A cartoon depiction of South Burnett bushranger Tommy Donn stealing a police horse and driving off the others. This illustration appeared in the September 1, 1951 edition of The World's News. (Source: State Library of Queensland)
A cartoon depiction of South Burnett bushranger Tommy Donn stealing a police horse and driving off the others. This illustration appeared in the September 1, 1951 edition of The World's News. (Source: State Library of Queensland)

Part 2: The bad boys of the Burnett

This is part two of a three-part series.

 

THE South Burnett has a rich and wonderful pioneering history that is often celebrated across the region.

Virtually the only part of our illustrious history that is rarely celebrated is the unhonourable but nevertheless spectacular roles played by our bushrangers - the bad boys of the Burnett.

The region's second 'wild colonial boy' was Tommy Donn, whose escapades sent a bullet into the brain of a police officer.... but not from Tommy's gun.

As a result of horse stealing exploits, a hand-cuffed Tommy was in custody at Wivenhoe police paddock during a night of torrential downpour.

The next morning the troopers found that Tommy had slipped his cuffs.

Adding insult to injury, he had pinched one of the police horses and driven off the others.

He was eventually recaptured and placed in Nanango jail.

One morning during exercise hour Tommy's guard, Trooper Powers, relaxed his vigilance to read the paper.

While Trooper Powers studied the news, Tommy escaped by kicking off his boots and scaling the stockade.

Tommy shinned up a tree on the fringe of the scrub, within earshot of the jail while the pursuing policemen passed underneath him.

His capture became an obsession for Sergeant Swords OC, whose pension was threatened by Tommy's escape.

With the aid of Billy Lillis, an aboriginal tracker, Swords set out on a series of patrols, during which he learned that the fugitive had formed an attraction for a girl named Wymer, a daughter of a shepherd on Barambah Station.

Eventually the police net closed in on the shepherd's hut at Barambah, but a barking dog alerted Tommy and sent him scurrying to safety.

In bitter remorse at the lost chance of rehabilitating his police honour, the story goes that Sgt Swords shot himself with his service pistol at old Barambah Homestead.

Whether Tommy was shocked into respectability by the sergeant's suicide is debatable, but from the night of his escape from the shepherd's hut, he was never again heard of under his own name. He was never re-arrested.

As late as 1910, a bearded oldster often came to the South Burnett, ostensibly a stranger.

The locals marvelled at his knowledge of four decades earlier.

But there were a few who eventually carried the mysterious oldster to the cemetery.

They knew they were acting as pallbearer to Tommy Donn.

 

The third instalment of The Bad Boys of the Burnett will be published on Wednesday, June 17.

South Burnett

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