MORE than 130 years after Captain Moonlite, a conman-turned gunfighter, was executed, police are pushing to redefine the notorious bushranger’s legacy.
It is part of “Operation Bowen”, a NSW Police initiative to honour the sacrifice of an officer who died in a gun battle with Moonlite’s gang at a hut near Wantabadgery village, east of Wagga, in 1879.
The plan is to gain more recognition for Sen-Const Edward Webb-Bowen (known as Bowen), while at the same time changing the public perception of bushrangers as romantic folk heroes.
On Saturday, police hosted a public meeting at Wantabadgery to canvass ideas for tributes to Bowen.
The suggestions included a monument to be erected in the village and an education program to teach schoolchildren about the sacrifices made by police in historical clashes with outlaw.
Bumper stickers declaring Bowen a “defender of Wantabadgery” were also suggested.
Many of the 50 or so people present expressed support for the project, which is being led by Inspector Stephen Radford, of Wagga.
Insp Radford said bushrangers were wrongly regarded by young people as role models.
“If you ask school kids today about Australian history, they’ll talk about bushrangers like Ned Kelly, Ben Hall and Captain Moonlite,” he said.
“And if you talk to kids about doing the right thing, well, Bowen did the right thing and gave his life for the community.
“Moonlite did not do the right thing and gave excuses for it.”
As part of the project, archaeologists will conduct a survey of the site where Bowen was shot in the gunfight with Captain Moonlite (real name Andrew George Scott) in November 1879.
It was the climax to a dramatic career for Moonlite, who had been a respected lay preacher in a Victorian gold mining town before being accused of a dramatic bank robbery.
In the years after the robbery, he was locked up in an asylum, broke out of the supposedly escape-proof Ballarat Jail and spent seven years in Pentridge.
When released, he gathered a group of young men and toured Victoria as a prison reform activist.
However, his attacks on the government led to a campaign of harassment that saw him effectively driven out of Victoria and into southern NSW, where, in a moment of anger, he took at least 30 people hostage at Wantabadgery Station.
Two days later he became involved in the savage gun fight with police at a nearby farm.
Moonlite’s fellow gang member and soul mate, James Nesbitt, was killed, prompting Moon-lite’s final wish that they be buried together, a request granted 115 years after his execution.
His remains were exhumed from a Sydney cemetery and interred at Nesbitt’s burial site at Gundagai.
Bowen’s sacrifice was largely forgotten.
Now police hope the fallen officer will soon be remembered as the real hero of Wantabadgery.