The story of Bushranger Bill,
the lovely Tourmaline Lil and mean old Captain Bluff came about after a trip to
far western NSW where my dad grew up. A relative showed me a fascinating bower
on her property. It belonged to a spotted bower bird who liked to decorate with
old bones, stones, bullets and broken cutlery. What a great bad guy! Then my
parents found a satin bower bird at their place in the Blue Mountains, who
decorated with blue flowers and pegs. He became my hero.
I thought back to all the bushranger songs I knew as a kid, and the day we went to see ‘Bailed Up’, a huge painting of some bushrangers robbing a coach. Then, my story came together. (The painting, by Tom Roberts, is in the Art Gallery of NSW. The bushrangers have blocked the road with a huge tree, and if you look carefully you can also see other horses hidden in the trees.)
Bushrangers are like a bit like pirates... In times past, bushrangers roamed the Australian bush, usually on horseback, and stole cattle, sheep and horses. Sometimes they held up coaches and robbed the passengers of gold and jewels, or they stole money from banks. They said things like, 'Bail up!' Which means something like 'Stop right there! I'm going to rob you!' but is quicker to say. 'Bail up' is the title of a famous painting by Tom Roberts. In it, the bushrangers have blocked the road with a tree so the coach has to stop... and then they rob the passengers. I called the bowerbirds in my story bushrangers because bowerbirds roam the bush and steal things too - treasures to keep in their hideouts. Some bushrangers were just thieves, but people think of other ones like Ned Kelly and Ben Hall as heroes.