Maybe the tale of an ostrich-riding bushranger is too good to be true

A popular spot for holiday snaps at Meningie, even if the story of the ostrich-riding bushranger is a fable.
A popular spot for holiday snaps at Meningie, even if the story of the ostrich-riding bushranger is a fable.

Life is better by the lake they reckon at Meningie, a small town near the mouth of the Murray River in South Australia.

But the folk living on the banks of Lake Albert are also happy to pass on one of the most fabulous bushranger tales you have ever heard.

Even if they don't think it's true - they've still put up a statue to him. Good for tourism.

The story of John Francis Peggotty is so amazing, you find yourself falling into their trap, you just want it to be real.

According to Meningie folklore, Peggotty was born in Ireland in 1864. He was born prematurely and only grew to the size of a seven-year-old.

He was a thief in England, using his small stature to slide down the chimneys of the wealthy. Gold jewellery was his fancy and he would drape it about his half naked body to flaunt his wealth.

It was a poor fashion choice, because the authorities soon caught on and arrested him, and he was sent to prison.

Up she goes, no pictures of Peggotty exist, so locals had to make do with an ostrich.

Up she goes, no pictures of Peggotty exist, so locals had to make do with an ostrich.

After his release, Peggotty decided to travel to Australia to live with his farming uncle in NSW.

Oh, and somewhere along the way he was said to have travelled to South Africa where he learnt to catch and ride ostriches. That becomes important later.

From NSW he travelled to Adelaide to join a friend and resumed his life of crime.

With the constabulary on his trail, Peggotty headed to the Coorong, in the Meningie area, to lay low.

But the life of the bushranger beckoned and Peggotty was credited with more than a dozen hold-ups and murders of several travellers in quick time.

He was impossible to catch, as the pint-sized crook had taken to riding ostriches across rough country to flee the scene of his crimes and any pursuing police.

Again Peggotty liked to flaunt his ill-gotten gains by draping gold jewellery about his body and he brandished two revolvers to create a remarkable image.

A local fisherman called Henry Carmichael was held-up by Peggotty on September 17, 1899 and gave chase on his horse.

Wanting to become more than a toilet stop for visitors travelling to Robe or some other place, Meningie took hold of its most famous story.

Wanting to become more than a toilet stop for visitors travelling to Robe or some other place, Meningie took hold of its most famous story.

Carmichael was a crack shot with his rifle and wounded the rider and killed the ostrich.

But by the time Carmichael reached the ostrich, the wounded Peggotty had vanished leaving a trail of blood in the sand.

Peggotty's body was never found, and no further crimes were ever committed, so he was believed to have perished.

His small bones are still hidden in the Coorong along with his booty of gold jewellery.

So that's the story, people have looked for the treasure over the years but it has never been found.

Peggotty came to be called the Birdman of the Coorong.

A statue of Peggotty's saddled ostrich was unveiled on the Meningie foreshore in May 2013.

Many hundreds of visitors have posed for holiday snaps and marvelled at the Peggotty story while perched in the saddle.

Replica artefacts such as Peggotty's pistol, a broken gold chain and a bullet fired by Carmicheal in the pursuit were scattered about the few local businesses to help boost the legend.

Meningie Progress Association president Marianne Cunneen said it was a terrific story, but she didn't believe it was true.

"Sure we have the statue, and we sell stubbie holders about it, but it's just fun, something for the visitors," she said.

She said a lot of researchers have looked into the story over the years and haven't been able to find definite proof the tale is true.

Ms Cunneen said it was however true ostriches were raised in the district, that part of the story could be fact.

"It's sort of like the Loch Ness Monster, a nice story but probably not true," she said.

"But we're running with it," she laughed. "It's good for business."

This story Maybe the tale of an ostrich-riding bushranger is too good to be true first appeared on Farm Online.