Outback sodomy: Barcaldine tryst’s sad consequence

sodomy anal examination john ogden john bonfield barcaldine
Image: Oak St, Barcaldine, Tree of Knowledge on left. State Library of Qld. Insert: Ogden & Bonfield, Qld State Archives.

On January 16 1922, John Ogden and John Bonfield sat in a stinking hot Rockhampton jail cell awaiting trial for sodomy because a doctor’s anal examination supposedly proved buggery.

Prior to the decriminalisation of sodomy in Australian jurisdictions, courts lent credence to the cockamamy evidence of quacks who claimed to identify gay bottoms by their bottoms.

They looked for the presence of semen or a lubricating agent like Vaseline. Absent that, they gazed at suspect posteriors in hope of a sign. Much as fortune-tellers conjured life stories from creases on a palm, doctors deciphered hints of receptive anal sex in the puckering of an arsehole. Learned judges passed sentences based on testimony that the passive homosexual’s guilt was written all over his rectum.

Other doctors were more hands-on, conducting experiments to elicit scientific ‘proof’. They brushed a fingertip against the anus and watched for an anal wink, hypothesising that a virgin arsehole would react to the unfamiliar touch with an involuntary contraction. Otherwise, they stuck a finger up the suspect’s bum or inserted tubes of progressively increasing size, evaluating past sexual activity by ease of entry or manifestations of sexual arousal.

But both law and social taboo prohibited frank discussion of sexual matters. Therefore, judges and juries never considered a crucial fact. That digital stimulation of the prostate will sometimes cause an erection or even spontaneous ejaculation, whether the subject enjoys the experience, hates it, or couldn’t give a f_ck.

John Ogden & John Bonfield

John Ogden knew all about that, imprisoned on the word of an inexperienced outback doctor. A cook on sheep stations in Queensland’s dry central west, John worked hard and drank harder. He looked like it; at 42, his hangdog face a wounded monument to his love of the bottle. No one ever looked at John Ogden and thought, ‘There’s a man who hates a drink’.

Cashed up at the end of each shearing season, he went into town and hit the grog. During a seven-week bender in Barcaldine, he met John Bonfield, also unmarried, also an itinerant farmworker, and an equally dedicated drinker. Bonfield was tall, his dimpled chin level with the top of Ogden’s head.

Following a quick beer at the Shakespeare Hotel, the pair strolled down Oak Street to a gumtree, and Bonfield f_cked Ogden under it. Not, however, the iconic eucalypt celebrated as the birthplace of organised labour in Australia. Jesus H. Christ! That would be sacrilege. No. John and John staggered past the Tree of Knowledge and went to buggery under a different gum. No seduction, flirtation or foreplay. Each as eager as the other, they simply dropped trou and got to it. John Ogden lay on his back, John Bonfield knelt between his legs, and they rooted on the bare, parched earth.

“You dirty animals.”

But privacy is not a given in the great outdoors, especially on vacant land alongside a main street. And there wasn’t a lot to do in Barcaldine at 7.30 on a Thursday night. Idle eyes watched from a nearby camp. Three railway workers peered out from individual vantage points —a tent flap, a kitchen window, a verandah — before becoming aware of each other and gathering quietly at the camp fence. Only when Bonfield and Ogden finished and rose to their feet did the audience betray its presence, one of the wide-eyed onlookers growling, “You dirty animals.”

One of the witnesses chose to mind his own business, but the other two tipped off the constabulary, who later found John Ogden passed out under a different tree.

“It was a bright moonlight night, and two reputable railwaymen, Robert Donnelly and Thomas Archibald Edge-Williams, plainly saw the actions of Ogden and Bonfield from a distance of 95 yards. They had full view of the pair for ten minutes.”

Queensland law regarded sodomy as a grave transgression. It ranked among crimes of violence like conspiracy to murder, attempted rape or kidnapping for ransom, all punishable by up to 14 years with hard labour. So severe a punishment demanded unambiguous evidence of wrongdoing.

“The offences known as sodomy or buggery can only be committed in ano [anally].

“The offence is complete when the prisoner, by a voluntary act, penetrates the anus of his victim with his penis: It is not necessary to prove the actual emission of seed.”

No penetration, no sodomy.

A humungous John Thomas

Proving penetration required Bonfield’s penis to be clearly visible from a distance of 95 yards — in semidarkness. Not bloody likely. Unless he possessed a member of such mythic proportion that for generations, men would share tales around campfires of Long John Bonfield and his humongous John Thomas, it never happened.

The witnesses also needed to observe actual penetration. Again, never happened. Bonfield f_cked Ogden in missionary position. Even someone much closer than 95 yards would struggle to discern the convergence of penis and anus in missionary position. Doggy-style? Perhaps. Knee Trembler? Maybe. Reverse Cowboy? Just possible. But missionary? Nah.

The two railway workers witnessed the appearance of sodomy, a man thrusting back and forth between another’s thighs. Without proof of penetration, that was the lesser offence of gross indecency. So, the police turned to 26-year-old Doctor Patrick Joseph O’Hara, whose entire experience as a medical practitioner consisted of two years in Barcaldine.

