Bushranger Ben Hall is physically brave, calculating and fearless but two policemen have been shot and now the law is closing in — but so is the need to reconnect with his long lost son.
That’s the tension-filled start to Katoomba author Trevor Shearston’s new book, Game, which he said was a joy to write.
“I came to Ben Hall from the songs written about him soon after his death, which were both angry and grieving because the people in the bush respected and loved him but the government and police obviously didn’t,” Mr Shearston said.
“In researching Hall, my wife and I went to the places he operated in, which covered a huge area of land in mid-western NSW.
“He is buried in Forbes Cemetery and died 20km north of Forbes, his body was riddled with bullets.
“I went to where his house used to be — there are only foundations left there now — and to the Yass Road near Jugiong where Hall’s crew robbed a coach at a hillside rest stop and shot a policeman (which kickstarted a high stakes series of fateful events).
“That particular event was reported at the time in the Yass Courier and from that you could obtain eyewitness accounts and even what Hall and his boys actually said.”
For Mr Shearston, immersing himself in the bush locations where Hall roamed and the primary sources shedding light on his actions was crucial to his writing process.
“I even spent a half a day with the staff at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum which has a lot of the weapons and ammunition used during Hall’s time.
“The guys there gave me some insights and information I would not be able to get anywhere else and it was invaluable experience to get a sense of how heavy the Cold Navy rifle Hall used was, how big the bullets were and the carbine firearms the police officers used.
“I try to make the scenes and settings in the story as realistic as possible and make the reader feel what it would be like to be there.”
Shearston also tried to piece together Hall’s personal life as opposed to his legend, using clues in news reports and other sources of the time about relations with his son and ex-wife to explore what impact these might have had on Hall’s last months of life as an infamous bushranger on the run.
“In writing Game I went looking for the man again, the husband and father, the brother and the friend and perhaps some answers to the seeming paradox of a decent man who chose to become a criminal.
“I think the fascination with bushrangers continuing today in this modern age is because they represent in all of us something we’d all like to have done.
“That sense of fascination about people who are living outside of the law and that anti-authority sentiment that still goes on in Australian folklore.
“It appeals to that wild side in all of us and lets us ask of ourselves, could I have lived like that (like Hall)?”
Mr Shearston said he also recently finished a series of short stories set in the Blue Mountains centred around cliffs that he hopes will be published soon and has begun work on a novel set in an Aboriginal geological site on the south coast of NSW.
Game, published by Allen & Unwin, is available in leading book shops.