2 August 2022

Riverina Rewind: the boy on the tightrope and the murder at Mt Austin

| Chris Roe
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Boy on tightrope

This photo harks back to happier times, showing a young Chris Bolger practising his tightrope walking. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

Today’s photo from the Museum of the Riverina is a snapshot taken of a little boy whose name and tragic story would become forever associated with his family home, Mt Austin homestead.

Christopher James Bolger was born at Tootool on 25 February 1910, the son of James and Ellen (nee Williams).

The Bolgers purchased Mt Austin, a grazing and farming property about three miles south of Wagga in 1912, adding to the family properties ‘Toronto’ at Tootool and a house at Mosman.

After attending school in Sydney, Christopher returned to Wagga in 1929 to run the Mt Austin property.

He was a popular and gregarious youth and a keen sportsman.

He was a member of the Wagga Beach and Manly surf life saving clubs and played for both the Wagga Australian Rules and Christian Brother’s Old Boy’s rugby clubs.

In addition to this, he also played baseball and was an amateur tightrope artist.

Sadly today, Chris is remembered for his untimely and tragic end.

vintage portrait of a man

Chris Bolger. Photo: CSU Regional Archives.

On Christmas Eve 1935, Chris and some friends drove to Sydney, leaving Mt Austin in the hands of 17-year-old Roy Malcolm Souter, who had been hired a few months earlier by James Bolger.

The 25-year-old returned to Wagga on 27 December, which was the last time he was seen alive.

As Chris’ friends became increasingly concerned with his whereabouts, Roy Souter and his girlfriend Daphne Nolan were seen driving around town in Chris’ distinctive Chevrolet Roadster.

Rowland Parker was suspicious and rode his bicycle to the property to look for his friend on Monday morning (30 December).

On arrival, he discovered bloodstains on the floor of the sleepout where both Chris and Roy slept in the summer heat.

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Further investigation revealed more bloodstains on the floorboards of the breezeway verandah located between the house and the kitchen.

The police were called, and Chris’s body was found soon after, secreted in the water tank underneath the verandah floorboards.

Chris was clad in pyjamas and had a chaff bag tied around his head and upper torso.

A heavy piece of farm equipment had been attached to his feet with rope and he had been shot twice in the head.

His killer? The farmhand Roy Souter.

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The teenager admitted to murdering Chris who he said had insulted Daphne, referring to her as “a low-heeled slut”.

An enraged Souter had looked around for a piece of wood to “give him a thrashing” and instead found a gun within reach.

The jury took into account his subsequent behaviour, driving Chris’ car, lunching with friends at the property near where the body was hidden and shooting the victim – not once – but twice.

The 17-year-old was found guilty of murder with the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Today the Bolger family is remembered through Bolger Avenue, which is named in their honour.

Image and information from Michelle Maddison, Curator of the Museum of the Riverina.

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