There are many odd stories about the inlet where I live. Some of them fade into myth and the truth is rarely in service to a good ripping yarn. Clarkie's Camp was named after a man who lived here as a hermit from the late 1920s until the 60s. It was rumoured that he was here under an unofficial witness protection after he testified against his mates in a gold-stealing ring. They'd shot dead two gold squad detectives in Kalgoorlie and Clarke had helped cut up the bodies and hide them. His friends Coulter and Treffene were hung and Clarke disappeared.
A kind of folk mythology surrounds Clarke’s presence at Broke Inlet.
‘Didn’t someone live out his days at Broke on the run from the cops?’
‘Dad reckoned he was a spy and the government hid him there.’
‘Wasn’t Clarke that butcher? With the big knife?’
The most common story is that Clarke was stashed at Broke Inlet by the state government, and that, once a month, a policeman would leave him supplies at the turn-off from the main road.
From 'Living at Clarkie's Camp' in Women of a Certain Age, Fremantle Press, by me.
Back in the 70s, a journalist friend heard the rumours and published a story in the Sunday Times called 'Living in the bush in fear of his life'. He said to me recently that this story still haunted him as the one he got totally wrong and that the next day, three separate people came into his office to say Herb Clarke and Evan Clarke were very different people. Bum steer, you could call it.
Anyway, keep that info about the two dead coppers in mind because I've just happened across another ripping yarn about the inlet.
Thomas Hughes, known as the last of the bushrangers in West Australia, was born at sea aboard the Corona (oh yes) in 1866. He was the son of a pension guard and this too plays out later.
It seems young Tom fell into some bad company. He was caught attempting to steal explosives and other munitions, went to jail, escaped and the manhunt was on. On October 1887 Hughes was charged with the murder of Constable O'Connell and the attempted murder of Constable Carroll while resisting arrest. (Carroll died later from complications due to his injuries.) This story is a whole basket of oddities. O'Connell, on having his head wound examined by the doctor, failed to mention that Hughes had also shot him in the chest. The doctor declared O'Connell's head wound a mere flesh wound and sent him home, where he died a few days later
Hughes was sentenced to life in prison, later reduced to a much shorter sentence, possibly due to public sentiment and romanticism over Ned Kelly's recent hanging and the fact that Hughes and O'Connell went to school together and were both the sons of pension guards. He was released from prison on a ticket-of-leave in 1896, granted conditional release in April 1898 and was given permission to carry firearms later that month. So ... nine years for shooting two coppers, bashing a prison guard nearly to death and stealing munitions, and then they give him back his guns. This tale is so weird.
So Thomas Hughes, now a sort-of free man, caught a train with his brother to Bridgetown, where they then walked to Perup (something a modern day Bibulmum track hiker may appreciate in effort). He and his brother went into ticket of leave service for some local farmers in the area. One farmer was a Muir, part of a large family of land holders whom I sometimes refer to on The WineDark Sea as The Meadowmen, Muir or Moir deriving from the mere, or meadow in old English.
Every year, these families ran cattle down to the coast at Broke Inlet. Apparently it was a rowdy debacle, with every third cow wearing a bell and occasional stampedes through the main street of Pemberton. A lot of the old roads around here were made by cattlemen droving down to the coast. Place names like Poison Point alerted them to where the gastrolobium bush grew, deadly to grazing cattle. They built huts to stay out the summer in and some of those hut folk are my neighbours now.
It was on one of these cattle runs that Thomas Hughes and his brother Edwin first laid their eyes on Broke Inlet. If it was anything like my first experience, I can understand why he was so transfixed. For me, it was late afternoon. The wind had dropped and the inlet lay out before me like glowing sheets of silver paper. My heart and brain said, 'This is where I want to be. This place. This place. This is Boodja.'
At the time, they apparently didn't have to apply for land tenure. Broke Inlet was off the edge of the colonial world and so the brothers stayed here, squatters on Aboriginal-owned land.
In 1939, Edwin Hughes was granted a conditional purchase lease. He had thirty two years to pay it off in tiny increments but he died in 1940 and by 1944 the land was transferred to his brother Thomas, the bushranger. A few years later, he died too and the property where I live now was inherited by, yes, a Mr Herbert Sydney Clarke. This is the only piece of private property now within the massive Dentrecasteaux National Park, a tiny enclave in a park named after a Frenchman, once owned by a bushranger and cattleman and then a man rumoured to be under witness protection.
Thomas Hughes, in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, was said to have died at the Claremont Insane Asylum, and someone once told me that Herb Clarke had gone out in much the same way. It's not boding that well for us residents! Obviously I'm wondering if the stories of these two men have been mixed up. An Evan Clarke definitely was involved in the killing of two policemen in Kalgoorlie and a Tom Hughes was definitely charged with the killing of two policemen in Fremantle. It doesn't surprise me that both of them may have ended up at Broke Inlet. Their histories are only 40 or 50 years apart and who is willing to sort out the facts that will get in the way of a good yarn?