Tag Archives: Monaro

Jack the Rammer

Jack the Rammer

Jack the Rammer Click to view larger image

The Bushranger is an iconic figure in the mythology of colonial Australia. They still appeal to our sense of national self-identity because we see them as being brave, independent, charismatic, anti-authoritarian, and resourceful. Underdogs, tragic heroes. Just like we’d like to imagine ourselves to be. The reality is that most lived pretty sordid and short lives, and were often quite unpleasant and disloyal in their personal affairs – more ‘squalid hood’ than ‘Robin Hood’.

Bushrangers were active in the Monaro region during two periods of the 19th Century. Firstly during the late 1820s and ’30s, when most were escaped convicts, and then again around the early 1860s while the gold rushes were in full swing at places such as Kiandra and Araluen. For a few months at the end of 1834 “Jack the Rammer”, along with fellow gang members Edward Boyd and Joseph Keys, ranged across the Monaro. Jack the Rammer, a.k.a. “Billy the Rammer”, is believed to have been William Roberts, who was transported in 1833 from Dudley his native Worcestershire after being convicted for stealing a bucket.

(A personal coincidence here: my great-grandfather William Rial was born a short way from Dudley in the village of Hallow, and was himself transported in 1835, and assigned to work at Wanniassa station, just to the north of the Monaro).

After escaping with Joseph Keys from Goulburn Jail in September 1834, Roberts and Keys joined up with Boyd, and the three began a series of nocturnal robberies on stations of the Monaro, including Coolringdon, 10km southwest of Cooma. In the course of holding up Rock Flat station in mid December, The Rammer was shot and killed by the station overseer Charles Fisher, who was himself shot, beaten and left for dead by the other two outlaws. Boyd was shot dead by a trooper in mid-January while trying to escape across the Snowy River, and Keys was captured two days later at Jimenbuen, tried and hung in June 1835. Like many bushrangers, the gang had a short, bloody and spectacularly unsuccessful career.

The base photograph for this image was taken on the Springfield Road, not far from Coopers Lake, not too far south of where ‘The Rammer’ met his end. The newspaper text (from the Christchurch Star, 8 April 1879) is a lurid account of the exploits and demise of the Rammer Gang.



Railway Click to view larger image

Even before the time that the railway reached Goulburn in 1869, there were calls for the line to be extended into the Monaro. The line to Cooma (through Queanbeyan, Michelago, Bredbo and Bunyan) was eventually opened in 1889, with later extensions through to Nimmitabel (1911) and Bombala (1921).

The arrival of the railway had a huge social and economic impact, and really served to ‘open up’ the region to the outside world. However, despite a boom during the construction of the Snowy Scheme, when Cooma was the base of operations, the line always ran at a loss. (One justification for the railway had been that it would allow for shipment of wheat grown in the Monaro to other markets – but it had quite the opposite effect, with the marginal Monaro grain unable to compete with the cheaper wheat that could now be shipped in from other regions.)

Cooma Railway Station 1925

The line closed in 1988 – exactly one hundred years after its establishment. The billboard signs now have no rail passengers to talk to (though they still ‘serve’ the adjacent highway traffic).

We tend to look at billboards in terms of the messages they display, rather than as large constructions plonked onto the landscape. They (almost) never draw attention to themselves as objects. We are so accustomed to their presence as we travel that we don’t really take notice of their physicality either.

In this image, a scene along the closed Cooma rail line, the signs have nothing to say about fast food outlets, ski resorts or car repairs. Their only function is to declare their own ‘sign-ness’.

George Augustus Robinson

George Augustus Robinson

George Augustus Robinson Click to view larger image

George Augustus Robinson travelled across the Monaro in 1844, in the course of his duties as ‘Chief Protector of Aborigines’ for the Port Phillip District. The journal that he kept during that journey provides some great insights into the lives of the early European settlers , the Ngarigo people whose land they ‘settled on’, and the attitudes of the time.

