Almanac Teams: A Real Bushrangers’ Australian Rules “Twenty”


Ben Hall, c. 1863 – perhaps the most iconic bushranging image of them all. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)



Based upon what I know about the character and physical attributes of many individual bushrangers, here’s my bushrangers’ Australian Rules “Twenty”, made up of actual bushrangers. (Note: Fellow Alamanacker, Glen, recently did an Almanac piece about VFL/AFL players with bushranger surnames, but I thought I’d take the idea one step further.) I decided to compile a team of twenty, with a nineteenth and twentieth man, to give the team an old-fashioned feel.


The full-back line has the tough and determined Martin Cash to mind the opposition’s resting rover, the dependable, gentlemanly ‘Captain Thunderbolt’ at full back, and the rangy Tommy Clarke to mind the bigger forward pocket.


The half-back line has the nasty ‘Mad Dog’ Morgan on one flank, the resourceful, decent (until near the end) William ‘Jacky-Jacky’ Westwood in the key position and the flashy Wild Colonial Boy, ‘Bold Jack’ Donohue, on the other flank.


The centreline is an absolute cracker with pretty boy Vandemonian Matthew Brady on one wing, stocky, powerful Ben Hall in the guts, and the fleet-of-foot Dan Kelly on the other side.


Half-forwards: John Clarke to provide some gusto on a flank, Joe Byrne as the high-flying glamour centre half-forward, and Jimmy Governor on the opposite flank for some will-o’-the-wisp magic.


Forwards: Johnny Dunn as an elusive small forward, ‘Flash’ Johnny Gilbert as the show pony spearhead and tall, angular Fred Lowry to be the second ruckman.


Captain and first ruckman Ned Kelly picks himself in both positions (and who would argue with him?), clever in-and-under ‘Darkie’ Gardiner, a leader by example, is the ruck rover, and mean, jockey-size Steve Hart is the rover.


Larry Cummins, nervy partner-in-crime of Fred Lowry, and oddball ‘Captain Melville’ would make interesting – and contrasting in character – 19th and 20th men.


Harry Power, the grey eminence of bushranging and mentor of Ned Kelly, would make an ideal coach, while one-time preacher ‘Captain Moonlite’ goes without saying as the team chaplain.


Imagine this team written out and stuck in the window of a butcher shop in an Australian country town somewhere … opposing teams would play this mob of miscreants at their own risk …


The Real Bushrangers


Backs: Martin Cash, Fred ‘Captain Thunderbolt’ Ward, Tommy Clarke

Half-Backs: Daniel ‘Mad Dog’ Morgan, William ‘Jacky-Jacky’ Westwood, ‘Bold Jack’ Donohue

Centreline: Matthew Brady, Ben Hall (deputy vice-captain), Dan Kelly

Half-Forwards: John Clarke, Joseph Byrne, Jimmy Governor

Forwards: Johnny Dunn, ‘Flash’ Johnny Gilbert, Fred Lowry

Followers: Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly (Captain), Frank ‘Darkie’ Gardiner (vice-captain), Steve Hart

Interchange: Larry Cummins, Frank ‘Captain Melville’ McCallum

Coach: Harry Power

Chaplain: Andrew ‘Captain Moonlite’ Scott



Read more from Kevin Densley HERE


Kevin Densley’s latest poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, is available HERE


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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.


  1. Wow, Johnny Gilbert in the goal square.

    He joins Martin Pike as the only ‘Canuck’ to play our game at the highest level.

    Johnny Gilbert is also unique in being the only bushranger never to spend time in jail.


  2. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Glen!

    Just about every time I think of Johnny Gilbert, I think of that moving Banjo Paterson poem, “How Gilbert Died”.

  3. John Butler says

    Bags not having to line up on Mad Dog.

  4. matt watson says

    Superb team. Would beat most sides on reputation alone.
    Great idea.
    This needs to be made into a poster!

  5. Kevin Densley says

    JB – Ha! I agree – I think I’d feign injury, just to leave the field and not have to “face the music”!

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Matt.

    Glad you enjoyed this! Yes, I very much like the idea of a poster, too!

  7. Daryl Schramm says

    I’ve learnt more about Australia’s bushranger history via this website than I have ever bothered to learn elsewhere. Agree with the poster idea. Would like a bit more discussion by those ‘in the know’ on team selection and line-up before the poster idea gathers momentum.

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, Daryl.

    Further discussion on the team I’ve put up is welcome – a few bushrangers were, so to speak, unlucky to miss out on selection, too, to my way of thinking. One example would be early Van Diemen’s Land bushranger, Michael Howe, who wreaked havoc there in the early nineteenth century.

  9. Great team Kevin. This one would most certainly play very attacking footy. The only doubts I have would be that perhaps there could be many hold ups during play

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Fisho!

    And leading on from your final point, I think whatever tribunal system was in operation would certainly be working overtime – and dishing out major penalties!

  11. Kevin, I forgot to mention “Flash” John Gilbert, at full forward, would need to stand and deliver to be a success.

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Ha! Certainly, Fisho!

  13. The football club in Ned Kelly’s childhood town, Avenel, was established in 1881, the year after his execution. Imagine if he’d had the chance to show his talent in the bush and got recruited by one of the big VFA clubs and avoided a criminal career. We’d have a different connotation for “as game as Ned Kelly”.

  14. Kevin Densley says

    Interesting details here, Geoff!

    Fine point made in your final sentence, too!

  15. Geoff Gold says

    Thanks Kevin. There’s another young Kelly in Avenel footy story to recall:

    The 10-year-old Ned saved 7-year-old Richard Shelton from drowning in Hughes Creek. The Shelton family, who owned the Royal Mail Hotel in Avenel, gave Ned a sash made from green silk for his bravery.

    “About 15 years later, he proudly wore the sash under his famous suit of armour in the shootout with police at Glenrowan. While Ned was captured after receiving 28 bullet wounds and executed less than five months later on November 11, 1880, the frayed, blood-stained sash still survives today, and is on display in a museum in Benalla.” (ironoutlaw/com)

    Footy decedents of the Ned-saved Richard Shelton include his grandson Ian ‘Bluey’ Shelton, centre half-back for Essendon who played in their 1962 and 1965 premierships; Bluey’s uncle Jack Shelton, who played for St Kilda (1926-29) and South Melbourne (1930) and was killed at Tobruk in 1941; and Jack’s son William Shelton, who played for Hawthorn (1957-59).

  16. Kevin Densley says

    Great detail, Geoff – well worth sharing here for Almanackers in general.

    I knew about Ned saving the Shelton boy from drowning, and the sash, as well as the connection to Bluey Shelton – but you’ve provided new (to me) information about the other Shelton football connections.

    All this has given rise to a thought: I wonder if Ned Kelly played some version of early Australian Rules football, maybe in the 1870s after getting out of Pentridge. Australian football was certainly around in Victorian country areas at that time.

  17. Kevin Densley says

    And one could imagine Jack Bradshaw, the bushranger who wrote and told numerous tall tales about himself and other bushrangers in later life, to be a fitting media manager for this team!

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