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Authors: Kenneth Cook

Wanted Dead

BOOK: Wanted Dead
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Allen & Unwin's House of Books aims to bring Australia's cultural and literary heritage to a broad audience by creating affordable print and ebook editions of the nation's most significant and enduring writers and their work. The fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry of generations of Australian writers that were published before the advent of ebooks will now be available to new readers, alongside a selection of more recently published books that had fallen out of circulation.

The House of Books is an eloquent collection of Australia's finest literary achievements.


Wanted Dead

This edition published by Allen & Unwin House of Books in 2012
First published by Horwitz Publications in 1963

Copyright © Kenneth Cook 1963

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin
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83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065


(61 2) 8425 0100


[email protected]


Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia

ISBN 978 1 74331 567 5 (pbk)
ISBN 978 1 74343 296 9 (ebook)



Kenneth Cook was born in Sydney in 1929. He achieved recognition as a fiction writer with the publication of his first novel,
Wake in Fright
, in 1961. Critically acclaimed, it has been translated into several languages and is still in print today. It was made into a classic Australian film in 1971.

Wake in Fright
was followed by over twenty fiction and non-fiction books, including
Eliza Frazer, Bloodhouse, Tuna
. His antiwar beliefs were reflected in his powerful novel
The Wine of God's Anger
and in the play
. Kenneth Cook died of a heart attack in 1987 while on a publicity tour promoting
Wombat Revenge
, the second volume in his bestselling trilogy of humorous short stories.

Wanted Dead


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven


“SO YOU'RE THE MAN I'm supposed to enrol as another of these bloody Special Constables, are you?” said the sub-inspector.

Riley wondered whether or not that was a question that required answering, decided it wasn't, and just stood where he was, trying to adopt an assenting expression.

“I asked you a question,” said the sub-inspector sharply.

Wrong again, reflected Riley. “Yes, sir.”

The sub-inspector leaned back in his chair and brushed irritably at a fly hovering around his face.

“Do you know how many specials we've buried in the past year?” he asked.

“No, sir,” said Riley promptly.

“Seven,” said the sub-inspector with relish. “We've buried seven. And do you know how many we've employed?”

“No, sir,” said Riley.


The sub-inspector leaned over his desk and stared at Riley expectantly.

He has eyes just like a pig I once knew, thought Riley irrelevantly, again not knowing what reaction was expected from him.

“And that's only in the Goulburn district,” continued the sub-inspector. “They die even faster around Forbes, to say nothing of Queensland.”

Again he looked at Riley expectantly.

What does he want me to do? wondered Riley. Groan and fall to the floor in a dead faint?

“I suppose you think a bushranger is a rabbit, do you, that you can go out and shoot at your leisure?”

How did this man become a trooper officer, wondered Riley. Perhaps he was joining the wrong side? The bushrangers could hardly be more unattractive.

“Eh?” grunted the sub-inspector. “Do you think that—do you? You'd better learn to answer questions more promptly than that my man.”

“No, sir,” said Riley.

“And there's something I want you to know,” said the sub-inspector, leaning back in his chair again and thrusting one thumb inside his shoulder strap. “I wouldn't have a Special in my division for an extra five hundred pounds a year if it was up to me. The only thing that makes it bearable is that you all get shot almost as soon as we take you on.”

Most encouraging, thought Riley, something to look back to for comfort in the long nights ahead.

“No, sir,” he said.

The sub-inspector glared at him in silence for a moment. “All right,” he said at last. “The matter's out of my hands. Since I've got to employ you I'd better get some details from you.” He pulled a printed form from a drawer in his desk.

“I have actually been employed,” said Riley. “The Headquarters Division Commandant, Captain McLerie, told me to report here for my equipment.”

The sub-inspector twisted his face into what Riley thought was going to be a vicious smile, but which turned into a snarl.

“When I want your advice I'll ask for it,” he said. “And while you're under my command you'll go
through the proper forms no matter what Captain McLerie might have said to you at some bloody drunken party in Sydney. Stopping bushrangers is our work here, not finding jobs for any fool of a jimygrant
who thinks he can do ours better than we can.”

“Yes, sir,” said Riley.

“Now,” said the sub-inspector, spreading the form out on the desk in front of him and dipping a pen in the ink, “Your full name?”

“Dermot Riley.”

“Year of birth?”

“The fifth of May, eighteen thirty-eight.”

“That makes you twenty-seven now, eh?” said the sub-inspector.

“Yes, sir,” said Riley.

