From the tale of the Wagga butcher that claimed he was an English duke to the disappearing horse whose doppelgangers began winning races all over Australia; former Inverell teacher turned entertainer Jim Haynes has dug up some of the nation’s most unbelievable stories in his latest book.
Great Australian Scams, Cons and Rorts is Jim’s 25th book, and was borne from previous research into Australian history.
“I kept coming across nefarious activity,” he said.
“One of my favourites that I wrote in another book was about the fellow who was paid to move all the bodies from under the Sydney Town Hall - which used to be the graveyard in Sydney - and when they did an archaeological dig there in 2007, they found he’d only moved a couple of the bodies and taken the money and the rest were still there!”
“That stuff fascinates me, because I think ‘Well, nothing changes.’”
Jim said he’d often been asked how our convict history had affected Australia’s national character, and was drawn to learn more about the 162,000 men who were sent here.
One story that stood out to Jim was that of forger and thief Thomas Barrett, the first person hanged after colonisation. Commissioned by the first fleet’s surgeon general, Barrett put his forgery skills to use, creating a precious memento of the journey. The Charlotte medal, a silver disc with an engraving of a ship, was sold for almost $1 million in 2008.
Barrett was later hanged for stealing food.
“This is a man who was sentenced to death three times, and he was only ever hanged once. So I guess if you’re sentenced to death three times and you’re only ever hanged once, that you’ve done pretty well, really,” Jim said.
Another favourite was the tale of Irving, a Sydney race horse and contemporary of Phar Lap, who suddenly disappeared from the city’s racing scene.
“But horses that looked a lot like him with different names started winning races all over the place. Down in Victoria and South Australia,” Jim said.
Once the scheme was uncovered, both Irving and his trainer were banned from racing for life. Jim felt sorry for the horse, who was only doing as he was told.
“I hasten to say that of all the dreadful stories of skulduggery and cheating and so on - not one of them come from my time in Inverell,” Jim said.
He said sometimes it was hard to believe how much his life had changed since his days at Macintyre High School. He was an passionate teacher, always ready to tell colourful tales of history and a keen advocate of film making.
“Suddenly I found myself as a full time entertainer and then drifted into writing,” he said. Jim wrote his first book in the early 1990s, while touring with Slim Dusty.
“To me it seems just yesterday, and I sometimes shake my head and say ‘How did this happen?’ How did I go from being an ambitious school teacher to being an entertainer and a songwriter?” he said.
“I guess the lesson is you never know what’s around the corner.”