“No sponging, no dobbing, no prostitution…”*
This was the personal credo of Australian “lady bushranger” Jessie Hickman. She was known for her dramatic escape moves (escaping from a locked toilet on a moving train, jumping off cliffs to swim away, etc) and daring heists (such as stealing cattle from the police holding yard). There have been numerous movies and other accounts of the male bushrangers – Ned Kelly in particular – why not her? It’s not as if her life was short on cinematic drama.
Born in 1890, in a Southern Highlands copper mining town, her parents gave her to a traveling circus at the age of eight. She worked from that day on, becoming an accomplished rough-rider and tightrope walker. She was also variously described as a “child bride” or “mistress” to the owner of Martini’s Rough Riders, a former acrobat 28 years her senior.
He died, in a bizarre horse incident, when she was 17 and she ran the circus alone for four years before selling it. Over her 20s, Hickman became an increasingly frequent presence in the crime section of the newspapers; her youth, horsemanship skills, and wit capturing the attention of reporters and the public alike. The crimes were petty – stealing a rug and some ducks, for example, but she was jailed several times, on one occasion to “save her from a sad and dangerous life.”
At 28 she was released on parole to serve as house-keeper to an allegedly violent alcoholic – in court accused of rustling his cattle, she claimed he was lying to conceal his abuse.”He came home one day and threatened to cut me down with an ax. He hit me, and I set him a go and gave him as good as he gave me.” Later she was alleged to have killed him in self-defense but his body was never found.
She was a Virgo, with her Sun square Mars in Sagittarius and a Moon-Pluto conjunction in Gemini. Her athleticism and wiliness reflect both aspects and, according to someone who knew her: “Jessie loved a fight better than a feed, she would put up her ‘dooks’ and could go six rounds with a goanna without getting a scratch.” Come on, what Mars in Saggo person would not like that description? *
She also had Venus conjunct Uranus in Libra – an unconventional woman (she said she was “unsuited to domesticity”) in a society that saw them – and even more tyrannically, the indigenous people – as something to control.
At 30, she became one of the few women in the world to be named in court as having abandoned a husband, evidently because she “preferred the company of horses and cows.” The marriage annulled and her son given to a friend to raise, she fled to the country and morphed into a fully-fledged outlaw, living in a variety of secret bush hideouts and leading a gang of men she called the “young bucks.” Never again captured, Jessie Hickman became an Australian Wild West legend, before dying sadly young (46) of (possibly) a brain tumor.
Reading between the lines she endured or fought off multiple abusers, crafting her own, admittedly illicit, career. Brave and resourceful, she didn’t deserve to be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, presumably because of her outlaw status. She would probably have preferred to pass mid-flight, high on yet another successful escape. I like to think of her on her horse, Gang-Gang, galloping through the dense forest of the mountains she loved, hair streaming behind her in a eucalyptus-scented breeze.
*I don’t think she would have been anti-sex-workers – more that in her context, it would have meant being controlled by a man.
**Little is known of her love life once she became a bushranger but the flowery teapot found beside her bed in the hideout at Nullo Mountain was, however, very Libran.