THE MAN, THE MYTH: Detail from the artwork ‘Chasing Dan Morgan,’ from the National Gallery Victoria collection.
By GRANT MAYNARD
DAN Morgan was a killer. A bushranger who evoked fear in police and squatters alike.
He was a well-known hater of authority, and prone to wild mood swings.
It appears he earned the nickname ‘Mad Dog.’
Mad Dog Morgan (born John Fuller on April 30, 1830) had a well-documented penchant for violence and bushranging. It was not a recipe for a life of freedom, and the man’s law-breaking ways inevitably caught up with him.
Morgan’s criminal record opened in 1854, when he was sentenced to 12 years jail by Judge Redmond Barry – famously the man who sent fellow bushranger Ned Kelly to the gallows – for highway robbery at Castlemaine, Victoria.
Surprisingly, Morgan was released early in 1859 for good behaviour. But, when he failed to make his fortune as a gold fossicker he returned to his bushranging ways.
He reportedly robbed a Cobb and Co. coach near Dimboola in 1862. It was transporting about $20million in gold at today’s values from the Ballarat fields to Adelaide.
Following his successful heist, it is said Morgan decided to lay low in the abundant area surrounding Lakes Hindmarsh and Albacutya. There was no shortage of food for a man well able to live off the land, and a distinct lack of a police presence.
On the east shores of Lake Albacutya nestled Albacutya Station, run by the O’Sullivan family and where Mad Dog overheard a conversation about isolated Pine Plains station.
Morgan must have liked what he heard, and he decided that Pine Plains sounded like the perfect hideaway. So, the story goes, he demanded Mrs O’Sullivan cook him a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, and then promptly stole six fresh horses and seven chooks, loaded the gold onto the horses, and headed up Outlet Creek to camp at Pine Plains for two months until the ‘heat’ was off.
The Albacutya Station buildings, including the kitchen where Mad Dog is said to have eaten that breakfast, are on display at the Jeparit museum.
O’Sullivan family members can remember being shown what was reputedly Morgan’s campsite in the 300-acre bull oak swamp at Pine Plains, however they have not been able to locate the exact location since, and the large amount of gold Morgan was carrying in his saddlebags has never been recovered.
It’s assumed it’s still where he hid it on Pine Plains, waiting to be found.
That alluring prospect is the catalyst for a Mad Dog Morgan trail walk, a forerunner event of the festival that is scheduled for the long weekend.
The 26-kilometre walk, officially dubbed ‘A Walk in the Park,’ will be undertaken on Friday, June 8, and participants will be able to literally walk in the footsteps of the bushranger, taking in the beauty of the Outlet Creek Trail and maybe find the missing gold!
The walk through Wyperfeld National Park will begin at the Wonga camping grounds and follow the creek to Pine Plains Lodge.
This is the route Mad Dog Morgan took while hiding out from the law in 1862.
The canoe trees, lake beds, flora, fauna and natural beauty will combine to make this an unforgettable experience, organisers claim.
The walk can be conquered by people with a reasonable level of fitness, but organisers are strongly recommending potential participants do some training prior to the event.
“A health check from your local GP would also be a good idea as it can be a fairly strenuous walk in an isolated area,” they added.
The number of places on the walk is limited. For more information contact Bryce at the Patchewollock Pub on 0419 024 660 or 5084 1280 or log onto the Mad Dog Morgan Lost Gold Festival Facebook page.
The Facebook page also contains more information about the festival proper.
The inaugural Mad Dog Morgan Festival will coincide with the annual Camp Oven Challenge at Pine Plains, ensuring the long weekend will be an unforgettable experience in Patchewollock.
The Mad Dog Morgan festival will be staged at the Patchewollock Hotel from 6pm on the evening of Saturday, June 9, with live music and prizes to be given away for competitions including the much-anticipated Mad Dog lookalike contest.
Sunday, June 10, the focus will shift to the traditional Camp Oven Challenge at Pine Plains Lodge.
The invitation is open according to organisers, and those with camp oven cooking skills are encouraged to showcase a camp oven creation and challenge for the prizes on offer.
Alternatively, you could spend the day sampling those creations including such exquisite dishes as Lake Agnes perch in quandong sauce, whilst raising money for local community projects.
Registration is at 9am with a variety of activities throughout the day.
If you would like to know more about the Camp Oven Challenge please call Gen on 0437 350 385 or Jono on 0407 733 123.
The festival, and festival activities, from the walk to the camp oven cook-off, are being used as vehicle to promote Mental Health in isolated rural areas.
FOOTNOTE: The story goes that on April 8, 1865, Morgan held up the MacPherson family at Peechelba Station in Victoria. Alice Keenan, a nursemaid to their baby Christina, was allowed to leave the room to attend to the infant. She escaped from the station and told Mr Rutherford, the co-owner of the property, of the hold-up.
The following morning as Morgan was leaving the property, he was surrounded by police. He was shot once in the back, just above the shoulder blade, by John Windlaw (also reported as Quinlan), a station employee. Morgan died of the wound that day. He was buried at Wangaratta Cemetery.