O’Hara was a popular sportsman, a champion cricketer — captain of the local team — an okay footballer and a reasonable tennis player. Paddy O’Hara testified in the magistrate’s court that John Ogden was maggoted when he conducted an anal examination following the arrest. Actually, he used the phrase, ‘so sodden with drink that he scarcely knew what he said or did’. Same thing.

Committed to trial, neither John Ogden nor John Bonfield could make bail of £400. So, they sat in Rocky jail for three months before being returned to Barcaldine in March.

A successful prosecution depended on O’Hara convincing the court that John Ogden’s anus recently extended a warm welcome to a stranger’s penis. A successful prosecution depended almost entirely on the evidence of his anal examination. The star batsman hit a home run even before swearing his oath; the jury stacked with his mates.

Judge and jury

Greengrocer Ted Scott lived down Elm Street from O’Hara and served on the jury, as did his brother Cyril. Also, siblings Phil and Earnest Rodgers, the former a fine footy player in his day and father of O’Hara’s teammate Roy. Then, John Lennon and Jeremiah McQuaid, both committee members of the Catholic Tennis Club, alongside the doctor. Café owners Fred McLean and Charlie Heumiller sponsored the local cricketing competitions and also conducted refreshment stalls at the playing fields.

Garage owner Tom McEffer was there, too. At a later, unrelated magisterial inquiry, he testified to his friendship with O’Hara and the doctor’s safe driving habits. It was more a rah-rah squad for the prosecution’s expert medical witness than a jury. All they needed were pleated skirts, pigtails, pom-poms and a loud, cheery chant.

The trial occurred during the first-ever sittings of the Circuit Court in Barcaldine. His Honour Justice Blair presided in the full robes of a Supreme Court judge. O’Hara had already met him. As president of the Queensland Cricket Association, Blair had been guest of honour at a cricket match in nearby Longreach the previous Sunday. He watched as O’Hara captained Barcaldine to a win over the home side.

Dr O’Hara informed a courtroom full of friends and sporting buddies “that a male had had illicit carnal knowledge of John Ogden.”

Guilty as charged!

Paddy O’Hara said so.

Case closed.

Ogden and Bonfield stood little chance. The word of two drunken blow-ins against that of a popular sportsman in a town where everyone knew everyone. As Ogden’s defence lawyer said of Barcaldine on another occasion, “It was very hard for a stranger to get to know the locals.”

Cecil Hobler made that statement, by the way, at a testimonial dinner for Paddy O’Hara. Yep. Even the defence lawyer was one of the doctor’s chums.

Ogden copped twelve months with hard labour and Bonfield fifteen, tops routinely regarded as the more reprehensible offenders because they committed the assault. A bottom merely allowed it.

Read also: Gotcha: Jack Boyd, a Queensland byword for homosexuality.

More Australian prosecutions for consenting adult male sex.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia


  1. 17 January 2022

    There is a lot of injustice in our history – much of it unrecognised, and sometimes even denied. Increasingly, and thankfully, more perspectives are being recognised.
    We’re thankful that we have these records so that everyone can find out more about Queensland’s full history:

    Whenever these public records are referenced the accepted citation should be included. Citations for archival
    records are important for the attribution and acknowledgment of the creator of the record and to link to the origin or provenance of the record. Further, the citation enables other researchers to find and use the records.

    Example citations relating to this article:

    John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
    Horsedrawn cart crossing the railway line in Barcaldine, 1916.
    Negative number: 79324
    Available online at: http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/215869

    Queensland State Archives
    – DR19222, Photographic record, description and criminal history of John Ogden, 13 April 1923.
    – DR19255, Photographic record, description and criminal history of John Bonfield, also known as John James Bonfield, 15 May 1923.

    Read our guide ‘Citing and reproducing archival records’ for more information:

    Thank you for sharing this insightful article. If we can assist with future research phone us on (07) 3037 6777 or email an archivist info@archives.qld.gov.au.

  2. Leah
    15 February 2024

    It is shameful that any person who has a professional career in writing should write something like this. You have very negligently applied your morals of today in judging those of persons who lived long before you and with the limited information at your disposal.
    You shouldn’t so carelessly make conclusions on the motives of persons far removed in time from yourself, with your modern standards.
    It is a very unfair and unfounded assessment you have made in regard to the doctor and the jury people.
    The town was and still is a small country town with a very sociable community; it’s never had such an extensive population that you could assemble a jury none of the members didn’t know or know of each other or where the majority weren’t consecutively involved in various community groups, organisations or clubs.

    • 15 February 2024

      You’re being just a bit precious, Leah.
      Your entire criticism is obviously based not on the facts of the case but on your affection for Baracaldine.
      There is nothing wrong with liking Barcaldine. In researching the story, I read plenty that did the town credit. I’m also sure many of the townsfolk mentioned in the story were good and decent people.
      But the members of the jury cannot escape criticism for uncritically accepting the testimony of a young, inexperienced doctor purely because he was their mate and everyone knew each other in the small town.
      Two men spent time in a hellish prison for a consensual sex act because of their decision.
      As for ‘limited information’, there are more facts available in the newspapers of the day about this trial than are commonly available about court cases today.
      If history interests you, you might, in future, do a little more research before pounding away indignantly at your keyboard.

  3. Leah
    16 February 2024

    I volunteer my time to transcribing the Western Champion on Trove. There are many names on that jury that I have transcribed numerous times and I have read all the articles I could find on the case (6).

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *