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THE HEGIRA DECISION - 'A Flight to Escape Danger'

The Hegira Decision is a work of historical fiction/crime set in Australia during the late nineteenth century. The story centres on Caleb, a young Irish Catholic who is tempted from a sedate clerical job to a Robin Hood lifestyle of crime. 

His criminal adventures begin when he robs a coach transporting gold, but regardless of these pursuits, he is the likeable larrikin who encapsulates the true Aussie bush spirit.  

With the backdrop of goldfields, liquor emporiums and wild women, Caleb exposes the beginning of Queensland's underworld and some of the country's well known business and criminal figures.

In Store Price: $AU26.95 
Online Price:   $AU25.95

ISBN: 978-1-921574-59-7
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 259
Genre: Fiction


 Buy as a pdf  Ebook version - $AUD9.00
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Visit the website:
www.thehegiradecision.com

Author: Nev Parker
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English

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About the author

Nev Parker has always been interested in history, especially Australian history pertaining to the area where he resides, and to the people who lived there in earlier times, their daily lives, occupations and travails.

When he moved to the Gold Coast and took up residence near the Nerang River, he was intrigued to read the story that cotton played in earlier times, followed by the more successful sugarcane. Reading about the SS Walrus made him realise that here was a unique and little known facet of Queensland and Australian history. In The Hegira Decision, he has woven historical fact with imaginative fiction.

Prologue

M

any of the characters and incidents in this story are factual. I’ve endeavoured to be as accurate as possible with the history. The timeline wavers a little, but everything takes place during that very interesting period of Australia’s development, the late nineteenth century.

°      The bushrangers eventually sentenced for their involvement in the Gardiner gang’s hold up of the gold coach at ‘Eugowra Rocks’ were less than the numbers indicated by eye witnesses.

°      A young boy taken along to ‘hold the horses’ could have been one of those unaccounted for.

°      There are variances in the number of years that the Walrus operated. I found a perplexing ten-year period for which differing accounts of its activities were given.

°      The engrossing story of the troubled Mayne family is documented by Rosamond Siemon in her book ‘The Mayne Inheritance’ and was my first introduction to Rosanna and Isaac Mayne and the enigmatic SS Walrus, with its apocryphal murder connection said to involve Isaac.

°      Entries in the ‘Australian Dictionary of Biographies’ can be found for the following: Frank Gardiner, Joseph O’ Connor, Nehemiah Bartley, Edmund Price, John McLerie, Edward Moriarty, Lola Montez (the Countess) – to name just a few.

°      I have included the photo of a huge crocodile captured in the Logan River in 1905 for the sceptics who might have doubts about them being found as far south as Nerang.

°      The circumstances surrounding the death and burial of little Ruby are true, except that it happened in Outback NSW. She would have been our aunt had she lived.

°      If there are any other historical details that might differ, I am going to use the excuse that ‘you can’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’.

Some trivia:

°      The Sly Grog Shop in Nerang later became the site of their first police station.

°      Jupiters Casinos were named after Jupiter the Aborigine boy who found the gold nugget.

°      Lola Montez died in poverty in New York; some reports say she died of syphilis.

°      Frank Gardiner went to America and opened a bar in San Francisco. In the early 1900s two young American ‘geologists’ spent some time ‘exploring’ the areas where Frank was reported to have hidden the proceeds of many of his robberies.

°      I’ve chosen to mostly use the word ‘coppers’ instead of ‘traps’ when making colloquial references to the police as I felt ‘traps’ was too obsolete a word for easy reading. ‘Cops’ originated in the US in the mid 1800s and could have been used here at this period.

 

Thank you.

Nev Parker.

Chapter 1

‘The Watcher’

T

he watcher’s ill-fitting clothing was much too large for him. A discerning person would be aware that they were also expensive, but probably wouldn’t conclude that they’d been stolen.

Some might have been a little dubious had they also seen the magnificent chestnut horse he’d ridden into town, or observed the way he’d peered warily into the jostling crowd before attempting to dismount. Apparently satisfied, he tied the big stallion to a hitching rail and removed a jute bag that was slung across the hand-tooled saddle then, taking another quick look around, he vanished into the noisy bustling horde.

A first impression was that of another miner taking his well-earned break, grubby and nondescript as might be expected, just another face in that chaotic crowd of fortune hunters. First impressions might be lasting impressions but they’re not always correct.

The sign over the door advised that it was ‘The New Albion Hotel’ whose wall he leant casually against, puffing a clay pipe that was held in one hand, the other pushed into a pocket until he withdrew it to grab at the mug of beer beside him. He’d take a gulp then replace it on the windowsill, where sticky, half-dry rings held it ready for the next swig. He did this without taking his eyes off the bank premises on the opposite side of the dusty track, the main street in this town that had grown quickly within the goldfields.

