Freelance writer/photographer who enjoys the outdoors.
Published April 2nd 2020
A Bushrangers' Tale
In the early years of colonisation, South Australia had its share of rogues and criminals but they didn't permeate Australian folklore with the likes of Mad Dog Morgan, Captain Starlight or the Kelly Gang.
Maybe it's because South Australia was a free settlement? Whatever the reason, what it lacked in numbers and notoriety it definitely makes up for in originality. At least this is what locals at Meningie would have us believe.
Nestled on the southeastern side of Lake Albert in South Australia and a stone's throw from the Coorong is the town of Meningie, along with a peculiar statue of an ostrich with a saddle on its back.
The nearby interpretive sign explains that John Francis Peggotty was the son of an Irishman who, born prematurely in 1864 in County Limerick, only ever grew to the size of a seven-year-old boy.
Apparently, as a young man, Peggotty took advantage of his stature by climbing down chimneys in London so he could rob households of their valuables especially jewellery.
In 1890, little Johnny sailed to Australia where he's said to have continued his criminal activities in the Coorong district. With his preferred mode of transport being the back of an ostrich his flightless feathered friend allowed him to escape the clutches of the law among the sand dunes of the Coorong.
The Birdman of the Coorong as he became known continued in his fiendish ways until a fateful day in September of 1899 when he attempted to bail up Henry Carmichael a local fisherman. Carmichael, a skilful marksman, pursued the Birdman into the dunes eventually shooting him twice with his rifle.
Badly wounded and bleeding Peggotty was still able to escape into the bush never to be heard of again. Supposedly his body, still carrying a fortune in ill-gotten gains is still out there… somewhere?