A skeletal hulk in the Darling River is a tangible link to what was probably the only act of inland piracy in Australian history, as well as being an important part of the birth of our labour movement.

Story By John Dunn

John and Leanne Clothier follow the tyre marks that wind between and around the river gums that dot the flatlands of the Darling River on their property, Polia Station, in south-western New South Wales, 164 kilometres north of Wentworth where the river meets the Murray. The Darling is their eastern boundary and they regularly follow its course as they monitor their 3500 dorper sheep on their 23,000-hectare holding. Often, they will stop at a spot they know well and look down the steeply sloping bank on a rather unusual structure. It is the wreck of the Rodney, one of the great paddle steamers of the past, which sailed into prominence by becoming the subject of probably the only act of inland piracy in Australian history. In 1894 it was boarded by union shearers and set alight as it attempted to carry “scab” labour to inland sheep stations. The Rodney lies today, as it has done for the past 114 years, by the western bank of the Darling where it finally came to rest, a burning hulk after drifting downstream after the attack. Its steel ribs are well rusted and skeletal, but they remain embedded into the solid wooden beams that have withstood the century-old ravages of a burning sun and immersion in mud and water as the river level has risen and fallen over the years.

This story excerpt is from Issue #63

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2009