In the extracts incorporated in this image, he wrote:
5 July1844…called at Injebyrer, Mr Boyd’s station formerly Mr Robert Cunningham’s station… Boyd’s hut miserable looking; the hutkeeper dirty cursing character stood with hands in pocket. Could not give me information; did not know road; left the ticket of leave man at Injebyrer hut with frostbitten feet. Passed tree marked Boyd 42; crossed a range called the Pinch; descended to plain saw two emus; passed Paton’s station, killed short time previous, fall from horse; met and spoke to Mr Woodhouse going to his station at Soogum boogum at Snowy River…Called at Fincham at Jindabine Meadow stopped for night… Several white men have had children by native women, two white men of this character were accidentally shot by drawing guns from drays…

6 July 1944 Sent card to natives on Snowy River by Mr Kirk… came to Karrut, Joe Varney’s station… came to range descending to a new view of Monaro with its bare hills and undulating grassy surface spread before us as far as the eye could see…

7 July 1844 Frosty last night. Seven men, women and girl visited this afternoon, alias Old Tom (chief) among them; the rest were firm young men; gave each handkerchief and some medals; took their names and names of all the natives of the tribe. The language is the same as the Omeo Blacks. A messenger from Limestone near Yas was with them; took census of Limestone natives… obtained names of localities… called at Brooks gentlemanly run; returned p.m. to his station, Mrs Brooks came to dinner.

8 July 1844… horses astray busy writing; Mr Brooks not returned; Maneroo natives left country bare evidence of villainous action;… 10 July 1844 … horses astray; went with Robinson to see where natives had burnt a corpse sometime previous; it was distant half mile from hut in an old hollowed tree in wooded ranges facing south east. The body had been wrapped up; hole cut into tree which was two inch thick 18 inch hollow inside; body was dropped down to bottom, covered in boughs and grass and two large stones put on it and a green bough standing upright (a primitive sepulchre). … about dusk reached Wonjellic Mr Boyd’s cattle station formerly Clendindorp’s (12 miles from Pinchgut), stopped for night…

11 July 1844 … thence over four miles of grassy downs to Mr Boucher’s station; Mr Pryce small man like my brother… informed me he counted seven half caste children among the blacks at Twofold Bay. A married man has one at Delegate which he had by a native woman and he wanted it baptized; he can say the Lord’s Prayer write, bishop to know… 13 July 1844 … Mr Barber had Maneroo blacks; got bark and two men were killed by Bega blacks; Maneroo blacks killed two men Queenbeers sometime ago so Mr Robinson…

He base image was take as the dawn fog was lifting on the outskirts of Dalgety.

And the Country Was Taken Up

And the Country Was Taken Up

And the Country Was Taken Up Click to view larger image

Kate Grenville tells the story that, when she was in London researching for her novel The Secret River, she had a conversation with writer Melissa Lucashenko. She explained that she was in London looking for information about her ancestor Solomon Wiseman, who “took up land on the Hawkesbury River”.  Lucashenko, who is of mixed European and Murri (Aboriginal) heritage, replied: “What do you mean ‘took up’? He took!”

In Searching for the Secret River (p.28-9), Grenville goes on to distinguish the two expressions:

“Took up: you took up something that was lying around. You took up something that was on offer. You took up hobbies and sports
Took had many more possibilities. You took something because it was there like a coin on the ground. You took offence or flight or a bath. Or you took something away from someone else.”

Writings by and about the squatters, selectors and settlers who moved into the Monaro region from the 1830s onwards frequently refer to them as having ‘taken up’ land. In the early days following European arrival the process was simple. In an 1892 article in the Monaro Mercury Bernard O’Rourke, who arrived in the region in 1834 described how they were guided to suitable land by the local Aboriginal people.

“They ‘would yabber about a big fellow station out there’… and the settlers desirous of increasing their territorial possessions, would implicitly go after them. In the course of a few days or weeks the ‘promised land’ hove into sight, and there the land grabbers pitched their tents and regarded that as ownership of the many acres which appeared to serve as a panacea for their adventures”

In this image I’ve sought to make the notion of ‘taking up’ the land as real and as solid as the homesteads that they built upon it. The ‘text homestead’ hovers a little above the ground, as a little visual pun on ‘taken up’.

The picturesque ruined farmhouse was photographed on the Ironmungy Road south of Dalgety.

Monaro Merino Ngarigo Snow Hydro

Monaro Merino Ngarigo Snow Hydro Country

Monaro Merino Ngarigo Snow Hydro Click to view larger image

The base photograph for this image was taken on The Arable Road, just at its junction with the Cooma-Jindabyne Road near the Cooma Airport. The ‘real’ sign marks the boundary of the ‘Brookfield Park’ property.

Like the Cooma Welcomes You image, it was inspired by another sign, whose message is “Monaro Merino Country”. I’ve made a few additions to that message (there could have been more) to allow for some alternative designations of the land.

Cooma Welcomes You

Cooma Welcomes You

Cooma Welcomes You Click to view larger image

The road down through the Monaro towards Cooma is lined with innumerable advertising billboards, navigational signposts and ‘Welcome to…’ signs. My favourite is a sign which simply declares: “Monaro Merino Country”. It’s straightforward, unequivocal, indeed perhaps a little blunt. This is sheep country.

