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Enngonia, NSW

One pub town near the Queensland border which is famous for its association with local bushrangers.

Today Enngonia is little more than a few buildings and a popular watering hole, the Oasis Hotel/Motel, on the Mitchell Highway. Its main claim upon the traveller is that it is particularly rich in bushranger history. In 1868 two incidents occurred which drew attention to the town. The bushranger and horse thief known as Midnight was shot and killed to the west of the town and the bushranger Frank Pearson, known as Captain Starlight, shot and killed Constable John McCabe in the Shearer's Inn. Earlier in the year the Sydney Morning Herald had identified the problem writing "Great complaints are made by squatters in the back country with reference to the 'mobs of lazy, idle, loafing scoundrels' which infest these districts, and whose whole end and object appear to be to live without working."

Location

Enngonia is located 859 km north-west from Sydney; 97 km north of Bourke and 40 km south of the Queensland border.

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Origin of Name

No one is sure of the origin of the town's name although one popular explanation is that one of the first settlers was named Erin and his simple house was named Erin's Gunyah. Certainly when there was correspondence with the Postal Authorities in 1870, Robert Kerrigan wrote from a place he called "Eringunyah". It seems that the postal authorities, trying to grapple with spellings including Eringunla, Eringonia and Eningunyah, ruled that the name should be 'Enngonia'.

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Things to See and Do

Oasis Hotel/Motel
The Oasis is the source of all knowledge about the district and should be visited by people wanting to explore the district and to learn more about Captain Starlight.

In 1973, long before the present owners arrived, it became a footnote in Australia's racial history when on 9 November that year Professor Fred Hollows arrived in the town as part of the trachoma eradication program he was carrying out through Bourke District Hospital. Hollows had stayed at the hotel/motel before but it had come under new management.

"Upon arriving, Hollows was approached by the new licenseee and told that the Aboriginal members of his party would not be served in the hotel's bar and lounge area; if they required refreshments they were to walk to the back of the hotel where they would be served through a small hatchery whilst remaining outside. Professor Hollows booked the party out of the hotel. After their day's work in the local Aboriginal community Hollows' trachoma eradication team retired to the Oasis for a drink in the lounge where the Aboriginal members of the group were all loudly refused service. Professor Hollows detailed this incident to Lionel Murphy, then Attorney General, in a letter sent in the week of the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Bill: 'Such discrimination makes my work both as an opthalmologist to the total community and as a person especially interested in improving Aboriginal health very difficult.'" Murphy replied that under the Human Rights Bill of 1973 "everyone is entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law". This is worth recalling when you stop for a drink at the Oasis Hotel/Motel. It was only 40 years ago.

The Back O' Bourke Mud Map Tours
Mud Map 9 - Bushrangers - Bush Poets - Spinifex, Sandhills & Wildflowers
The best starting point for those wanting to explore Enngonia is to get a copy of the excellent Back O'Bourke Mud Map Tours brochure (the Mud Maps have been in use around Bourke for over 30 years) from the Bourke Tourist Information Centre. The brochure has a total of 11 Mud Maps and Mud Map 9 looks specifically at the area around Enngonia.

The Grave of Midnight
I should explain that when I eventually found the grave of Captain Midnight it was with the help of a local who kept saying "It is around here somewhere" as he wandered around some very undifferentiated bush about 39 km west of Enngonia. In other words - it is worth looking for if you are a "bushranging history" enthusiast but if you think it is nothing more than a pleasant 4WD drive west of Enngonia and it will be easy to find: forget it. The grave is on private property and, although there is a map on Mud Map 9, it is best to seek permission by visiting the Bourke Visitor Information Centre (Old Railway Building, Anson Street, tel:(02) 6872 1222. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily.) and asking for both directions and permission to enter. It is also part of the Poet's Trek experience. Check out http://poetstrek.com.au/about/ for details.

The grave is that of Thomas Law, a convict, horse thief and murderer who was caught by a police posse. Here is his story:

Thomas Law, Alias Midnight
When he was confined in Parramatta Gaol he was known as Thomas Law but he was also known as George Gibson and Henry Wilson and he used the alias “Midnight”.

He escaped from Parramatta Gaol in 1878 and quickly became known to the police because he kept stealing horses. He travelled with his brother and by the time they had reached Dubbo there were warrants for both their arrests on charges of horse stealing.

The police caught Law’s brother near Dubbo and three officers – Sergeant Wallings and Constable Walsh from Dubbo and Senior Constable Souter from Warren – were sent to Mrs Mills Inn where it was believed Midnight was hiding. Midnight attempted to escape and during the subsequent shootout Sergeant Wallings was shot and killed. Word spread quickly and there was a heightened commitment to finding the horse thief and murderer.