Previously known as the Lachlan Goldfields, it now had a name – Forbes. There were 30,000 miners here and all were hoping to make a quick fortune. This outland was a turbulent shantytown for the most part, but that was rapidly changing as various commercial enterprises had started building and developing it into the prosperous country town it would one day become.

One of the town’s most substantial buildings was the newly erected National Bank and the adjoining assaying office. The assaying office was the focus of the watcher’s attention.

The watcher’s name was John O’Meally and he was looking for a youth, not much younger than himself who, he’d been told, worked in that office. He only had Frank Gardiner’s meagre description but as the other two were older men, he figured identification wasn’t a problem. Gardiner and O’Meally were both wanted by the police for the crime of ‘robbery under arms’.

The man seated near the office door was a well-known ‘thief taker’, but he was of no interest, just a man who worked on contract guarding banks and other premises deemed to be in need of security. ‘Thief takers’ were bounty hunters, men who had about as many scruples as they had friends, but his presence usually meant that they were holding a larger than normal amount of gold. He sat just inside, fondling a shotgun while quietly watching door and customers.

Outside the office, there was a small queue of miners waiting to have their precious metal assayed. This was a slow process as the miners were only allowed to enter one at a time. A miner was let in by the armed guard and the door locked behind him; only then would the procedure of valuing his gold commence.

The Chinese miners were very wary of letting their gold out of sight and they almost rioted the first time the officer let one enter and then locked him in and his compatriots out.

The small line of waiting miners moved to one side, allowing two nuns to pass easily by. A few of them had the grace to raise their battered hats in respect. O’Meally watched them hurry past the men and noticed that the smaller nun turned to nod at the smiling young man who waved from inside as they scurried past the barred windows of the assay office.

The sisters moved on towards a hilly path that led up to the convent school. Although a question hadn’t been asked, the diminutive, elderly nun turned to her companion and said, “That was Caleb Sweeney. I know we shouldn’t have favourites but that young man is a credit, his father is…how can I put this, well let’s say he has drifted away from the teachings of his faith. Drink has been his downfall, so very sad. The mother is a wonderful woman, Caleb was very lucky there, sadly she’s very ill, we think it’s tuberculosis, she’s being cared for by her sister and brother-in-law.”

The other nun was silent; she might have been totally disinterested but this didn’t deter Sister Phillipa from continuing. She was always eager to talk about her few successful students.

“Young Caleb was a very bright lad, he loved to learn, he was always borrowing books from the library, goodness knows when he found the time to read. Most of the boys don’t get the chance to finish their schooling, mainly because they have to leave early and help on the family farm or find work that will bring some money into the house. I think Cal managed so well because he learnt so quickly and easily, he was brilliant at maths that’s why he entered the bank, I think he’ll have a bright future in the bank.”

They pushed open the wrought-iron gates and crunched their way along the gravel path up to the big wooden doors, pausing a moment before vanishing into the gloom inside.

The working day was finishing and the watcher was aware of the route that Sweeney would be taking home. He’d stop him somewhere along the track where they couldn’t be observed. As he was draining the last of his beer and getting ready to leave, a leather-faced old miner came over and spoke to him. “Ay mate, I know you…you’re O’Meally’s boy, aintcha? Johnny, aint it? I’ve bought more sly grog off your old man than you’ve had…”

He didn’t finish. He saw something in the young man’s wild, staring eyes that made him turn around, wondering what he’d observed that had so visibly disturbed him. Two policemen were walking around his imposing horse. As they stood and looked at the brand, he wished he could hear what they were saying. The most senior turned and addressed the drinkers and idlers who’d all hushed when the police appeared amongst them.

“Who owns this horse?” No one moved or spoke.

“C’mon, it didn’t get here on its own.”

“Maybe it just likes a beer,” some unseen wag called from the back of the crowd.

O’Meally muttered quietly to himself, “You nosey bastards, haven’t ya got nothin’ better to do?”

The young man who’d been watching Caleb Sweeney was indeed O’Meally’s boy – Johnny or Bluey to some, because of his ginger hair. His father was famous, or infamous, for the sly grog that he brewed from seasonal fruit and for sometimes subsidising his income by selling stolen goods, for which he’d spent some time as a ‘guest of Her Majesty’, as most preferred to call their time spent in gaol.

