Roger’s writing helps discover bushrangers and early Goulburn


Roger Bayley examines bound copies of newspapers at the History Goulburn Research Centre. Photo: John Thistleton.

Years after leaving an orphanage in Parramatta, Goulburn historian and author Roger Bayley discovered that it was founded by a slave trader.

His father Fred was a painter at the orphanage and his mother Grace helped clean the laundry room while Roger attended school there.

Run by the Presbyterian Church, Roger and the children of the orphanage paraded each Sunday in front of a portrait of the founder, the Scotsman James Burns, to pay homage to him. “I found out several years later that he was a slave trader and used the profits to build an orphanage,” Roger said.

Burns had made deals with Pacific Islanders to work in the sugar cane fields of Queensland.

After his schooling and obtaining his nursing diploma in 1975, Roger began to travel. “It started with wanting to find adventure and travel, panning for gold, finding treasure from shipwrecks, looking for bushranger loot in caves,” he said.

Finding the caves and the treasure required a lot of research.

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In his twenties, he began traveling around Australia in Kombi vans or motorbikes, collecting information and great stories, only stopping when his money ran out. He would find work, save money and get back on the road.

He once followed the Great Dividing Range, sticking to his spine for thousands of miles on fire trails and farm tracks. “It was a great adventure, it took me eight months, you could probably do it in three days now,” he said.

But her free and easy lifestyle came to an abrupt halt. “I ran out of money in Goulburn and fell in love with the place.”

Since then, he has lived in the historic city.

Roger didn’t strike his gold, but developed skills for research and a flair for fresh angles on historical events. He also continues to read Australian authors Bill Beatty, Frank Clune and Ion Idriess.

He snooped around newspaper offices, local historical societies and libraries. He scribbled notes on the pages of a tiny atlas of Australia and bought a bigger one with 156 maps. Now that’s his ranking index. “I ended up with a mobile bookcase until I practically broke the springs of the Kombi. I was carrying too much weight.

Roger kept all his files. He has about 86,000 on his computer and every room in his house is filled with books from floor to ceiling.

Over time, Roger’s writing became more entertaining, which he attributes to drinking too much rum and telling too many stories around campfires. His favorite style is fast, sometimes exaggerated.

Of the ranchers in southern New South Wales forming Australia’s 1st Equestrian Bridge, he once wrote: “Some said they could shoot a fly at a rabbit’s nose while leading a horse to through a hollow log at full gallop. At midnight.”

Roger has written for fossil magazines and the long-running Australasian Post. Hearing his local bush stories at a barbecue years ago, then Goulburn Mayor Max Hadlow told Goulburn Post reporter Ray Williams who enlisted him as a regular contributor to the newspaper. These days he writes for History Goulburn’s quarterly newsletter.

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He decided years ago to stop rehashing other people’s work and find original sources in court and police records, diaries and newspapers. If all else fails, he turns to old newspapers. “I like to think that I never write a story that doesn’t contain new information,” he said.

He has long been drawn to the exploits of young men on stolen racehorses galloping through the bush under a hail of police bullets. He said the bushrangers who wreaked havoc on the district in the early 1800s played a central role in the settlement of Goulburn.

Four landowners-turned-magistrates write to the then-Governor asking for the establishment of a courthouse, jail, and mounted police detachment in Argyle County.

The governor chooses the confluence of two rivers to establish a garrison and ancillary buildings. “I have the whole list of letters to the governor, from the governor to the surveyor general and from the surveyor general to the surveyor saying ‘go map a town.’ We also have the 1828 maps.

“That’s why Goulburn was created. It’s the only place I know of that was created because of a bushranger and his gang. His name was John Tennant.

“We now have our fourth prison and we have the NSW Police Academy. We have a lot to thank the bushrangers.

For Roger, researching and writing about them continues to offer the prospect of new discoveries.

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