The village of Tarago and it's sister village Lake Bathurst are situated on the Southern Tablelands of NSW, Australia approximately 75kms from Canberra and 27kms from Goulburn, on the Eastern side of Lake George. Tarago, was the local Aboriginal word for country, or possibly 'a place between two bodies of water', and Lake Bathurst, both village and lake were so named after the Secretary of State to the Colonies, Earl Bathurst. Both villages were officially founded in 1827, although the Lake, itself, was named by James Meehan in 1819. It must be noted that originally the names of both villages were the opposite of what they are today. Lake Bathurst was officially Tarago, and Tarago was known, early on, as Sherwin's Flats, and later as Tarago Heights. Apparently, when the maps of a new railway line were being transcribed, the two village names were inadvertently reversed, By the time the mistake was realized, the drafts had already been sent to England for printing and returned. A local railway Inspector decided it was more prudent to change the village names, than to reprint all the maps.



The Loaded Dog Hotel circa 1927
Tarago general store late 1800's


Because Tarago was on, what was then, the only road into the Queanbeyan/Canberra valley, it became quite a busy center. The main street in the village, over its 170 year history has, at various times boasted two produce stores; several bakeries, the Cobb & Co stables; a general store; a Post Office (1883); a 22 room hotel, started and run by J.J.Hush; a lolly/ice cream shop; a butchery and a garage. We also have had the Lake Bathurst Hotel (now the Loaded Dog Hotel), and the railway station and loading dock for the wool trade of the local area.

Election Day Late 1800's
Cobb & Co coach late 1800's
The founding families in the area, along with the local bushranger population, were to say the least, a colourful bunch. Names like Faithfull, Macfarlane, Douglas, Snow, Reynolds, Sturgiss, Evans, Phelps, Brogan, Chinnery, Broadhead, Hush, Lehane and Wyatt all are prominent, as was William Westwood (AKA Jackey Jackey), and the other notorious bush rangers of the area Ben Hall, Gilbert, Dunn and Frank Gardiner.
Frank Gardiner
Ben Hall
The Clarke Brothers


A meeting was called in the early 1860's by the infamous bushranger Frank Gardiner. He invited the Clark Brothers and the equally infamous Ben Hall to meet him for a "summit" at the Loaded Dog Hotel. This was to discuss a major robbery. The Majors Creek mine was planning to transport one million pounds worth of bullion along the Braidwood/Goulburn Road, and although the shipment was to be heavily guarded, Frank Gardiner was sure they could succeed, The area around Tarago is a hilly country, and a person could easily "get lost" if they so needed.

Gardiner was in love with the innkeepers daughter, a Bess O'Reilly, their liaison was ongoing, and Gardiner used her as his unofficial banker, He was hoping that if he could pull off this robbery successfully, he and Bess could go to America and start a new respectable life together.

Frank Gardiner had recently robbed a coach near Tenterfield, and carried the gold coin down to the meeting so Bess could 'bank' it for him in her hiding place. It was a dark ominous night, but he soon saw the smoke and lights that indicated he was at his destination, The stable was full of fine horses, including 'Arabian Star', Ben Hall's new mount, recently stolen from Sir Frederick Pottinger.

The group were relaxed, enjoyed a hot meal and some wine, and laughed about the many scrapes they had escaped from. Some of Hall's gang, although silent, went about trying to gain the attention of the two more experienced older men, Hall and Gardiner. Either the men deliberately ignored them, or were too involved in the planning of the 'big one', and neither paid any attention to the growing feud that was now being fueled by the wine that had been consumed. the argument became violent and one of the men, a Bill Robeson, drawing a pistol, shot young Johnny Keith dead.

Emily the scullery maid held Johnny as he laid dying. They were soon to have been married. Ben Hall hit Robeson in the face, but all decided there was nothing to be done, it had just happened. Johnny was buried under the floorboards near the fireplace in the Loaded Dog Hotel, because if they were to pull off the 'big job' they could not afford a scandal, and Bess, after all, "still had her man". Each of the parties went their separate ways the following morning, but the Hall gang stopped in at the Collector pub for a drink, and the local police officer, a Samuel Nelson, was shot dead trying to detain them.

Anyone known as a 'cop killer' was hounded until caught, In the chase, the group separated and were picked off one by one, until even Ben Hall was killed about 12 miles from Forbes, in a small clump of trees, where he had been hiding. Gardiner, on hearing the news, sent word to the Clarkes that the 'big job' was off, and also sent a letter to Bess to prepare to leave with him for America when he arrived.

Emily intercepted the letter to Bess, and instead of giving Bess the letter, told her, in a hysterical manner, that Gardiner had been shot by the 'traps' (troopers). Bess does not appear to have checked the truth or authenticity of the information, but appearing deeply shocked, stumbled back toward the inn, and several moments later she shot herself in the head. (There is a rumor that she may have been pregnant at the time, and that she chose death rather than a scandal, being that she was of good Irish Catholic stock). Her death sent Gardiner a bit mad, and his character changed dramatically. He later did the 'big job' robbing the Forbes gold escort of fourteen thousand pounds.

*Extracts taken from "A Local History of Tarago and Lake Bathurst" by Julie V. Arbalis*



Proprietors: Tim & Alana Long. 1 Wallace Street TARAGO NSW 2580 Phone: 02 4849 4499