These are the crimes, murders and tragedies from across western NSW that made headlines around Australia decades and decades ago but are long forgotten – until now.
A new book to hit the shelves, Bush Tragedies, is a compilation of short stories from dark pockets of Australia’s history, recorded in stark, descriptive detail by award-winning journalist Bill Poulos.
Readers will travel a gruesome journey across outback NSW, stopping at obscure little towns and villages where these shocking crimes and tragedies unfolded.
Bush Tragedies chronicles historical tragedies from towns and villages in western New South Wales including Narrabri, Bingara, Inverell, Warialda, Quambone, Dubbo, Coonabarabran, Biniguy, Gilgandra, Garah, Mungindi, Boggabilla, Terry Hie Hie, Barraba, Collarenebri, Uralla and Moree.
“The book is a classic case of serendipity, given I was working on a completely different project when the idea for this book came along,” Mr Poulos said.
“I was researching the website Trove, looking for information on the history of bush horse-racing, and I kept getting side-tracked by sensational headlines and news reports about murders, crimes and tragedies in towns and villages across western New South Wales.”
Bush Tragedies comprises 23 stories, 130,000 words and 526 pages and covers the years from the mid- to late-1800s to around 1950.
The stories, well-researched and detailed, are written in a style known as creative non-fiction.
“Rather than compile boring, historical essays, I wanted to make these stories as interesting as possible,” Mr Poulos said.
“The stories are based on facts and information readily available to anyone who is willing to dig deep enough.”
Research over three years included trawling through the National Library of Australia’s incredible resource Trove and sourcing court- and law-related documents from New South Wales and Queensland State Archives, military and service records from the Australian War Memorial and relevant information from the National Archives of Australia.
Several ancestry and family heritage websites were referred to as well as private documents and information supplied by family members.
“There are many people who helped along the way, none more so than the researchers at Western Sydney Records Centre. My requests for information were never a problem, and responses were prompt, efficient and always on the money – they are an incredible team,” Mr Poulos said.
Reviewer Judith Flitcroft, author of Walk Back in Time, said Bush Tragedies was a “meticulous and well researched work of brutal and sordid crimes, and accidents of awful, immeasurable and diverse events that tore many outback towns in western NSW to pieces”.
“In a quiet way, it is an incredible tribute to country law enforcement officers and judiciary ‘back in the day’,” she said.
“Bill Poulos uses a genre of creative non-fiction to recreate all the happenings in his book. The reader becomes the witness to these scenes.
“I found the re-enactments noteworthy: ‘A cavalcade of vehicles carrying the police magistrate, police officers and the accused and his solicitor made its way into town’.
“The recounting of ‘The headless body’, left an unusual query hanging as to who exactly was the dead man?
“The Murulla train disaster of 1926 is quoted from the Newcastle Sun newspaper: ‘The town awoke to pulsing life and the streets were filled with the screech of cars and the shouts of men. Breathlessly they dashed into the bush to succour the victims of disaster’.
“Bill Poulos has mastered, (and to quote one of the characters in the book, Inspector Goodwin), one hell of an investigation,” Ms Flitcroft said.
Reviewer Kenneth N. Price, a retired Vietnam veteran and author of Broken Lives and Kokoda Mist, said: “Bush Tragedies is a collection of short stories that brings to life the early settlement of north-western NSW and south-western QLD. Bill Poulos does a magnificent job researching primary source material and bringing it together in a clear and succinct way.”
“Bush Tragedies will amaze you, shock you and on occasions bring a tear to your eye,” Mr Price said.
About the author
Bill Poulos is a former freelance features and sports journalist based at Moree in north-western NSW.
His passion is the thoroughbred racing industry, and he wrote extensively on this subject for numerous magazines, newspapers and websites across the eastern states of Australia for more than thirty-five years.
Bill’s research for a book on the history of horse-racing in north-western NSW was the reason Bush Tragedies serendipitously evolved — historical stories of crime, murder, misery and heartache kept dragging him away from the project at hand.
Bill won the John Newfong Award for Outstanding Indigenous Affairs reporting at the 2016 NRMA Kennedy Awards for Excellence in NSW Journalism and was also nominated for three Racing NSW Awards for Excellence in Media (2003, 2005 and 2010), winning in 2010.
Bill lives in Moree with his wife Cindy and stepson Yang. Bill and Cindy own and manage a small business in Moree, and Bill writes every chance he gets.