Chapter 1 On the Bullock Track
Around mid-morning the next day Tom led the team through a heavily timbered section of the track. Patrick was walking alongside the dray absentmindedly filling his pipe with tobacco. He was concentrating on pushing the leaves in with just the right pressure, so he didn’t immediately notice when Tom started pulling the team to a halt. When he looked up, he saw four men file out onto the track in front of them. All four had handkerchiefs over their faces and a pistol each. One of the men rode forward slightly ahead of the others and stopped. He wore a bright green sash around his waist, a woven straw hat and matching green ribbon tied around it. Patrick thought the get-up made him look a bit effeminate, but something about the way he held himself suggested he wasn’t a man to be taken lightly.
“That’s far enough for now,” the leader of the outfit said. “You’ve probably guessed by now, we ain’t the welcomin’ committee. If you’d be so kind as to keep your ‘ands where I can see ‘em, me and the lads will just ‘elp ourselves to anything you ‘ave of value and you can be on your way.”
“We’ve got nothing of value, ya fool.” Tom said as he placed the end of the long whip handle on the ground, rested the top against his shoulder and raised his hands. “We don’t get paid until after we deliver the load.”
He glanced back at Patrick and something in his eyes told Patrick that the removal of their valuables might not yet be a foregone conclusion.
“Aye, but what sort of a man gets around without a nice watch buried
in his coat pocket in this day and age?” the bushranger snarled.
“I’ve just left Her Majesty’s care after fourteen years,” Patrick exaggerated.
“I’ve got naught but the clothes on my back, Sir.” He had noticed the machete on the front of the dray. It was out of arm’s reach at the moment, but if need be he could take a couple of steps and have hold of it before anyone knew what had happened.
“Well either way, my lads will be havin’ a look through your pockets.”
The other three men dismounted and started towards the dray, tucking their pistols into their sashes, while their leader kept a pistol pointed at Tom. One man held the harness of the lead bullock, while the other two made their way towards the Tom and Patrick.
Suddenly, Tom grabbed the whip handle and flicked it rapidly towards the highwayman still on his horse. The tip of the whip missed, but the unexpected loud crack startled the horse, causing it to jump sideways, unbalancing its rider momentarily. In order to steady his horse, he tightened his grip on the reins, dropping the pistol to the ground.
The cracking whip was also a signal to the bullocks. They started forward, taking the man holding the harnesses by surprise. Tom took advantage of the confusion, speedily bringing up the butt of the big stockwhip into the groin of the man who was about to start looking through his pockets. The man instantly dropped to his knees, putting him at just the right height for Tom to drive a knee into his face.
Patrick reacted to Tom’s attack by lunging for the machete, and swung it at the man in front of him. At the last moment, he turned his wrist and stuck the flat of the blade against his opponent’s head, knocking him to the ground. He watched the man fall to make sure he was out. When he looked up he saw that Tom had rushed the leader and was dragging him off the horse. Patrick then ran at the man who had taken the harness of the bullocks, who was now trying to regain his balance after the team’s sudden movement. Patrick dropped his shoulder, charged and knocked the man to the ground, holding him there with his foot at the man’s throat.
By this time, Tom had unhorsed the leader of the gang and was pointing a pistol at his head. It was all over as quickly as it had begun.
Five minutes later, Tom had steadied his bullock team and the four would-be bushrangers were tied together on the side of the track, their horses tethered to the back of the dray.
Tom leaned over the four of them, and dipped his hat.
“Thank you gentlemen, we’ll be on our way now,” he said. “There’s a knife over by that tree you can use to cut yourself free, and then you can be on your way. I’d advise you to make yourself scarce around these parts. The good people around here don’t take kindly to your sort. Good day to you.”
Later around the campfire, Patrick sat thinking over the day’s events.
Chapter 6 Women!
The bloody Redcoats are coming!”
The news was astonishing. All over the diggings, the miners waved copies of The Argus with those who could read explaining the details to those who couldn’t. It appeared that in response to the meeting of diggers at Forrest Creek earlier this month, Governor La Trobe had decided to send soldiers, in addition to the current police presence, to maintain law and order on the diggings. The report stated that due to numerous police officers deserting their posts to join the miners, not enough police were available to maintain order. The soldiers were being brought in because they could not desert, as that would bring the death penalty. Regardless, it was a harsh response to what had been a peaceful, if fiery, meeting of diggers.
It had started with a report contained in The Argus.
Argus 12 December 1851
The intelligence has just arrived of the resolution of the Government to double the license fee. Will you tamely submit to the imposition, 0r assert your rights like men? You are called upon to pay a tax, originated and concocted by the most heartless selfishness. A tax imposed by your Legislators for the purpose of detaining you in their workshops, in their stable yards, and by their flocks and herds. They have conferred to effect this; they would increase this seven-fold, but they are afraid! Fie upon such pusillanimity and shame upon the men, who, to save a few paltry pounds for their own pockets, would tax the labour of the poor man’s hands.
A meeting had been called and on 15 December, Patrick found himself heading to Forrest Creek with Fergus and a large number of other men from the Ballarat diggings. By four o’clock that afternoon fifteen thousand miners had congregated, complete with a brass band to add to the spectacle.
Many speakers took to the podium, and although Patrick was far from the front of the crowd, the passion of the speakers caused their voices to rise with the energy of the crowd so that their stirring speeches could be heard by all. Calls of ‘Brotherhood!’ brought loud cheers from bearded throats with fists waving in the air.
One speaker advised that The Herald, a long-time supporter of the squattocracy, had labelled the diggers as ‘cut-throats and scoundrels’ and Patrick raised his voice and fists with everyone else to jeer and boo the publication.
When the speaker yelled, “Now will you pay the three pound licence…?” Patrick joined in the chorus of “Never!”
A Mr Lineham took the stage and told the assembly that when asked to pay the fee he would simply refuse, and if all refused, they could hardly all be imprisoned. This brought cheers of support. He continued by stating that he never advocated force, and the assembled masses could win without needing to resort to conflict. When he asked the crowd if they would pay, Patrick, caught up in the emotion and passion of his fellows cried out “No!”
Beside him he could see Fergus, staring with intensity at the speakers.
There was a fire in those eyes, the like of which Patrick had never seen before. With every cheer and roar of support, Patrick could well imagine his friend, kilted and with a sword in hand defending his highland home alongside his ancestors long dead from English invaders.
He turned his attention back to the speaker as the meeting reached its crescendo. The final speaker, a former squatter and passionate
republican, Captain Harrison, reinforced everything the other speakers had said. Refusal to pay the fee, standing as brothers on this issue and not resorting to violence, these were the things they all held dear.
The meeting concluded with a resolution that, ‘The meeting deprecates as unjust, illegal and impolitic, the attempt to increase the licence fee from thirty shillings to three pounds’. Each digger agreed to pay a shilling a month to Captain Harrison who had volunteered to represent the diggers in Melbourne, a kind of fighting fund. And with that, fifteen thousand excited miners, Patrick and Fergus amongst them, gave three cheers and dispersed back to their homes.