While delving through the files in the Stables looking for something else, one of our members came upon this story about Uralla. It had been retyped by some keen past member (in the days prior to computers). It was taken from the actual article in the newspaper, The Melbourne Age, dated 29/12/87. It had no byline.
Below is an edited version of that article.
WHERE HISTORY HAD THE LAST LAUGH
If the irony of history is your thing, Uralla is your place. The dead would surely be deeply perplexed, and perhaps helpless with laughter, if they could walk this way again.
What in Heaven, or more likely Hell, would Fred Ward make of the news that the town on which he preyed for more than six years is marking the Nation’s Bicentennary by erecting a statue of him? How would the persecuted Chinese miners of the Rocky River gold rush react on learning that their Joss House has been lovingly reassembled in the Uralla historical museum? What would the old squatters, who devoted so much energy to ring-barking trees, have to say about their successors’ desperate efforts to keep trees alive?
Uralla is a township of 2,300 people, and some fine old buildings nestling at the junction of two creeks and at the feet of Mt Mutton and Mt Beef in the south of the New England Tablelands. The first Europeans to settle in the area were pastoralists with imposing names – Colonel Henry Dumaresq and Edward Gostwyck Cory, both of whom were running stock on enormous runs in the mid-1830s.
One of these early stations, acquired by the Taylor family in the 1840s, was called Terrible Vale. A name so chilling demands investigation. Some dreadful massacre of whites or blacks? A natural disaster? Plague? Nothing quite so dramatic. Records kept by the Taylor family suggest the name came either from a corruption of Turrubul Tribe, a group of Aborigines who used to camp in the area, or from a part-black stockman who was known only as Terrible Billy and who earned himself a fearful reputation for maltreatment of Aborigines.
Billy’s wickedness was soon overshadowed in local folklore by the 1856 discovery of a “Deep lead” of gold on the Rocky River, a few kilometres from Samuel
McCrossin’s Inn, which was then about all there was of Uralla, and by the deplorable behaviour of Fred Ward, who committed a great deal of serious bush-ranging in these parts under the alias of Thunderbolt.
The Rocky River gold rush was short-lived but boisterous. Within months there were about 5,000 people in the area, many of them Chinese, some of whom had walked from the Victorian goldfields. At one point they outnumbered Europeans at the new diggings by three-to-one. This created much racist ill-feeling, and some violence.
To acquire an inkling of the bitterness, fear and ignorance of those days, visitor should spend an hour or two at the Uralla historical museum, which is housed in a beautifully restored, three-storey flour mill constructed in 1871 from granite and local hand-made bricks. There, if you are lucky, you may meet Arnold Goode, who is that treasure beyond price to the travelling scribe, a citizen who has made it his business to learn about his town’s history. Mr Goode’s own great-grandfather arrived in the Uralla area in1861.
Even without his guidance, you will find reproductions of newspaper cartoons of the day, portraying pig-tailed Chinese as women-stealers and disease carriers, as well as a copy of an extraordinary 1858 petition to the colonial Legislative Assembly, signed by miners and other residents of the Rocky River goldfield, demanding that the government stop Chinese immigration and provide the European community with “such an adequate police force as to obviate the necessity of arming ourselves for the support of law and order”.
The petitioners declared their determination “at all hazards to maintain British supremacy in this colony, and to keep the Mongolians within proper bounds” and went on to declare that “the “filthy habits” of the Chinese are repulsive to the feelings of the Christian population.” To clinch the argument, the petitioners pointed out that the Chinese “as heathens, systematically desecrate the Sabbath.”
Interestingly, the God-fearing burghers of Uralla appear to have been much less agitated, only a few years later, about Fred Ward. This was presumably because Fred – I beg his pardon, Thunderbolt – limited himself to such thoroughly Australian, if not entirely Christian, activities as stealing horses and bailing up mail coaches at gunpoint.
The authorities offered rewards of up to four-hundred pounds for information leading to his arrest,but he was never betrayed. Perhaps he refrained from highway robbery on the Sabbath. Perhaps the locals were moved
at reports that he was invariably courteous to the ladies. Perhaps, even then, they guessed that he would repay his debt to society.
As, indeed, he has. In life, poor Fred pinched a bit of gold; in death, he has proved to be a regular goldmine, the foundation of an entire tourist industry. Thunderbolt’s Rock – a huge split granite boulder just south of Uralla on the New England Highway, which he used as a look-out – has become a Mecca for every idiot in Australia who fancies himself as a graffiti artist and who can afford a spray-can of paint.
“Welcome to Thunderbolt Country” says the placard as you drive into town. Should you miss the signpost to Thunderbolt’s grave in the old cemetery, you will certainly receive directions from the proprietors of the Thunderbolt Inn or the Thunderbolt Service Station. You may also be invited to buy one or more of the three books about Thunderbolt that have just been published or are about to be published. Uralla’s discovery of the Thunderburger is surely at hand.
It must be said that there are those, including even residents of Uralla, who carp at the way in which the town has cashed in on Fred Ward, arguing that it is improper to make a hero of a rascal, let alone spend money on a statue of him. Mr. Goode rejects the argument. “Bushrangers like Thunderbolt were a fact of this country’s history”, he says. “The statue simply commemorates that fact. It does not denote approval.” To underline the point, Uralla’s Bicentenary effort includes not only the statue of Fred but also a memorial to Constable Walker, who shot him dead.
There is a tasteful model of Thunderbolt’s corpse at the historical museum, dressed as he was on the day he died, in a Crimean shirt, moleskin trousers and riding leggings.