The sub-inspector laughed. A most unmirthful sound, thought Riley.

“Do you want to know why I think that's funny?”

Riley hesitated between answering ‘yes, sir,' and ‘no, sir,' then decided on: “If you wish to tell me, sir.”

“Because the last three specials were twenty-seven when I took 'em,” said the sub-inspector. “And that's the age that's written on their tombstones.”

He laughed loudly then, his eyes closed and his head back and his mouth open.

If that pig I knew had laughed he would have looked like that, thought Riley.

“Anyhow, let's get on with it,” said the sub-inspector: “Height?”

“Six feet,” said Riley.


“Eleven and a half stone.”

“Chest measurement?”


“Thirty-eight inches.”

“Where were you born?”


“Bog trotter eh?” said the sub-inspector, as Riley had known he would: “What's your general health like?”


“Well I don't think it will be for long,” roared the sub-inspector, half choking himself with laughter so that the last few words were almost lost in his spluttering gurgles.

“Now,” he went on at last. “Can you read and write and cipher?”

“Yes, sir,” said Riley, noticing that when the sub-inspector wrote he let his tongue protrude slightly. It was covered with a thick yellow fuzz.

“How about character testimonials?” said the sub-inspector. “I don't suppose you've got any of those?”

“No, sir, Captain M'Lerie said . . .”

“I don't give a continental what Captain M'Lerie said,” interrupted the sub-inspector. “I'm filling in this form, not him. Anyhow, we'll let it go.”

He seemed to tire suddenly of the form filling, because he ran his eye down the rest of the list of questions, then drew a line through them and put his pen down.

“All right,” he said, “My instructions are to give you a horse, a pack-horse, a pistol, a sword, ammunition, camping gear and four pounds a week payable at the end of each month. You'll have to report here for your money.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And I want some evidence that you've been in the bushranger country,” said the sub-inspector: “I don't
want you loafing around in the bush two miles out of town and coming in here every month for your pay.”

“No, sir,” said Riley, wondering what sort of evidence would be satisfactory — the occasional scalp perhaps?

“You will at all times preserve your
,” said the sub-inspector. Speaking straight from the book now, thought Riley, after he'd puzzled out

“Except in the presence of those you have reason to believe are bushrangers whereupon you may reveal your indentity.”

That would depend considerably upon the circumstances as far as he was concerned, thought Riley, but he said nothing.

“This does not apply in the case of persons proclaimed outlaws under the Felon's Proclamation Act,” continued the sub-inspector, speaking in a ponderous monotone with his eyes half closed as if to concentrate on remembering the words: “Such persons may be shot on sight.”

The sub-inspector opened his eyes again.

“The only proclaimed outlaws in this district at present are about half a dozen men in Hatton's gang, so you'd better be careful who you shoot.”

“I will, sir,” said Riley solemnly.

The sub-inspector lapsed completely back into his normal conversational manner.

“You know about James Hatton, I suppose?” he said, leaning forward on his desk again and cupping his chin in both hands so that his beard was pushed upwards, looking, Riley thought, like a particularly dishevelled bird's nest. What could still be seen of the sub-inspector's face might be fancifully taken for
some exotic mottled egg on which a child had scribbled rude and improbable features.

“Vaguely, sir,” said Riley.

“Did you know they called him the Hangman?”

“I had heard that, sir.”

“Do you know why they call him the Hangman?” asked the sub-inspector taking his hands from his face and laying them palm downward on the desk so that he could lean yet further towards Riley.

“Not exactly, sir.”

“Because he hangs people,” said the sub-inspector. “He hangs people who annoy him. He's hanged three people to our knowledge so far and the last one was one of our Specials.”

He stopped speaking and stared expectantly at Riley. There was a fleck of foam at the corner of his mouth and another about an inch directly below, clinging wetly to his beard.

Perhaps he was genuinely mad, Riley thought. The pause in the conversation seemed to go on indefinitely, but Riley couldn't think of any appropriate reply. Eventually the sub-inspector said: “Your main duty will be to capture or kill James Hatton.”

Then he leaned back in his chair and laughed, loud and long.

When he recovered himself again he said: “All right. Get out of here. Collect your gear and get on out into the scrub. And don't forget you're responsible for your own gear, any losses are deducted from your pay.”

“Yes, sir,” said Riley. He turned and made for the door.

“And don't forget to preserve your
the sub-inspector called after him.

“No, sir,” Riley said.

BOOK: Wanted Dead
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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