Daily Archives: January 14, 2009

Captain Thunderbolt

Uralla was my first port of call on the road north, and there was something I’d wanted to see for a long time, ever since I was a little tacker reading Eric Joliffe’s Witchetty’s Tribe cartoons.  He had drawn a picture of Thunderbolts’ Lookout, and the drawing and little story that accompanied it, fired my imagination.  And today, dear reader, was my day to see it. 

Well, I nearly missed it.  The signs are a bit thin on the ground and I’d been focussing more on the semi-trailer riding my tail like a sheeps’ dag.  So when I saw actually saw the the sign on the left, and the rocks to the right hand side, it was too late.  I had to drive a little further on, pull over and let the truckie fly by, before executing a U-turn and cruising back to the lookout.

The nice folks with spray cans had beaten me to it… but this is nothing new when it comes to historical monuments, I have heard that the Romans left graffiti on some of the pyramids (would I lie to you?), I can see it now, “Scipio was here.  Don’t trust the locals!” or, “Brutus got the clap at Madame Zazars.  Stay away from Cleo!”  Apparently our Anzac lads left a few choice comments as well during their brief stay before being mowed down at Gallipoli.

The rocks are challenging to climb, and I had a bit of a go, not quite reaching the top.  Getting up there wouldn’t have been the problem, getting back down on the slippery moss covered surfaces would have though.  I didn’t fancy breaking my leg out in the middle of nowhere, and listening helplessly while some dubious passers-by stole stuff out of my car.  So, I cautiously made my way down off the boulders, and was thinking about taking a quiet leak when a car towing a caravan pulled up.  Not wishing to repeat my performance from the day before, I strolled back to the car thinking to myself, “If you didn’t drink so much damned water you wouldn’t be in this situation, stupid!!”


Thunderbolts Lookout: our family hot rod included for size reference. Note to local council - some toilets here would be nice 🙂

The old couple jumped out of their car and came over to where I was standing taking some snaps.  The old bloke had been here before apparently, before the stones had been graffitied over.  He asked me if I’d had a closer look around the rocks.  Yep I had.  “Did you see any snakes, the bloody boulders are literally crawling with them?” 

My eyebrows lifted in surprise, “Um, no.  No snakes.”  I gazed back at the rocks again, and now every crack, seam and crevice crawled with hidden menace.  Ok, time to go.  I waved farewell to the grey nomads and slipped back onto the highway.  I had the road all to myself as I drove into Uralla. 

Uralla’s main street is pretty much a typical country town’s main drag.  Lots of small Mum and Dad shops, signs pointing to things of interest around the area, and a statue of Captain Thunderbolt standing prominently on a corner.  Turning off the main drag I found a very clean toilet block and rushed inside.  Several relief filled minutes later I drove on to the cemetery, and easily located Captain Thunderbolts’ grave.  Known as the Friendly Highwayman, Captain Thunderbolt, aka: Fred Ward, used to ‘work’ a fairly wide area to keep himself gainfully employed.  During his career he never killed anyone, and was probably more of a nuisance than a wanted criminal.  It was rumoured that he was usually quite courteous toward the lady passengers of the stage coaches he robbed.  As you would be if you were a lonely single man…  

Statue of Thunderbolt in Uralla (wish I knew how to Photoshop out the power lines)

Statue of Thunderbolt in Uralla (wish I knew how to Photoshop out the power lines)

But all good things come to an end, and one afternoon in May 1870 his horse was shot out from underneath him by a Constable Walker, who asked him to surrender.  Thunderbolt resisted, preferring to remain a solo entrepreneur, and one thing lead to another and Thunderbolt joined his horse in the great pasture in the sky.  He was 36 years old.  I checked the date on my watch and was surprised to see that it was almost to the day he had been killed all those years ago. 

Now, the interesting thing is this:  Later that same year, a Fred Ward and his Mother disembarked at the California goldfields.  Speculation runs rife that Fred (Thunderbolt) was not killed at all, but his Uncle was in his place instead.  It would be nice to think that after a short run as a gentleman bandit, Fred decided to retire, and after handing the bushranging franchise for the area to his next of kin, moved State side with mum.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, stranger things have happened though, and it sums up much Aussie folklore, where even though the hero was ‘reportedly’ killed by the authorities, there are those ‘in the know’ (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) who have heard reliable reports that the ‘hero’ got away.  I’ve heard a similar story regarding Breaker Morant.  Of course Ned didn’t get away… you don’t shoot coppers and live to brag about it for real long, as the police seem to take a very dim view of this sort of thing.  And rightly so. 

 Fred's grave... or is it?

So, in a thoughtful frame of mind I drove back to Urallas’ main drag, and took some snaps of Captain Thunderbolts statue, and as it was close to smoko time I strolled into the White Rose Cafe’ and ordered a salad roll.  Look, say what you like about country towns and make sniggering references to the six fingered, banjo playing locals etc.  but these places know how to knock out some ripper food.  The young couple that own the place fell over themselves to serve me, and minutes later I was seated outside on the footpath munching on the best damned salad roll I’d eaten in years.  The scene around me was one of peaceful serenity, locals chatting with eachother, the odd tourist sauntering by.  The old flour mill across the road housed some interesting bits and pieces and was begging for my attention.  I sat back, opened my book, sipped my coffee and thoroughly relaxed in the moment.  I could get used to this…

Afterwards, I popped back in to drop off my eating gear, and to thank the owners for a nice feed.  They were very gracious about it, and we got chatting (as you do), and the young lady mentioned that she had a tribe of children at home (I forget how many now… but at the time I was surprised), and the mention of the little ones made me feel a bit homesick for my own little brats.  They do meals there of a night too, and for a wild moment I was tempted to stay the night just to try it out.  There was a neat looking pub across the road and it called to me… I resisted, and said farewell, mentally marking this place on my ‘Must Come Here Again’ list.   So if you’re ever in Uralla, I can highly recommend the White Rose restaurant.

A phone box stood nearby, and I called my mate in Oakey.  I got his girlfriend, and she was bubbling over with joy at the thought of me turning up and abusing their hospitality (they’ll learn!).  Any thoughts I’d had of staying another night in NSW flew out the window.  So, back in the car, and after a quick look at my maps I hit the road. 

Next stop, Glen Innes.


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