Tales of Misadventure and Mishap


Forget about technology and tablets for a moment and travel back in time with local criminal lawyer Josh McKenzie. He tells of a time when bushrangers roamed and pillaged, and the law-abiding citizens simply did their best to survive.

Criminal acts have an uncanny way of attracting the attention of the general public. Not only do they create a sense of fear, anger and disgust, they are also incredibly intriguing. Today, at a finger’s touch, technology allows us to access media for a spontaneous update as to what’s going on around us. From experience, if a crime has taken place, it is likely to be broadcast in the news or on social media only a few minutes later.

But what about stories of the rich tapestry of life on the Northern Beaches at a time when tales of misadventure and mishap were passed simply by word of mouth? Stories from a time when the land was largely untouched? Have you heard the tale of, ‘the battle of Newport’? In the late 1880’s, Newport was discovered by working class families from Sydney’s inner suburbs as a weekend getaway location. Carrying sizeable picnic lunches, these folks travelled on steamers to enjoy a family day out at the seaside village.

Not long after, the ‘Sydney Pushes’ also came to appreciate the secluded area of Newport. It was not the appeal of lazy picnic lunches that lured them to the area, but the fact that there were no law enforcement officers around. These larrikins also arrived by boat from inner Sydney’s streets knowing that the land could easily be plundered, and they soon set about rioting, drinking, pillaging and punching on with rival gangs every Sunday in the once quiet seaside village.

Due to the police at Manly not being able to assist, overworked apparently, a group of residents took matters into their own hands. One person was the manager of the Newport Hotel, ex-policeman Tom Odgers. Fed up with the Pushes behaviour, he enlisted his own muscle to put an end to the weekly visits of the larrikins.

On 21 February 1892, a sizeable brawl erupted between the Pushes and Odgers and his men. Fortunately, it was the Pushes who were beaten, literally, with billets of wood. So devastating was the defeat, that they fled to the nearest steamer and took off, never to return to Newport again. Soon after, visiting family picnics resumed at the beautiful bayside village, and they continue to this day.

What about the sad story of Henry Reynolds? He was a former marine who settled around 1810 on a grant of land near Narrabeen Lagoon with his wife, child and four assigned convicts. Reynolds had a strong relationship with the local Aboriginal community but unfortunately for him, he had a run-in with an escaped Irish convict in the area named ‘Big Mick’. Described as a ‘man with a long, coarse red beard and a nose just as red,’ Big Mick lived in the bush in the area with his gang. Due to their disagreement, Big Mick set about attacking Reynolds and his family.

So the tale goes, Reynolds suspected an ambush on his cottage and sent a convict servant and two Aboriginal men to Sydney to bring help. Unfortunately, the Red Coats arrived too late. Reynolds and his family were killed in a shootout with Big Mick and his crew. Of note, Big Mick was also shot and killed by Reynolds’ 15-year-old son. The rest of his gang were either killed by gunshot or captured by the Red Coats and later hung in Sydney. To think this happened in Narrabeen of all places.

Of course, these intriguing stories of our past are largely unsubstantiated, but they let us reflect on how exciting, intriguing and incredibly tough life would have been back then. Who says we need digital media for our Northern Beaches crime fix? •

Information sourced from: ‘Pictorial Memories – Manly to Palm Beach’ and Narrabeen Tram Shed