John O’Meally’s horse was stolen, he’d altered the brand, but that would only fool a casual observer and he’d recently joined a gang being formed by Frank Gardiner, the man who was considered to be the ‘King’ of bushrangers again out of gaol and working at his old trade of butchering, this time legally. He’d been sentenced for selling stolen meat to the miners at the Lambing Flats Goldfields but he didn’t intend working like a navvy for too much longer, so he was planning a gold robbery that should set him up for life.

Caleb was an essential part of this plan and Johnny O’Meally had an important message to convey to the young assistant assayer. He didn’t need any grief from the coppers now, it could stuff everything up.

“If somebody don’t own up to this ’orse in a minute they’ll have to come round to the station ter pick ’im up cause I’m gunna check to see if ’e’s stolen. I think he might be because I don’t know that brand and none of youse can afford an ’orse like this.”

The old leather-faced miner stepped forward.

“I know the owner of that ’orse, he’s out the back of the pub usin’ the bog an’ ya wouldn’t recognise that brand unless you’d been a Victorian copper.”

The old bloke might just have saved him, thought O’Meally as he pushed past the bystanders.

“Whatcha doin’ with my horse?” he addressed the policeman with barely controlled hostility.

The policeman, not wanting an audience, looked at the crowd who were gathering to enjoy this developing confrontation, then yelled at them.

“Alright, youse git back ter what yer was doin’, this is none of yer business.” The crowd dispersed and the laughter, noise and drinking resumed as if nothing had happened.

“Alright Mr, you can go as well, you’re not needed here, go on, piss orf.” He was addressing the old miner who had spoken up for O’Meally as he walked away.

O’Meally caught his glance and winked at him, getting a gummy grin in response.

“What’s yer name?” asked the policeman.

“O’Meally.”

“Alright, O’Meally, have ya got any papers to prove that’s who you are?”

Then came a little charade of looking for some paperwork in his saddlebags. Unless a man had something to prove his identity the police could hold that person for as long as they liked and without any charges having to be made, a powerful tool that the police often used when it suited their purpose.

O’Meally mucked around for as long as he thought he could get away with, just to annoy his tormentors. He had a forged ‘miner’s right’, removed it from his saddlebag and waved it in front of the policeman’s face.

The policeman took it. O’Meally recognised from the way he was looking at it and quietly mouthing the words that he wasn’t very good at reading. He recognised the signs because he too was a poor reader and this was exactly how he had to read.

Both police looked closely at the cryptic brand on the horse’s rump.

“What’s it s’ posed to be, what’s the name of the property?”

It didn’t represent anything, it was just a few strokes made over the original brand in an attempt to disguise it. O’Meally stared at it; he’d seen something similar in a cemetery once.

“Me dad bought it from a religious bloke has this big property on the Murray, everybody down that way knows him and his station, it’s called ‘Shalom’, over six thousand acres.”

“Have you got the bill of sale?”

“Me dad would ’ave that, I’m just up here to see if he could open a shop.”

“I think you’re fulla bullshit, young fella. If it wasn’t so close to knock orf time I’d take ya round to the telegraph office an’ see what I could find out aboutcha. Yer lucky I’m too busy. Now git on yer way an’ I don’t wanna see ya round ’ere tomorrow. Piss orf before I change me mind.”

Johnny O’Meally thought of a few smart replies but decided to quit while he was ahead.

Caleb looked out through the barred window and noticed that a crowd from the Albion Hotel had gathered to watch a couple of policemen who were inspecting a horse and remonstrating with its owner. Nothing unusual about that, it happened all the time.

The miner entering now would be their last customer and then he’d be finished for the day.

This miner wasn’t much older than he was and he had an amount of gold that was more than Caleb’s wages for a year. He knew he only saw the winners, but some of them had made big money. He wanted a change, something with a bit of excitement and he had been thinking he might go mining or maybe travel. The restlessness of youth was stirring.

He’d become bored with working in this office each day, thinking he might as well be in gaol himself. The windows were barred, the door had to be unlocked for him to enter or leave, he felt little different to a prisoner. There were no side windows and the rear wall consisted of one large central steel door with two smaller steel doors either side. The large one was the main safe, which had two huge locks. Mr Goldstein, the assayer, had one key and the bank manager next door had another key. Whenever the safe was to be opened, they pulled a cord that operated a bell in the bank manager’s office, then two of their staff opened a box containing a key, which he’d then bring into the assaying office. Both would then open their separate locks, quite a complex procedure just to open the safe door.

The two smaller doors on either side of the safe had no locks, only door handles, but they could be locked from inside with a solid iron bar. Each door had ‘peep holes’ in them, large enough to give rifle coverage to the whole room as a last resort in case of a surprise attack.

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