Thursday, July 29, 2010

More on The Streets of Forbes and the Australian bushranger Ben Hall

The piece I wrote on the traditional Australian song Streets of Forbes has generated considerable feedback. The blog piece was written specifically about a new version of the song recorded by Paul Kelly and Mick Thomas.

Some of the feedback was about the song. Someone pointed out that the Australian folk/rock band Weddings Parties Anything (of which Mick Thomas was the lead singer) recorded the song on their 1989 CD The Big Don't Argue and performed the song as part of their live set (It appears on their live CD "they were better live". I also read that Streets of Forbes was one of the first songs played live by Paul Kelly in 1974. Michael Breen wrote to tell me that Australian music legend Warren Fahey also recorded the song.

But much of the feedback was about the Australian folk hero and bushranger Ben Hall, whose death (by police ambush and murder) is the subject of the song.

Michael Breen wrote that as well as wrongful imprisonment, an important factor in Ben Hall's disenchantment with the authorities was the way his stock were treated while he was in prison. Michael recounted that Hall's stock starved during his imprisonment:
"Ben Hall was further enraged by the treatment of his stock while in Prison. Rather than let them out of their yard the traps left them in a yard without food and water where they died"
Michael recommended the 1947 book Ben Hall Bushranger by Frank Cline and also Cline's 1959 book on Jimmy Governor which was the inspiration for Thomas Kennealy's book The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.

Craigresides wrote about the NSW Felons Apprehension Act (1865-1899) which authorized civilians and police to kill wanted "outlaws" on sight and without warning. The Felons Act essentially provided police with a license to kill someone designated as an outlaw, without warning or reason. That Act required that the authorities follow a number of procedural steps in order that someone be classified as an outlaw before Police could legally shoot them. Craig pointed out that Ben Hall was shot by Police illegally, 5 days before all these procedures were enforceable. When he was shot unarmed and without warning the procedures for designating Ben Hall an outlaw had not been legally authorised. Hence, as craig points out Ben Hall was murdered. He also points out that The Kelly Gang was shot in the same way.

More information on the story of Ben Hall can be found here and here, including this quote by Ben Hall himself, which provides his side of the story (Printed in a newspaper column during the 1860s)

"I'm not a criminal. I've been driven to this life. Pottinger arrested me on Forbes racecourse last year and I was held for a month in gaol, an innocent man. While I was away me wife ran away - with a policeman. Well, with a cove who used to in the police force. Then I was arrested for the mail coach robbery and held another month before I was let out on bail. When I came home, I found my house burned down and cattle perished of thirst, left locked in yards. Pottinger has threatened and bullied everybody in this district just because he can't catch Gardiner. Next thing I knew is that the troopers fired at me 3 weeks ago for robbing Pinnacle police station, when I had nothing to do with that little joke. Trooper Hollister has skited that he'll shoot me on sight. Can you wonder I'm wild? By Gawd, Mr Norton, it's your mob have driven me to it and, I tell you straight, you'll never take me alive!!"

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