We are lucky to have a very detailed account of the death of Midnight. It was recorded in the Kalgoorlie Western Argus on 4 August 1903 in a series the paper was doing on bushrangers.

The article included a first person account from Constable Hatton who was at the shooting of the bushranger: "Having received certain information, I went to Enngonia Station, in company with Senior-Constable Duffy and Constable Grey. Between 10 and 11 o'clock on the night of October 2 (twelve days after the murder of Wallings) I heard horses crossing the road about 300 yards from Kerrigan's public house. I went with Constable Grey to meet them, and when we arrived I saw a man on the ground with three horses.

"I called out, 'Who is that?' and the man at once jumped on the horse he had been riding. I called upon him to stand and as he began to move I told him I would shoot if he did not stand; but he bent down and galloped away through the scrub. I fired two shots at him from a distance of about 20 yards. When he galloped away he left the other two horses behind him, one having on a pack and the other a saddle. I took the horses over to the hotel, and on searching the pack I found a Sneider rifle and a revolver, both loaded, wrapped in a coat on top. There were also a bullet-mould and powder flask, some provisions, and a purse containing money. Grey and I then saddled up the two horses and went in search, remaining out about two hours. On the following morning Stub-Inspector Duffy, Constable Grey and the black tracker took up the tracks from Enngonia with me, and followed them all day. We kept following them until between 10 and 11 o’clock on the morning of the 5th. We then saw a chestnut horse tied up in a mulga scrub near the Maranoa Station, near the Queensland border. It had a saddle and bridle on. I at once galloped up and saw a man rising from the ground, apparently from sleep. Constable Grey and I got in between the man and the horse, which was about 20 yards distant. I had my revolver in my hand, and called upon him in the Queen's name to stand, saying 'We are constables.' I also told him to put up his hands or I would shoot him, repeating this several times.

"Constable Grey did the same, and at one time I thought he was putting up his hands. He was then in a sitting posture, and I said to Grey, 'You jump down and handcuff him while I keep him covered.' At that moment he jumped up, ran past my horse, and dodged under Grey's horse's neck to his own horse, which was tied to a tree. He reached the horse and grabbed the reins on the off side. I fired at the horse three times to prevent the man from escaping. The horse at this time kept moving along, the man trying to mount, holding the reins in one hand and having the other hand on the saddle. He had one foot in the stirrup, and was trying to mount on the off side. At one time he nearly got into the saddle, and I had my revolver levelled straight at him to fire, but did not do so, as he fell backwards, and the horse plunged round. At that time I fired another shot at the horse, and I believe it was that shot which killed the man; but I am not certain, as I never fired one shot at him, all my shots being at the horse. I fired five times altogether. When I fired the last shot the horse made a plunge and fell, and the deceased fell also, and remained upon the ground. I then immediately jumped off my horse, caught the man by the hands, and called upon Grey to put the handcuffs on him. This was done, and I then examined him, and found a hole made by a bullet which had pierced his left side above the hip bone, and appeared to have come out below the right hip. I then arrested him on the charge of having murdered Sergeant Wallings. He exclaimed: 'Oh! I'm done! It served me right.' He also said: 'I have no one to blame but myself - I have run to, all this.' I then asked him his name, and he replied: 'That doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what my name is; let me die !'

"He subsequently said to me, 'My name is Harry Wilson.' I sent to Maranoa station for a cart, into which we lifted the deceased, and brought him to Wapweetah station. where he died on the following morning."

"Previous to his death he complained of great pain, and said, 'There was a chance of my escaping, but if I was arrested there was no chance. If I had been arrested at first I should have got years and years for horse-stealing. Oh! that I had the world for my rifle! I'd learn some of you to be merciful.'"

Constable Grey's story corresponded in every essential with that told by Hatton, but he furnished one or two details omitted by his companion. As soon as he saw the bushranger attempting to reach his horse he turned in his saddle and fired his rifle at the animal, but the shot not taking effect, he fired a second time, and the bullet struck the horse through the saddle flap. A third shot was also fired by Grey, which struck the horse at the girth; and as "Midnight" was at the time endeavoring to clamber into the saddle on the other side, it was thought that one of the bullets passed clean through the horse and inflicted the fatal wound upon the man. In reply to Grey's question as to his name, "Midnight" said: "My right name I will never tell; I have lived like a dog, and like a dog I'll die - what I have been all my life."

This constable found in "Midnight's" coat pocket a handkerchief marked with the name, "Jane Mills."

