Bibliophile | Garry Linnell’s ‘Moonlite’ explores the story of gay bushrangers

by Garry Linnell
Penguin Books Australia

Andrew George Scott, otherwise known as Captain Moonlite, was one of Australia’s last bushrangers. Ned Kelly and his gang were still at large in Victoria but New South Wales had put a stop to the notorious outlaws who were actually admired by the lower classes.

For generations, petty thieves, escaped convicts and the cast-offs of society had live in the bush on what they could scrounge or steal. Many bushrangers were of Irish descent and resentful of the British authorities and much of the population applauded their challenges to authority.

Ben Hall, Mad Dog Morgan, the Clarke Brothers and many others are all dead, and Ned Kelly was in prison, when Scott arrived in Sydney as a free settler. Scott was educated, coming from a wealthy Irish family who fell on hard times in the famine-wracked Ireland. When the lay preacher who was always borrowing money robbed the local bank and then escaped from jail, he became a marked man.

As Scott eventually waits to be hung, ironically for a crime he didn’t commit, he writes of the man he loved – his soul mate James Nesbitt “who died in his arms with blood spilling from his temple from a policeman’s bullet”. Two men who Garry Linnell writes “knew what it was to love and be loved, to hold and be held, and who have only death for companionship”.

This extensively researched book builds an intriguing larger picture of Australia as it tries to remove its convict stain in the second half of the nineteenth century. Attempting to sort out the myth from the reality, Linnell cites newspaper articles and letters that Scott left behind declaring his love for Nesbitt and includes riveting photographs … some of them taken shortly after death.

In trying to analyse the emotional and physical bonds between the men at that time, Linnell acknowledges that it is difficult to ascertain whether Scott’s deep emotional attachment reflected that he was homosexual, although nowadays he is often referred to as the “gay bushranger”. Then Linnell questions whether it matters.

These were desperate men who had little resources and relied on each other in times of need as their ill-conceived undertakings created greater desperation. Any homosexual relationship would have to be alluded to using euphemisms but the newspaper reports how police watched as Scott passionately kissed Nesbitt after he was shot and was still shedding tears in the court room when referring to Nesbitt.

Linnell believes that Captain Moonlite’s sexuality was important as having ‘unnatural tendencies’ that could be severely punished by the law would have significantly contributed to his mental health issues. He celebrates the man who was consumed by a rigid code of honour even though irrational anger got him into trouble rather than allowing him to “make sense of a world he often, clearly, found bewildering”.

Lezly Herbert

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