Ned Kelly's bounty sought by trackers' descendants

The descendants of two Aboriginal trackers who helped police to capture the outlaw Ned Kelly more than a century ago are suing the Australian government, claiming their ancestors never received a promised reward of £50 apiece.

Kelly, whose deeds earned him a place in Australian folklore, went on the rampage in 1878 after shooting dead three police officers in Victoria and evaded the law for nearly two years. He and his gang of "bushrangers" hid out in the wilderness, emerging only to hold up banks and defy the authorities.

Not until police called in trackers, employed by the Queensland Native Police for their intimate knowledge of the outback landscape, were the fugitives - Kelly, his brother, Dan, and two other men - finally cornered. Kelly, who was wearing home-made armour, was the only one of the gang to survive a day-long gun battle with police in the Glenrowan Hotel in the wilds of Victoria in 1880. He was arrested, tried for murder and hanged in Melbourne, aged 25. According to contemporary accounts, Jack Noble and Gary Owens, who were among the team of fivetrackers, risked their lives and gave "a good account of themselves" under heavy fire. But they never received their £50 share of an £8,000 reward offered for Kelly's capture.

Yesterday two of their descendants, Kurt Noble and May McBride, went to the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane in the latest stage of a seven-year legal battle to recover the money, plus interest and compensation, a total claim of 84m Australian dollars (about £17m each). The money, if it is ever awarded, would be used to help Aboriginal communities.

Their case, against both the Victorian and Queensland state governments, was dismissed by many legal experts as doomed to fail when they launched it, but they won an important victory last year when the Queensland Court of Appeal ruled it was "neither useless nor futile". Documents before the courts show Noble and Owens applied for the reward shortly after Kelly was caught. The Victorian Police Rewards Board decided to withhold the £50 from the pair, whose Aboriginal names were Wannamutta and Weranabe, as "it would not be desirable to place any considerable sum of money in the hands of persons unable to use it".

The board recommended that the money go in trust to the state governments, "to be dealt with at their discretion". It was in those days a considerable sum that would, according to the trackers' descendants, have enabled the two men to retire with dignity. Instead, they and their families were incarcerated in an Aboriginal "confinement camp" because they had no means of support.

By contrast, a number of white police officers who were not even present at Glenrowan had no difficulties in obtaining their substantially larger shares of the reward.

In a rare gesture of solidarity, a Queensland police officer who was the "handler" for Noble and Owens, a fair-minded man called Sub-Inspector Stanhope O'Connor, refused to accept his £236 share of the reward in protest at the way that his Aboriginal colleagues had been treated.

The case is being fought in court by John Lee Jones, a 67-year-old Aboriginal electrician with no legal training, who has doggedly pursued it through six separate hearings, arguing legal points with a batch of senior barristers. The latest hearing is an attempt to force the authorities to disclose details of old bank accounts and other financial information that has so far been withheld.

Mr Jones said yesterday: "It is a fundamental injustice that these two men who risked their lives to help the Victorian police on the promise of a reward never received their money."

The chances of the case reaching a successful conclusion are regarded as slim. As a dissenting judge in the Court of Appeal said: "The facts are now so old that it is hard to establish them."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?