All doubt as to the man that was shot being the murderer of Sergeant Wallings was set at rest by Constable Walsh,  who arrived at the station where he was lying dead, and fully identified him. He also identified the bridle and pouch found in the dead bushranger's possession as the property of Sergeant Wallings, and the saddle as the property of the Government.

At the coronial inquiry a verdict was returned to the effect that "Midnight" had been killed by a shot fired by either Constable Hatton or Constable Grey, when endeavoring to shoot his horse in the effort to prevent his escape, and that he was the murderer of Sergeant Wallings.

The remains were buried near Wapweetah Station, those who performed the last offices doing so with a pardonable feeling of satisfaction that a violent death had overtaken the man who, by violence, had taken the life of one of the most useful officers of police in the colony.

The Murderous Captain Starlight
Captain Starlight, as he became known, was born Frank Pearson in England in 1837, he arrived in Australia in 1866. He teamed up with a Queensland bushranger named Charles Rutherford in 1868 and together they held up a group of people at Walgett, stealing money and a revolver.

The Australian Police website (http://www.australianpolice.com.au/john-mccabe/) describes what happened at Enngonia in simple detail: "On 6 October, 1868 Constable McCabe was searching an area near the Queensland border for bushrangers Frank Pearson (Captain Starlight) and Charles Rutherford. He was accompanied by Constable Hugh McManus of the Queensland Police Force. During their patrol the police stopped for supplies at Shearer’s Inn, Enngonia (about 100 kilometres from Bourke). While they were so engaged, two riders appeared and entered the inn. Almost immediately, Pearson yelled “Bail up!” with the obvious intention of robbing those present. The two police, who had taken their weapons into the inn, turned and fired at the two offenders. Constable McCabe, who had dropped to one knee and fired, was shot in the chest, however he managed to fire several times, hitting Pearson in the wrist and right arm. The two bushrangers then ran from the inn and escaped. After rallying for almost a month, Constable McCabe died as a result of both his wound and the resultant infection."

Having killed a policemen and consequently being wanted for murder the search for the two bushrangers was unrelenting but Rutherford and Pearson continued to elude the police and to rob travellers and properties. They eventually separated with Rutherford heading to Queensland.

Finally at Gundabooka Station, on 23 December, 1868, the police spotted Pearson, the night after the station had been robbed. His horse was shot from under him but he managed to escape into the bush. However, on Christmas Day he was found in a cave where he surrendered without resistance.

The story, complete with interesting photographs and drawings, is recounted in great detail at the Back O'Bourke Exhibition Centre. The arresting officer, Sergeant Andrew Cleary of the Bourke Police, became something of a friend to Starlight. He has left us a record of Starlight's arrest.

"He was an aristocratic bushranger, and the way he bailed up a station was in keeping with his many other exploits. He rode up and asked if there was any grog in the store ... Filling his own glass and with a dramatic wave of his hand he shouted: 'Now boys, drink to the health of Captain Starlight the bushranger!'

"When the sun broke on Christmas morning ... they had found bare footprints in the sand. On the edge of a rock, which opened onto a precipice fifty feet deep, I saw a leather pouch and peering through the crack underneath a smaller rock I saw Starlight's knees crouched up in the cave.

"Then I took of my boots and lowered myself into the cave. There was Starlight sitting on the ledge with a revolver by his side. I grabbed the revolver and pulled him out. My God he looked awful! A thick scum was caked around his mouth: his eyes were protruding out of their sockets. He looked in fact like a madman and as soon as I got him out of the cave he shouted wildly, 'Water, water, water!'

"When escorting Starlight back to Bourke, he was the best company I ever travelled with ... He told me he saw my whole body through the crevice in the rock and that he had picked up his revolver to finish me, but he laid it down again thinking 'No, I've done enough' ... He told me he was the scapegrace of his good family who had given him the first training for a doctor. At his trial he thanked me in open court for the way I had treated him since I arrested him.

"He was sentenced to death for the murder of McCabe. But on the morning of his execution a telegram arrived prolonging his sentence. Later on he was reprieved and moved to Darlinghurst Gaol. There Father Garvey ... took a great fancy to him and succeeded in getting an order for his release ... Before he left Darlinghurst Gaol I visited him, and in talking over his arrest, he cried like a child." And that is the graphic account provided by Andrew Cleary, Sergeant NSW Mounted Police.

The postscript: Starlight was released in 1884. In 1891 Pearson was convicted, in Brisbane, of two charges of forgery, serving two years. Upon his release he lived as a petty criminal and worked as a clerk in the West Australian Geological Survey Office until he died on 22 December 1899 after mistakenly drinking potassium cyanide whilst inebriated.

Rutherford's end came in 1869 while robbing a hotel near Warren. He was shot when the publican grappled with him, causing the bushranger to accidentally discharge his weapon, with the bullet entering his jaw. He died the next day without regaining consciousness.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Belalie Station and Will Ogilvie
While Belalie Station is a private property it is possible to visit it as part of the Poet's Trek run from Bourke. Check out http://poetstrek.com.au/about/. Of particular interest is a small corrugated iron hut with some very interesting bottles of "strange brew" where the poet Will Ogilvie, who worked at Belalie, drank and wrote some of his poetry. Scottish born Ogilvie spent years working on and returning to Belalie Station and, though buried in his homeland, claimed to the last that "the Back of Bourke" was where his heart remained. Ogilvie arrived in Australia in 1889. During his two years on Belalie station he worked as a jackaroo, drover and second bookkeeper. Whilst on Belalie he found the inspiration for some of his best known Australian verse. His love of outback Australia was unambiguous. As he wrote in My Life in the Open the Australian bush "has a peculiar witchery of its own … that spell that brings the drover and traveller back again and again to worship at the shrine of its silent beauty; that charm that chains the true bushman to his love though half the world lies between."

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area around Enngonia was occupied by people from the Gunu and Barranbinya Aboriginal language groups.

* The town was probably named after a man called Erin who built a shack for himself which was little more than a gunyah. It was named 'Erin's Gunyah' which was later corrupted to 'Enngonia'.

* A post office was established at Belalie Station in 1866.

* On 2 October, 1868 police caught up with a bushranger named Midnight and shot and killed him 39 km west of Enngonia.

* On 6 October, 1868 Charles Rutherford and Frank Pearson (known as Captain Starlight) were confronted in the Shearer's Inn by two police troopers. Starlight shot and killed Constable John McCabe.

* In March, 1871 Robert Kerrigan became the town's first postmaster and the postal authorities decided the settlement's name would be Enngonia.

* In 1884 the telegraph line reached Enngonia.

* In 1896 a post office was built at the corner of Belalie and McCabe Streets.

* By the late 19th century the large properties in the area were labour intensive and substantial numbers of people passed through the area on horse or driving bullock teams. At the time Enngonia was an important stopping point on the route to Bourke.

* The Enngonia telephone exchange was established in 1912.

* In 1941 the Enngonia Post Office was destroyed by fire.

* Today Enngonia is a small service centre for the surrounding properties. It comprises a police station, a small school, a hotel/motel with caravan facilities, and a few houses.

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Visitor Information

Oasis Hotel, 1 Belalie Street, tel: (02) 6874 7577

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Accommodation

Oasis Hotel, 1 Belalie Street, tel: (02) 6874 7577

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Eating

Oasis Hotel, 1 Belalie Street, tel: (02) 6874 7577

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Useful Websites

There is no specific website for Enngonia. Check out http://www.backobourke.com.au for information about the district.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

8 suggestions
  • Along with all of the schools in Bourke, Wannaaring Public School, and the small town of Yantabulla, Engonnia Public School was also on my run as the Flying Music Teacher. It was a pleasure bringing music to the people in the bush, who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to learn a musical instrument.

    Bill Griffith
  • PS. The period in question was the 1970’s

    Bill Griffith
  • Enngonia now has a coffee van! It is located out the front of the Enngonia Police Station on the HYW.
    The little coffee van is open whenever the pub is not!

    Thanks Trish. That is great news!

    Trish Wilson
  • Enngonia now has a COFFEE TRAILER! Located at the opposite end of town to the pub near the Police Station. Great coffee, toasted sandwiches, freshly baked cakes, drinks and even slushes for the kids. Open weekdays & Saturday 7am-11am and all day Sunday. Run by the local cops wife Trish, lovely lady. Open when the pubs closed.

    Now either there are two Trishes in town (unlikely) or Trish Wilson, who has sent this useful piece of information, describes herself as a “lovely lady”. I am sure she is.
    Bruce Elder

    Trish Wilson
  • Actually there are now 3 Trish’s in Little Enngonia hahaha.

    That is too funny! Surely they should rename themselves Pat, Pattie, Trish. I hope everyone reads this and ensures they stop and have a coffee and ask Trish which one she really is.
    Bruce Elder

    Trish Wilson
  • Enngonia is a great place to stop overnight with a van in the back of the Oasis and have a beer with Oatsy the publican.

    Peter
  • I am not certain of the exact year but I know Jack Webb had the pub in late 40’s early 50’s. I think he swapped the pub for Bellands Station. In the 60’s Roy Webb bought the hotel.

    Toni Grossetti
  • Do you have any information on Donald Keighley who lived in Engonnia and ran a general store. He died in April 1973. Regards Donald Keighly (Eldest son)

    Donald Keighly