Following yesterdays post (on Australia's radical traditions and Tony Moore's new book) I've been listening to the Australian traditional tune Streets of Forbes, a folk song in the radical Australian tradition about the death of bushranger Ben Hall.
Australian singer songwriters Mick Thomas and Paul Kelly have recorded a new version (on Mick Thomas new CD) and English folksinger June Tabor recorded a stunning version sometime ago. The traditional Australian band The Bushwackers recorded a different version here.
Streets of Forbes tells of the death of the bushranger Ben Hall who was shot (some say murdered) by police in 1865. Hall like many bush rangers of the time (1860-1880) reflected a tradition of rebelliousness and resistance to the authority of the rural ruling class (which included squatters who controlled most of the land and a corrupt police force and magistrates who were seen to act in the interests of the squatters).
Hall, who was the son of convicts transported to Van Diemens Land, was a small farmer, part of a group known as selectors, who were constantly in dispute with the powerful squatters who controlled most of the land. Hall took up bushranging aged 22, after a series of wrongful arrests and the trauma of losing his wife who ran off with a policeman, taking his young son. After the wrongful arrests Hall was forced to sell his small landholding to pay a large legal bill.
Hall's exploits became legendary and he became a folk hero to many, partly because of a "Robin Hood" style approach of taking from the rich, and partly because he challenged what many saw as an unjust rural power structure.
- Ben Hall
- lyrics traditional
- Come all you Lachlan men and a sorrowful tale I'll tell,
- The story of a decent man who through misfortune fell,
- His name it was Ben Hall, a man of high renown,
- Who was hunted from his station, and like a dog shot down.
- Three years he roamed the roads, and he showed the traps some fun,
- One thousand pounds was on his head, with Gilbert and John Dunn.
- Ben parted from his comrades, the outlaws did agree,
- To give away bushranging and to cross the briny sea.
- Ben went to Goobang Creek, and that was his downfall
- For riddled like a sieve was the valiant Ben Hall,
- 'Twas early in the morning upon the fifth of May
- That the seven police surrounded him as fast asleep they lay.
- Bill Dargin he was chosen to shoot the outlaw dead,
- The troopers then fired madly and they filled him full of lead,
- They rolled him in his blanket and strapped him to his prad
- And they led him through the streets of Forbes, to show the prize they had.