The passing motorist is left with no doubt about how they should regard the landscape that expands before them as they head south – the gold and brown treeless plains and the undulating wooded hills, with here and a view to the more distant ridges and peaks of the Great Dividing Range. Alternate readings of the land are not countenanced – or even acknowledged.

A little further south, and on the other side of the road, beside a long straight line of old power transmission poles, is another sign to warmly advise all and sundry that “Cooma Welcomes You”. Similar signs can be found on the outer perimeters of most towns, and are probably a world-wide phenomenon. (“Pyongyang Welcomes You”?) But I’ve always been puzzled by these all-encompassing, anonymous messages of civic goodwill, because I’m sure that there are people who are NOT welcome in Cooma (or other places), and to say otherwise is frankly misleading.

In this image, I’ve inserted another, more enigmatic sign, with the slightly cryptic assertion (as a billboard within the billboard) that this is in fact ‘Vacant Land’. All claims on the land, all claims of possession, control or exclusive usage are rejected, as this is Terra nullius. (But if this were indeed the case, who would have the authority to erect such a sign?!)



Battlesheep (Click to view larger image)

In this rural landscape (photographed just to the east of Dalgety, near the Black Range Road junction) I wanted to give equal space to two quite different relationships to the Monaro landscape: that of the pastoralist European settlers and that of the former occupier-custodians of the land – the Ngarigo people.

Neither people appear directly in the image, but are represented respectively by the sheep on the land and the Bogong Moth-clouds in the sky. Each is given equal space in the scene, with the horizon line separating their domains. There are roughly equal numbers of each species.

The text on the left side of the image is from a poem (Andy’s gone with cattle) by Henry Lawson, lamenting the departure of a much-loved family member gone off droving. It goes in part like this:

Who now shall wear the cheerful face
In times when things are blackest
And who shall whistle round the place
When Fortune frowns her blackest

Oh, who shall cheek the squatter now
When he comes round us snarling
His tongue is growing hotter now
Since Andy crossed the Darling

Also a lament, but of a quite different kind, is the text on the right hand-side. It is taken from The Song of the Women of the Menero Tribe, which was ‘collected’ and translated by Dr John Lhotsky during his travels in the Monaro in 1834. It was claimed to be “the first specimen of Australian Music” * Lhotsky recorded the original words (presumably from Ngarigo language?) as:

Kon-gi, kawel-go, yue-ri, congi, kawel-go, yue-ri Kuma gi ko-ko, kawel-go, kuma-gi ka-ba ko-magi ko-ko, koma-gi, ko-ko kabel-go, Koma gi ka-ba, ko-ma-gi yue-ri

which he translated as:

Unprotected race of people,
Unprotected all are we,
And our children shrink so fastly,
Unprotected all are we**

Song of the Women of the Menero

Song of the Women of the Menero (http://nla.gov.au/nla.mus-an9331227)

‘Battlesheep’ is s reference to sheep as an instrument of the contest for control of the land (and a minor play on the word: ‘battleship’…). ‘Mother of All’ references the nurturing function of the land, while also alluding to the frequently cited expression: ‘Mother of all battles’ – a discordant ambiguity.

* Whitley, G. P., ‘Lhotsky, John (1795–1866)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lhotsky-john-2357/text3085, accessed 18 September 2012.

**Sydney Gazette, 2 December 1834. Reprinted in: Young, Michael, Ellen Mundy, and Debbie Mundy. The Aboriginal People of the Monaro: A Documentary History. Sydney: NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2000. p. 82

Terra nullius

Terra nullius

Terra nullius (Click to view a larger image)

This image depicts a section of road between Dalgety and Jindabyne in the Monaro region of NSW. Prior to the arrival of the first European colonists in the 1820s this region was Ngarigo country. They ranged widely over the region, and (along with members of other language groups who lived around the Snowy Mountains) travelled in summer to feast on Bogong Moths amongst the granite boulders of the high country.

As with squatters and settlers in other parts of the colony, the Europeans appropriated the land for their use and instituted a system of land title that ignored any property rights that may have been held by the indigenous people who had lived here for many thousands of years previously. Their right to take ownership in this way was later formalised into the legal doctrine of terra nullius i.e. the principle that the land was vacant prior to their arrival.

In this image I simply wanted to draw attention to this notion (which is no longer recognised by the Australian legal system). However the road’s invitation to move into the ‘unoccupied’ land is symbolically contested by the Bogong Moth cloud shapes which still look down over the land. The diagonal slash of the road is intended to lead the viewer’s eye from the right foreground (and its text), towards the horizon on the left and up into the moth-clouds.