Song Gone Wild: Which Country Stole The Wild Colonial Boy?

Song Cartoon By Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon By Mickey Paraskevas

Sometimes I hear a song and after it ends, it remains in my mind, stuck. I hum it. I sing the words I remember from it and sometimes I sing along with the invisible voice I hear in my head. I have been known to sing harmony. And sometimes this curse will last for days.

This happened to me about three weeks ago, one sunny afternoon while sitting on the upper deck of a ferry boat taking my wife and me on a half hour journey from the mainland of a foreign country to a small island we wanted to see. An older local man, apparently hired by the ferryboat company, sat on a folding chair he had brought and he played the accordion to serenade all the passengers with his country’s folk songs.

Tapping the voice memo app on my cellphone, I made audio recordings of some of them. And one of them has gotten stuck in my head from that day to this. It won’t go away.

The song is in three quarter time and is called “The Wild Colonial Boy” and here is how it begins.

There was a wild colonial boy,
Jack Duggan was his name.
He was born and bred in Ireland
At a place called Castlemaine.

He was his father’s only son,
His mother’s pride and joy,
And dearly did his parents love
The wild colonial boy.

From here, the song goes on to tell a wonderful story. At the early age of 16 years, he left his native home. And to Australia’s sunny shores, he was inclined to roam.

Unfortunately, Jack embarked on criminal behavior. He robbed the rich and helped the poor, but also he shot and killed James MacEvoy. This was not good. He’s now a terror in Australia.

And so, one day on the prairie, while Jack he rode along, listening to a mockingbird singing his lovely song, up came three mounted policemen, Davis, Kelly and Fitzroy, who’d all set out to capture him, the Wild Colonial Boy.

“Surrender now, Jack Duggan,” Davis shouts, “you see we’re three to one.”

But Jack Duggan won’t do it. I’ll fight but not surrender, he says, pulling a pistol from his belt. He fires a shot and Davis falls to the ground. But then as he turns to Kelly, Kelly gets off a single shot that is a mortal “wound.” And after that Fitzroy finishes him off.

And here’s how the song ends.

“And so that is how they captured him, the Wild Colonial Boy.” Applause.

When I got home, I tried to download this performance to my iTunes, but found I could not. The Voice Memo app and my iTunes app were not compatible. Also, because my recording had a lot of wind noise, I decided the best thing might be to search for a commercial version of the song on iTunes, spend the $1.69 and download it.

I found three versions to download, and, obsessed as I was, I downloaded all three. The first was by a woman named Paddy Noonan who, with her accordion, sings it in a bar. She has a clear, strong voice, and she sings it pretty much the same, except Jack Duggan does not kill James MacElroy. He only robs him, shivering cold giving up his gold. She also has a more complicated ending. Duggan shoots Davis, but also gets a shot at Kelly, who fires back wounding Duggan, and it’s Fitzroy who finishes him off, just the same as Martin tells it on the boat.

I had no problem with this. I also had no problem with a second version, by the Dublin Screen Orchestra, who sing it in the movie The Quiet Man, shot in Ireland in 1952 and starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Sullivan.

My beef comes with the third version I found, and it is because of what I found that I am writing this. I have to tell somebody. This version is by the Aussie Bush Band, who, from the picture on their album cover, all have bushy beards, white face paint to make it look as if they are savages, and they all play primitive wooden flutes.

They’ve hijacked this song. The subject of the song, Jack Doolan, has never been in Ireland.

There was a Wild Colonial Boy
Jack Doolan was his name
Of poor but honest parents
He was born in Castlemaine.

“Of poor but honest parents” has replaced “Born and bred in Ireland.”

He was still his fathers only son and his mother’s pride and joy, but at the tender age of 16 years, he “left his native home” (Castlemaine), and off he goes into the Australian Countryside as a bushranger. They put him on the iron gang at the government’s employ, but there’s never an iron on earth could hold the Wild Colonial Boy.

In 1861, he commences his wild career. His courage was undaunted, no danger did he fear. He stuck up the Beechwood Mail Coach and robbed Judge MacEvoy, who trembling cold gave up his gold to the Wild Colonial Boy.

One day as he was riding, the countryside alone, just listening to a kookaburra’s happy laughing song—well, you know what’s coming. Also, note that kookaburra has replaced mockingbird.

The troopers have a warrant for the capture of the Wild Colonial Boy. Surrender now, Jack Doolan, can’t you see there’s three to one. Surrender in the Queen’s High Name for your roving days are done. Jack pulled a pistol from his belt and he swung it like a toy, I’LL FIGHT BUT NOT SURRENDER! he shouts.

Doolan fires at Trooper Kelly and brings him to the ground, and in return from Davis, he receives a mortal wound. Then flat on the ground, dying, Doogin keeps firing at Fitzroy. And that’s the way they capture him, the Wild Colonial Boy.

Now besides the fact that Jack Doolan, a local boy, is portrayed in this version as a Robin Hood hero who suffers the fate of others who have over-reacted, it seemed to me they had gone too far in hijacking the name of the town he was born in, Castlemaine, Ireland.

I opened Google Earth and typed in Castlemaine just to see where in Ireland it was. But when I pressed enter, a box appeared on the screen wanting me to answer the question—did I want the Castlemaine in Ireland or the Castlemaine in Australia? It’s either the one near Killarney, or the suburb of Melbourne. Pick one.

Now it occurs to me that just maybe this was originally an old Australian song, which was pilfered by the Irish? Australia was originally settled when the English sent their Irish political prisoners down there. Absolutely possible.

It might have happened when an Irishman, not having Google and hearing that Doolan was originally from Castlemaine, decided the Australians had stolen it and he was now stealing it back.

My wife has been reading this over my shoulder now and she says I should get a life.


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