the Kellys, whose prestige was taken away from them.

For a couple of years the Kelly Gang - Ned, Dan, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart - kept half the Victorian police force busy, chasing them through the wild country of the northeast of the state. They had friends everywhere in that country, but in Sydney and Melbourne too men laughed at the police and sang songs in praise of the Kelly Gang. The author of a book about the gang, written in 1879 while they were still at liberty, said: "this is the more noticeable among the youth in various large centres of population there, not content with openly avowing their feelings in simple conversation, they congregate occasionally at street corners and elsewhere to sing ballads -hymns of triumph as it were -in their praise. "

A good many of these ''hymns of triumph" have survived in the memory of old singers to be recorded by folk song collectors in our own day.



This song was collected in the 1950s from the singing of Cyril Duncan, of Nerang, Queensland, who learnt it from his grandfather. Mr. Duncan's version of the song seems to be the only one that has so far come to the attention of folk song collectors. It was first printed in The Queensland Centenary Pocket Song Book. The second last verse not only refers back to Jack Donahue, but uses words which recall his ballad, and in other verses there are stock phrases such as "robbing upon the Queen's highway," which are found also in English and Irish broadside ballads of highway robbers.

Kennedy - Sergeant Kennedy; shot down by the Kelly Gang in October, 1878.
traps - police.
wears a crown - the insignia of Government authority.



This seems to have been one of the more widely sung of the songs about the Kelly Gang.

Gary Shearston learnt this version of it from the singing of Mrs. Katherine Peatey (from a recording made by the members of the Folk Lore Society of Victoria). Mrs. Peatey learnt it as a girl before the end of the nineteenth century.

The song is in the form of a dialogue between Ned Kelly and his sister Kate. Mrs. Peatey seemed to have the order of a few lines confused and these have been re-arranged.

wombat and the bear - the wombat and koala (bear) are native animals sometimes used for food in Colonial Australia. This may be the point of the reference to them here.



In October, 1878, the Kelly Gang shot down three policemen out of one party of four that was searching for them. Kelly claimed that they had not wished to shoot them, and he was widely believed. The ballad singers pictured Kelly looking regretfully at the dead men and saying: "Oh what a bloody pity that the bastards tried to run."

This version of the song is taken from The Penguin Australian Song Book. The editor, John Manifold, says that the text was collected in the Strathbogie Ranges (in the Kelly country) by W.J. Wye, in the 1890s, and that the tune is taken from another version of the song printed in Six Authentic Songs from the Kelly Country, published by the Bush Music Club of Sydney.

Ned Kelly


Born 14th December 1846; both parents had been convicts; worked as groom-stableboy and jockey in the Yass-Binalong area; joined Hall's gang approximately October, 1864; was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney, on 19th March 1866, aged nineteen.

Born at Hamilton,Canada in 1842; arrived Melbourne with family 15th October 1852; first joined Frank Gardiner during Kiandra gold rush 1860; later member of Ben Hall's gang; shot by police at Binalong on 13th May, 1865.

Johnny Gilbert's grave in a paddock at Binalong, N.S.W.

Brought up at Jerry's Plains, Hunter Valley; joined Ben Hall's gang approximately July 1863, in his early twenties; was champion horseman and buckjump rider; left Hall's gang in October,1863; surrendered himself to police in November, same year; sentenced to fifteen years gaol at Bathurst on 12th April, 1864; was released before serving full sentence; returned to West, living a respectable life until he died at Cowra in February, 1906.

Born Daniel Owen at Campbelltown in 1830; in 1850s travelled to Victorian gold diggings; arrested at Beechworth for horse-stealing and served two years in Pentridge; began bushranging career in July, 1863, in the country around Wagga Wagga and Gundagai; known as "Morgan the murderer", he was only bushranger of the sixties who had no friends, no sympathizers and no admirers, was callous and bloodthirsty; shot by police at Peechelba Station, twenty miles from Wangaratta, Victoria, on 8th April, 1865.



The photographs of Ben Hall, Ned Kelly, Frank Gardiner and drawing of Jack Donahue are from originals in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and used with the kind permission of the Trustees. All other photographs included in these notes are by Gary Shearston, who wishes to thank Edgar F. Penzig and Gordon Piper of the Wild Colonial Days Society who conducted him on a tour of the Gardiner-Hall bushranging country of New South Wales, in preparation for this recording.

  Site Index Recordings  Buy Albums Contact Us - � Copyright 2000-2017 Aprenda Pty Limited