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The Wealthy Swagman

Written by Annie O'Riley ( on August 2, 2012

A truly iconic Australian figure is the swagman or tramp. Traveling the tracks and roads across Australia these lonely men picked up part-time or seasonal work. When times got tough it was an unwritten rule that a farmer or station owner would give a swaggie a feed in return for splitting a load of wood or drawing water up from a well. With all his belongings strapped to his back or carried on a stick across his shoulders, these men lived hand to mouth, walking and searching for their next meal. There was no shelter from the rain or the heat or the flies. It was a tough life and not meant for the faint hearted. What makes this next story odd, is that this particular swaggie was rich.

On the 12th of January in 1903, a man’s body was found on the side of the road near Dandenong and lying next to him was a swag. By his clothing and possessions it was determined that he was a swagman and about 60 years of age. In the pockets of his clothing he had a number of deposit receipts from the National Bank of Australia.  These receipts totaled  £1200, plus he also had a savings account with a further £30 10s in it. To put this in perspective, I have found that in 1903 you could buy a nice little 5 acre farmlet in Dandenong for about £400.

The only clue to his identity was a note on the side of one of the receipts that said Patrick Dinan (in some articles reported as Dinon or Dinanne). It was also reported in some of the papers that he had nothing in his stomach and was suffering from malnutrition. An autopsy was performed and it was shown that he died of a heart attack about three hours before his body was discovered.

On the 15th of January a telegram was received from a John Dinan residing in Adelaide stating that Patrick Dinan was his father. It was decided to hold off burying the body until the son arrived to make a positive identification. On the 20th of January it was reported that John Dinnane could not positively identify the body. The final mention of our wealthy swagman stated that a private detective named Pawson had a photograph of the body and was continuing to search for his identity.

Written by Annie O'Riley. Annie is the author of and has been researching local history for over 30 years. She is constantly finding new stories and characters to write about.

Relevant The Wealthy Swagman Links