George Cooper was legally blind, but was a regular at Mel’s wine bar. Maybe twice a week his old mare delivered him to the door where she waited patiently until about nine o’clock when she would snort her message that it was home time. In the interim, George, at about eighty years of age, would drink more than he should and tell stories. This one is too good to not pass on.
Back when Laguna had a hotel and was the first stopping place west of the Hawkesbury on the Great North Road, I’m guessing about the late 1860’s, a bushranger was active near Wisemans Ferry.
As anyone familiar with that area will know, prolonged summer rain turns dirt roads to porridge and paddocks to soup. A week of rain and no wheeled vehicle could move along the flat country between Laguna and Wollombi. That was the situation when a rider came through with news that a bushranger had robbed a gold coach, shot the guard in cold blood and was probably headed their way.
Later that night, under a full moon, a traveler woke to find a big bearded man silhouetted against the sky, climbing in his window. He thought he saw a gun in the intruder’s hand, scrabbled his own out from under his pillow and shot the man dead.
Of course, the noise brought men a-running, lanterns in one hand and revolvers in the other. It was a wonder the sleeper wasn’t also shot in the panic, but everyone eventually calmed down and the body was dragged into the kitchen for a better look.
They agreed he must have been the bushranger. But, as there was no way even a pack horse could get through to the Wollombi lock-up, they decided to cut off his head and take it in for identification. The sleeper volunteered to walk the seven miles at first light carrying the head in a chaff bag.
After Battling through the mire for most of the morning, he made it to the court house and presented his grisly trophy. The constable cleaned it up a bit and they compared the rough bearded face with likenesses on the wall. He wasn’t wanted.