Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Weddos Wednesday: 'And like a dog shot down...'

And they led him through the streets of Forbes to show the prize they had...

My plan to write a blog post each day of the week for a musical act alliteratively derived from the day of the week continues!!! THREE DAYS IN A ROW!!! WOW!!!

Today it is Weddos Wednesday — with a great track by Australian folk rock band Weddings Parties Anything. Storming across the country in the '80s and '90s, the Weddos welded folk music and traditions to the energy of punk and pub rock — and in "Streets of Forbes" give new life to an old folk song about 19th century bushranger Ben Hall.

The 19th century phenomena of bushranging in the Australian colonies is well known, but not always well understood. History is notoriously ironic and a classic example is the bizarre case of far right-wing "Aussie patriots" sporting Ned Kelly tattoos and Australian flags, Union Jack sitting in pride of place in the top left corner.

I suppose it is asking too much for the fascist-minded among us to bother with facts, but the famed outlaw was very Irish. And, being very Irish, Kelly was, of course, very filled with hatred towards the English — as a casual glance over his brilliantly furious stream of consciousness rant that was his 1879 Jerilderie Letter shows.

But while the story of Kelly — more of an expression of social rebellion by Victoria's rural poor than an outright "bushranger" — is well known, the case of New South Wales outlaw Ben Hall is less so.

Hall, born to Irish and English convicts, lead a gang of bushrangers operating across a chunk of rural NSW in the early 1860s. A successful grazier, he fell victim to what appears to be systematic police harassment — a fact reminiscent of Kelly's experience in Victoria.

Impoverished, he joined with others and turned to robbery — seemingly carrying out his crimes in a manner designed to heap maximum humiliation on the NSW police. His gang was responsible for more than 100 robberies, but there is no record of Hall ever hurting or killing anyone.

Stung by the gang's seeming ability to act with impunity, the NSW authorities introduced special powers declaring its members "outlaws" — giving police the authority to shoot them dead on sight.

And that's what happened. In 1865, Hall and his colleagues had decided to leave bushranging and the NSW colony, taking a ship overseas. But they were ambushed just north of Forbes... and Hall was shot in the back. No trial. Just an extrajudicial execution.

Hall was undoubtedly guilty of robberies, but such a cold-blooded killing indicates the lawless and corrupt way the NSW police operated in those days. Thank god things have changed and that kind of thing is unimaginable these days. Except for when they do.

Like when they shot Aboriginal man David Gundy dead in his own home in 1989 — mistaking the entirely innocent man for another entirely. Or killed 17-year-old Black youth TJ Hickey in Redfern in 2004. Or god knows how many other Black deaths in custody...

I post the Ben Hall track partly coz it is a great track about a story not that well known... But a better known story is told in the Weddos' justifiably better known track "A Tale They Won't Believe" -- about infamous Van Demien's Land convict-turned-cannibal Alexander Pearce.

The live version below shows the Weddos at their absolute best -- energetic, rollicking pub rock, combining punk with the traditional story telling of folk to capture an amazing, though dark, story from our past.

But you should have seen the bastard who was carrying the axe... he was a sick man, he had murder in his heart...

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